Mother’s Harsh Treatment of Female Pup Continues

Before I started videoing the above, two coyote pups had been foraging in an open field when they spotted Dad coming. They dashed ecstatically in his direction. After only a short truncated greeting, Dad confirmed his dominance towards the male pup, who willing submitted by lying on his back immediately and not protesting.

This “status confirmation”  has become a routine where everyone knows how to behave: the pups acquiesce willingly to the submission which is demanded of them, and all relationships are confirmed as stable. The other pup, the female, also immediately turned on her back and then kept low, even though Dad was on top of the other pup. This little threesome seemed happy for the few moments they were there: everyone did the right thing, everyone smiled and tails wagged.

Then mom appeared on the scene. With everyone’s attention on the mother, the dad let go of his hold on the male pup who calmly got up and wandered in the other direction from which the mom was coming. Mom immediately headed for the female pup — the one which has been the target of Mom’s animosity and displays of dominance in the last few days. Today the treatment became more harsh. That’s Dad casually viewing the altercation from in front; he’s still limping from an injury a week ago.

Note that the female pup is not compliant and snaps back, which may be the problem — but then who wouldn’t self-protect under this onslaught?  Also note Mom’s final emphatic statement: “And take this, too!” No holds barred.

[Please see the previous two postings on this behavior: Punishment and Punishment Again]

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 18:12:48

    What, as parents, do we do with a child that continually disrespects us? The child does not see the world as we do, does not clearly see the world and its opportunities and hazards. Between love and authority we as parents attempt to strike a balance. Harsh lessons await the human child as it prepares to enter the larger world beyond family and siblings. Success is hard won by any individual in any species. For us, success at its most basic includes independently acquiring food, clothing, shelter, and preparing children for their eventual entry into the world. Our lessons were hard won, and from our vantage point as caretakers of children, what do we do with a child that continually disrespects us? The authority exercised by a parent over a child can to the child seem unfair and unwarranted. Someday, someday we hope that the former child with children of its own will understand.

    As humans, we of course can conceptualize our family histories in such a way. For coyotes, I think that they act out their family dramas from instinctive understandings that aren’t conceptual. Still, coyote behavior is always contextual and family contexts familiar to us are the gradients over which coyote family interactions play out.

    Coyote packs don’t exists really, ‘packs’ being our misnomer for family. Coyote alphas don’t exists either, that parlance borrowed from older studies of captive wolves, studies later replaced by in situ studies where wolf ‘packs’ proved to be plain old wolf families. The alpha wolves turned out to be parents performing their age old duties as parents. In dominance displays within a coyote family we observe only the expressions of parental authority and a pecking order among siblings who compete for the attentions of their parents. Coyote parents from instinct try to strike a balance between parental authority and parental love, just as do we as caretakers of children.


  2. Jack
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 17:28:01

    Your comment is correct from my own experience: certainly our children need balance, in our child-raising — when to cuddle & when to, “Hit the ground, son!” :-) — and I suppose coyote children & parents need that too.

    There are other parallels, as well: dispersal, for example, is as vital for humans as it is for coyotes — just as the juvenile in the photos here maybe must not overload the food-supply, or challenge-the-parents, human teenagers too must grow-up, establish their own lives, not fail-to-launch.

    And critics, including scientists, who call this anthropomorphising ignore our own epistemology: we reason-by-analogy, from what we know — if such critics expect people really to understand coyotes, from lab tests or statistical studies, they must at least translate those tests & studies into human-life examples to which the rest of us can relate, or those tests & studies will stay on the lab shelf, un-studied and mis-understood.

    The greatest problem I’ve seen in our relationships with coyotes and other “wild” animals is the mutual fear: they rightfully fear us, we for-the-most-part-unreasonably fear them. The best remedy for fear is familiarity: that teaches you when to be wary, of other folks in the family, but also not to be simply terrified all the time — how to “get along”. We need less fear, and more knowledge and real human understanding, to “get along” with coyotes.


  3. Charles Wood
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 23:05:04

    Interesting comments. I see from Wikipedia on Anthropomorphism that there may be a trend toward less anthropocentrism in the scientific community. A quote from Wikipedia makes sense to me: “Frans de Waal wrote: “To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us.””


    • yipps
      Nov 14, 2013 @ 23:24:21

      Ahh. It depends on which scientific community you subscribe to. There is a divide between animal behaviorists who don’t want to ascribe emotions to animals, and psychologists who do. For many years psychologists have used studies of the behavior of animals to help understand human psychology and emotions: such as the little monkeys denied warm maternal contact early in life.

      Studies on elephants show how they have intense emotions. And any of us who have dogs know that they have our same emotions. I think anthropomorphizing is needed to help our understanding of the animals. People tend to care about what they can relate to — and they can relate to other critters through their emotions. Simply because these can’t be “scientifically quantified” doesn’t mean the emotions don’t exist — we can’t even quantify our own human emotions, but we consider these valid!

  4. Charles Wood
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 21:24:33

    An after thought of musing on anthropomorphism. In my view the earlier studies of captive wolves created a misimpression of pack structure that was generalized to wolves in the wild. The captive wolf pack studied did have an alpha. My impression of those studies is that they showed wolf packs were oriented very much around food, competition to eat first, and a pecking order at the dinner table. The alpha, the most successful eater, got the mate of its choice. I had the impression from all the Discovery and animal world type documentaries that individuals in wolf packs formed packs to more efficiently get food and that survival of the fittest ensured that an alpha would emerge. It made perfect sense. Naturally the alpha was the male, males are stronger, food is critical, etc. A strong leader emerged from competition, cooperation from subordinates developed as the pack hunted and socialized, and rivalries present but suppressed. It all sounded so familiar, that hierarchical wolf pack structure. Not all that different in many ways from our own social structures.

    As later studies of wild wolves showed, the earlier and later study being from the same researcher: the picture of pack life from the original study of captive wolves could not be found in the wild, subsequent studies could not reproduce the findings of the original study.

    The conclusions of the earlier studies were in my view, a good example of anthropomorphism at work, suggesting how prone even researchers are to anthropomorphize. The earlier study gave descriptions of wolf pack social order that were not just eerily familiar to our own social structures, they were familiar to us because we had projected our social structures onto those of wolves, invalid in my view.

    The more recent studies of wolves in the wild show that wolf packs are families, parents and children. The exercise of power/aggression/dominant/subordinate: the original researcher, the man who invalidated his earlier study, said that the idea of alpha doesn’t have meaning in wolf packs because every child is subordinate to its parents, that is what a child is, every parent is an alpha.

    Previously, food and competition for it was given undue emphasis. It isn’t that food and competition for food isn’t important in wolf or coyote pack/families, it is that the emphasis was wrong. In the past it seemed like food was the most important thing. Instead, emphasis in my view would now be more naturally given to the role of canine family and how family contributes to the reproductive success of canines. That success involves aggression/dominance within a family, between parents and children, between parents, and between children. The power dynamics and dynamics within a family, power is expressed within a family context.

    That higher emphasis on family isn’t an anthropomorphism; its just adjusting to the change in emphasis given to reproduction in canine life suggested by the most recent studies. Reproduction in canine life, or in wolf and coyotes, involves families and that we humans have families is a factual just as wolf and coyote family life is factual, not an attribution of human characteristics to the non-human.

    For me it has taken awhile for this all to sink in. I just didn’t see primate type alpha male power plays taking place in the coyotes I observed, no matter how hard I looked for it. I did see aggression and power at work in my coyote family. But it made sense to me for a parent to act that way with its children.

    Some of the similarities are amazing to me. This photo is of my Mom coyote with a little rascal, a teenager, giving her some signs of his/her growing independence. It isn’t a challenge, it is a natural and expected event in the life cycle of a young coyote, it isn’t an argument between the mother and child over who is in charge. Both know who has been in charge and the young coyote is sensing that who’s in charge won’t ultimately be Mom, it will be him as he independently leads his own life. That isn’t anthropomorphism, it is just a fact of reproductive success within a family context, a family context that is different from ours, but not entirely unrecognizable to us:


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