Reconfirming Her “Status” or “Place in the Park” constitutes Communication, not Aggression

I’ve been studying urban coyote behavior for some time now, and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve also noticed people’s reactions to coyotes: these run from detestation and annoyance to joyous and enthralled. Those who have fears and are apprehensive, or who have had trouble with a coyote because of their own uncontrollable dogs, often have negative feelings about coyotes. At the opposite extreme are those who feel a strong personal tie to them. I’ve heard individuals say they “communed” with a coyote as they watched it for a little while, and I’ve overheard a number of people say a gentle “goodby” after having spent some time watching one!

Today I had someone ask me about “aggressive urban coyotes”. The language is not precise. Understanding what is going on requires more than just what meets the eye. “People often conflate the words “aggressive”, “assertive“, “bold”, “curious”, and “investigating” for example, and we need consistency so that we can come to a better understanding of how coyotes actually interact with humans” [“Coyotes: fascinating animals who should be appreciated and not killed” by Mark Bekoff, May 12, 2010 in Animal Behavior].

I have watched coyotes in our parks over time. I have not ever seen blatant “aggression”. I have seen a coyote “defend” itself when it was chased by a dog, and I have seen a coyote act defensively when it was surprised by a dog. I have seen a coyote become very “touchy” during pupping season — again, this is a self-protective and defensive reaction to dogs. People need to see the dog threat from the coyote’s point of view to understand what is going on. If a dog is threatening a coyote, or has in the past, the ground will have been laid, by their own dogs, for coyotes to now react antagonistically towards this same dog — this is a defensive reaction and communication to keep the dog away. Even an unruly leashed dog lunging towards a coyote within a short distance will be transmitting the same message to the coyote as one which chases, and this will be remembered by the coyote. Please do not let your dog get close to a coyote in the first place.

I am now seeing that the “chase-chase” behavior I have previously described — a behavior I have seen between a dog and coyote who have interacted negatively in the past — may actually be a coyote reconfirming and affirming her dominant status within an area: it could be seen as an infrequently used “reality check” for the dog — it constitutes a communication to a dog.  It is only the dominant female that I have ever seen engage in this kind of behavior: the dominant female is always the pack leader and the only reproducing female. I’ve never seen the behavior end in actual biting or harm — rather it seems to be an intense show to warn and inform dogs that have threatened the coyote in the past. I have seen this behavior only a few times.

Please keep your dog leashed and close to you in coyote areas. It is best to keep coyotes and dogs as far apart as possible. If you see a coyote, please head away from it and out of the area.  Few people know which is the alpha, and it is the alpha which is very protective of her “flock” and appears to be protective of her own “status”.

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