Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog

Today I entered one of the parks to see a young fellow with his dog standing on a path. There was a coyote in the distance in the field next to the path. The fellow was tossing stones to keep the coyote at a distance — he had no idea what coyotes were like. He told me he had just moved to the area from Florida — he had not seen a coyote here before. He leashed his dog and we both watched as the coyote sat in the distance watching. Finally the coyote decided to go: it got up and trotted down the trail and out of sight. It was a young coyote born last spring. The owner then unleashed his dog.

I walked with the fellow down the path the coyote had taken and told him a few things about the coyotes, such as that they were not aggressive but will defend themselves, and that it is best to keep dogs leashed and next to us. As we rounded a bend, I looked up to see the mother coyote watching from a rock ledge high above us. The mother is still protective of her offspring and was keeping an eye on the new dog as a precaution, making sure it wasn’t about to chase her or the other coyote. More than likely she had seen the dog staring at the young coyote a few minutes before. Often when a leashed dog sits quietly beside its owner looking at a coyote that is not too far off, the coyote itself will become curious and just sit, trying to figure out what the stillness is about: the dog’s eyes may be communicating one thing, yet the leashed dog is just sitting there.

This dog stayed with us only a moment before rushing off towards the coyote up on the ledge. The dog couldn’t get up to the rock ledge, but it got close and it barked at the coyote. Coyotes do not like to be pursued.

The coyote hunched over with her hackles up: her message is meant to be blatant and clear for those who might not want to take her seriously — she was trying to let the newcomers know that she wanted to be left alone, she did not want to be pursued. The coyote then came down from the rock ledge, towards the dog, which caused the dog to come directly to its owner. The dog clearly got the message. At this point the owner leashed his dog — this calmed the dog and kept it next to us. If the owner had not been able to grab his dog, this could have ended with a firmer statement by the coyote: a nip. But it ended here, and the coyote then climbed up on a rock not too far away.

The display we saw of this mother coyote is pictured above: hackles up, teeth bared and back bent – it is the exact same display a cat gives to warn another animal off. It is meant to look frightening which makes it very effective, and all animals understand it. But it is not aggression, rather it is a strong defensive message.

The younger coyote then appeared and joined its mother on the rock from which they watched us, to make sure the infraction was not repeated. We watched them. Fortunately the fellow was very positive and excited about the coyote. This was a great introduction for him — he knows what to expect from this coyote, and he knows how to keep his dog from chasing the coyote so the coyote won’t come back after his dog. When the fellow and his dog decided to go, the mother coyote followed them. Although the younger one followed its mother’s departure with its gaze, it went in another direction.

I suppose the mother coyote made sure that the newcomers were headed out of the park — she does this sometimes when she has been chased.

Young coyotes will almost always flee from a dog threat. But the mother — the mother is always the alpha leader of a family group — often will turn back to make sure a threat is stopped in its tracks, thus letting the chaser know that she does not want to put up with this. Please take note of the display above: it is a message. It is a very clear message to read, imparted for self protective reasons. Keeping our dogs leashed will keep your dog away from the coyotes and will help us all co-exist peacefully in our parks.

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: oneupmanship verging on play” 2/4/10. “Coyote Safety” of 11/3/2009.

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