Antagonistic At First, But Then Only Watchful?

This morning a coyote was on a path as a walker and her dog approached. The dog is a mild one with no interest in coyotes. This particular coyote has watched this dog and knows it is a benign animal. Normally nothing happens, but these two animals keep an eye on each other. The dog always seems to communicate its disinterest and casualness, whereas the coyote seems to communicate its watchfulness. This morning when the dog and walker came to within about 80 feet, the coyote put on its bluffing act. The coyote was on the same path and the walker and dog were coming towards it. The coyote is a dominant female mother of yearlings. She bucked up in bounces, arched her back, lowered her head and pawed at the straw on the ground kicking it up. The display is the same as the one I posted with another dog in:  A Coyote Takes The Initiative: Following & Leading

The walker and dog ignored the coyote and kept walking. Then I could see that the coyote’s two yearling pups showed up, ambling down the same path towards their mother, but in back of the walker.  Ahh, this was the reason for the warning display. This situation I have seen often now: it is a clear antagonistic warning directed at the dog.  This coyote seems more prone to this kind of behavior when her pups, albeit adult pups, are around — I’ve seen it a couple of times when I did not see the pups, but then again, the pups may have been hidden. I think it has less to do with personal space — the distance at which a wild animal feels safe from a potential intruder — than with a need to blatantly communicate a “don’t hurt us” or “don’t threaten us” warning.

After the dog walked passed, the mother and her two pups engaged in their normal affectionate greetings: kisses and muzzle rubs. Then the group of three coyotes followed a short distance and climbed up on a hill to observe. The dog walker and I observed back. As we did so, the dog grabbed a long stick stick, lay down, and began chewing on it. This must have fascinated one of the coyote pups, because it watched intently. It was obvious that the dog enjoyed chewing on his stick immensely — rolling on the ground, comfortable and happy with its find. The young coyote watched and gingerly came down to investigate, its curiosity must have been overpowering. Since this dog has been seen many times by these coyotes as completely benign and non-aggressive, it probably was not such a daring investigation after all by the coyote pup. The dog did bark at the coyote, but it was good naturedly: “okay, I’ll play your game by giving you a stand-off bark now and then”. While this happened, the dog remained lying down with his stick. The young coyote observed, ALWAYS coming in closer from in back of the dog. It seems that ultimately what the coyote wanted was just to “touch” the dog. It did “touch” the end of the stick. The owner then called her dog and that was the end of this interaction.

Interestingly, the mother had seemed very defensive and guarded about her space and her pups earlier when this dog approached on the path. Now, as her pup approached this same dog, although she watched intently, she stayed back herself and just watched! After the dog and walker had moved on, the three coyotes went off together. Please note that it is not a wise idea to let your dog interact with a coyote.

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