Observing, Responding, and Rest — Hinge On The Human Factor

This story hinges on human conduct, which is always the cause behind coyote “incidents”, and also the route through which misinformation is turned into nasty rumors.  The only way we can control coyote behavior is through our own behavior. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone.

So, the day began peacefully, as usual. Very often, when coyotes are out early resting on a hillside, a group of unleashed dogs will aggressively run up to their remote location and chase them. It is always the same group of dogs with the same set of owners who have never taken responsibility for keeping their dogs away from the coyotes — this group is one of the few who are not fond of having coyotes around. Ninety-nine percent of dog owners, however, are respectful and want to do what they can for the urban coyotes. They are totally responsible, keeping their dogs leashed or under voice control when coyotes are out. Repeated “incidents” always occur with the same few dogs. Fortunately, today the coyotes were not out when these dogs went by.

However, not long after they passed, a coyote did appear up on a hilltop, observing her surroundings. We know it was the mother coyote because of the behavior which followed. Several groups of walkers stopped to admire her presence in the park as she sat so calmly looking around: this was magical urban wildness. It was all so peaceful. Then the coyote jolted to a sitting up high position: her attention became riveted into the distance. She ignored the walkers below her. And then, as suddenly as she had sat up, she darted off like a bullet at full speed with hackles raised.

I’ve seen her do this before, so I knew what it was about. She sped to the spot which she had been so keenly observing. On the way she encountered one of her full-grown pups — but this is not the one she was worried about. She had the aim of heading-off a dog which was pursuing her other year-old pup. I didn’t even have to be there to know this. We then began hearing this mother coyote’s distressed and upset barking — barking she only engages in if she or one of her pups have been pursued by a dog. The barking is an indication of her distress, but also imparts a message: “Keep your distance.”

A few of us who just a few moments earlier had been watching her peacefulness, headed off to where the distressed barking sound was coming from. On the way we passed the angry owner of the dog which had chased the coyote — she now had her dog leashed. This huge dog continually chases the coyotes — it is a game for the dog who is about four times larger than any coyote. The owner wouldn’t even look at us: for her, the incident was the coyote’s fault for being there — not hers for not having leashed her dog.

We walked a little further until we spotted the mother coyote: she was rearing up on her hind legs and barking. The young coyote which had been pursued had taken cover in the bushes, but the second young coyote sat on the hillside nearby watching as its mother continued her barking for about 20 minutes.

The reactions to this incident were various: these are the reactions which get reported to our Animal Control Department.  Some people were furious that a dog walker had allowed her dog to chase a coyote again — and that dogs are not kept leashed in this “leash-law” area. Some were just fascinated by the barking, and fascinated that a mother coyote would run such a long distance to defend one of her year-old pups from a dog. Some twisted the information to fit their own image of coyotes, saying the coyote had not been chased at all, that she was aggressive and bold and a danger to humanity. And finally there was the individual who points to observers or photographers so as not to have to address his own reasons for not leashing his dog.

It was nice having the witnesses who saw the young coyote chased by the German Shepherd. More and more people are willing to give their names to defend the coyotes and I want to thank them all. When a coyote defends itself or its pack members, it is not an act of aggression or an attack. In fact everyone needs to become more aware of  nuances in terminology so that they may be able to describe what they see more accurately. Lynsey White and Stanley Gehrt of Ohio State University point out that the phrase “coyote attack” is sensationalistic and fear-mongering. We need a better choice of words and consistency to better understand how coyotes actually interact with humans. People often conflate words like “aggressive”, “assertive”, “bold”, “curious”, “defensive” and “investigating”. Details of the behavior of people, dogs and coyotes prior to and during any coyote incident are needed to really understand what is going on.

Our mother coyote finally calmed down. I watched her slowly head down a hill and into the bushes and finally up to one of her remote lookout posts, where she gave one last glance around to make sure the German Shepherd was gone. Then she lay down and napped. A couple of hours later I returned to the park to find her still in that same spot resting. Coyotes just want to be left alone. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Please keep your dogs leashed around coyotes.

A Coyote Takes The Initiative: Following & Leading

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Coyotes in our parks have been chased routinely by dogs — and they react to this. But coyotes themselves have choices. Coyotes have a choice regarding whether to remain out in the open where they can be seen or not. They also have a choice when it comes to following a dog, or to coming-in close to a dog — something this occurs if a dog has been antagonistic to the coyote or has chased it in the past. Why do coyotes behave this way? Why don’t they just stay out of view? Why don’t they just flee? Probably instincts for survival are kicking in. If we can learn the sequence of events leading up to the behaviors, and what the behaviors actually accomplish, we will be getting closer to answering “why” coyotes behave the way they do. It won’t be easy, since cause and effect don’t always fall into a neat line. The best example we have of this is our own human behavior!

Yesterday a dog and walker came down their habitual path. As they did so, a coyote pair — a mother and offspring — approached them on the same path from in front until the dog stopped — then the coyotes stopped. I was told by the walker that this happens frequently. When the dog stops, so as not to get closer to the coyotes, the coyotes turn around and actually lead the way down the path for a little way before veering off from the trail. Coyotes know the habitual path of all walkers who frequent their areas; by knowing a walker’s route, they can actually “follow” from in front! The distance I saw these coyotes keep away from this dog was short — probably about 25 feet. Since there has never been an incident between this particular dog and the coyotes (yes, the dog did get too close a couple of times), and since this dog minds its owner and ignores the coyotes, the owner hasn’t felt obligated to shoo the coyotes off.

Today there was only one coyote which met this walker — the dominant coyote.  Like yesterday, the coyote “led”, or what I call “followed from in front”. That in itself may have included a message that we humans are not able to read: some kind of warning. Maybe this coyote’s behavior involves a “teasing” or “dare” that this dog is just not responding to? Today this coyote made the message stronger. It actually turned around to face the dog antagonistically: hackles up, body bent over, crouched low, teeth bared, nose wrinkled, eye openings as slits. This “display” — very similar to the classical “Halloween Cat” display — is meant to look scary in order to be effective. It is a blatant message to ward off a dog.

This dog owner told me that the coyote “followed/led”  in this manner because it could not get in back of the dog — in this case due to people, the two of us, being right in back of the dog. Apparently coyotes prefer approaching a dog from behind — this way it does not have to face a set of teeth. This coyote has approached from behind in the past and nipped this dog’s tail, and the owner assumed this was the coyote’s intention now. I actually have a video of a “friendly” version of this same behavior taken a few years ago: CURIOUS. In both the antagonistic and friendly versions of this, whenever the dog faced the coyote, the coyote ran off. In the instance today, I’m trying to understand the additional antagonism.

The dog and walker had been minding their own business today, as far as I could see. This is a dog that has never chased any coyote and has always pretty much ignored them. These coyotes and this dog have always seemed pretty accepting of each other’s presence — although possibly they are more keenly alert when each sees the other. Notwithstanding, there may have been visual communication and cues that we humans could not have discerned.  It seems obvious that this coyote had been drawn towards this dog for a specific reason. Why had the coyote so purposefully approached the dog, first “following” it and then with this antagonistic message? Might the coyote have expected the dog to show some fear, or retreat? Maybe this dog was just on the “edge” of acceptable behavior for the coyote? Most dogs would show some kind of anxiety or antagonism towards a coyote — this one did not.

When the coyote turned around to face the dog, the dog didn’t run off, but stood its own ground by facing the coyote: this has always caused the coyote to back off. Facing an animal with an intense gaze constitutes a known “challenge”. The owner called her dog and the dog came immediately to her side. A coyote will almost never come in any closer to a dog if it is right next to its owner.

The coyote, then, continued “leading” us all until we came to a cross path where it veered off. Here the coyote again put on its display for the dog, and then, when the dog turned its back on the coyote to continue down the path, the coyote went into a full chase, coming in from behind the dog. We were sure it would nip the dog’s tail, but it didn’t get to. The owner saw this and called for her dog — the coyote backed off because the owner was now right next to the dog.

Please note that this owner does not leash the dog because the dog obeys verbal commands — even in the face of a coyote. However, it was not until the coyote behavior had progressed to this point that the owner even thought of picking up a stone to dissuade the coyote. This is as far as the antagonism went — it was all bluff and displays meant to impart a message — a message to ward off the dog. However, effectively, I don’t think any long-term message was imparted at all to this dog and walker — just that the coyote might have been having a bad day.

The owner and dog, glued together, kept walking, while the coyote stayed back and watched them. I continued on with the walker and the dog. Within about 1/4 mile, we saw the coyote again. It stayed away now, possibly because there was another walker and dogs coming up another path. This dog and walker continued hiking out of the park, and I stayed back to watch what the coyote might do next.

The coyote went up a hill to observe the two unleashed dogs that appeared on the scene. These both, upon seeing the coyote, immediately pursued it. I do not understand why the owner doesn’t keep his dogs leashed in this area where his dog constantly encounters and chases a coyote. The owner was able to retrieve his dogs and leave. While doing so the coyote left the scene.

Later on I again observed this same coyote relaxing on a hill. It watched several unleashed but calm dogs on a path below, and then saw the coyote curl up so that it was barely visible — this is its normal reaction to unprovocative dogs. But then, a walker came by whose dog has gone after the coyote in the past. The dog was leashed, but the coyote decided to follow them — it hurried down the hill, keeping about 100 feet back. What was the coyote’s purpose? All I could think of was the coyote’s need to keep tabs on a dog that had previously intruded upon it — to monitor it. Maybe it just wanted to know “what are you doing and where are you going?” This coyote had definitely chosen this particular dog to follow. When the coyote came to a clearing where there were more dogs and more people, the coyote stopped to observe and then disappeared into the bushes. I did not see it again.

The “following” is very purposeful, it is from behind, and the coyote slows down at points in order not to be seen. The coyote almost always, eventually, gets noticed when it follows a dog and walker. This “following” behavior is almost exactly the same as the “leading” behavior I described above, however, in the latter case, I’m wondering if the coyote might be inviting or forcing the dog to follow it, explicitly so the coyote could impart its message? Could these be instances of a coyote’s needing to put a known dog it in its place? Or are these behaviors extensions of monitoring?

I should mention that everyone whose dog has “interacted” positively with a coyote is always so pleased that their dogs have befriended a wild animal. Beware that this might not be friendship. If it is a dominant coyote, the coyote will be antagonistic always towards ALL dogs. There is a reason: coyote packs do not allow outsiders into their groups. Outsiders create competition for territorial resources and shelter, and are a threat that might divide up the pack — and an outsider might even claim dominance.

Please notice that the photos in this posting are almost exactly the same as those in the posting: Coyote Agitated At Being Intruded Upon published May 11, 2010. The difference is that in that posting, the coyote was blatantly intruded upon. There are causes and purposes for the behaviors I’ve described today, even though I have not firmed them up fully. They are more subtle, less direct, and less readable by us humans. Any insights would be very welcome!!

All Chases Are Remembered

This coyote was out and about when people and their dogs began arriving in this park in the morning. I was at the other end of the park when some runners told me that people were talking about having seen a coyote. I headed in the direction they had come from. As I walked, I heard a couple of women repeatedly yelling at their dogs to “come” — it was the same desperate commanding tone I’ve heard every time from dog owners around a coyote. The dogs apparently did so, because when I actually arrived there, everything was calm, and the walkers had moved on. However, I am sure the coyote was feeling defensive at this point. I saw the coyote way off to the side by a hill where I could tell it had planned to make its getaway if it had needed to.

With the way clear, the coyote meandered about, sniffing the ground in various places. When it came to a specific spot, after sniffing the spot carefully, it urinated on it. I suppose that the coyote was leaving a message which “trumped” whatever smell the coyote had just found — this may have been the coyote’s reaction to the dogs that had been called away. It was right at this moment that a very large German Shepherd, an unleashed dog which has chased the coyote repeatedly, spotted the coyote and went after it in a full blown, fast and long chase. The coyote took off like a jackrabbit and was able to evade the large dog by dodging through some thick underbrush — coyotes all have a collection of secret escape routes if they need them. The coyote had gone on up to a high rock where it began barking its shrill discontent, loudly, for about 20 minutes. The dog was unable to pursue the coyote through the thicket. The dog owner finally retrieved his dog and took off for a walk away from this area. However, when he came back past this same spot, not long thereafter, the now calmed down coyote, still up on the rock, started in again: it was at this particular dog that the coyote was complaining.

I have noticed that once a dog chases a coyote, the coyote remembers the particular dog — as, of course, the dog remembers the coyote. It is the dogs which chase, along with the uncontrolled hyperactive dogs which the coyote watches in the mornings. The large, never-leashed German Shepherd is one of those which the coyote watches out for — monitors — because of its previous, and consistent chasing behavior — the coyote does this for its own safety. What I had not seen before is this coyote starting up its barking session again for a second time when the same dog re-appeared ten minutes later, albeit at a greater distance and without chasing this time.  The barking is both a complaining and a warning to the dog to keep off. The intense barking ultimately keeps most dogs at a distance.

Also, most dogs won’t continue in at a coyote if it turns around and faces the dog. A similar type of behavior happened several times with my own dog shortly after we had adopted him: he chased a cat. When the cat just stood there and faced my dog, my dog had no idea what to do — it was the chase that mattered. However, by the time a coyote turns around to face its aggressor, the coyote is now in the driver’s seat and it may very well actually defend itself by nipping at the dog to get it to leave. For this reason, we need to keep our dogs from chasing the coyotes. Chasing is a game for our dogs, but not so for the coyote.

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Three Disturbances in One Morning is Too Much

Most coyotes you might pass in the mornings in the parks are on their way “home”. For the most part, they are shy so they don’t linger where they can be seen for too long — they prefer not being seen at all. However, they might stop out of curiosity: “what are you doing and where are you going?” Soon they will have ducked into the underbrush, and they are gone.

The few bolder coyotes, usually mothers and leaders of their families, don’t mind being seen at a distance on occasion. Until they go “home”, they might sit in a protected spot high up where they can rest in peace, like the little bull Ferdinand in the story book, and where they can keep an eye on things. If these coyotes are disturbed, interfered with or chased, they will complain loudly and openly rather than just run away, and they may turn around to defend themselves. I watched as this type of coyote was interfered with three times today.

I arrived at the park in time to hear the distressed barking that a coyote engages in after it has been chased or disturbed. This intense barking can go on for as long as 20 minutes. I decided to follow the sound and found the coyote still engaged in its complaining. Although I had not arrived in time to see what actually caused the complaining, I assumed that the group of walkers I was hearing had had an encounter with the coyote, and this distressed barking was the result of that. After taking a photo, I left the coyote barking, and continued up a hill on my walk.

Soon afterwards, I found this same coyote, calmed down, in a different part of the park, on a ledge where it had stationed itself. I watched it and took photos for a while. It relaxed most of the time, but stood up now and then when a runner or dog on a nearby path caught its attention. It always went back to its perch after these had passed.

THEN things changed. The coyote bolted up and stared at something on the path below which I could not see. The coyote got flustered and began running away as a woman yelled for her dog which was now chasing the coyote . The dog pursuing the coyote was a very large German Shepherd. The coyote ran towards a more protected part of the park and started, for a second time, 20 minutes of distressed barking. The dog owner must have grabbed her dog because I did not see it again. Meanwhile, the coyote continued its complaining, keeping its eyes on all paths that might lead to where it was. I have seen that these incidents only happen with unleashed dogs. Although everyone knows that coyotes are in the area, not everyone wants to take the precaution or responsibility of leashing a dog they know might disturb the coyote.

The coyote then trotted a little ways in the direction where the dog had come from, where it continued barking for a short time. The barking session then ended with a few little breathy grunts. The coyote, now calmer, walked back over to the ledge where it had been resting before the German Shepherd chase. The dog and owner were gone.

And now, there is an important point I would like to make. These two incidents may have emboldened the coyote somewhat. If they had not occurred, the coyote may not have gone into a defensive mode or set herself up to be ready when a third dog appeared. What I’m seeing is that if several dogs chase a coyote or interfere with it, the coyote’s defenses may build up. If one person lets their dog confront the coyote, it makes it harder for other dog owners to deal with the coyote which now has its ire up and is emboldened and feeling defensive.

The reason I say this is that I then watched a THIRD disturbance for this coyote — the third in one morning. Right after this last incident had subsided, a female runner could be seen jogging with her two Weimeraners. These also were unleashed. The coyote saw them and stationed itself to watch from a place where dogs could actually reach it — wasn’t this a bit provocative? The coyote now seemed prepared for defending itself if it were chased. As the woman ran by, one of her dogs went towards the coyote — maybe out of curiosity — I did not see if it was a full blown chase. The coyote was in no mood to be interfered with again and it did not head away from the dogs. Instead, coyote gave the display you see here and even ran after the lagging dog to herd it on. The woman ran ahead calling her dogs which were some distance in back of her. As this group ran out of sight, the coyote stood and watched them, and then trotted off in the other direction.

My point in writing this is to let everyone know that coyotes don’t want these interactions. They do not want to be interfered with. They want to be left alone. They want to rest calmly. But, if this type of coyote is approached or interfered with, and if its ire has already been awakened so that it is in a defensive mode, it might very well stand up for itself. ALSO, if a dog has had previous interactions of this sort with the coyote, the coyote remembers, and is prepared for this particular dog. The coyote may even make the first approach in an effort to warn the dog off before the dog even thinks of disturbing the coyote: better warn them off before they chase you.

These encounters can be avoided if we keep our dogs away from the coyotes to begin with by leashing them. Please help establish a peaceful coexistence with our coyotes. A coyote only has its self-protective instincts to follow. Dogs also have to deal with their instinctual and “playful” needs, but in this case the owner can call the shots by preventing an encounter. It is the dog owners who have control. They need to prevent all interactions so as to protect both our dogs and the coyotes.

Still Looking Up To Mom: Coyote Behavior

One early morning walker who was out early with her small dog had something interesting to say about her small dog’s behavior when the dog became aware of coyotes up ahead on a path. As the unleashed dog came over the crest of a hill along the path, it suddenly turned back and hugged against its owner’s legs. The owner said the dog was “asking to be leashed — asking for protection”!! When the woman herself reached the crest of the hill, she found out why. There were three coyotes. They were quite a distance away, but nevertheless, the little dog was nervous about them. The woman sat down, hugging her dog, and watched for a while and then she took a path which circled way around where the coyotes were. When I saw her again the coyotes had moved a bit, but they were still there.

The small leashed dog was actually trembling and began barking when it saw the coyotes again, yet at the same time, this dog was very curious about the coyotes, and vice-versa. I think with many dogs there is a “push-pull” interest about the coyotes. Coyotes appear so familiar to us all in many ways, yet at the same time they are sensed by the dogs as being so completely different from themselves. The woman took a quick photo and decided to walk on. That her dog had asked for protection — that he had asked to be leashed in the face of potential danger — was fascinating. Could this also have been meant as a message to the owner: “beware of what is ahead?” The same behavior had been described to me once before, but in this previous instance the dog had been a very large male Labrador.

While this woman was circling around I watched the coyotes. There were two young ones — they were very alert. But what was of primary interest was that they kept their attention on “mom” who was sitting up higher on a hill. The young coyotes moved around a little bit, but mostly they were still and strained their necks at times to keep their mother in view or to find her.

As a set of dog walkers went by in the distance, the mother went further up the hill where she was now hidden — she kept her eye on this dog group. I could not see her, but the young coyotes knew she was there and they kept their gaze on her. As the walkers and their dogs descended the hill I noticed that the mother coyote had come up behind them: she wanted to see them, but didn’t want them to see her! There must have been communication between the two young coyotes and their mother because the youngsters wandered slowly towards a brush area as they kept looking back at her — as if they were following her orders or getting her approval. After 25 minutes of continually returning their gaze to their mother, they finally slithered into the underbrush. These young coyotes are not quite a year old.

“Monitoring”: Coyote Behavior

There is a coyote in one of the area parks that enjoys “monitoring” the dogs as they are walked — morning time is prime time for watching dogs for this coyote. After most of the dog walking activity calms down, the coyote usually heads into some underbrush or up onto a hill where it snoozes. One of the places from which the coyote keeps an eye on the dogs is way up on a rock ledge. The coyote is definitely not interested in people as shown by where its gaze is, and by where its attention is, and by how its movements are directed — except to keep a safe distance from them.

On a particularly foggy morning, I was out walking with a friend when we spotted this coyote on this high ledge. My friend has a very old and large, calm dog. We went to a place where our view would not be obstructed by branches. The coyote looked at us all, but particularly at the dog, from way up high, with not only height but also distance as a barrier. It is always exciting to see a coyote.

After some observing and some photos, my friend and her dog departed to continue their walk, but I continued to watch. The coyote’s attention turned towards a group of dogs and their walkers coming down a path. It was much too foggy to see very far, but the coyote’s attention and gaze was riveted on the group — I became part of the woodwork, apparently. The coyote stayed in its safe location, keenly watching the dog group until they had passed below and further on. When they were far enough past, the coyote scurried down to another rock ledge, a much lower one, from which it could continue to watch these same dogs until they exited the area. The coyote then remained resting on this rock for some time, until another dog spotted it and went after it. I had moved on at this point, but I was able to see the coyote whiz by as it evaded the dog. The coyote escaped the dog by dashing away and nimbly jumping up a rock cliff  to its original high ledge way above reach until the dog and its owner had walked out of sight.

I am writing this here again to emphasize that coyotes monitor dogs for their own safety — they have to know what dogs are around and which dogs might threaten them and pursue them. Coyotes have shown no interest in humans whatsoever except to keep their distance. Coyotes have never approached people in our parks, they have always fled when people get near them. The coyotes in our parks have not altered their behavior at all towards humans since they first appeared several years ago.

However, coyotes do keenly watch dogs whom they have visually gotten to know, and they defend themselves when necessary from unleashed dogs which have chased them. I’m wondering if our coyotes are becoming more bold with dogs because owners have allowed their dogs to interact with them on some level, including chasing them? This would be a kind of “habituation” to dogs? It is something to further look at.

Coyote Family Security Procedure?

A coyote had appeared, as always out of nowhere, way up ahead of me. It was on a path, standing still, and looking in the direction of a whistling man and his dog. The man and his active, unleashed dog were far in the distance. I had been hearing the loud and intense whistling for a few minutes before this.

The coyote’s attention was on the dog, though the whistling might also have attracted the coyote’s interest, as it did mine. I was on the same path as the coyote, but further on. The coyote barely gave me a glance:  as usual, its attention was focused, and riveted towards the dog — a large, active unleashed dog which probably had the potential for harm — at least in a coyote’s eyes.

The coyote then continued on the path, keeping its head and eyes turned on the whistling man and his dog.  It kept walking, purposefully, but not fast, up a hill and to a rock ledge where it could feel safe and could make a quick getaway if it needed to. It remained there for about half an hour, standing and then sitting, apparently making sure that the dog wasn’t going to pursue it. It waited until the dog and owner exited the area, as I have seen it do before. After the park had become totally quiet for a while, the coyote got up and left.

I then walked in the direction the coyote had taken, thinking I would not see it again, but I found it quite a ways further on, in a dark area, just sitting — sitting quietly. It stayed seated for about 15 minutes —  closing its eyes sometimes but remaining sitting up. I walked on and was surprised to see a second coyote — the offspring of the first — resting about 200 feet further on! I watched both.

Each coyote had become aware of the other fairly quickly and looked in the other’s direction. They also looked at me. And then, at about the same time, both began moving indirectly towards each other, glancing at each other and probably communicating. They ended up sitting about 20 feet apart. The second coyote then meandered back and forth along a nearby path and finally moved away and out of sight. The first coyote groomed itself for a fairly long time and then also slithered into the brush area.

This sequence seems to be the routine: A coyote family heads “home”, the younger one goes quickly to a more secluded area before retreating totally, while the parent lingers if there are dogs around, to make sure they don’t follow, then joins the other.

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