Coyotes use many gaits or paces, including walking, trotting, loping, galloping, and bounding. Speed is usually the determining factor for which gait is used. The term “gait” is usually used for horses: a rider sits a little differently for each gait. But the term is also used for other animals. Knowing what makes a “trot” a “trot” or a “walk” a “walk” might interest some people.
In a walk, the coyote lifts its legs in a regular sequence: left hind leg, left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg. One foot will always be raised and the other three feet on the ground. Walking can range from a slow and casual amble to a very purposeful and directed walk. In walking, the hind feet step into the footprints left by the forepaws. This appears to be a safety device which allows the back feet, which no animal can see, to step into the safe spot where the front foot had been. Thus holes and other ground features which might trip a coyote can be avoided. This “stepping into a footprint” is only true for casual walking paces.
Trotting involves just two beats: the legs move in unison in diagonal pairs and hit the ground this way. Trotting is a normal gait for animals that must cover a lot of ground in their daily routines. This gait contributes to easy forward movement requiring a minimal amount of effort and can be sustained for long periods of time. Coyotes use this gait a lot.
Running is a high-energy gait, so it’s usually reserved for those times when the most speed is necessary: when pursuing prey or when pushed by fear. Running can be an easy lope, or a faster gallop.
Loping uses three beats — meaning that two legs hit the ground at the same time As the right rear leg propels the animal forward, the animal is supported only by this one leg while the other three legs move forward. Next, the animal catches itself on the left rear and right front legs while the other hind leg is still momentarily on the ground. On the third beat, the animal catches itself on the left front leg while the diagonal pair retains contact with the ground.
In galloping, the forefeet which are close together make firm contact the ground — they function as a fulcrum as the hind feet come far forward on either side of them. As the hind feet make contact together with the ground, the arched and tensed back muscles spring the coyote forward in an amazingly long leap. At the end of this leap, the forefeet again make contact with the ground, supporting the runner’s weight as its hind feet come forward again to either side, and so forth. In galloping the front legs hit almost but not exactly at the same time, and both back legs hit almost but not exactly at the same time, making galloping a four beat gait. Bounding would be the same as this but with more upward springing movements.