ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs: Coyote behavior

I saw Jacob again this morning. He has a sheep-dog who is super sensitive to reading other animals. Jacob wanted to let me know of a coyote encounter he had had a few days earlier, an encounter which was closer and therefore somewhat disturbing compared to previous coyote encounters he has had. In the past, he and his dog always passed the same coyote at a distance, the canines would eye each other, and both would become alert to the other’s presence. The coyote might stand up if it had been resting — this is one of the dogs that is much too alert to be yawned at as it passed. The dog also is an enthusiastic ball retriever, which means it has spurts of high energy and activity. Alertness and high activity are clues that the coyote is in-tune with — this type of dog has pursued her in the past, even though this one specifically has not.

On this particular occasion it was foggy and quiet and there was no one else around. Jacob’s dog was ahead of him, when Jacob felt he was being followed. He turned to see one coyote following him pretty closely, maybe at 20 feet, and he noticed there was another coyote further back. As Jacob immediately called his dog to him, his dog noticed the coyote. The dog, now between Jacob and the coyote, walked towards its owner, ever so slowly and carefully, walking backwards, keeping its eyes glued on the coyote. This eye contact may have been seen as a challenge by the coyote.

At this point the coyote backed up a distance, ran up a tiny incline and began scratching the ground with its forepaws and rearing up — a display used to keep the dog away, to keep it from following through on its eye-contact challenge. The coyote’s purpose was to look intimidating — and for the most part it is effective. The other coyote disappeared into the brush. The coyote’s activity didn’t last long as Jacob walked off with his dog. The two coyotes ran off.

Coyotes have sometimes followed walkers the entire length of some park, sometimes at a further distance, sometimes at a closer distance. Curiosity, sizing the dogs up, desire for contact, maybe even a bit of challenge are all possible explanations.

It is always best to create distance when you don’t know what is going on. Jacob did this by calling his dog and then facing the coyote before moving on.

Please see posting of  December 7th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “Some reactions to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge”.  Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” of 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: oneupmanship verging on play” of 2/4/10.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeff German
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 13:40:47

    This blog has been very helpful to me. I have a boxer, basset-hound mix (stop laughing) and she is very much the sentry of our 7 acres of woods and clearing in Granville Ohio (east of Columbus). We have noticed a young coyote the past two days. This morning, Lucy lit after the coyote and the coyote met her near the pond. There were initially some tail-wagging which turned into run and chase. Lucy is a fixed female and it is my understanding that Coyotes are in season in January and February. This may have been a courting display. Lucy ran the coyote off our property barking unthreateningly and each time the coyote would return. This repeated itself several times until I got dressed and went outside. The coyote seemed to stay away at that point.

    Lucy has the run of the land and comes and goes as she pleases. I have the feeling that this may not have been the first time the two of them came into contact with each other. I have found some holes in the woods that could be coyote dens. These are about 300 feet from the house. I often see coyotes (a pair) along the fence line and hear them often. Perhaps I was just privy to an exchange of folly between two acquaintences.

    Everyone tells me to shoot this coyote. I don’t own a gun. Can you lend any insight?


    • yipps
      Feb 12, 2011 @ 20:17:35

      Hi Jeff — Thanks for writing. My experience is with urban coyotes. In an urban setting, dogs are almost always with their human owners who have them leashed or can get them leashed quickly. A nip in the butt is the most extreme outcome of a dog/coyote encounter. Very small dogs have been carried off by coyotes — they often act and look like prey to a coyote — it is always the owner’s responsibility to guard his dog. Coyotes shy away from humans — and you saw this when you went outside which caused the interaction between your dog and the coyote to cease. Coyotes are respectful of anything larger than themselves. However, coyotes are known to be very individualistic in their behaviors. Each coyote and each situation is different, so no one can actually predict an outcome of dog/coyote encounters. In an urban setting, we advocate keeping coyotes and dogs apart.

      From what you described, your dog and the coyote are not exhibiting any aggressive behaviors. The situation right now seems to involve curiosity, friendliness and maybe some testing and play — a young coyote would behave this way. You described wagging tails, a short romp, and back and forth chase before they leave each other alone. This can be a simple greeting, a simple “hello” or a “getting to know you” where each accepts the other as not being a threat. A key ingredient for a dog and coyote to be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable relationship is “respect”, which brings with it the animals’ will and ability to read each other, and abide by what the other wants/needs. If, as you say, there is a possibility that the coyote has been around for some time, the coyote and your dog may have already worked out a mutually understood relationship. If the coyote had specifically been “an alpha”, they would have established mutually acceptable boundaries and distances between each other. See my posting: Coyote Story.

      I can’t really say much about the possibility of a courting situation. I know that the female coyote only comes into estrus once a year, and the male only produces sperm during this short period of time: January to February, as you stated. Since Lucy is fixed, I would not think this is the case.

      Since coyotes are territorial, they can become protective of their areas. I have found this to be true of the alphas — the breeding pair who have pups and must protect them. If there is aggression, it will be displayed with the coyote’s head lower and purposeful charging at the dog, hackles up, teeth bared, scratching the ground. If your dog is antagonistic and chases a coyote, the coyote may run off and begin a long, distressful barking session. These are signs that the relationship between your dog and the coyote is not a respectful one. If there is antagonism on some level this could escalate if the coyote is an alpha. Some dogs just don’t get the idea of respect for coyotes: they think of a coyote as a squirrel — something to be chased and not respected — a toy. See comment by Charles Wood.

      So, I can give this information here to help you “read” your situation. If you have an outdoor dog who is allowed to roam by itself on seven acres, your dog and the coyotes will have to work out a mutually acceptable relationship, but if they don’t there is a possibility that the dog could be injured or maybe worse. Or, you could make sure your dog goes out only when you are there with a leash if you need it. I’m covering all contingencies.

      Please don’t shoot the coyote! Coyotes have dignity and majesty. You can take this opportunity to learn what they are like, and then support them. Most importantly, if you kill a coyote, the “vacancy” created by its death will most likely be filled by another — possibly by several more coyotes.

    • Charles Wood
      Feb 26, 2011 @ 06:46:24

      Hi Jeff – I wanted to chime in here to second Janet’s advice to not shoot the coyote for the reasons she offered. It may be that the pair you see respect the fence line and eventually the younger one will too. I’m sure you already know not to leave food scraps or dog food outside which would attract coyotes. Were I in a rural area on 7 acres I would try some experiments to discourage them from coming around since I wouldn’t want to share my space with coyotes particularly with a pet dog around. When I have been in spaces where coyotes don’t want me, they charge me and scrape dirt with their paws. So I would try that on them, chase them yellling and stop to scrape dirt with my feet. I would want to make it clear to them that I had a claim to the area. I’m not sure if I would go so far as to randomly mark the area in the fashion they do, haven’t heard that works. If I happened to find their scat in my acres I would be tempted to urinate on it, much as they do to message the depositor. In an urban/surburban area, noise makers (can shaking) is recommended to scare them off. In a rural area I might invest in a starter pistol and fire blanks when I see them. Coyotes are said to be active most at dusk and dawn, so I would try being up at those times looking around for them to make noise and scare them off. The message I would be trying to send is: This is no place to try and raise your kids.

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