Pursued Against One’s Will

Here you have a young coyote using a trail in a park. He had been avoiding and walking away from dog-walking groups all morning. His walk is obviously a casual one on a trail which appeared to have no one on it. The coyote left the trail long enough for an attempt at hunting in some brushes but then returned to the path. Suddenly, from over 200 feet ahead, a dog on the trail spotted this coyote and came after him furiously. The dog was right on the coyote’s tail — and it is this extreme closeness which is so disturbing. The coyote got away. But the story could have been different, with the dog hurting the coyote, and the coyote hurting the dog in self-defense. For the dog, chasing is game, but for the coyote it involved running for its life: coyotes live in a much more real world than our dogs do. I have avoided putting photos of dogs in the blog, but this one needs to be put in to bring home to everyone that wildlife and dogs need to be kept apart. This type of scenario can be avoided by restraining our dogs in parks that have coyotes.

A woman nearby who watched the event was able to grab her unleashed dog to prevent it, too, from going after the coyote — something it has done frequently and I could tell from the way the dog was pulling on the owner’s hold that the dog desperately wanted to do so again. The dog probably would not have pulled this way if it had been prevented from chasing the coyotes so many times before. I was pleased that she put in this effort this time.

Chase-Chase Behavior: Looking Beyond What Meets the Eye

An incident was described by a woman to me this morning. I am attempting to understand and explain coyote behavior so that we may all learn to better deal with it. The general setting involved a park with a pretty regular set of dogs and their walkers, and, in this case, a resident female coyote.

The woman said that at sunset, about 6 weeks earlier, she had been sitting in a little open park with her dog — this was not the wild part of the park where one normally might see a coyote. Suddenly, a coyote came stalking up towards her dog, and chased her dog. The chase went back and forth. The coyote seemed not very afraid when the woman first tried to deter it, but finally, with flailing arms and lots of noise, it fled. Her dog is smaller than a coyote and is 11 years old. This is a leash-law park, but no one obeys that rule. This coyote has previously engaged in “short distance back-and-forth chasing” with several dogs before finally fleeing. There is never any harm done, but dog owners don’t like it. The coyote only engages in this behavior with dogs it knows. Please see my posting of February 4th: A short back-and-forth chase. But I want to look a little further.

My question to the woman was:  But what did the dog do? The woman said “nothing”. She thought something might be “wrong” with the coyote because of its behavior. I couldn’t draw out anything that her dog might have done. But she also told me that previous to this, there had been a number of times in which this coyote had followed her and her dog out of the park on a little-used trail. A coyote might follow a dog and walker if it is curious about the dog or if it is assessing it, or possibly if it is making sure the dog is leaving. It would do so if there was something threatening about the dog.

The little-used path is by a thicket area with little coyote-size exits, where I’ve seen a coyote enter into a secluded back area — my assumption has always been that the dens might be behind this area. A possibility is that when this coyote was “following” this dog, it might have been “escorting” the dog out of the park and away from an area it felt very protective of — making sure the dog didn’t enter the secluded area.

This coyote is an alpha female with a family. She has been seen frequently enough, sitting quietly on a hilltop, observing the world. I see her as similar to Ferdinand the bull in the children’s story — peacefully smelling the flowers.  But she has defended herself when chased by a dog, and she has run down to aid another coyote when it was chased by a dog: she is not one to just flee — at least initially. She also seems to communicate displeasure, or “oneupmanship” with a few of the dogs whose behaviors she has come to know, reminding them that “I’m here, so stop your threatening activity.” We humans would not know what the threatening activity might be, but almost certainly a coyote would pick up on these.

Someone recently suggested that dogs urinating at these underbrush exits may actually be provoking a defensive response from coyotes. The dogs smell the coyote and then urinate there — I’ve seen this often. Canines use urination to mark their territories. So a coyote might see this as a possible challenge to its claim on a territorial den area. In addition, over time I have become conscious that this female coyote appears to know most dogs individually that frequent the park. This coyote knows which dogs do what — as all canine’s do.

The dog and owner regularly have walked through that side area of the park — unleashed — and the dog may have regularly urinated by one of the underbrush exit trails the coyote takes to its den. So, the coyote’s behavior as described by this woman could have been a reaction to what this coyote has seen and knows about this dog. Leashing a dog might make it adhere to the path so that “territorial marking” does not take place.

Coyotes have rich family lives and need to protect their families, they also must protect themselves and they must protect their food source. They do not just eat vegetation which can be found everywhere. Rather, coyotes must search constantly for their source of protein…. other animals, such as voles, gophers, squirrels, rats. And they need to monitor their territories to insure that competitors of any sort — in this case dogs, especially dogs with certain behaviors that we may not fully comprehend.

Coyotes are not like domestic dogs — they are wild animals with instincts and rules of their own which they must follow to survive — rules that we may not know about and may not comprehend.

We know to guide our dogs through heavy traffic intersections with leashes. We all follow the rules because there is too much going on to make it work otherwise. Our parks are becoming more environmentally friendly, more natural and diverse: there is a lot going on, including new wildlife that has been attracted to them. Our parks are not back yards made just for our pets — but places to enjoy the out of doors in all of its diverse aspects. Dogs are not wild animals and don’t know how to deal with the wild. Dog owners need to deal with coyotes in the parks the same way they would with the traffic on the streets. Following some simple rules can make it work: please leash your dogs in coyote areas.

I wanted to add one other observation. The little dog in this posting is of the type that intently and hyperactively retrieves a ball. This is absolutely normal behavior, but in the coyote’s eyes it might be distressing because of the hyperactivity it entails. I have seen this coyote calmly watching all types of dogs walk by from atop a hill. She often reacts to the smaller, extremely active types — her attention becomes temporarily riveted on them and I’ve seen her get up and pace until they pass. So here is another “distressing” dog behavior which the coyote could have remembered when it engaged in its “chase-chase” or “oneupmanship” behavior with this dog.

Please read postings on December 12th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th:“Some Reactions to Dogs”, November 17th: “ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs”, and December 1:“Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge”.  “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” 2/4/10. “Coyote Safety” of 11/3/2009. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10.

Safety Around Coyotes; PLUS Behaviors To Be Aware Of If You Have A Dog

This information was distributed at a health & safety fair here in the city:

PLEASE DO YOUR PART IN PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT WHICH INCLUDES OUR WILD COYOTES!

~ coyotes are a natural part of this environment ~

~ seldom are they aggressive, but they will protect themselves ~

~ an ounce of prevention works! Protect both your dog and coyotes ~

1) Prevent close coyote encounters in the first place:

  • never feed a coyote or try to tame it
  • never walk towards a coyote – give them space
  • never let your dog chase or play with a coyote
  • leash your dog whenever you see or hear a coyote or know one is in the area

2) Behaviors coyotes use to protect themselves when chased by a dog

  • charge-and-retreat sequence
  • a long barking episode, often rearing up on their hind legs
  • a nipping at the haunches, same as a cattle dog herding, to move the dog away
  • “escorting” or following you out of the park (rarely)

3) If this should happen, you need to scare the coyote off:

  • slap a folder newspaper against your thigh as you challengingly eye and walk towards the coyote
  • yell and clap your hands making a very loud racket, or try carrying a shake can
  • throw stones around the coyote, not at it to harm it, but near it to scare it
  • grab your dog when you can and leave the area, but don’t run which a coyote might read as an invitation to chase you

4) Two coyote behaviors to be aware of — usually between a coyote and a dog who know each other:

  • “Chase-Chase” Behavior: the coyote will be traveling in the same direction as a walker and his/her unleashed dog, and will come in close with a little “darting in”  and “retreat”. The dog will return the behavior. It is almost a “dare” or “oneupmanship” with no other intention than just this — it verges on play. Some dogs can handle this, some need to be leashed.
  • A mother coyote may come to the aid of one of her full-grown pups and the two will work as a team to vex a dog to get it to leave: one coyote will distract the dog, the other will come around to dart in from the other side.
  • In both cases, leashing the dog creates a barrier of sorts: it calms down the dog — and this can be seen by the coyote. But also it keeps the dog next to the owner which serves to deter the coyote from coming in. Coyotes do not care to tangle with humans.

Please read postings on December 12th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “Some Reactions to Dogs”, November 17th: “ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs”, and December 1: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge”. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: oneupmanship verging on play” 2/4/10.