Male Yearling Accepts Submissive Role In Order To Stay With Family Pack

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

In a previous posting I described an observation involving a father coyote and his daughter running to an area where another of the pups from the same litter was being messaged to “leave”. This seems logical since any male would be competition for the father in this territory. However, another male youngster from the same litter has been allowed to remain. The explanations I can think of are, 1) this male and the female pup have always been best friends, and 2) this male submits readily, always, when asked to. He is not a threat and won’t be unless and until he rebels against always having to submit.

Here are two incidents I observed recently. In the sequence above the male youngsters moves away from a possible “disagreement”, but he is made to buckle under anyway. Below three coyotes consisting of a dad, a daughter and a son, are interested in the same thing on the ground. Daughter considers the son, her brother, in the way and grabs his snout. Dad supports her with a growl and signs to the son to hit the ground. Son hits the ground obediently.

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

Trounced by a Father

Dad trounces a pup

Dad trounces a pup, 2nd youngster looks on with lowered ears

I observed another pup pommeling by its parent a few mornings ago. This time, it was a father coyote who interjected himself into the fun of his two coyote pups who were excitedly wrestling and and chasing each other. It was very dark, but I was able to capture some images, and, of course, I heard the high pitched, complaining “squeals” from the youngster being trounced. The pup took the beating lying on its back, as the second youngster just looked on with lowered ears. Then, all three coyotes — Dad and two pups — moved to a location not too far off, where the pups continued to play and Dad watched.  Dad actually seemed to be trying to lead them away, but he stopped indulgently, standing there, and watched their fun. After about 10 minutes of this, they all trotted off in a single file after Dad and into hiding.

Why had the Dad trounced the youngster? Had the pups been playing too “rough”? Had one been trying to dominate the other? Did Dad just need to establish some order, or maybe restore his hierarchy in this pack, the way the mother had in the other family pack I wrote about?

These pups here are 8 months old: full-sized, but still pups.

After the Lashing

A couple of days after I had videoed a mother coyote lashing out at one of her seven-month old pups — a female, I witnessed a change in behavior between two of the pups towards their mom. These are both females, though I have no idea if gender had anything to do with what I observed.

I watched as Mom came into a large field where three of her pups were absorbed in foraging in three different spots. All pups stopped their foraging activity immediately when they saw her. Two of the pups dashed like bullets across the field in her direction.

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

One of the pups that dashed in her direction, the male, went straight up to her, as always, to greet her, tail flailing with excitement. There were the usual kisses and wiggly little excited movements that indicate all is happy and well between them. He attempted getting food from her, but she had none to offer, and it didn’t really seem to matter.

A female pup heads into the bushes -- right past her Mother who is greeting her son

A female pup heads into the bushes, right past her Mom who is greeting her son [you can see pup's back & tail at top of photo]

Interestingly, the second pup, a female, who had also headed in Mom’s direction, went straight past Mom — who was in the process of greeting the male pup — and into the bushes! She did not stop to participate in the happy greeting which I had always seen her do before. Hmmm. Was she afraid of the mother, having seen the harsh treatment dished out to the other daughter? This would be my guess. All of these are new behaviors, beginning with the lashings of the one daughter, and I can’t help  thinking that they are all related.

The seven-month old female pup who had been  the target of lashings by Mom

The seven-month old female pup who had been the target of lashings by Mom, watching

The female pup who had received the lashing did not head towards the mother coyote.  Even though she was a long distance away from where Mom entered the field, she ran into the bushes closest to her and hung out there, hidden, for a few minutes. Eventually she came out of her hiding place, sat down, and just watched from about 400 feet away — she had no interest in approaching her mother. She looked sad to me.

The mother looked at her for a moment, and eventually moved on and out of sight. Not until then did this daughter continue her foraging before heading into the bushes for the day. There is always communication when coyotes look at one another. I wonder what information their “look” conveyed.

Youngster Makes a Quick Dashaway

The youngster in the middle here is a seven-month old male pup. He’s on good terms with both his parents. He greets both parents, and then Dad, to the left, “puts the youngster down.”

Dad has been out of commission for several days, at least during my observations, due to an injury he sustained either from an aggressive dog or possibly from a fight with a raccoon: his face and head have lacerations, and he limps on both his left legs. I’ve noticed that injured coyotes lay low for a while. Because of his recent absence, he may have a need to re-establish his position in the family hierarchy, which may be why he puts this pup down. The youngster submits easily.

Mom is to the right. She has just finished a pretty amazing harsh attack on this youngster’s female sibling.  Is this youngster fearful of the same punishment which has just been dished out to his sister?

Mother’s Harsh Treatment of Female Pup Continues

Before I started videoing the above, two coyote pups had been foraging in an open field when they spotted Dad coming. They dashed ecstatically in his direction. After only a short truncated greeting, Dad confirmed his dominance towards the male pup, who willing submitted by lying on his back immediately and not protesting.

This “status confirmation”  has become a routine where everyone knows how to behave: the pups acquiesce willingly to the submission which is demanded of them, and all relationships are confirmed as stable. The other pup, the female, also immediately turned on her back and then kept low, even though Dad was on top of the other pup. This little threesome seemed happy for the few moments they were there: everyone did the right thing, everyone smiled and tails wagged.

Then mom appeared on the scene. With everyone’s attention on the mother, the dad let go of his hold on the male pup who calmly got up and wandered in the other direction from which the mom was coming. Mom immediately headed for the female pup — the one which has been the target of Mom’s animosity and displays of dominance in the last few days. Today the treatment became more harsh. That’s Dad casually viewing the altercation from in front; he’s still limping from an injury a week ago.

Note that the female pup is not compliant and snaps back, which may be the problem — but then who wouldn’t self-protect under this onslaught?  Also note Mom’s final emphatic statement: “And take this, too!” No holds barred.

[Please see the previous two postings on this behavior: Punishment and Punishment Again]

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.

Dominance Display

This is a rare observation. We’ve all heard of the term “dominance”,  but how many of us have seen it in operation? Here is a blatant show of dominance by one coyote. There is literal truth to the phrase “top dog”. These coyotes get along really well, but it is obvious that the existing hierarchy needs reconfirmation now and then. The underdog did not like being bumped by the dominant coyote and reacts. But the dominant one does not allow him to get away with his reaction, and literally puts him in his place.

The underdog struggles a little, but the dominant one is much more adept. The physical hold is finally let go when the underdog calms down. But not until the underdog reveals that he accepts his place does the top dog actually let go of the psychological hold over the underdog. When the less dominant coyote bows, keeping his head low, and stays that way for a few seconds, he has shown his submissiveness and the little display is over. The ending includes a little playful skip on the part of the dominant coyote. Both then continue grooming themselves and hunting, best friends as ever before.

By the way, I captured this clip in very bad lighting — on the dark side of twilight — I’m learning that my camera video capability is amazing!

Mister Reprimanded?, by Charles Wood

Dad and Mister

Sunday at twilight Dad spotted me as he was coming down his Los Angeles area road.  I was on the bridge to his north about 225 feet away.  He paused and then kept coming.  He stopped again to sniff.  In a moment, he resumed his trot and Mister came from the brush to join him.  Mister is new to me though he has been with his parents and sisters all along.  Dad made Mister get down as shown in the “Dad and Mister” photograph.  Soon they were up and both trotted across my bow, Mister coming first.  I had seen Dad first, Mister came out on the road and got in trouble, then Mister led them away, apparently doing as he had been told by Dad.

Was Mister truly in trouble?  I can’t know.  Until yesterday I didn’t know that Mister was there, had confused him with his sister Bold, and had thought he therefore was female.  There is room for getting simple facts like gender incorrect, so my story of Mister and Dad’s complex behavior has plenty of room for other interpretations.  For example, Mister may not have seen Holtz and me on the bridge and Dad may have been communicating my presence and a danger assessment to Mister.  Both continued on, Mister in front. As they went camera left, both glared at me, Dad with his neck and shoulder fur flared to make him look big.

The one thing I consider clear is that Dad is in charge of his son Mister, whether reprimanding Mister’s misstep or warning Mister of what they both have come to regard as a concern:  Holtz and me on the bridge.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Acceptance of Who’s Boss?

The more dominant of these two coyotes ran up to the other to intimidate him to bug off. It appears to be a compulsive behavior. He has always been successful in his bullying toward this fellow, but notice that, although the intimidated fellow runs off, he does not depart far or for long. Is he building a tolerance for the other’s behavior, treating it as just a minor inconvenience by letting it happen and then sidestepping it?  He’s not quite standing his ground and being his own man but neither is he avoiding this dominating fellow — he has no fear of consistently, although carefully, approaching the dominant fellow when his curiosity is raised.

Deference Paid

The same fellow who extracted deference from his sibling, here pays deference to his Mom. Notice that he comes in with his head lower and tries kissing her from below. They probably made eye contact when they first met, but after that she does not look at him at all. Rather, her attention is riveted in the distance where her other year old pup is hanging out. She looks over again at this pup only briefly as he heads away and then returns her attention to the distant fellow. The respect and love here is deeply felt. It is both easily and freely given. There are no demands made by Mom.

Family Interactions & Dynamics

These interactions lasted about nine minutes. It was not light enough to see anything but the outline of one coyote when I arrived at the scene. I sat down to watch. Soon I became aware of two more coyotes — the mother and subservient sibling, resting only a few feet away from the first fella — the dominant sibling. I’ve put captions on the photos rather than explain it here below. This family interaction took place a while back — at the beginning of November. The family consists of a single mom and her two 21-month-old male offspring who have recently established a strong hierarchy between themselves.

The dominant sibling is the one doing all the approaching on this day: he approaches his sibling to dominate him, and he approaches his mom to increase his bond with her at the expense of his brother.  Of special interest here is that after Mom watches Dominant Sibling hover over and dominate his more subservient sibling, she then makes sure to let this dominating fellow know that she is above him. She does this first by taking his snout in hers and then by raising herself above him with her paws on his back. He allows her to do this: he is below her in the hierarchy, but above his brother.

Displays of dominance include a dominant muzzle enclosed over the more subservient muzzle, standing over and higher than the other fellow, holding the tail up high often with hackles up, approaching. Signs of submissiveness I’ve seen include cowering with ears down or back, head held lower and moving in a slinking fashion, displaying vulnerable parts and letting the dominant guy bite your inner thighs, hitting the ground on your back showing the belly, fleeing.

 

Wanting To Play; Getting Bullied

One of these two young coyotes found an abandoned dog’s ball and picked it up to play with it. Bullying brother came over and knocked the coyote over for the sole purpose of showing him who was boss, and then hovered over him menacingly. When the bully became momentarily distracted, the more subservient coyote was able to run off. This kind of behavior happens regularly these days and serves as a constant reminder and confirmation of a ranking status which has to become accepted by both coyotes. These photos were taken at the beginning of November when there were still attempts by the more subservient coyote to interact with his sibling.

A Hierarchy At Work

Here are the workings of a hierarchy within a coyote family.

More Intimidation & Choosing Your Position In The Pack

Here again, is an instance of dominant sibling intimidation. From the distance you can see the dominant sibling approaching. When he reaches his sibling he pushes him to move — assertively and possibly threateningly. The accosted guy faces him, eye to eye, for just a minute, but then bows low before running off with his ears back. The dominant sibling pursues. It is only for a short distance — only long enough for the dominating fellow to feel that he has the upper hand and that he made the other one move off.

Apparently every coyote in a pack chooses its role and position in the pack, including the subservient fellow. Dogs do the same thing. Hierarchy is thus established without a fight and without injury which could actually hurt their survival.

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