Coyotes Celebrate Coming Out Ahead: Intact and Uninjured, and Still In Charge of Their Territory

Here is a typical morning in an urban park where there are coyotes and where dogs run free. If you have a dog and know coyotes are out, or if you see a coyote, you need to leash up and move on. In this park, there is a particular team of dogs which chases and harasses these coyotes on an almost daily basis.

On this day, coyotes were out finishing their nighttime trekking. They picked one of their favorite knolls to hang out on. They often stay out to watch and keep an eye on the dogs which visit the park daily, but also they are there “to be seen” by these same dogs: they want these dogs to know that the territory is already claimed — their presence sends this message. It is a purposeful activity. They knew the route and the time that most dogs would walk by, and that time was coming up. They plopped themselves down high up on the incline a substantial distance from any trails and began grooming themselves.

Most dogs and their owners passed uneventfully, as usual: most folks in San Francisco are in awe of and love their urban coyotes in the parks: It makes the parks seem a little more “natural”, a little closer to the nature that humankind once knew, a little further removed from the city right next door. Both coyotes and dogs learn something about each other as they watch one another, and peace is maintained by the owners keeping their dogs away from them.

Unfortunately, there are antagonistic dogs who pursue, and owners who allow their dogs to pursue and harass coyotes. It is always the same dogs, and it is always the same owners who allow it, and it happens on a regular basis. It happened again today, as predictably as the dawn itself. Two dogs from the same family — therefore a “pack” working as a team together — came up the trail ahead of their owners and went searching for the coyotes, saw them and chased after them. The coyotes ran further up the steep incline which was difficult for the dogs. The coyotes stayed up high on the hill and watched. At one point, when the second dog appeared they came down a little, still keeping their safe distance away.

One of the dog owners, one who had no intention of ever leashing his dogs to control them, ran up the hill towards the coyotes and starting heaving rocks at them, snarling, “Darn coyotes, stop bothering my dogs!!”  The coyotes backed up a little preparing to flee, but the dog owner backed down the hill. Of course, it was the dogs and owner who were doing the harassing, not the other way around.

Eventually the recalcitrant dogs and disrespectful owners walked on. The coyotes watched them leave and then hung around to watch and just “be” for a short time, grooming themselves and probably communicating in ways we humans cannot understand: their distress, relief, joy, excitement, and fears, among other things, are communicated simply by the way they act — by their body language and facial expressions.

Then it was time to go. The coyotes ran towards each other, tails wagging, bodies bouncing and wiggling, and headed off. They were all intact, there were no injuries, the territory was still theirs. They seemed to celebrate all this as they left the area hugging next to each other as they went.

 

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Donna Price
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 22:43:04

    Hi Janet-

    I just found your blog and this seemed like the appropriate post to leave my question for you.

    Earlier this week, I went for a run on a local rail trail. I live in rural (yes, rural) New Jersey. I run with a husky/shepherd mix. We were out about a mile and half from the car, turned around. Walking… and I looked back to see a big coyote on the trail about 30 feet behind us.

    I yelled. It jumped but stayed on the trail. My dog, aware, didn’t bark or pull, like she does for squirrels. She walked around me. She was on a 6 foot leash attached to me at the waist.

    I picked up a large stick and started moving backwards, yelling. The coyote followed. I have to say I was really scared as there are no houses. The closest house about 1/4 mile was on the other side of the coyote and didn’t seem an option. The closest house behind me was about a mile down the trail.

    I continued walking (quickly), yelling and swinging my 12 foot branch. The coyote yipped. Is this behavior a communication with other coyotes? or with my dog? or me?

    I got to a place on the trail that is a cutout with a 100 foot wall to my left. The coyote took off into the woods just before this cutout.

    I turned and ran as fast as I could through the cutout. I’ve had a foot injury so this was my first run since March, so I am out of shape!!

    We got through the cutout and down the trail about 100 feet. And the coyote appeared behind us again on the trail.
    Was he trying to cut me off? Would he have tried to attack from above?

    We continued moving down the trail as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to signal a chase. Fortunately on this part of the trail, the coyote seemed to get distracted by different things on the trail separating us more and more. I made it to the house and someone was home. The coyote did come out of the woods into a field about a football field away from us and just stood and stared, then disappeared.

    I felt like I was being stalked. But am unclear about the coyote’s intentions.
    Was my dog’s behavior a good response. She is big but in situations with other dogs she is not the alpha. She is young and will lay down for older more dominating dogs.

    I appreciate any feedback or sources you can point me to. THANK YOU!!

    Reply

    • yipps
      Sep 11, 2014 @ 04:14:59

      Hi Donna —

      Thanks for contacting me about your encounter. It’s hard to say exactly what the coyote was up to without having been there to observe it, but I can give you some ideas.

      First, coyotes are extremely curious. That he/she was distracted a good portion of the time by different things along the trail, and that he/she was not hard-focused on your dog, would indicate that this is what was going on: he/she was simply curious about everything, including your dog. I don’t think the coyote was “stalking” you. Again, that would have entailed much more “focus” than what you have described. You did the right thing by preparing yourself to keep the coyote away if she/he had come closer, whether that would have been out of friendliness or unfriendliness.

      It could be that this coyote has had “playful” experiences with other dogs: of course this is the kind of situation we all need to prevent because the next dog and person the coyote approaches is going to call this behavior “aggressive”. Keeping your distance and walking on is the best strategy — please never run. Also, at this time of year there are youngsters who have dispersed — they’ve been driven out of their native territories and have found themselves for the first time alone without their families — “tagging along” may offer them a bit of comfort.

      As for the coyote yelping, from what you describe, I think it could have been about anything, from a slight fear, to attempting to engage a little with your dog. I don’t think the coyote was trying to communicate with either you or with other coyotes. Please take a look at the video at the top of the coyoteyipps blog for a pretty good introduction to what behaviors you can expect from a coyote. If you have more questions, please shoot them this way! I hope this has been helpful. Janet

    • yipps
      Sep 11, 2014 @ 21:54:36

      First off: Congratulations! You and your dog get 4 stars for behaving appropriately in this situation.

      Coyotes are very curious animals, and it appears this coyote, most likely a male simply took an interest in your dog and was shadowing you both along the trail, keeping his distance. While this behavior may be unnerving, it is absolutely normal with coyotes and should not be interpreted as an aggressive or provocative act.

      You did the right thing in yelling to see if it would deter the coyote, however, curiosity trumped fear, and although startled, the coyote continued to follow. Your dog reacted appropriately, no doubt they could smell each other’s sex. Your dog’s (non)reaction was another indication that the coyote was not posturing or putting out any pheromones that could be interpreted as a threat or challenge.

      I’m sure it was a scary experience – but if there is a “next time,” it won’t be quite as scary knowing this is normal behavior when other canids come into their territory. Best to do as you did – leave quickly, but calmly. Coyotes have to assess whether any canid outside of their family unit poses a threat to them, and there have been many instances, especially during pupping season, where they have followed people and their dogs to a safe distance out of their territory.

      The yipping could have been a number of things…The yipping could have been in response to what he interpreted as “unusual and disturbing” behavior coming from you. He could have been trying to communicate with your dog, or even with you since you were vocalizing – it’s not unusual for coyotes to vocalize when they hear sirens…etc. He could have heard another vocalization from a member of his family, and that is why he took off: to join up with them before you got to the cutout. A lot of their vocalizations are out of our hearing range.

      The coyote assessed your dog was not a threat, and most likely would have gone on it’s way, had you not started running, creating a disturbance it would have had no difficulty hearing. He simply reappeared to “check out” what the commotion was. If it was the coyote’s intent to cut you off, which there would be no reason to, it would have appeared in front of you and your dog. Coyotes can run a lot faster than you can. Coyotes do not attack from above (he would never have survived a jump like that) – ambush predators like mountain lions do that with prey, however, coyotes are pursuit predators, and if his intent was to attack your dog (not you), it could have easily caught up with your dog.

      The coyote was satisfied with what he assessed about you and your dog, and was losing interest. He gave you and your dog a final look before moving on to more “important” things.

      It may have appeared that you were being stalked – but you were NOT being stalked – you and your dog were shadowed by a coyote that was curious about your dog – a “new dog” especially a female in a part of his “neighborhood.” His behavior was driven by curiosity and to ensure your dog’s presence did not pose a threat to him and his family.

  2. Donna Price
    Sep 12, 2014 @ 00:43:20

    Thanks Mary and Janet for your insights. They are reassuring and so helpful to me in shifting my perception of the encounter. I really appreciate your help!!

    Reply

    • yipps
      Sep 12, 2014 @ 04:11:40

      You are very welcome, Donna! Please let us know of any future worrisome encounters — each experience is unique and posting them for others to read about increases everyone’s understanding. Thank you for sharing. Janet

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