Coyote “Attacks” and the Media, OR “Messaging”

The following news item and video (click on the link) serve as a departure point for exposing the truth about most reported “attacks” by coyotes, and for explaining coyote “messaging”: “Caught On Camera: Dog Attacked By Coyote”.

Although the video purports to show an “attack”, it does not do so. By calling this an “attack”, the article is creating a news story through sensationalist hype and playing on people’s fears. It sells well, it’s exciting, and it raises the fear level to a frenzy that, for most folks, justifies killing coyotes. It is irresponsible journalism, but it is how the press has been handling almost all reports regarding coyotes. We have suggested to journalists and news stations that they please contact biologists trained specifically in coyote behavior to help them get correct information out to the public, and this article does at least list what folks can do when they see a coyote. At the same time it calls what happened an “attack” which is blatantly incorrect.

What the video does show is a few seconds of a dog running from a coyote chasing it. Also, the article reports a couple of sightings, and that the dog, Lexus, came home with a few scratches. These are the facts from which this “attack” article is spun. But the dog wasn’t maimed, he wasn’t hurt, and there’s no proof at all that he was “attacked”. That he “got away with his life” is pure fabrication and sensationalistic. If anything at all, the dog was simply “messaged” to stay away for intruding or even chasing the coyote. That’s it.

I’ve been photo-documenting urban coyote behaviors, including their interactions with humans and pets, in urban parks for eight years.  I have only seen coyotes chase dogs in the manner shown in the news video clip, when a dog has gone chasing after the coyote first, or when the dog has intruded on the coyote in some way and then decided to run off. Dogs are constantly intruding on coyotes. A coyote’s nipping message is their attempt to drive the dog away, not maul him to death. It’s how they protect their territories or dens and it’s how they drive intruder coyotes away.

This series of 17 slides shows what happens when coyotes and larger dogs engage. When a coyote approaches a dog, it does so by making quick, short charges and quick retreats, where it is always ready to run off if the dog faces it. Coyotes aren’t animals who will take chances of being injured, so they avoid all-out fights with dogs. Please remember that running away by any animal raises a coyote’s adrenaline and incites a coyote to chase. We advise people never to run from a coyote for this reason. For more information on dog encounters, see video presentation, “Coyotes As Neighbors” and posting of March 30th: Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A Dog, and What You Can Do,.

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“Messaging” by coyotes consists of nips to the dog’s hindquarters and rarely amount to more than abrasions or scratches. You need to watch this behavior as it happens to really know what is going on. The coyote does not open its jaws for a big massive and incapacitating chomp into your dog. The coyote’s jaws remain fairly closed with only it’s lips pulled back a little from its front teeth so that it can pinch the dog enough to give it a firm message, and these are delivered to the back legs or rump of the dog.

How to prevent it in the future? Don’t let your pet wander freely in coyote areas, even if it’s your own wooded backyard. Coyotes want to be left alone, so keep your dog away from them. Since small pets can be mistaken for prey, please never leave your small pet outside unattended. Note that your fenced yard is a human fabrication which is supposed to keep other humans out. It won’t keep out raccoons, skunks, birds, gophers or coyotes. Coyotes have boundary markers which consist of fecal marking material, not physical fence barriers. So the only way to protect your pets, even in your own yard, is to supervise them or keep them leashed.

http://wtnh.com/2015/03/29/dog-attacked-by-coyote-in-ansonia/

Coyotes and Dogs, Coyotes and Humans, and How To Shoo Off A Coyote

The updated presentation — updated on June 13th — is at the top of the page in the second posting on this blog: It’s called Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus on Facts.

The version I’m posting today, here, in this posting, is called Coyotes As Neighbors: How To Shoo Off A Coyote. It is a shorter version of that first one: I’ve cut out some of the coyote behavior slides and the section on killing coyotes, and I’m concentrating on human and dog relationships to coyotes, and how to shoo them off in each instance. This version here is 20 minutes long, versus 30 for the one at the top of the yipps blog. Otherwise, they are exactly the same.

I don’t think a lot of the information in these videos can be found anywhere else — I don’t think much of this detailed urban coyote/dog behavior has been observed or documented. Except for some statistics and the section from Robert Crabtree (I think that’s the original source) that killing coyotes increases their populations, most of the coyote information in these videos comes from my own 7 years of first-hand observations. I’ve been spending 3-5 hours daily in our parks, engaging in my “pioneering photo documentation” (that’s what one journalist called it!) and research of coyote behavior and their interactions with people and pets. I believe these are the first such presentations which concentrate on the urban coyote himself! I’ve been told by coyote specialist professors that the dog/coyote observations are new. The video has been reviewed by an experienced wildlife conflict manager with 15 years of experience in the field.

Anyway, I would like to to get the information out there now because we’re in the middle of pupping season — there might be more coyote encounters coming up.  This information will be useful especially to dog owners. If you have time for the longer version, I recommend that one. If you don’t, try this shorter version. They are both pretty long, but they contain most information that you’ll need, especially if you are a dog walker.

Grunting More Than Huffing Here

This video, again, shows the reaction of a coyote to a hostile dog appearing on a path about 200 feet away. Coyotes seem not to be bothered by dogs that have never bothered them. So when a dog appears that causes a coyote to react this way, it is because of the dog’s previous behaviors — a coyote always remembers each dog and its behaviors, be it a blatant antagonism, or something more subtle like a “dirty look”.  I’ve seen this over and over again. By the time I got the camera set up, most of the grunting was over — it had gone on for over a minute.  The grunts are very audible in this video. Fortunately the walker and his dog veered off the path and left the area, so the grunting just petered out, as in the last video I posted. The coyote  took the opportunity to lie down right there where it was camouflaged by the tall grasses. Coyotes frequently are right there in the open, but you can’t see them!

Shortly after this grunting episode, another dog and walker — with a history of being hostile and antagonistic towards coyotes — appeared in the distance. The coyote heard them coming and stood up, waited until they were in sight, and, before being seen by them, trotted off into some bushes rather than wait for the possibility of an encounter. I’m sure if the coyote had stayed down, it would not have been seen, but it chose not to take this chance.

One might wonder why a coyote would be out when dog walkers are out. Do  rodents tend to stick their noses out more during certain times, making hunting more successful at these times? I don’t know, it’s just a guess. Also, though, coyotes seem to want to get a glimpse of what is going on in “their” territories before hunkering down for the day.

The Huffing Continued

This is actually a continuation of the last posting on “Coyote Huffing”. I should have included it in that posting. By the time I took this second video, the coyote had sat down. But you can still see the movements of her throat, huffing and puffing, during the first 13 seconds of the clip. The activity is very quiet, barely audible, if at all in the clip, but nonetheless audible in real life. In this case, after the huffing stopped, at 13 seconds into the clip, the coyote calmed down and the matter was forgotten for the time being. The coyote soon got up and continued her slow trek towards one of her snoozing spots.

“Thoughts on Dogs and Coyotes” by Charles Wood

Over the last year the encounters between my dog and “my” coyotes have escalated into confrontations.  A year ago I could unleash my sixty pound dog in their field and successfully manage their infrequent interactions.  I’ve come to understand that my past success was influenced by chance and happenstance to a greater degree than I previously thought.  Today I consider my entering their field as potentially unsafe and provocative.  In contrast, other people use that field at times and have told me they have not seen coyotes there.  Young boys use a part of the field for bicycling, having built earthworks for that purpose.  Transients at times sleep there.  Groundskeepers make their appointed rounds.  Teenagers party.  Towards these other field users, the coyotes have remained a “ghost species”, perhaps because they don’t bring dogs with them.  My dog and I have caused the coyotes to single us out for increasingly confrontational treatment.  It took a year for those changes to develop, a testament to the coyotes’ natural tendency to avoid people.

By chance and happenstance I mean factors that influence coyote behavior.  At root their behavior is about food and reproduction.  Coyotes live mostly in family groups.  Consequently, if you see one coyote there is a good chance there is at least one more present nearby.  It doesn’t seem likely that one coyote and an equally or greater sized unleashed dog will seriously injure each other.  My opinion is that mature breeding coyote pairs together are smarter and stronger than one dog of their size or larger and that coyotes don’t play by the rules that a typical pet dog expects.  The encounters between a larger unleashed dog and such pairs seem to me to be advantaged to the coyotes.  The proximity of a human and the degree of human control exercised over the dog become critical to the outcome of such an encounter.

An unleashed larger dog appears to a coyote as an interloper, and intruder.  Coyotes are known to be intolerant of interloper coyotes.  Coyotes will defend their food sources and their young.  Their options in so doing are legion and their choice of tactics is perhaps situational.  My situation is that my dog foraged, he did not simply walk through the area and/or chase my coyotes.  Also, my dog interacted with a mated pair.  My observations of my coyotes and my interloper dog took place over the last year or so.  The contact with the coyotes began with them simply showing themselves.  They seemed to be saying, hey, you’ve smelled me and my markings, why are you still here?  After a time of being in view, they would withdraw into the brush.  At some point later Dad would attempt to sneak up behind my dog, presumably to deliver a nip to his haunches, nips I could prevent by yelling.  As time passed and I ignored these messages, Dad escalated to warning bark sessions after which he would return to the brush.  Barking sessions were later replaced by more aggressive displays of marking, scraping and mock charging followed by partial withdrawals where he remained in full view.  If we didn’t leave, he would begin those aggressive displays again.  Later, to those types of aggressive displays, Dad at times seemed purposed to separate me from my dog where I read his intent as to engage my dog in combat.  Mom recently temporarily separated me from my dog although we were on opposites sides of a chain link fence.

These behaviors developed over about a year, and about a month ago, Mom also began mock charges, marking and scraping without retreating from view.  I should mention that the zone of intolerance increased beyond their field and into other areas where my dog and I had never had problems with them.  My read of my dog is that he would not visit those coyotes of his own accord and that he has felt that way for some time.  Also, much of the time when we walk along the river bank or go to the bridge, we don’t see any coyotes.  When we do, many times my coyotes don’t behave aggressively.  I can’t predict when they will or when they won’t.  When I do see them, it is for an insignificant fraction of their day and I never know what kind of day they had.

Several years ago in a different area, at dusk, two coyotes followed my dog and me as we were leaving.  On the crest of a hill, one of the coyotes ran out in view of my dog while the other remained behind crouching.  My dog stupidly chased the moving coyote down the hill out of my sight.  The crouching coyote did not follow my dog, perhaps because I was present.  Perhaps the coyotes were practicing, but clearly my dog was at risk of being defeated in a frontal and rear attack.  I hadn’t visited that other area very often, yet those other coyotes engaged my dog at a level it has taken a year for my usual coyotes to approach.  Once, in that other area, my dog was off leash and out of my view.  I called him and he didn’t come.  I began to look for him and soon saw him running full speed towards the exit which is located about a mile from where we were.  I called him, he momentarily paused, missed one step in his galloping gate and looked me in the eye.  His look and body language said to me, “Forget it, I’m outta here buddy!”  It took me a while to catch up to him near the exit.  I believe he was responding to some wildness directed towards him by a coyote, again, one of my first visits to that other area.  Here again I am speaking to the unpredictability of coyote behavior, the reason the experts advise us, upon seeing a coyote, to go the other way.  We can choose to do so.  An unleashed dog may decide to chase the coyote and the outcome may or may not be consequential to the chasing dog.

Part of the unpredictability of coyote behavior could be attributable to the fact that the circumstances in which coyotes find themselves change over time.  Food may be plentiful one year and scarce the next.  A female may lack a mate one year and acquire one the next.  One year there may be no puppies and the next there may be several that survive for months or longer.  I have no idea why the coyote I call Mom recently became aggressive when for the longest time she was timid and obsequious.

I want to reiterate that the behaviors of escalating aggression I observed over a year were behaviors that I elicited by ignoring the messages the coyotes were giving me.  My behaviors caused the increasingly aggressive behaviors I observed.  From the point of view of the coyotes, my behavior was that of a perpetual repeat offender.  I continually brought my dog, whom they perceive as an intruding competitor, into their home.  I had decided to give my 60 pound dog a little space with coyotes in order to find out for myself what would happen.  I don’t like what happened.  My behavior was to repeatedly intrude into their home range and seek contact and take pictures.  My unwise dog used the space I gave him to seek food and to disturb the coyote family.  The coyotes’ home range contains their children and their food, the two things coyotes care most about.  They responded accordingly.  After all, coyote behavior is rooted in food and reproduction.

I’ve wondered, considering how little territory my coyotes occupy, how it was that rabbits were always present.  Why weren’t the rabbits depleted and why hadn’t the coyotes moved on?  One reason is rabbits reproduce rapidly.  Another is that other rabbits nearby come in and take over the space formerly occupied by rabbits that the coyotes ate.  The same kind of habitat seeking applies to coyotes.  Removal or extermination creates empty habitat for other coyotes to find and occupy.  The idea that “something must be done” about coyotes is simply an idea that is obsolete.  Coyote survival in urban and suburban areas doesn’t depend at all on how many are removed or killed.  Their ability to find and use habitat in urban and suburban areas depends on how we behave towards and think about coyotes.  Understanding the nature of coyotes helps us to manage our lives in ways that minimize unwanted contacts with them.  Coyote presence requires us to change a little.

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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“Coyote Behavior 101″ for Dog Owners

Coyote Behavior In Our Urban Parks for Dog Owners To Be Aware Of: Based my own first-hand observations of coyotes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Coyotes are shy — they don’t really want to confront dogs, and much less so do they want to confront humans. They prefer maintaining their distance and normally will run off when they see you. If you happen to see a coyote, it is because it is “passing through” the area. However, all coyotes, as all dogs and all humans, don’t follow a single norm — there are variations. I will try to explain some possibilities here.

A coyote may stop to observe you and your dog from afar, especially if you yourself stop on a path to look at it — and especially if your dog “looks” at the coyote.  A coyote may even come towards you a way to see “what you are doing” and “where you are going”. If a coyote approaches as close as 25-50 feet, it would be a good idea to shoo it off. You should know that it is not out to attack you, it is curious about its world which you and your dog are a part of.  Only a handful of times have I seen a coyote actually come in close to a dog. Be assured that the coyotes in our parks have never specifically approached humans — it is your dog which the coyote is curious about.

At their core, coyotes have a natural shyness, or “fear” of humans. Along with the curiosity always will be the fear. Even though most of us move away from what we fear, sometimes we may try getting a little closer to what we fear to “test” it, maybe even to test ourselves. Maybe we should see such a parallel between ourselves and the coyotes. The coyote’s curiosity about the dog may be pulling stronger than the fear repelling it away from the human owner.

Regarding dogs, we all need to know that for the most part, coyotes keep “outsider coyotes” out of their areas and out of their tightly knit family group. Dogs are in this category. Coyotes do not want the dogs interacting with them. I do know that loner coyotes have solicited play from dogs for short spurts of time, but when there is a coyote family this is less so, the dogs are not welcome — coyotes will vex these dogs.

Dogs are often “monitored” and kept track of in certain parks by the alpha coyote — always the mom — of a coyote group. I’ve watched as this same coyote even moved to a better vantage point to watch until the dog group left the area. The reason dogs are monitored is because they are the coyote’s chief threat in an urban setting: dogs have chased coyotes, and are often seen as competition for the available resources in the park. Resident coyotes are treating the dogs as they would any other coyote intruder. But also, once a coyote has been chased by a dog — and therefore has seen the dog as an aggressor — the coyote will forever be leery of this dog. Dogs, as opposed to coyotes, are not responsible for their own survival since we take care of them. Dogs often think such chasing as “play”, whereas for a coyote the chase is much more serious. But dogs also often feel protective of their owners or the group of dogs they are with, so they may chase a coyote for this reason.

Note that a coyote “pack” is always a tight-knit family group — not similar to classic “dog packs” where unrelated dogs get together for mutual survival needs — these dogs are more on the level of a “gang”. A group of coyotes is really a family — and from what I have been able to observe, a very warm, affectionate, caring and mutually supportive family — one we would all be proud to have around.

There are exceptions to a coyote’s keeping its distance, depending on the coyote AND on the situation and the “history” of a particular coyote’s interaction with particular dogs. The dominant female in any coyote group is going to take charge of keeping her family safe. This coyote will actually come to the aid of the other coyotes if she sees dogs getting too close to one of her family members.

Few humans are aware of the communication going on between our own dogs and other dogs. Well, the communication also is occurring between coyotes and dogs, through eye contact and body language and activity level. Keeping our dogs next to us and leashed lessens this communication. We humans are too absorbed in our own conversations and activities to catch the subtle messages between our dogs and the coyotes. It is important to minimize interaction, even eye communication, to prevent it from escalating. At the crux of what dogs and coyotes are communicating is their feeling of safety, and safety very often has to do with personal space. Predation is another area involving communication via body language which we humans are not always attuned to [Aloft]. Keeping a large distance between a coyote and you and your dog, and keeping the dog leashed will minimize the dog-coyote communication since communication is normally carried on at a closer range, and will lessen the possibility that any communication might be acted upon.

If a coyote has been chased by a dog, or even “intruded” upon by having the dog come too close — and the coyotes are the ones that decide when this is the case — it may begin an intense high pitched, distressed barking session. The barking session is a complaining, but also a signal to the dog that “I’m here and not to be messed with.” If the dog doesn’t back off, the scenario intensifies, with the coyote engaging in sequences of darting at the dog and retreating, and finally, if the coyote can get away with it, with a nipping at the haunches of the dog to herd it away from itself, cattle-dog fashion.

The problem is that although coyotes tend to “go home” shortly after dawn, this is not always the case. I have seen coyotes out at all times of the day: 10:00 am, Noon, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm — these are not the times one would expect to see a coyote, and although the chances are less at these times, the possibility is still there that you might encounter one. So a coyote might be just around the bend on a path or hidden behind a nearby bush where it will surprise you, and you will surprise it. This is another reason why it is important to keep our dogs leashed in coyote areas. Although a young coyote would normally just flee, the mother will stand up for herself and for her pups, grown though they be. This kind of surprise encounter could easily lead to a charge-and-retreat sequence. If your dog is leashed you can hurry off, rather than let your dog react.

Another behavior I have seen, the significance of which I’m still working on, is the short “chase-chase” behavior — this seems to occur only between a dog and a coyote which know each other, either through previous visual communication, or because of a chasing episode which they both remember.  In this case 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. A leashed dog can easily be led away from this to prevent its reacting.

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. This coyote behavior can be quite intimidating because of its intensity.

Pupping season is upon us — April for birthing and May through October for raising the young. We all need to know that all of the self-protective and defensive behavior coyotes display throughout the year will be intensified during pupping season. A coyote will be defending a den and a large area around it, and she will be more sensitive to rambunctious or intimidating dog activity. Please be especially careful during this time about keeping your dog leashed and calm in coyote areas.  A coyote will leave your dog alone if your dog leaves her alone and gives her the space she needs to feel safe. A dog off-leash cannot do this on his own. He needs your help and guidance in coyote areas.

With all of these behaviors, leashing the dog creates a barrier of sorts: it calms down the dog — and this can be seen by the coyote. But it also  keeps the dog right next to the owner which serves to deter the coyote from coming in closer. Coyotes do not want to tangle with humans.

Also, if you are walking in an area where there are several coyotes who are either sitting on the lawn, hunting, or headed in a certain direction, it is best not to intrude upon them, but to leave — why test this situation with your dog. By simply being there, they have claimed the area temporarily.

There are various types of dogs that upset coyotes — that cause them to react. It is mostly the more active dogs that appear to arouse the coyotes. Leashed dogs are calmer and the coyote picks up on this. There is an exception to this: if a dog owner becomes anxious, he communicates his anxiety, via the leash, to the dog and this causes the dog to become even more actively anxious. If you know you are an anxious type of person, maybe you could walk in a different park.

Small fluffy very active dogs seem to cause an instinctual adrenalin rush in the coyotes: I’ve seen a coyote monitoring when such a dog passed on a path — the dog and owner were unaware of the coyote perched on a ledge above the trail. The coyote stood up, hackles raised and began trotting back and forth on the hilltop. In this case, the dog’s owners moved on quickly, but the little dog was not leashed. Most dogs are calmer when they are leashed. I’ve actually seen a coyote calm down as a dog was leashed. Two different dog owners told me that when their dog sensed that a coyote was around, they actually “asked” to be leashed by hugging against their owner’s legs! Leashing gives a sense of protection to everyone.

Any extremely active dog may arouse a coyote. I’ve seen a calm, resting coyote jolt up to attention when it saw this kind of activity, even from the distance. I think this may be because coyotes themselves are not at all hyperactive unless it is in a predator type of situation. It might be that seeing hyperactivity, such as that engaged in in dog-play may arouse predator and defensive instincts in a coyote.

What do coyotes do when dogs are not around? Life is exquisite for them in our urban parks which are full of small rodents and sources of water! I’ve seen young ones play, I’ve seen them all hunt, I’ve seen them sleep, and mostly, I see them resting on hilltops, basking in the sun, just like the little bull Ferdinand. Ferdinand was discovered by his captors as he sat on a bee: he was taken for being the most ferocious bull in all of Spain, when in fact, he just wanted to sit in a field and smell the flowers. Coyotes, too, are not aggressive, but they will defend themselves from dogs. Dogs are a coyote’s main threat in an urban area. Thanks for reading this.

IN SUM

*coyotes are not aggressive, but may actively attempt to keep their territories safe for themselves and their pups. The biggest threats to urban coyotes come from our dogs. We can help keep both our dogs and the coyotes safe, and feeling safe, by keeping them well apart in our parks.

*keep dogs leashed in a coyote area

*avoid active “play” with your dog in a coyote area, such as catching a ball

*if there is an encounter with a coyote and your dog, leave the area for both animals to calm down.

*you are unlikely to see a coyote often, but when you do, it is best to know what behaviors it might exhibit.

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