When “Mouthing” Was Still Play Only A Short Time Ago

Here are some photos from September that I did not post. Posting them now actually works well, because the behavior they depict is in contrast to what is occurring now. Now a hierarchy seems to have been established between these two sibling males. The dominant one tends to bully the other, and the other one tends to run off to avoid it: this happens now always.

But before this, at the end of September, there was more equality and lots of playing and affection between these two siblings. These photos show the coyote which has become less dominant — to our left — playfully putting his snout around the one who now has become more dominant in a bullying sort of way. It is almost a role reversal, except that back then, these behaviors were just being toyed with and didn’t seem to carry much weight at all as far as I could see.  The mouthing in these photos was part of the play involved with chewing a stick together and dealing with some bugs which were flying around their faces. But now I see it used to confirm dominance, this along with mounting behavior. Again, in a reversal of behaviors, the coyote who is less dominant now used to mount his sibling excessively — always in play: it didn’t seem to carry any weight because the other coyote did not react to it. So, the excessive mounting behavior, along with the mouthing I show here, may have driven the dominant to become so in order to squelch this behavior — maybe he got tired of it. Note that this behavior is what is occuring between 20-month old male siblings. Mom is still very clearly pack leader and has never been challenged in her position.

A thought about dominance and alphas occurred to me.  A friend recently told me that Alpha animals tend to have lower resting heart rate than the rest of the pack — they are calm and in control. After being told this, I remember how an Alpha dog was able to calm and control my dog who had a bout of “oneupmanship” when they met. My dog approached the other dog with hackles up, standing upright and ready to do battle to show the other dog where the relationship stood. However, the other dog, the same size as my dog, was the calmer and the one in control — the true Alpha. He gently pushed my dog, in a playful manner to begin play: “hey, knock it off” he seemed to be saying. They immediately became best friends, with seemingly equal status, but the other dog was in control. The point of this story is that the animal who needs to be a bully very often is not the one in control, not really the dominant one. Maybe such an animal is dominant only in a very superficial way, and in relationships below the Alpha.

Today I was able to see the coyote who has been exhibiting less dominance, the one with less “fight” in him, lead the others in a play session. Both the mother and the current “bullying” sibling were being “led” by the sibling which shows less dominance! I don’t know if this short play session has significance.  Maybe there are more nuances that the rest of us need to pick up on!

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