Maybe an Invitation to Play: Coyote behavior

We have all read about coyotes playing with dogs. Several years ago, in another one of our parks, there was a coyote which was well known for playing with a select few individual dogs who frequented the park. They engaged in short and friendly “wrestling” matches, and playing “chase”. I never witnessed these, but I heard about them. This coyote lived alone, and more than likely welcomed the friendly company and interactions. The coyote always played with the same dogs, and not the others. The coyote probably sought out specific “types” to interact with. It kept its distance from humans.

Except for dogs chasing coyotes, I have seen only a few instances of coyotes interacting with dogs, or trying to. Two of these instances I am going to describe here. One of these occurred this morning, which reminded me of the other.

A couple of years ago, I ran into an individual coyote several times on my morning walks, and I always took pictures with my point-and-shoot camera. My dog and I were often greeted with a very special, enthusiastic show which I’m sure was directed at my dog, even though my dog didn’t show the slightest interest — his attention was riveted to tastier things on the ground. I had found my dog in one of the parks when he was 3 months old, abandoned — and he never lost the habit of picking up clumps of dirt or sticks which he chewed on or ate. Bizarre, I know, but he never changed. We always kept a safe distance from the coyote.

Then, on a very foggy day, I saw this same coyote and decided to try the video-mode on my camera, which I had to figure out. I turned it on for a moment and then became aware that my dog, bored with my having stopped, had wandered off a short distance. Since he was so calm and detached, self-sufficiently occupying himself with what was on the ground, I continued taping the scene.

What I caught on the video was this curious little coyote repeatedly and enthusiastically approaching my uninterested dog who ignored her. For the most part, she kept to her safe distance of more than 30 feet, but then she dashed in a number of times, and finally summoned up enough courage — you can see this on the video — daring herself to touch my dog’s tail, in a real daredevil fashion, before running off.  The end of the video shows these two animals saying good-by — you can actually see this. VIDEO

After this, I kept my dog at my side. With me next to him, she didn’t try approaching him in this playful fashion, though she continued to greet us. My dog no longer comes with me to the park — he is almost 15 years old and his back legs barely work at all anymore. But I often see another walker in one of the parks whose dog reacts to a coyote in the same uninterested way as my dog did, respecting its space and leaving it alone. This dog also gets bored waiting for his owner, so goes off the path where he grabs a stick to chew on until the owner is ready to go. Coyotes are keen observers and I’m sure the dog’s enjoyment of the stick was observed by this coyote.

So, today, there was a lone coyote in this park. After we had been there a few moments, just standing there, the coyote came right up to the dog, almost face-to-face: the dog owner sensed that the coyote seemed lonely.

The dog allowed a pretty close approach, though I heard him give a short “grrr” as a “hey, backoff” warning. The dog had been chewing a stick a little earlier. And then something very interesting happened: the coyote picked up a 10″ stick and carried it a little further off. The coyote held it, put it down, and picked it up, and looked at the dog. Yes, it was an invitation to play. Our eyes were riveted on the coyote, but the dog did not accept the invitation. This dog is very friendly towards humans, and always greets me enthusiastically, but I don’t think I’ve seen him play with other dogs. Rather he is a very self-sufficient type — very similar to my dog. We two observers were quite fascinated. The dog and owner then walked on, and this coyote departed the area at this same time.

I do not advocate coyote/dog interactions — I am against them. However, I can see from the coyote behavior which I have observed, that when another animal respects them, the coyote can see this, and the compliment is returned. Respect is earned. It is not something that can be taught to a dog: they either have an instinct for it or they don’t. The same is true in human interactions with animals. My own dog can sense immediately when someone is afraid of him, even though they deny being so. The person’s fear is communicated, and the dog reacts with a growl and distrust. Distrust and respect are mutually exclusive. Fear engenders distrust.

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