Wanting to Play With Dogs

I watched as a young coyote repeatedly approached a dog which was lying down and chewing on its stick. This was after the two had found themselves in fairly close proximity on a park path: the dog then meandered about looking for a stick and then settled down while the coyote watched. The coyote was extremely curious and approached cautiously, always from behind. At first the coyote’s nose went straight for the dog’s anus. This was repeated several times. The dog remained there chewing, and even wagged its tail. We were curious so we decided to watch for a few minutes before moving on. The coyote then went up and seemingly “nipped” the dog’s tail — it was only the fur of the dog’s tail which was nipped. The coyote sprang back after this daring “touch”, but the dog remained there as before, unphased but obviously aware.  NEXT, the coyote went a little further, actually opening its jaws over the dog’s lower back, the same as it did to its sibling, provoking it to play. This time the dog got up, good-naturedly, but just moved forward a bit. The coyote decided that was as far as he was willing to venture at that time.

We had seen the coyote’s sibling earlier. The dog’s owner said to me:  “Well, now lets see what the other coyote has to say.” Yes, this coyote definitely had said something. We did not see the other coyote, but I was reminded of several instances when coyotes showed their desire to play, or actually did play with domestic dogs, non-aggressive dogs, who were willing to do so. I have had several dog owners tell me that a coyote had approached their dog in a friendly manner. There are two factors that seem to be involved in a coyote’s attraction to a dog: 1) the dog is not interested in the coyote so its activity is pretty bland; 2) the dog is not social with other dogs. I thought it was interesting hat these two dog behavior characteristics have been repeated by a number of dog owners after I inquired about the coyote approaching.

At Bernal Heights there was a coyote who romped with and wrestled with a couple of the dogs. It was only a couple of specific chosen dogs with which the coyote engaged in this play, dogs that had a knack for unthreatening communication. The play didn’t last long, but long enough to satisfy some kind of need of the coyote. That coyote lived all alone. Then, yesterday I met a woman with her two dogs who told me she used to play ball with her two dogs in an open field where frequently a coyote would show up. This coyote, always the same one, had a knack for finding them, wherever they might be, she said. She would toss the ball out, and occasionally the coyote, out on the sidelines, would grab the ball — never retrieving it, but “possessing it” by sitting down with it and holding it. Interestingly, one of her dogs had once chased this coyote and then been grabbed by the coyote. I guess bygones were bygones. Another dog I knew would wallow in a field where a coyote hung out: the coyote would approach the dog and stare at it at close range as if trying to figure out what the dog was doing on its back. Obviously, a dog on its back is not a threat to a coyote. The coyote was very curious. Once this same dog picked up a pine-cone to begin chewing on it. The coyote came over to investigate. This dog also romped short distances with the coyote, and after a romp they would both lay down in the grass, at a considerable distance apart, and just soak up the fun they had, smiling at the other in the distance.

So, these are the instances I have heard about of a coyote playing with a dog. One of the dominant female coyotes which I have been following would never “play” in this fashion. The closest I have seen her come to “playing” with a dog is half-serious game of “one-upmanship”.  Her main communication to any dog which gets too close is a very blatant warning display which says “keep away.”

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lara
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 21:57:58

    I found this site because today upon arriving home I found my dog frolicking with our new resident coyote.
    And I, while all in favor of sharing our property with the resident wildlife, have some questions regarding coyote/dog compatibilty. Dangers?
    We noticed the arrival of the coyote about a week and half ago (due to our normally fastidious German Shorthair Pointer repeatedly rolling in it’s scat!) Now the coyote is seen calmly strolling the acreage most afternoons. Yesterday it sat in the driveway for about 15 minutes, staring at the neighbors yard (they have finches and a small dog outside).
    It seems in good health, with a full lustrous coat.
    Our pointer has, until now, studiously ignored it even when in close proximity.
    Today however, I saw them sitting companionably close together in the orchard. When I whistled her in, the coyote followed her in! They played breifly and then it did pause some distance away from the house (and me.) Our dog promptly returned to the coyote after checking in with me.
    She’s a spayed 50 lb pointer who spends most of her day outside (to her delight!)
    Anyone else had much experience with dog/coyote fraternization? As mentioned we happily share our acres with raccoons, otters, foxes, possums, skunks,owls, eagles, and the like, but the safety of our dog is of some concern in this regard.
    As much of Sonoma is highly developed I also respect that the wildlife needs a place to go as well….thus my quandry.
    Much thanks for any input.


    • yipps
      Jan 13, 2012 @ 23:30:40

      Hi Lara — Thanks for sharing your situation! It sounds like your dog and the coyote are on friendly terms. It also sounds like this may be a young coyote exploring the world on its own, maybe for the first time. I have seen dogs in urban areas that have frolicked with coyotes on occasion, especially younger ones. However, those same coyotes and dogs do retain a mutually healthy “respect” for each other and are never totally at ease with each other. It is important to respect wildlife for its unpredictability.

      Ranchers leave their dogs out all the time with the result that there is either an easy, or an uneasy, coexistence with coyotes. Dogs and coyotes can be antagonistic towards each other — in this situation, dogs chase coyotes away in order to guard their territory and vice-versa. If the respect isn’t there, one or the other could be bitten. With less territorial dogs or coyotes, there might be playing now and then. Most larger dogs can generally take care of themselves around a coyote, but you may not know the entire situation, and the situation could change. For instance, if the coyote were to form a pair with another coyote, your dog might no longer fit in, and may be targeted as an outsider, especially by the newcomer coyote. Your dog will learn quickly, but he may be bitten in the process. Also, if there is a family of coyotes, or if there are pups around, the situation could change.

      You said your neighbor had a small dog: you need to advise her to keep her little dog indoors and on a short leash when walking the dog — coyotes have been known to take small dogs, but, of course, they are very wary of getting too close to a human which is why walking them on a close leash is advised.

      Please think about possible repercussions to the coyote. You don’t want the coyote to get so used to people that he’s bound to approach someone. Many people are afraid of coyotes and will call them aggressive even if they are just standing there on a path. And whatever you do, please don’t feed a coyote or attract it with food: “a fed coyote is a dead coyote” as the saying goes. Hope this helps. Let me know. Janet

    • Lara
      Jan 15, 2012 @ 01:31:45

      Thank you both for your imput. It’s very much appreciated!
      My husband and I both were able to observe coyote/dog dynamics today. The coyote seems to be the curious one, initiating contact. Our dog was doing her normal orchard patrol and the coyote would follow her, occasionally romping and then laying down. She would then head in his direction, they would romp briefly, then part ways. This pattern occured for some time. She loves to run like a mad thing and he would follow her around the entire property. Then they would both stop, with tongues lolling, rest a bit and run some more.
      On the occasions she would come check in with us, he would pause a good distance away and play on his own. Chasing his own tail, thrashing around in some saw dust, jumping in a tree, etc…
      I have to admit we did enjoy watching the interaction and it seemed very friendly. We did block access to several larger holes under the fence where he is coming in (mostly so she won’t go out). But as he keeps his distance from us and they seem to do well we may just continue to monitor the situation. (The one true negative is she is rolling in his poop daily!)

  2. Charles Wood
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 02:47:19

    Hi Lara and Janet,

    I agree with Janet entirely and also have some experience with my dog having contacts with coyotes. My dog has played with coyotes though mostly he is on leash and the coyotes we are around lately don’t want to play with him. My dog is a 60 lb. mix. The play was years ago and before he had unfriendly contacts. He has never been bitten or hurt by coyotes. The short of what I learned is that a coyote is wild and a dog is domesticated. It just isn’t meant to be, the friendships. For example, you dog can share space with animals that normally would be its prey. A coyote doesn’t share space like that. A coyote is all about food and reproduction. Its closest bonds are with its mate and children and its busy enough with that life to be satisfied without friends. It is best for the coyote if you chase it away. Its natural state is to fear people and it would help the coyote if you reinfored its fear by chasing it away whenever you see it.


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