It’s Not A Good Idea To Let Your Dog “Play” With Coyotes

It is best not to let dogs “play” with coyotes. At Bernal Heights (a neighborhood in San Francisco) about 9 years ago there was a single little male coyote who had chosen ONE of the dogs to frolic with: the coyote and the dog learned to know what to expect from each other and they acted accordingly. This was a lone coyote — a youngster who craved company and would allow himself several minutes of such play every day before disappearing into the bushes. This behavior became a daily occurrence over several weeks. The activity was considered “sweet” and “benign” by some of the onlookers. But, in fact, it broke down barriers that serve to protect both wildlife and dogs.

Dogs and coyotes almost universally do not like each other. This is because of territorial concerns. Coyotes do not allow non-family coyotes into their territories except for passing-through. In the recent videos I saw of dog/coyote interactions at Pine Lake, there was chasing of a coyote by a dog and then vice-versa. The dog owner should not allow his/her dog to chase coyotes. This might not be play. The coyotes were assessing what the dog could do by playing a game of oneupmanship which, at this point, seemed, indeed, to border on play. The coyotes were also assessing where in their hierarchy the dog might fit. But the apparent “play” could quickly deteriorate into a situation which could be dangerous not only for the dog involved, but for the other dogs who are around, AND for the coyote. The coyote’s instinct is to protect itself and not let other animals in too close to itself. A larger dog could easily maim a coyote — they do it all the time where there is coyote penning — and a small dog can easily be given the same treatment as any other animal of prey — no different from the way a coyote would treat a skunk or squirrel or juvenile raccoon. And the coyote could message the dog with a nip to the haunches to get it to leave it alone, as seen in the photos here.

In addition, once a coyote becomes accustomed to intermingling with dogs — and therefore people — you are setting up a situation that has the potential for the coyote to approach people. In fact, coyotes and dogs have bitten people trying to break up a fight between the two. Once a coyote has bitten a person, his fate is the death chamber. Here, again, there is a problem, because it’s hard to find the “right” coyote who has done the biting, so often, a number of coyotes will be eliminated to insure that “the culprit” is caught. But of course, it wasn’t the coyote’s fault, it was the human’s fault who allowed a situation to occur in the first place.

So, please keep your dogs leashed if they like going after coyotes. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to do so. If a coyote approaches dogs, it is the responsibility of the dog owners to create distance by leashing and walking away, and to shoo it off if it continues approaching. Please watch the demonstration of how to do this on the YouTube video, “Coyotes As Neighbors”:


These photos show a dog chasing a coyote — then the coyote chases back and he’s actually in “nipping” mode — coyotes do not like to be chased 

(originally posted for the Stern Grove Dog Owner’s Group)

Parched And Dry

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“Brown is the new Green” signs can be seen on our parched street meridians. And apartment complexes proclaim they are saving water, though their lawns are sometimes surprisingly green, so we know they’ve been watered. Saving water is the politically correct thing to do.

We’re in the midst of one of our worst droughts here in California. Human water usage has been curtailed 25% by our governor. It’s so dry that many of our dry forests are tinderboxes raging in flames.

Without water, the plants that feed the smaller rodents die, and the die-off moves up the food chain. So far in the city, though, I’m still seeing plenty of voles, gophers, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, hawks, owls and songbirds scampering or flying around, and the same number of coyotes in our parks, dry and brown though it be!

This fella here is hunting for prey. You can see that he is engulfed in a cloud of parched, bone-dry dirt he’s kicked up as he furiously digs up his next meal. He’s successful in his efforts.  The dry grasses crackle as you walk on them and I wonder how they support the rodents underground. There is bound to be an impact on them from the lack of water and I wonder how and when that will eventually affect our urban coyotes?

Droughts lead to thirst, scarcity, hunger and want — hardships that eventually lead to death for some, maybe many. Droughts have an impact on animals, often causing them to congregate in, and crowd, the areas where water is more available.

In a city, there are plenty of artificial sources of water, such as the drip from the running water around our houses, so folks in neighborhoods may be seeing more wildlife now. We should be tolerant of any animals we see more often wandering around — they’re just trying to survive.

He Keeps Tabs On Her, While She Remains More Aloof

She was on her way out on a trek when I, and she, heard the distant signature call of her mate. She stopped and looked back into the distance from where the call came from for some time, but she did not answer him and she did not go in his direction. When the calling stopped, she proceeded on her merry way, out of the park, through the neighborhood, and on to her destination, wherever that was.

I opted not to follow her, but rather to return to the area where the male had called from. He had called from within some dense bushes, but I thought he might appear out in the open, and indeed he did. I found him heading towards a high lookout point. He was looking for her, even though he must have known that by this time she was long out of sight and out of hearing range. He settled down in the sun to watch and wait for her. He waited and waited.

After a time, he became focused on a dog playing and wandering erratically in the distance. Watching the dog was a good distraction — coyotes do get distracted by what is occurring around them which often causes them to change what they are doing. The dog was claiming way too much liberty in the coyote’s eyes: the dog dug furiously and explored off the beaten path — all within the coyote’s favorite hang-out area, and then, ultimate of insults, he marked the area by peeing on a bush.

The coyote sat up and moved closer during this activity, but he did not descend the hill to “say” or “message” his disapproving feelings. He just put up with it. After all, the owner was right there. The erratically-behaving dog, though bothersome to the coyote, seemed to be minding its own business — it wasn’t searching to flush out coyotes, and it kept within a short distance of its owner.

As he put up with it, another new dog, sticking to the side of its owner and therefore less intrusive, entered the scene. The coyote decided to follow them for a short distance — “where were they going and what were they doing?” This now became a distraction from the distraction. Following from behind offered the coyote a degree of protection since neither owner nor dog were likely to look in back of themselves. But the duo kept moving on and away and were not presenting any issues of interest to the coyote, so the coyote then veered off the path and then headed into the bushes for the day.

By the time the coyote went into the bushes, he had either forgotten about keeping tabs on his mate, or he had decided he no longer wanted to wait for her.  She would return within the next couple of hours and he knew this.

female spends lots of time grooming the father of her pups

female spends lots of time grooming her mate, the father of her pups

As for her, the female of the pair and mother of his pups, why hadn’t she answered his call or run to join him? She acted as though she didn’t want him to keep tabs on her.  I wondered if she had just gone off to hunt, or if she actually needed to get away from her mate and pups, or if she had gone off searching for her best friend. Her mate had had to fight off this other male who was the preferred suitor. Her mate had won the battle, but had he won the war — or her heart? It’s generally true in this pair that the female is rather independent in her actions, though she spends a lot of time grooming and snuggling up to her mate. The male, on the other hand, shadows her when he can and he often searches for her when she’s gone off on her own. Is he afraid her preferred suitor might reclaim her?

I’m simply speculating about the motivations of the male and female based on the behavior I’m seeing. Most coyotes mate for life, but this pair began as a triangle and I wonder if it wasn’t fully resolved?

Distressed Barking By Mother Coyote Due to Presence of Dogs

Parent coyotes are especially edgy at this time of year — it’s pupping season.

As this mother coyote foraged behind some low bushes, dog owners with their mostly leashed dogs walked by on a path about 100 feet away: they stopped and looked at her, though it might have been better if they had just walked on. None of the dogs approached her, though they might have communicated some kind of negativity through their facial expressions and body language. The coyote apparently didn’t like them looking at her, or she didn’t like their negative communication. OR, the dogs may simply have been too close for comfort.  I was concentrating on her, so I couldn’t see what the issue was.

Note that she begins her complaining with little grunts and heaves: it’s an emotional and distressed reaction.  As she initially grunts and heaves, she hasn’t decided to go all out with her barking. But soon, she lets loose. All the dog walkers “got it” once I explained to them what was going on: that this was an edgy mother and coyotes don’t like dogs around them. The walkers and their dogs moved on, and she soon quit her howling and then retreated into the bushes.

Her own mother, too, engaged in this exact same type of barking: it is a distressful bark and only occurs when these coyotes feel harassed or intruded upon by dogs. This type of barking is both a complaining — letting everyone know how she feels — and a communication of standing up for herself, though you can be sure that if a dog went after her, she would skedaddle quickly. The barking session shown here lasted only about three minutes, but I’ve listened to one that lasted well over 20 minutes.

Their Best Kept Secret Is Out!

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This article was published in Bay Nature’s online Nature News in order to reach more people with the information that might help folks understand and deal with an inadvertent and unexpected coyote encounter during pupping season which is now.

To read the article, either press the image, or this link here:

A One Hour Peek Through An Opening In The Bushes At A Coyote Family’s Interactions At Dusk

I peeked through an opening in the bushes into coyote family life during the hour before their active life begins in the evening at dusk. This entire family was together: mother, father, uncle and one pup. There is only one pup in the family. The pup is super-well protected and superbly indulged by the three adults in the family: the third adult is a male from a previous litter who I will call Uncle, even though that’s not exactly what he really is.

The hour was spent in constant interpersonal interactions — there was not a moment when something was not going on or when some interaction was not taking place. Coyotes are some of the most social of animals, and their social life takes place via their intense family life.

The activities during this hour included Mom grooming Dad and vice-versa, Mom grooming Pup and vice-versa, affectionate play between Mother and Pup, all four coyotes aware of me and glancing at me in the far distance, Dad dominating Uncle — this happened continuously, Pup dominating Uncle who is low man on the totem pole, Uncle standing off to the side alone with ears airplaned out submissively, Pup hopping and jumping around trying to get others to play — as any only child might. And, most interesting, a sequence where Pup jumped on Dad (oops) with unexpected consequences and confusion.

Grooming, playing, cuddling and general interacting were constant activities (below).

This sequence (below) was pretty interesting because Dad ended up disciplining Mom instead of the Pup who caused the disturbance! Pup had jumped over — or onto — his parents who were lying next to each other. Dad either got confused and disciplined Mom — she’s the one lying on her back as he stands over her — OR, Mom’s growl at the Pup may be what Dad was reacting to. Dad coyote does not tolerate any aggression in his family, even from Mom. At the first sign of any antagonism or dissent, he squelches it. Dad is the oldest and wisest in this family, and the ultimate authority. In another family I know, Mom is the ultimate authority: every family is different.

Rigid status preserves order, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Uncle is low man on the totem pole, and he’s made aware of this constantly: what is Dad’s “order” is Uncle’s strife and oppression.  There seemed not to be a minute that went by when Uncle was not reminded of it. It happened with physical put-downs three times in this hour, and in a more subtle manner, with glances, many more times.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

As it got darker, the time came for the family to trek on. The move was signaled by Dad’s signature stretching. Dusk had settled in and their day was beginning. And my viewing time had come to an end because as they slithered away into the night, I could no longer see them.

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