What Is Going On With A Coyote Which Appears “Bolder” Than Normal?

2015-02-08 1

Seeing coyotes more often. Some folks believe, incorrectly, that coyotes become dangerous to humans and pets if they get used to seeing us: getting used to seeing us is called “habituation.”  I’ve observed, first-hand, over the last eight years, the behavior of several generations of urban coyotes and their pups and never have seen habituation cause aggressive or dangerous behavior. A habituated coyote, per se, is not dangerous or aggressive; habituation is not the same as food-conditioning. All that may result from habituation is that they may allow themselves to be seen a little more, so you might see them more. Coyotes are instinctively programmed to become used to and therefore ignore — habituated to — the same constant elements in their environment, and this includes a constant stream of humans. Not running quickly from people who have never bothered them is a coyote’s way of avoiding wasting unnecessary energy in human dominated areas. However, they retain their wariness of humans and will keep a safe distance and not approach us, and their other behaviors continue as before.

A habituated coyote is not a dangerous or aggressive coyote. One of the cure-alls which is being offered by some organizations to keep coyotes out of sight is “hazing”. Indeed, scaring a coyote from your and your dog’s immediate personal space is necessary and effective if you do it correctly. However, you cannot just generally “haze” a coyote and expect it to disappear from view forever because, over time, coyotes become used to the “hazing” — habituated to it — as they do other things in their environment. Rather than fleeing, the coyote may just stop and curiously look at the hazer, or take longer to flee. And this is when folks begin to interpret that failure to flee as “habituated and therefore bold and dangerous”: again, this is an incorrect assumption. The hazers have simply taught the coyote, over time, that hazing is something else in their environment which they must get used to. Again, these coyotes retain their wariness of humans and will not approach us.

Seeing an incident of “communication” for what it is. What I have seen is coyotes attempting  to “communicate” or “message” their needs for space, personal safety, and territory to dogs. Please remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories by messaging them in the same way they message dogs. Only one coyote family occupies any particular territory. Dogs, especially very active ones, are seen no different than any other interloper coyote. Coyotes communicate with dogs and interloper coyotes in the only way they can: by “showing” their needs, often via an antagonistic display, a series of charges and retreats, or, sometimes, a nip to the haunches. Coyotes are superb communicators — many of us who have been walking our dogs and seen this behavior “get it” — we see it for what it is. When we respect their needs, their need to communicate in this manner stops. But some communities are taking this to the next level by saying these animals must be proactively eliminated, “because they are a danger to the community”. In fact, simple precautions of leashing and knowing how to shoo off a coyote from your personal space will solve the issue without resorting to the draconian kill solution, an approach which will simply disrupt a stable resident family of coyotes and create bigger issues for their human neighbors. And, coyotes actually keep additional coyotes from entering their territories by using this communication behavior.

So-called “Bold” behavior explained: “messaging”. What I have seen is that someone in every coyote family has a stronger “position” or “duty” to keep things safe. And this is not necessarily the alpha — it could be a beta. A coyote with this behavior is the one which some communities are targeting and calling “bold” and therefore “dangerous to humans”. Many folks now know that this coyote, if killed, will soon be replaced by another — the vacated position will soon be refilled — so killing the coyote serves no real purpose in reducing the population of an area. Those in favor of lethal removal now say that what they are really trying to eliminate is the “bold” coyote. But, it is also erroneous to suppose that in killing a coyote, the “bold” behavior is what will be removed, and that a milder coyote will replace the killed one. There is no evidence or justification for this thinking. The “position” and “duty” involving taking on protective behaviors to benefit the family and its territory, will also be taken over by another coyote. That position will always be there. This is why you don’t kill what you may perceive as a “bold” coyote. So, killing neither changes the number of coyotes in a territory, nor does it eliminate the existence of a more “bold” coyote. And an additional problem with eliminating resident coyotes is that a newcomer “replacement” will have to learn, over time, what the original coyote already knew about urban living and coexistence, and the way he may learn this is through trial and error involving more encounters with people and pets, and by visiting more yards.

The only effective approach for dealing with this situation is to thoroughly educate the public about coyote behavior, and to set appropriate guidelines — including a warning always to walk away from a coyote if you have a dog — this will discourage an interaction; be prepared to effectively shoo the coyote away if it approaches into your and your dog’s personal space; and put up signs advising folks that this isn’t the best place to walk dogs at the moment. This is enough to prevent further incidents. This is what we do in San Francisco. IF this is not enough, a behavior modification program such as VEXING would be the next step.

Small pets may be seen as prey. Regarding pets as prey, again, coyotes can’t distinguish between who is your pet and who isn’t — small animals look like prey. Coyotes are not targeting your pets to take them from you in order to be aggressive, they are simply fulfilling their need to survive. Therefore, small pets need to always be kept under supervision where there is wildlife. And a tit-for-tat retribution isn’t going to solve anything. Removing a coyote, even if you get the right one, which is extremely unlikely, will not bring back your pet, nor will it prevent future unguarded pets from being taken. What will solve the issue is guarding pets and keeping them out of harm’s way, the same as you do, hopefully, as you cross the street.

Coyotes may visit yards and even come up on your porch. They are exploring, curious and looking for food, often enticed by strange and strong smells. Get rid of all food attractants and scare them off to teach them that you don’t want them there. You may have to do this a couple of times, but they will learn.

No Need To Kill Coyotes. You don’t need to kill coyotes, ever, unless they have rabies — the possibility of which is exceedingly small — or unless there is something going on beyond what I’ve described above. The rare incident between a dog and a coyote, as described above, is bound to occur on occasion, but keep in mind that, in the scheme of things, the number of these incidents is minor.

Ecology, Environmentalism, Sustainability. Again, I want to repeat what I’ve said before: The driving ethos these days is “environmentally friendly” and sustainability”. Environmentally friendly means not destroying what nature has given us — it means developing guidelines which inflict minimal or no harm on the environment: coyotes are part of our natural environment. The idea of sustainability resulted from concerns about how humans and our “needs” were altering healthy and balanced ecosystems, which was coming back to haunt all of us. It turns out that we don’t need to destroy so much — we don’t need to kill these animals, and we actually should not do so. They are part of the system and they help keep it balanced.


 Here is a clarification of the three terms, defined by me as I use them in this posting:

Shooing off/scaring a coyote. This is a method to scare a coyote away who is in your personal space or approaching your personal space or in your yard. It always involves stepping in the direction of the coyote, sometimes aggressively, to make it move. It is very straight forward: nothing more is accomplished than simply making the coyote move away. You may have to repeat this at some future point, but the coyote will soon learn that he should not approach you. A pamphlet which describes this can be found here: http://coyoteyipps.com/#jp-carousel-31191. And, IF the coyote doesn’t move, it is suggested you call it a day and leave the coyote alone — there are reasons for a coyote’s behavior that have nothing to do with the concept of “habituation”, such as pup protection.

Hazing. This also is a method of scaring coyotes away, not dissimilar from shooing a coyote away. But this is a term, as I see it, with added concomitant meanings. The premise behind this term is that “habituated” coyotes are a danger, so the goal is to re-instill fear of humans into the coyote. The expectation is that the coyote will then stay out of view. When coyotes don’t respond to this treatment as expected because they’ve become “habituated” to the scare tactic itself, this coyote now is considered, incorrectly, even more of a danger and becomes the target for lethal removal — it results in increased human fears of coyotes. Please note that coyotes do not lose their innate wariness of humans due to habituation, no matter how often they see us.

Behavior Modification, or conditioning is a method of learning which depends on rewards and punishments. It is used to modify very specific behaviors, not just that a coyote has been seen in a field. Food conditioning falls into this realm. Coyotes are rewarded for coming into your property when there is food there. If food continues to be there, they will continue to come. To break this conditioned response, first, remove all coyote attractants. If this is not enough to deter a coyote, the opposite of a reward is instituted: a punishment is offered which will deter the animal. What you specifically offer as punishment will depend on exactly what is going on. A trained animal behaviorist should be called in when this is needed. Vexing is one behaviorist’s specific methods:http://littlebluesociety.org/vexing–isi-.html.

A Young Male Coyote Shows His “Mettle”

When a group of unleashed dogs with their walkers spotted a family of coyotes relaxing at the bottom of a hill, the unleashed dogs went after them. These are the only dogs in this particular park that regularly pursue and search out coyotes, even when coyotes are not out in the open or within sight. The coyotes inevitably flee the harassers: thirty-pound coyotes aren’t much of a match for 60 pound Labradors. I can imagine that the coyotes tire of the intrusions and onslaughts.

In spite of the tremendous screaming by the walkers, the dogs would not return to their owners until the owners physically went to retrieve them. One dog in particular was hell-bent on pursuing the coyotes — he’s the usual perpetrator of these raids and the leader of the rest of the dogs in that walking group.

Today the male coyote youngster gave standing-up-for-himself a try. Dad was there as support, but it was the youngster who put himself out on the front line, heading the defense, while Dad sort of backed him up from further back and often from behind the safety of a small bush. Dad and the youngster coyote stood their ground defending themselves and their turf, and even, as a warning tactic, went on the offensive, darting in to message the dog to leave. When the dog found himself unexpectedly surrounded on both sides by coyotes, his movements became indecisive and he became at a loss about what to do.  That is when the dog’s owner finally reached him, shooing away the coyotes and retrieving her dog.

My hope is that the dog felt uneasy enough in the situation he found himself in so that he’ll have second thoughts next time about intruding on coyotes. Let’s see.

Of course, if the owners had leashed their dogs — which they’ve often been admonished to do — the incident would not have happened. But these owners have no intention of leashing: “I never have and I’m not about to begin now”. This arrogance and amazing feeling of entitlement may not end up happily for everyone.

What is interesting, as far as I have observed, is that younger coyotes often appear to be more willing to stand up to an intruding antagonistic dog than the oldsters.

Season for Confirming Territorial Claims is Now

This time of year is when single coyotes who have not yet bonded with a mate are exploring beyond their natal territories, seeking out new areas to live either because of internal drives or because they have been kicked out by their birth families. At the same time, intact mated coyote pairs and their remaining offspring with established territorial claims are on the alert to keep these intruders out.

Recently I wrote about an intruder coyote exploring an area already claimed by a coyote family. The resident coyotes’ reaction was to drive the intruder out. They did this by behaving un-welcomingly and antagonistically: chasing and intimidating by their glares, punching with their snouts and even nipping: http://coyoteyipps.com/2014/12/29/new-face-on-the-block/

People with pet dogs need to be aware that this behavior towards other coyotes may also be directed at dogs. Coyotes may be on the lookout, especially during the next few months, for any canine that they think might want to move in and claim the territory: these include highly active dogs whose owners are not close to them. Their job is to dissuade these trespassers from moving in. All incidents can be prevented by keeping dogs leashed and moving on.

Today in one of our parks, two long-time resident coyotes kept their eyes on two sets of dogs who were extremely active, not leashed, and not terribly close to their owners. In one case, a man was running with two smallish dogs which lagged far behind him. The running and generally active behavior of the dogs is what alerted the coyotes that these two dogs might not just be passing through. The coyotes at first just watched them, but soon they became anxious and agitated as revealed by their behavior: getting up, standing erect and pacing back and forth as they watched. As the two dogs and owner ran on, both coyotes bounded up to follow. As soon as the runner and dogs headed out of the coyote area, the coyotes calmed down.

In the second case, there was one unleashed dog and owner who were fairly calm physically, but not necessarily psychologically calm. The coyotes and dog could read each other and, as instinct would have it, did not like each other: all canines seem to have an antipathy for one another: foxes, coyotes, wolves and dogs.  The coyotes approached the dog within about 30 feet and there was minor but perceptible intimidation on the part of both the dog and the coyotes. I told the owner not to let his dog go after the coyotes, at which point he grabbed his dog by the collar and walked on. A human right next to a dog will dissuade coyotes from approaching.

To prevent any antagonistic incidents during this season — rare though they might be — it is very important for dog walkers to be aware of their surroundings and aware of what season it is for coyotes. When they see a coyote, they need to leash up immediately and walk on, away from the coyotes. This serves as a safety measure for both dogs and coyotes, and it is respectful of wildlife which is only following its instinctive behaviors. If a dog and coyote engage at a closer range, it can be pretty scary, because neither coyote nor dog will respond to an owner. The coyote may even message its antagonism with a nip to the dog’s haunches. If there are two coyotes, a dog may become baffled by the situation and not know what to do. The owner needs to move in and grab his dog quickly — but not if the coyote is too close to the dog and the dog is responding with bared teeth. Neither the coyote’s nor the dog’s intention is to bite the owner, but as the coyote attempts to message the dog and vice-versa, the owner could get scratched or bitten by dog or coyote. Please remember that these incidents are rare: the number of bites or scratches from coyotes to a human, usually because of this situation, amounts to about 17 a year for all of North America, whereas bites to humans from dogs sends 1000 humans to emergency rooms every single day. We all can prevent this eventuality by following simple guidelines: keep your dog leashed in a coyote area, if you see a coyote, move on and away from it, know how to shoo off a coyote if it is approaching.

Edited for clarity 1/18/2015

Running In The Direction Of Some Dogs

I’m seeing new behavior in a young 19 month old male coyote youngster. He — I would call him a “teenager” in coyote years — lately has been running in the direction of particular dogs to get a closer look as they walk through his park. Unbound curiosity seems to be what is driving the behavior, but it occurred to me that there might be a longing for more companionship.

The coyote never gets closer than about 75 feet or so before he stops, looks more closely, and sniffs intently with his nose high in the air, gathering all the information he can — olfactory, visual, auditory, and maybe more that we humans can’t sense, such as pheromonal cues — about the dog which is passing by. The behavior does not seem to involve any protective territorial behavior. There is never any sign of hostility or antagonism of any sort. The coyote just seems to be very interested in these non-family, non-coyote canines.

Purpose and Direction

It’s important for folks to know what is normal, mundane, coyote activity, and this posting is about just that!

Today I saw three coyotes out lolling around aimlessly in the darkness before dawn: one hunted casually and one wallowed on something — no doubt something smelly. It was before daybreak so I could just barely make out their movements in the near distance.

Within minutes of my spotting them, their activities suddenly acquired direction and purpose. They all jetted off quickly in a bee-line. Because of the lack of light, I could not see which of the three led the brigade, or if, somehow, they all mutually understood and knew what they would be doing for the next little while. Had they heard the first dogs and walkers entering at the other end of the park, about 1/3 of a mile away? I hadn’t, but coyotes have much better hearing than we do, and this is what may have set them off.

They ducked into and through a grove of bushes where I could no longer follow them, but I had an inkling of where they would emerge and ran to that spot just as, sure enough, they emerged into view. At this point I became aware that, although they all might have had the same design in mind, they were not agreed upon the location. One of the coyotes ran up a hill to a forested area: this is a route they take when they want to hunt along the way to a spot on a hill overlooking a path where dogs and walkers could be watched. This coyote looked back at the others, as if waiting in anticipation of their following. But they did not, so she went on ahead: “who knows, maybe they’ll join me later?”

The other two coyotes stopped right there where they had emerged from the dense bushes — they went no further. They were on a little knoll from which they could watch and be watched — from a safe distance — by passing walkers and their dogs. They settled down and simply watched. A few dog walkers and their dogs trickled through, some seeing the coyotes and some not. Even the one group of walkers which normally harasses and antagonizes the coyotes leashed-up this time and went by without incident: their dogs did not chase the coyotes today. It’s this group that I think the coyotes were out messaging their presence for.

Eventually a couple of dog walkers, without initially seeing the coyotes, headed up the path directly next to where the coyotes were hanging out — the coyotes stood up in preparation for flight. But, upon seeing the coyotes, these walkers leashed their dogs and turned around, and the two coyotes settled down again to watch. They watched this couple of walkers distance themselves and then release their dogs from their leashes as they moved away from the coyotes. Then first the youngster coyote, and then the older one, got up and ran in the direction of these two dog walkers and their dogs — they seemed to be pulled by their curiosity about the dogs who now had become extremely active off-leash. The younger coyote has been engaging in this pattern of behavior recently: running in the direction of particularly active dogs to watch them, but never approaching closer than 50 feet and never showing any hostility — just plain interested and curious.

The dog walkers spotted the coyotes approaching and quickly leashed their dogs again. Coyotes, dogs and walkers all stopped in their tracks to watch each other from the 300 foot distance which separated them. All was still and calm. After a minute or so, the walkers walked on together, and the coyotes, too, came together, touched noses and wandered slowly back to where they had been and then into the bushes.

I have now seen this behavior many times: the coyotes had headed out on purpose to see and be seen by the dogs — to assess and update themselves about the dogs coming to their park — possibly very specific dogs — and to let those same dogs know about their own presence and territorial claim.

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Later on,  that first coyote who had headed up the hill and away from the others returned to where I had first seen her before dawn. As she hunted, the younger of the two other coyotes, her sibling, walked into the field with a purposeful gait, obviously looking around for her. They found each other, touched, and ended up hunting a little together and then a little apart before one and then the other disappeared into the bushes for the day. This is coyote family life in the big city, and it has purpose and direction!

 

A Coyote Encounter – with Dogs – from One Of Our Readers

One of our CoyoteYipps visitors sent us a description, and took the attached two short videos involving a coyote encounter with dogs. I am reposting the comments and videos because they display normal coyote behavior that everyone needs to be aware of if they have a dog. More often than not, a coyote will simply flee when it sees a walker with dogs approaching it, but there are times when it may react as it did to Samira. Coyotes are territorial animals. This is still  pupping season for coyotes — it’s a time when coyotes are particularly protective of their areas.

Hi Janet —
Today I had an encounter with a coyote that unsettled me. I was walking my two dogs, one very large (~90lbs) German Shepherd, and one medium-sized Beagle/Cattle Dog mix (~40lbs) on a wooded path. I never see other people walk here, so I let them go unleashed. About five minutes in, we came across a coyote who barked, howled, and followed us. My dogs immediately started chasing the coyote, and when I called them back to me, the coyote followed. Since I thought the coyote was heading in the opposite direction, I continued further into the woods, but it continued to follow us. Though my dogs have good recall, they seemed unable to resist the urge to chase the coyote (particularly since the coyote was acting surprisingly playful) and the cycle of chase-return-follow happened several more times. My German Shepherd in particular was enjoying himself; normally he is very wary and protective and often takes offense to other dogs at first sight. It honestly surprised me that he didn’t attack. Though we didn’t appear to be in any danger, the fact that the coyote was so doggedly following us (it even went as far as the asphalt path next to the road as we exited) made me nervous, and I booked it out of there was fast as I could.

I’m having trouble understanding if the coyote’s behavior was as playful as it seemed to be, or if it was (as you’ve mentioned in this blog) meant to “escort” us out of its territory. Is it safe for us to go back? I’ve walked them there many times without any incident, albeit during the mid-afternoon (today we got there around 6pm, later than usual).

I’ve uploaded two videos:


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Hi Samira –

Thanks for writing about your encounter. The videos you sent are excellent in that they depict exactly what can go on when you encounter a coyote with dogs. What you encountered was normal coyote behavior. Dogs and coyotes don’t like each other — it’s important to keep them apart. It’s a good idea to keep your dogs leashed once you see a coyote — please don’t allow your dogs to chase them. If it followed you to the edge of the forest, it was assuring itself that you were indeed leaving the area. It could have been a youngster coyote who was curious about your dogs, but more likely, the coyote could have been trying to divert you away from youngsters in the area by making you focus on it.

If you don’t want to walk elsewhere, when you do walk through this forest, please make sure to leash and keep walking until you are out of the area. With your dogs leashed and next to you, the coyote is unlikely to approach. You have a large dog and a medium size dog — still bigger than coyotes who weigh 20-40 pounds — on the East Coast they are slightly larger. Also, you have two dogs which constitute a “pack”. When dogs are part of a pack, they are much more self-assured and they work together. They can do incredible damage. It is the coyote which is endangered by this situation, not your dogs. Also, you should be armed with knowledge of how to shoo off a coyote if it gets too close to you: you can see how to do this by watching the video at the top of the coyoteyipps home page. Please let me know if you have any more questions. Also, may I post your videos on the blog? — the more people who see this as a potentiality, the better they can be prepared to deal with it. Thank you! Janet
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Hi Samira,

Going just by the short videos the coyote doesn’t come off to me as wanting to play. I too have had encounters like yours, over several years with a coyote couple and their children. Janet has been kind enough to let me post pictures and video on her blog and my coyote encounters almost always involved dog, human (my dogs and me), and coyotes messaging their territorial concerns to us. So the way I interpret your coyote’s behavior is that he is herding your dogs out of the area. (Actually you were doing the herding by calling your dogs back.) It’s hard to know with any certainty, but there may be something in that particular area the coyote cares enough about to claim and it looks to me like me may be broadcasting his claim to your dogs. Charles
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Thank you for the response! I probably won’t return to this area of the woods anytime soon – we have a lot of other spots to choose from. And yes, you can use my videos. For reference, we are in Eastern MA, in a suburban neighborhood.

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

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