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When “disciplining”, the alpha of a family pack gently puts her/his mouth around the snout of a coyote who is out-of-line, and maybe turns the “underdog” on its back for a few moments. This discipline could be reinforced by the alpha placing its paws on the back of the fellow who is out-of-line. The subordinate quickly shows deference and everything is back to normal within a few seconds:  the alpha status is reconfirmed and everyone knows their role in the family hierarchy. This is not what I saw today, twice.

What I saw today I’m going to call “punishment” — it is much more severe. I’ve thought about what might have lead to this kind of punishment:

The most probable reasons involve defiance of the alpha figure, in this case the mother, or possibly disobeying commands that are meant to protect the family pack and help with its survival. Hierarchy has to be rigidly maintained in a healthy coyote family.

Or, maybe the alpha needed to bring down the highest-ranking pup? Maybe it was becoming too powerful among its siblings?

Then again, this harsh discipline might just be the first steps in forcing dispersal. But then, why would the mother be targeting just the one pup, a female?

I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities. I don’t know enough at this stage to state with certainty what is going on, but I tend to think the punishment was for the youngsters own good, and not self-aggrandizement by a mean mother.  But I was totally taken aback as I observed it.

The youngster in this observation is almost seven-months old, a female. She approached her mother, belly scraping the ground, showing deference, submission and caution. This did not include the wiggly squealing happy meeting that I usually see. The pup approached and quickly turned on her back, with the aid of the mother’s legs. The mother then stood, crouched low, over the youngster for a long period of time, snarling now and then at the slightest hint of movement or protesting from the pup. At one point, as the pup lay there quietly, the mother licked the female pup’s private parts. and then the pup’s inner leg. The pup remained quiet at first. Then the pup seemed to protest and tried getting up, and even almost got up at one point. The mother snarled viciously and was able to quickly put the pup down again.  Then the pup did break away for a moment, but the mother quickly used her entire body to hold the pup down. There were then a series of hard punch-bites from the alpha-Mom.  This was all carried out in silence except for one high pitched whimper from the pup near the end of the “session”.  The pup then was able to get up and dash off for cover into some bushes about 50 feet away.

Mom then sat up and looked ahead and around, without a second glance towards the pup in the bushes. Within a few minutes she headed down the hill. The pup came out of the bushes and watched — watched longingly and sadly as the mother headed off. Were they not reconciled? Would this continue? At the bottom of the hill the mom looked back, seemingly disapprovingly, at the pup, and then continued on. The pup stayed at her spot by the bushes and looked very sad, watching the mother disappear into the distance. Many minutes later, the pup, too, headed down the hill, but in another direction.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 03:13:42

    Hi Janet, some thoughts although I don’t know what was going on.

    The pup did approach the mom submissively so something may have already been going on between them that the pup was trying to resolve. It looks like pup resisted exposing its belly to Mom, but Mom insisted on investigating pup’s belly. Once exposed, Mom went right for the inguinal area to lick. With Mom’s intention clear, with Mom intent on touching the inguinal and proximate areas, pup showed she wanted no part of that.

    Pup won that argument and got away. I have no way of knowing, but there may be something wrong in the pup’s private area that Mom was trying to fix. The pup may, and I say may, have some irritation and/or pain in that area, either a foreign object, a wound, or an infection? It does look like it was the grooming by the mom that pup didn’t want. If that is the case, the only reason I can think of is that the grooming aggravated something painful down there.

    I say that something may have already been going on between the two because I do think that coyotes can remember the course of their interactions during a day, and perhaps from day to day. The discipline I’ve seen was short and effective, not much effort by the parent, not much back talk from the kid. Those types of parent/child interactions leave much up for interpretation.

    For example, I saw Mom, Dad, and one pup about yours’ age hurrying back to the den area. They stopped and looked backward frequently. I took that to mean they had escaped from a pursuit. When stopped, Dad gave the youngster holy hell. I can’t help but interpret Dad’s punishing behavior toward his child as an admonishment “You almost got us killed!” There was no argument from that pup that time. Immediately after the discipline, Dad and pup went together to investigate and mark some smells. There was nothing ongoing to resolve between Dad and pup. The three coyotes then moved into their den area out of view.

    If my interpretation of my coyotes was correct, then the punishment by my coyote dad of his child was a punishment delivered some time after the child’s offense.To me the punishment seemed to come out of the blue. Yet it couldn’t have just come out of the blue. That wouldn’t make sense, a punishment then just a needless display of superiority and strength, I don’t view coyote behavior as solely power based. Instead, I’m convinced the punishment my dad coyote gave his child came right out of Dad’s memory. In my view, Dad remembered what pup did that made them all have to run like the dickens. In my view, Dad knew that pup also remembered what pup had done. In my view, when pup got punished, he knew what he was being punished for; and Dad knew that pup knew what he was being punished for. Pup was being punished, in that situation, for messing up big time.


    • yipps
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 03:24:08

      Hi Charles —

      Your information is interesting. I agree that the behavior described in this posting involves some kind of previous transgression or misdeed from the kid which the mother is remembering. This behavior has now been going on several days. I’m hoping the mother isn’t “banishing” the child and forcing its dispersal. We’ll soon find out. Janet

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