What Does a Coyote Think About During a Day?

A method of instruction used in art history involves comparing two slides. When there are two things to compare, more actually becomes visible to the viewer: differences and similarities become blatant. So, for comparative and contrasting reasons, I thought I would initially string up a list of what domestic dogs seem to concentrate on during their day, then list what a coyote might think about, and what their awareness might be.

A domestic dog is always under the leadership of a human — a pet dog is a follower, even though there are a few instances when this might not be so. Under human care, a dog does not need to think of the bigger picture. The same as a child, he thinks of more immediate things, such as hunger, play, chasing a ball, ego issues with other dogs, obedience. Some dogs are trained very finely beyond this to be working dogs: they can herd cattle, they can sense human temperature changes, they can get an owner up at a precise time, they can serve as eyes, they can do assigned tasks for a person who is unable to do these things for himself.

A coyote’s thoughts would also include playing, eating, sleeping, family life. But coyotes have a larger view of things in that they need to concentrate on survival issues. They need to concentrate on real life and death issues from day-to-day, and from season to season. Their minds are in a different place from that of dog’s: a dog may think of food, but he seldom has to worry or wonder where it will come from or how to get it. He has an owner to protect him, so seldom does he have to think of real self-defense or escape routes. His territory usually involves only his own home and yard, which are completely off-limits to others. A coyote has to deal with a territory where there are constant intrusions from humans and dogs — there is always a perceived threat here. A dog may feel loyal and protective towards its owner — a coyote would feel this towards its family members.

Further up the scale for a coyote, there would be nurturing and care for the young, teaching the young, protecting the den areas. There would be monitoring of the other coyotes if it is part of a group: knowing where the others are, defending them, monitoring their activity. There would be searching for hunting areas, actual hunting and eating, feeding others, making sure all are taken care of. There would be self-defense: running from dogs, defending themselves from dogs — these are on the level of survival, not the same “play” that dogs engage in. Escape routes would all have been planned out beforehand and kept in mind. There would be assessing potential rivals: assessing dogs, following dogs, testing dogs to see how they might respond. Coyotes have to take care of their own health: lying low when healing, moving between areas to avoid flees, batting flies and mosquitoes away, giving birth, dealing with injuries, dealing with infections and other parasites. And coyotes have to deal with whatever stresses confront them: not enough food, too many dog interactions, difficulties imposed by the weather, family dynamics, dispersing when the time comes. These are some of the things I have thought of. I’m sure there is a lot more, but I wanted to delineate how intricate and full a coyote’s thinking would have to be to survive.

Things that I have seen coyotes do, which required forethought: rolling on a dead lizard to pick up its odor — why, I’m not sure. Dogs do this to disguise their odors — maybe for the fun of it, as if wearing a Halloween costume!  After having captured and killing a gopher, one coyote buried it with its muzzle. I’ve seen a coyote pick up a dead vole in its mouth — carrion — then disgustedly spit it out and then urinate on it — possibly as a warning to other coyotes? Coyotes, the same as dogs, eat grass and then heave it up to clear out their stomachs. I’ve seen coyotes chew on sticks and pick sticks up to play with. They snap at flies buzzing in their faces, they concentrate on birds flying in the sky. There is a lot. These a just a few interesting things here.

Coyote Awareness. How keenly aware of its surroundings is a coyote? We know that their senses are indeed very keen. However, I’ve seen one coyote be surprised by a dog it had not heard come up close. The coyote bolted forward into a “prepared” state from a resting position when it suddenly became aware of the dog close by. The dog apparently had not seen the coyote and therefore did not react to it, so everything calmed down pretty quickly. Yet I’ve seen this same coyote very aware of a dog that approached from far away in the distance. This coyote hurried to higher ground and began a barking session, possibly as a warning to prevent the dog from coming closer, or to announce its presence. Another coyote has walked right by a person with their little dog on a bench — obviously it was a chance encounter, but one wonders why the coyote allowed itself to get this close to someone. This happened again as a coyote trotted along a path where it passed right next to a fellow reading on the path! That was a total surprise for both of them!

I once noticed a coyote, on its regular path, stop dead still, stunned, when it noticed a change. The change was that some boards on a retaining wall had been replaced by a rope netting. The coyote just stopped cold and stared at the retaining wall, obviously cautious and apprehensive about it (might it be a trap?). The coyote could obviously see a change, even though it might not have been able to tell what the change was — then again, maybe it could tell exactly what the change was!

At times I’ve noticed that fascination for coyotes from certain of us humans has engendered the same response from the coyotes — a fascination with us — it seems to be mutual sometimes, with the coyotes staring back as intently as we looked at them!! One coyote seemed to curiously scrutinize the camera I was holding, trying to figure it out, as I clicked away! In a reverse sort of way, another coyote has looked at me, but then turned its head to ignore me — almost as if to let me know it was really not interested, thank you very much!

Coyotes seem to be very discriminating in that they can tell each dog and human apart from the others; and the coyotes treat each of these accordingly. I’ve seen several coyotes allow certain dogs, with their owners, to get much closer to to themselves than it would allow most.

Meanings and Communications: My dog liked me to hug his muzzle under my chin when he was old — he would push his chin there and purr. I think it gave him a puppy-like security to do so, allowing both my dominance and his submission which included a great deal of affection. Could this same type of thing be going on with the coyotes when a senior coyote hugs a young one’s muzzle under its own?

I’m beginning to look at coyote ears. Coyote ears are used to communicate to each other. We humans can distinguish some of the basics: when both ears are forwards and up, the coyote will be listening intently  for one thing, but when the ears are more out to the sides, the coyote will be trying to locate something. When the ears are swiveling, the coyote will be scoping for sounds all around itself. As the coyote looks into a gopher hole its ears will be forwards as it cocks its head in different positions: the coyote is triangulating to hunt. When its ears are level and out to the sides, my observations tell me that it is either in pain or contentedly and neutrally looking around.

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