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/

Mary Eats, by Charles Wood

When I first began watching my coyotes in 2009 I thought that I would frequently get to see them hunt and eat. I was wrong, I never witnessed them eating. Finally this week, after almost four years, a coyote caught and ate something while I was watching.

The video begins just after Mary pounced on a rodent burrow. I’m impressed by how quickly she moves. Once Mary has it she looks toward the camera, rodent hanging limply from her mouth. Then she looks back over her left shoulder at my two dogs and me. Mary turns her head back and then looks back again at us over her right shoulder. She takes a good long look. Then Mary puts the dead rodent down in order to peer into the burrow. The second clip shows her eating the rodent while a rabbit moves around in the background.

Mary’s concern, upon catching a meal, was with my dogs. I think she looked back at us to make sure we wouldn’t run to her to take her meal away. She looked at us twice to be sure her catch was safe from theft, in my opinion. Convinced her meal was safe, she put it down on the ground. However Mary didn’t look for Rufous. In my opinion, her failure to look for Rufous was a clue to his whereabouts. Either he isn’t a thief, unlikely, or she knows he wasn’t in the vicinity.

More On New Coyote, by Charles Wood

This post is an afterward to my post on November 23, 2012 about a new female coyote I saw on Thanksgiving. Included in that post is a segment of video where a female coyote looked like she was stalking. Here I offer additional video from that day. I hope it will better contextualize her behavior. When viewing the video, please remember my dogs are tied off and separated from the coyotes by a chain link fence.

The additional video picks up where the earlier one left off. I am back at camera after tossing a golf ball and the new female is shown going away.

After that we see where she came from. Still there, her coyote companion continued to survey the scene. (The new female is sitting down in the lower right.) Having tired of waiting for me to leave with my dogs, she apparently decided to message us again.

She walked in our direction. At that point I could easily have stomped and yelled. Had I done so, I’m sure she would have stopped and turned around. She was approaching this time with comparatively less energy, even stopping to groom. Each time she slowed down or stopped was another opportunity for me to message her. Note that as she got closer she yawned. I see coyote yawns in these circumstances as involuntarily betraying anxiety. Continuing, the new female was distracted and stopped to sniff. Again, she was not overly interested in having to message us again and her pause was another opportunity for me to move her back with a stomp or a yell. She came forward and yawned, another opportunity to move her back. Since I made no objection, she moved forward a bit. Then she stopped to appraise, and came forward more. One of my dogs began to bark. I reassuringly went to my dogs and made myself big. She responded at once and moved back to where she started.

The last segment shows the new female and her companion, now to our left. Her companion chose to be visible. She instead used a small rise to partially conceal herself from my dogs and me. Soon I could no longer see her. Her companion also didn’t seem to know where she went, my losing track of it as it looked around for her. My dogs seemed to suspect her location, but appeared to be barking aimlessly. It was dusk, getting cold, and I decided to leave.

The two coyotes were almost exclusively focused on my dogs. I think the new female wanted them to run away. Until I acted, I was just a placeholder, a possible complication. Even so, when I softly tossed a golf ball during the first approach, she immediately went away. I think she understands that she isn’t able to deal with a human. I think her second approach was consequently less vigorous than her first. From her first try, I think she learned that in this situation she indeed had to deal with a human, not just with dogs. In her second approach, I think she acted deflated. However she was able to find a dignified way to leave after the second try.

I am struck by how dependent the companion was on the new female. At first I suspected they were mates. However, their actual behavior was more parent-child than mates. For example, my Dad coyote, when Mom takes action, doesn’t stand around all flighty and looking like a gulping coward confused about what’s going to happen next. Mom, when Dad acts, is alert and in tune. The companion appeared as in training, not as a mate. It acted like her baby. She arguably acted parentally to be rid of unwelcome dogs. Just maybe the companion isn’t a yearling yet, is instead only about seven months old. If so, that would help explain a behavior that otherwise approached aberrance. The only time my Mom and Dad coyote act similarly is when they have small ones around. It is starting to look like both these coyotes are new to me, are mother and child, and were probably just passing through Mom and Dad’s territory.

Puppy Watch – No Sightings, by Charles Wood

Here in Los Angeles County my coyotes see me before I see them. Once I noticed Mom in the distance observing me. Once I looked up to see a yearling watching me. Dad also kept the pressure on me, seeing me first about every other day. I received their attention despite trying a new tactic.

Typically I walk east to get to watching places. Saturday I instead went north along the eastern boundary of my coyotes’ field. Along the east is a fenced off structure that has only a couple places where I can see into their field. Unfortunately, they too can see me.

I hoped they wouldn’t see me. As I happily walked, Holtz was ahead of me. Then he turned to come back. Immediately he started adversarially stalking towards something to my rear. Holtz’s head was slung low, protruding with his tough guy gaze fixed on the other side of the fence. I grabbed him and turned around. I expected to see a dog with a walker. I saw nothing. It must have been a coyote, no doubt one of mine that had been tailing us. Compared to a few months ago, my coyotes are visible and active.

Coyotes with puppies are more active for a couple of reasons. First, they are alert for interlopers. Coyotes hide and protect their young and are vigilant for all possible dangers. Also, they hunt more for having more mouths to feed. Fortunately for coyotes, nature provides them with more to hunt during spring.

This time of year, my coyotes’ rabbits also produce offspring. Controlling rabbit populations is an important coyote job. Young rabbits are easier to catch than adult rabbits, and I imagine that in good years there are lots of them for adult and child coyote alike. The richness of vegetation from good rains provides more cover for rabbit nests. Rabbit nests would be fairly easy for a foraging a coyote puppy to find all on its own. Yet the coyotes and other predators don’t find all the nests. One reason they don’t is that adult rabbits make themselves conspicuous this time of year, acting as fast running decoys that lead predators away from their nests. Dense ground cover with a bumper rabbit crop in their field is an excellent incentive for my coyotes to remain in their field.

A balance between predators and rabbits protects the field itself from a being overgrazed by rabbits. Fifteen years ago, when I would only see foxes, rabbits were a problem down river at Leisure World which suffered from a rabbit invasion. I suspect that since the coming of coyotes, that invasion silently went away along with the foxes.

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