Coyote Family Security Procedure?

A coyote had appeared, as always out of nowhere, way up ahead of me. It was on a path, standing still, and looking in the direction of a whistling man and his dog. The man and his active, unleashed dog were far in the distance. I had been hearing the loud and intense whistling for a few minutes before this.

The coyote’s attention was on the dog, though the whistling might also have attracted the coyote’s interest, as it did mine. I was on the same path as the coyote, but further on. The coyote barely gave me a glance:  as usual, its attention was focused, and riveted towards the dog — a large, active unleashed dog which probably had the potential for harm — at least in a coyote’s eyes.

The coyote then continued on the path, keeping its head and eyes turned on the whistling man and his dog.  It kept walking, purposefully, but not fast, up a hill and to a rock ledge where it could feel safe and could make a quick getaway if it needed to. It remained there for about half an hour, standing and then sitting, apparently making sure that the dog wasn’t going to pursue it. It waited until the dog and owner exited the area, as I have seen it do before. After the park had become totally quiet for a while, the coyote got up and left.

I then walked in the direction the coyote had taken, thinking I would not see it again, but I found it quite a ways further on, in a dark area, just sitting — sitting quietly. It stayed seated for about 15 minutes —  closing its eyes sometimes but remaining sitting up. I walked on and was surprised to see a second coyote — the offspring of the first — resting about 200 feet further on! I watched both.

Each coyote had become aware of the other fairly quickly and looked in the other’s direction. They also looked at me. And then, at about the same time, both began moving indirectly towards each other, glancing at each other and probably communicating. They ended up sitting about 20 feet apart. The second coyote then meandered back and forth along a nearby path and finally moved away and out of sight. The first coyote groomed itself for a fairly long time and then also slithered into the brush area.

This sequence seems to be the routine: A coyote family heads “home”, the younger one goes quickly to a more secluded area before retreating totally, while the parent lingers if there are dogs around, to make sure they don’t follow, then joins the other.

What’s This? – Coyote behavior

Exploration and discovery are  fun to see in all animals. I have photos of my own puppy barking ferociously at a low-floating helium balloon. And I remember him barking at a ceramic goose — doing so ferociously, and then retreating lickity-split, “just in case”. An office chair on the sidewalk caused my other dog to make a wide circle around it, way out into the street — an infraction she knew was severe; but to her this was safer than getting too near the alien object.

So, all within about half an hour, I watched a coyote find things and react: sounds and sightings. The coyote’s reaction to the blue stool cushion reminded me of my own dogs.  I record everything with my camera and did so this time. I’ve put captions on the photos rather than write any more. The coyote’s nap was very short because a person appeared — coyotes are not comfortable with humans in the immediate vicinity. If a coyote senses that it has not been seen, it might stand perfectly still as a person passes. Otherwise it will walk briskly away from the person to keep the distance a comfortable one.

The Purpose Of A Coyote’s Monitoring Some Dogs

So I was able to clearly see the reason why a particular coyote has felt a need to monitor groups of dogs. These dogs are walked unleashed and have chased the coyotes a number of times. The cause for monitoring is clearly revealed in the photos — mostly by the direction in which the coyote’s attention is riveted as seen by where she looked. The reason for the monitoring was to protect this little guy, a nine-month old, seen here in the first photo. On this particular day, this young fellow appeared on a path and watched the group of dogs and walkers approaching from the distance. It was the same group of dogs I spoke about in my previous posting yesterday: Purposeful Monitoring of Particular Dog Groups, posted on January 28th.

After figuring out that the dogs were coming its way, the fella took off up a hill. At that very same moment, down the hill ran his protector, his mother. She went over to a high ledge from where the path that the dogs were on could easily be seen. The mother coyote remained here, watching, as the group meandered around and finally left the area — she was making sure they didn’t come after her pup or her. She occasionally looked up the hill to where the pup was, and then she watched it as it headed “home.” This entire sequence can be seen very clearly in the photos I took this day.

The coyote’s watchfulness lasted about half an hour. After that she relaxed and even closed her eyes at times. She remained in the same spot until some people came too close for comfort. At that point she got up and trotted away. The coyotes in our parks have always kept their distance from people.

Little Howlers

Today I was able to locate a coyote by a totally different means than ever before. I heard howling, lots of it, maybe twelve voices — and this was not at dawn or dusk. These were, truth be told, not real coyotes, but rather a field trip of preschoolers who were howling coyote howls loudly and clearly in the distance. I knew right off that the joyful children sounds were probably due to them having seen a coyote, so I followed the sounds. Sure enough that is what was going on. They pointed out the coyote to me way up over a hilltop — their view is pretty much what you see in the photo above. So I found a coyote because of these howls — and that was the most charming part of the entire day for me!!

Purposeful Monitoring of Particular Dog Groups

As dawn was beginning to break, a coyote appeared, clearly silhouetted on the edge of the horizon in the far distance, which, just as promptly as it appeared, it disappeared. The morning seemed darker than usual because of the dark cloud cover — and because of this, the dawn seemed later than usual. I walked in that direction and soon the coyote came trotting down the path I was on, stepping off onto a grassy area as it got closer. It was clearly on its way “home”, and away from dogs which were trickling into the park. It was particularly nice seeing a coyote — the rains, I think, made them less visible for a time.

I wondered if the coyote would hurry on, or be here when the gang of dog walkers came over the same horizon. Unleashed dogs often chase the coyotes, and I really didn’t want to see this happen. The coyote kept looking back in their direction. Finally it decided to continue on, at a brisk trot. I followed a certain distance, but it soon was gone. I thought how lucky I had been to glimpse the coyote and at the same time have it successfully evade the dogs — that is an ideal situation. As I was thinking this, another coyote briskly trotted in my direction — it had obviously been on the same trajectory as the first one and for the same reasons. This set of dogs has chased these coyotes any number of times, so it was in the coyote’s interest to keep track of them. This coyote, however, instead of moving on, climbed up some rocks to get a better view and watch the approaching dogs.

The coyote was monitoring their every movement. It stood there, at first listening for the group in the distance — you could not see them at first — and then watching them, still in the distance, as they wove in and out of visibility due to the shrubbery and trees around the path they were on. The coyote watched them for twelve minutes, until they came within about 200 feet and then it took off down a hill. None of the dogs seemed to have been aware of the coyote, and neither did the owners. I thought that might be the end of the coyote’s monitoring this group, but nope.

Ten minutes later this coyote had climbed up to another lookout, where I noticed it was keeping its eyes on this same group of dogs and walkers as they moved forward!! The coyote knew the habitual route of this group — it knows all the dogs in its park and is particularly leery of certain of these. It chosen this lookout where it would be able to see them exit this part of the park!

After that, the coyote relaxed for a while, grooming its legs and finally it slithered off about half an hour after I first saw it up there! Please see my posting of January 29th for a more complete explanation of the monitoring: The Purpose Of A Coyote’s Monitoring Some Dogs.

Clearings open ways for dogs to chase coyotes

At 1:00 pm one of the residents residing along one of the parks called me. A coyote was yipping in a way she had not heard before — she was wondering if it was injured. I could hear the yipping over the telephone!

I went to check it out. The coyote was still yipping when I got to the park, which is what helped me locate it. I saw it only briefly before it ran off. But it was not the coyote which distressed me — the coyote sounded fine except that it was complaining. It is the situation which was distressing to me. Coyotes yip when they have been intruded upon: almost always because a dog has chased them.  Although I came too late to see the cause of the yipping, I later found out that it had been due to a dog. My real discovery was that any dog can now run into this previously very protected area. Only six months ago it was an area in which I could barely get through because it was so dense with thorny branches, underbrush and poison oak. It is an area where no one ever went — there was no reason or need to go there, and there was no need or reason to clear it. It was a perfect animal habitat with all sorts of protection for them. Now, any dog can run through there. This area is known to be a den area.

People have wondered why coyotes are more visible lately in our parks. Might it be that the secluded areas where these animals hung out are no longer secluded? When the coyotes first chose this area of this park in 2006-2007 they chose a well protected area, dense with growth, where dogs or humans would not and could not disturb them. They were seldom seen. We have since cleared out these areas which has made their once secluded areas very accessible now.

Chase-Chase Behavior: Looking Beyond What Meets the Eye

An incident was described by a woman to me this morning. I am attempting to understand and explain coyote behavior so that we may all learn to better deal with it. The general setting involved a park with a pretty regular set of dogs and their walkers, and, in this case, a resident female coyote.

The woman said that at sunset, about 6 weeks earlier, she had been sitting in a little open park with her dog — this was not the wild part of the park where one normally might see a coyote. Suddenly, a coyote came stalking up towards her dog, and chased her dog. The chase went back and forth. The coyote seemed not very afraid when the woman first tried to deter it, but finally, with flailing arms and lots of noise, it fled. Her dog is smaller than a coyote and is 11 years old. This is a leash-law park, but no one obeys that rule. This coyote has previously engaged in “short distance back-and-forth chasing” with several dogs before finally fleeing. There is never any harm done, but dog owners don’t like it. The coyote only engages in this behavior with dogs it knows. Please see my posting of February 4th: A short back-and-forth chase. But I want to look a little further.

My question to the woman was:  But what did the dog do? The woman said “nothing”. She thought something might be “wrong” with the coyote because of its behavior. I couldn’t draw out anything that her dog might have done. But she also told me that previous to this, there had been a number of times in which this coyote had followed her and her dog out of the park on a little-used trail. A coyote might follow a dog and walker if it is curious about the dog or if it is assessing it, or possibly if it is making sure the dog is leaving. It would do so if there was something threatening about the dog.

The little-used path is by a thicket area with little coyote-size exits, where I’ve seen a coyote enter into a secluded back area — my assumption has always been that the dens might be behind this area. A possibility is that when this coyote was “following” this dog, it might have been “escorting” the dog out of the park and away from an area it felt very protective of — making sure the dog didn’t enter the secluded area.

This coyote is an alpha female with a family. She has been seen frequently enough, sitting quietly on a hilltop, observing the world. I see her as similar to Ferdinand the bull in the children’s story — peacefully smelling the flowers.  But she has defended herself when chased by a dog, and she has run down to aid another coyote when it was chased by a dog: she is not one to just flee — at least initially. She also seems to communicate displeasure, or “oneupmanship” with a few of the dogs whose behaviors she has come to know, reminding them that “I’m here, so stop your threatening activity.” We humans would not know what the threatening activity might be, but almost certainly a coyote would pick up on these.

Someone recently suggested that dogs urinating at these underbrush exits may actually be provoking a defensive response from coyotes. The dogs smell the coyote and then urinate there — I’ve seen this often. Canines use urination to mark their territories. So a coyote might see this as a possible challenge to its claim on a territorial den area. In addition, over time I have become conscious that this female coyote appears to know most dogs individually that frequent the park. This coyote knows which dogs do what — as all canine’s do.

The dog and owner regularly have walked through that side area of the park — unleashed — and the dog may have regularly urinated by one of the underbrush exit trails the coyote takes to its den. So, the coyote’s behavior as described by this woman could have been a reaction to what this coyote has seen and knows about this dog. Leashing a dog might make it adhere to the path so that “territorial marking” does not take place.

Coyotes have rich family lives and need to protect their families, they also must protect themselves and they must protect their food source. They do not just eat vegetation which can be found everywhere. Rather, coyotes must search constantly for their source of protein…. other animals, such as voles, gophers, squirrels, rats. And they need to monitor their territories to insure that competitors of any sort — in this case dogs, especially dogs with certain behaviors that we may not fully comprehend.

Coyotes are not like domestic dogs — they are wild animals with instincts and rules of their own which they must follow to survive — rules that we may not know about and may not comprehend.

We know to guide our dogs through heavy traffic intersections with leashes. We all follow the rules because there is too much going on to make it work otherwise. Our parks are becoming more environmentally friendly, more natural and diverse: there is a lot going on, including new wildlife that has been attracted to them. Our parks are not back yards made just for our pets — but places to enjoy the out of doors in all of its diverse aspects. Dogs are not wild animals and don’t know how to deal with the wild. Dog owners need to deal with coyotes in the parks the same way they would with the traffic on the streets. Following some simple rules can make it work: please leash your dogs in coyote areas.

I wanted to add one other observation. The little dog in this posting is of the type that intently and hyperactively retrieves a ball. This is absolutely normal behavior, but in the coyote’s eyes it might be distressing because of the hyperactivity it entails. I have seen this coyote calmly watching all types of dogs walk by from atop a hill. She often reacts to the smaller, extremely active types — her attention becomes temporarily riveted on them and I’ve seen her get up and pace until they pass. So here is another “distressing” dog behavior which the coyote could have remembered when it engaged in its “chase-chase” or “oneupmanship” behavior with this dog.

Please read postings on December 12th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th:“Some Reactions to Dogs”, November 17th: “ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs”, and December 1:“Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge”.  “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” 2/4/10. “Coyote Safety” of 11/3/2009. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10.

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