Some Reactions to Dogs: Coyote behavior

I have been able to observe many coyote/dog interactions. Most coyotes are pretty shy and will keep their distance and then flee from dogs. Some coyotes, cautiously and prepared to flee, will allow a calm dog to get a little closer. The coyote reactions to dogs I am delineating in this posting involve a certain alpha female. This coyote is more visible and bolder than others I have seen. She can be seen at times on elevated areas, where she lifts her head as some of the dogs and owners pass at a distance, and she sits up when she feels there might be a need to escape.

This coyote knows every single dog individually that comes regularly to the park and has assessed their potential threat to her. She does this by “reading” their body language and their type of energy as they walk, and she sees where their concentration is. She is also very aware of communicating through eye contact with dogs. Not all dogs are as keenly in tune to communication through eye contact in this manner — but a few are keenly aware of it.

Different dogs have different awarenesses of her. Some hardly notice her, some notice her and think she is an animal to be chased, some know she is “different” and to be respected. One very sensitive sheep dog can spot her from way across the park — this dog is the keenest observer I have noticed: he and the coyote will “lock” into an eye contact, which means they are interacting at a certain level, during which time the sheep-dog exhibits a lot of uneasiness. The owner calls his dog and they move on.

Most dogs that this female coyote observes fall into the category of being yawned at. She observes them through half-opened eyes. These are not a threat to her. Calm dogs on-leashes and calm dogs off-leashes are in this group. They are seldom cause for concern to her. Runners with their dogs whose full attention is with the runner are also in this category and ignored. Actually, almost all dogs are in this category.

There are very few dogs who are not in the above category. The few who are not, are given quite a display.

These dogs, on the opposite extreme of the spectrum from the calm dogs, are the dogs off-leash, who are more alert, aware of their surroundings, wild-acting, fearless and out to explore. Most of them are medium size to large. These are the ones she keeps her eye out for, the dogs of most concern, especially if they have the reputation of having chased the coyote in the past.

This coyote reacts to seeing these dogs by “becoming ready” to defend herself. She begins by standing up, and sometimes running off for a few seconds. This is not a submissive coyote, so she always comes back to stand up for herself, even though she may have to run off again. She has an elaborate defensive display: bouncing up and down, her hackles up, her ears out to the sides and back. Her back is hunched so that she can “spring” up and down for easier and quick movements — it is like a dance. She paws the ground, scratching with her front paws, and makes short darts back and forth and sideways. Her head is sometimes lowered and her lips are pulled back with her nose wrinkled. These behaviors constitute her basic stance and movements. She may grunt a little, which sometimes leads to an intense barking session — but just as likely, the barking session never even begins. This, then, is a visual reaction — a display.

If the owner can grab his dog, the episode will stop there. If the dog chases her, she may initially run off  – she is much, much faster and more lithe than any dog and can always get away, but she usually comes back. She seems to know which dogs she must run from — she can easily exhaust these dogs with her speed and distance, and she knows which ones she can hold at bay or move away from herself. I have seen her run off to an unreachable ledge and begin a barking episode. If she comes back she might begin a barking episode coupled with the above display. Or she could add a short charge-and-retreat sequence directed at the dog, and, if the dog’s owner is not close by, there have been a few instances where the coyote has tried to nip the haunches of the perpetrator, the same as a cattle-dog nips at a cow’s heels, to herd it away from herself. AND sometimes, twice that I have seen, she has gone even further, “escorting” the dog and owner right out of the park — following them fairly closely to the park entrance.

These are the two extreme reactions to dogs, with the calm reaction occurring most of the time, and the reactive one occurring less often. It appears to me that the coyote knows when walkers leash their dogs — it would be so easy to prevent incidents by doing so. I’ve seen her intensified alertness calm down when she sees this.

The same alert, wild-acting, fearless dogs on-leash may elicit a shorter and milder version of the response to the unleashed dogs: the coyote starts “getting ready just in case”, but then lets it pass after only a few seconds when she sees that the dog is restrained. As far as I know, she has never gone after a leashed dog, no matter how threatening to her, though she has “escorted” a couple of them out of the park following an incident of them having chased her while still off-leash.

I once saw a tiny little dog run wildly, off leash towards its owner — it had been lagging behind and decided to catch up. It raced over the path like a little bullet. But I could see that the coyote became very excited and agitated with the seeming hyperactive, fast running little dog. Even though we humans might think that a coyote would see this tiny dog as harmless, the instincts of the coyote might have been primed due to the dog’s hyperactivity.  In this case, the coyote stood up, hunched over and began running back and forth on the crest of the hill it was on. The dog reached its owner, and slowly the coyote calmed down. One must remember that several breeds of dogs, especially cocker-spaniels, often bite children because they cannot handle the unpredictable hyperactivity that is innate in small children. Dogs like predictability, and I suppose that coyotes do, too.

Another time, I saw a coyote resting on a bluff as a walker with three medium-sized dogs walked casually, but energetically by, at fairly close range. The dogs did not see the coyote, since it was hidden from them by the crest of the hill. The coyote rose to its feet, hunched its back, pulled back its gums and began pawing the ground and bouncing. I think the appearance of these dogs had surprised the coyote during an unguarded moment — they suddenly were in its visual field, having been hidden from it, too, by the crest of the hill. But after only a few bounces, seeing that the dogs did not even look up, it stopped and lay down again.

Another time, a coyote was close to the path while a couple of us were observing it. A man with a medium size dog came by. I suggested he leash his dog, which he did, but he would not walk around to give the coyote space. Even though this dog was leashed and close to its owner, it pulled on the leash, towards the coyote, barking — and this is what the coyote reacted to. The coyote stayed back, but immediately went into a “hunched back, gums pulled back, pawing the ground, rearing up on its hind feet, wrinkling its nose, dart-and-retreat sequence”. However, as the owner pulled his dog away along the path, the coyote calmed down. Then, after the dog and owner were 100 feet ahead, the coyote followed at a quick pace, but changed its mind when it noticed more humans up ahead. This may have been one of those times when the coyote felt like “escorting” the dog out of the park, but the appearance of more people prevented it.

In some parks, certain coyotes appear to have become accustomed to some of the dogs, even liking some of them — at a distance — if they adhere to the path. One of these is an unleashed large unfixed male labrador who acknowledges a coyote it sees occasionally, but leaves it alone. There seems to be a kind of mutual “animal respect” here.  This coyote has, several times trotted closer towards the dog, all the while retaining a readiness to flee. The coyote seems to be observing the dog — assessing him.  This coyote has followed this dog and owner a number of times, at about 50 feet, all the way out of the park — all in a very calm manner. Once, before dawn, two coyotes followed this dog, one of them circling around in front of the dog and and the other ultimately running up to him from behind and mouthing its tail before racing away — almost as a dare!  The owner was amused. This dog normally does not like it when there is more than one coyote to deal with. To show how each situation is different, I want to point out that this same coyote gave this same dog a different greeting once. Maybe the dog was behaving differently — he often runs in an ungainly, waddling manner off the path to grab a stick and chew on it: this kind of unpredictable behavior may have made the coyote wary and nervous. The coyote assumed its protective stance: crouching low, baring its teeth and scratching the ground. The owner called his dog back to the path. The coyote repeated this “challenging” stance three times, and finally ran off to engage in a barking session. I put this incident in here to show that although a lot of dog/coyote encounters are predictable, this isn’t always the case.

In another instance a coyote was sitting peacefully in a field, lower than the trail as a dog and owner walked by. The dog was leashed-up when I mentioned that a coyote was right there. The coyote crouched low, remained sitting, and kept an eye glued on the dog as it passed — this was not an instance of yawning as the dog went by.

Ears are a very important “tool” for inter-coyote communication. I have not looked at what difference the positioning and movement of the ears in dogs makes on the coyote’s behavior. It might be something to investigate.

Please see posting of December 12: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 17th: “ANOTHER reaction to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge.” Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3, and “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” of 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” of 2/4/10.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mimi
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 04:24:34

    Hello,
    I just moved on to 42 acres which is a paradise of orchards, ponds and hills. The property is fenced all the way around and my dogs love running the property. On moving day, I walked out my door and I thought a neighborhood dog had come on to the property. I didn’t have my glasses on but walked slowly toward the “dog” only to realize as I got about 10 feet away it was a coyote. It ran a little distance away and yipped for a good 10 minutes.
    Once I brought my two dogs to the property, they immediately enjoyed running freely and exploring. My larger dog, a lab mix chased the coyote but came immediately back. The coyote keeps returning each day and even wants to run back and forth close to us while my dogs are walking. Just yesterday, I was walking through the orchard in the evening with my dogs and there were 5 coyotes. They all ran different directions but my dog chased one for a short bit. I moved to this property so I could walk and enjoy the lovely space but now I am worried. Do coyote families kill dogs? I love the wildness of the property and I don’t want my dogs to be on leash on our own property but I also don’t want any animal hurt. Your advice please.
    Thank you,
    Mimi

    Reply

    • yipps
      Sep 03, 2014 @ 23:41:56

      Hi Mimi —

      Thank you for contacting me. It sounds like you’ve moved onto a property that is already occupied! Dogs and coyotes normally don’t like each other so they need to be kept apart — it’s because of strong territorial claims: coyote families normally don’t allow interloper coyotes into their territories for very long. Dogs and coyotes can develop respect for each other. However, one of your dogs has already chased one of the coyotes which means he doesn’t respect them. At this point, you really need to be out always with your dogs and have them stay close by you until you get a better feel for the situation.

      What is the size of your second dog? Is he/she also larger than a coyote? Dogs who are larger than coyotes have been used to keep coyotes away from herds of sheep, so your dogs probably could keep them away if they knew this was their job. However, more than one dog constitutes a “pack”, and dog packs which are away from their owners often behave very differently from when they are with their owners — often destructively: they need you, their alpha, to keep them under control.

      My advice to you is to always be out with your dogs, keep them from chasing the coyotes, keep them leashed unless they have good recall, and slowly assess the situation by watching both your dogs and the coyotes. Right now you don’t know what to expect. Keep food out of your yard. You should not be afraid for yourself because coyotes will not approach you, a human, on their own volition unless they are fed or provoked in some way, and I doubt they would even approach you under those circumstances. The one tool you should have is the ability to shoo a coyote away if it is approaching your dog: the video at the top of my blog goes into this, and there is more information at coyotecoexistence.com. If you want to send an update with your observations after you’ve had time to really assess the situation, I would be happy to help you figure out the next steps, or, if you want, I can put you in touch with a wildlife conflict manager. Let me know!!

      Janet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s