Playfulness of Coyotes

Being the social and family oriented animals that they are, coyotes who are “loners” — without families — often get . . . lonely!

Most coyotes eventually find a mate and live in families, but there is a time after dispersal– when they leave “home” — when they may be on their own, alone, and when they may miss the companionship they had growing up with their parents and siblings. Coyotes are often forced out of their birth families and territories by other family members. This usually happens between one and three years of age for various reasons, for example, when the smooth-running of the family is interfered with, because of growing competitiveness due to a domineering parent or sibling, because of new pups, or because of limited resources in an area. So the coyote moves out and on. Each coyote needs about a square mile of territory to provide for itself. When they find a vacant niche, they’ll fill it.

As seen in the video, this little coyote looks like he wants to engage with other canids — he’s running back and forth in an engaging sort of way, with his head bobbing up and down like an excited pony, and he even poses with his rump up and paws out front in the classical “lets play” stance which dogs use. But this is more about testing and assessing than play — notice that he does not fully approach the dogs who are facing him and close to their owners. He appears both excited and a bit anxious about provoking an interaction — there’s a push-pull of desire and fear.  I have seen short romps shared by dogs and coyotes, and then, the coyote is off — but the coyote may return day after day for this same type of  contact. Please beware that even a playful coyote such as this one in the video may suddenly nip at a dog which has been allowed to interact with it: this just happened in one of the other parks where the coyote began to feel threatened or harassed and ended up biting the dog’s leg. We need to remember that wildness will always be part of who the coyotes are. At the same time, the coyote’s good will and good intentions can be clearly recognized.

The first coyote which appeared in the City outside of the Presidio (where they first re-appeared in the City in 2002) actually appeared on Bernal Hill in about 2003., and this coyote, too, was reported to have romped with one of the dogs.

Respecting the coyote’s wildness means keeping our distance and not allowing our dogs to engage with them. When a coyote eventually does find a mate, he may feel very protective of his chosen mate, of himself, and of his territorial claim from all potential threats, be they real or perceived. He’ll do so with “warning messages” in the form of body language. Sometimes this “messaging” is conveyed assertively, as with a nip. Think about it: how else might coyotes clearly get their message across? Know what is going on, and please respect him by keeping your distance. And know how to shoo the coyote away if he comes too close to your dog.

At the same time, be thrilled and filled with awe and wonder at this wildlife returned to the City! Coyotes are fascinatingly social and interact with each other in the gamut of ways we humans interact with each other, including through playing, through a full array of family interactions which show that they share many of our emotions, and through protecting personal and home spaces from dogs who  they consider potential threats.

Coyotes have been moving into all urban areas — into what we consider “human areas”. It’s interesting because we humans have excluded, persecuted and wantonly killed this species for so long. Our presence helps keep away other top predators which is why they may feel safer living among us.

Thank you everyone for trying to understand coyote behavior and for accepting them as a neighbors! To become more aware of coyote behaviors, watch the video presentation,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. And, stay tuned! In a new posting which will be appearing here and on within the next few days, I’ve addressed some of the issues and hype that have been appearing on some recent social media sites.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    May 22, 2016 @ 23:07:02

    Nice post Janet. Some thoughts. Your post reminded me of a blog post by Anna Burke titled “6 self-defense tips I learned from my German shepherd” here: .

    Ms. Burke offers that her own dog taught her about stranger danger, taught her that ordinarily nothing good happens after dark, that personal space is important, taught her about constant vigilance and living confidently, and taught her that the buddy system works.

    I was reminded of Ms. Burke’s post because of the dogs in your video. They behaved appropriately toward a stranger, enforced their personal space vigilantly and confidently while using a buddy system. The poodle type dog in the video countered each forward move made by the coyote, particularly toward the end of the video after the male voice says “OK. We gotta go.”

    It looks to me like the coyote didn’t give up any ground until those final few frames in the video. Until then the coyote kept forward pressure on the dogs. The dogs countered each coyote move and in response the coyote either halted or moved sideways. However the dogs were made to give up ground by their owner’s handling of their leashes. Then, about 30 seconds into the video, the coyote took some ground by flanking to the left of the dogs. The coyote had resolved to lessen the distance between them. When the coyote moved more decisively forward, the poodle energetically blocked the coyote, lunging against its leash with its thigh muscles looking powerful. That final move by the poodle caused the coyote to give up ground and the poodle, for the first time, starts rapidly flagging its raised tail. I suspect there was some sturdy testing going on in those final moments of the video.

    In such a situation, over time I came to prefer to handle a coyote myself and to put my dogs behind me. That’s because I want my dogs to know and respect that I can handle such situations; and because I want to minimize the chances of any dog/coyote physical contact. With my dogs behind me, I then act more or less like the dogs did in the video. Anna Burke learned some profoundly instinctive lessons from her German shepherd and I’ve learned some of the same from my dogs and from coyotes.


    • yipps
      May 23, 2016 @ 04:31:46

      Hi Charles — Impressive observations and fascinating descriptions! Thank you for noticing and pointing out the intricate “fencing” that was actually going on in the video. After reading your comment, I went back and saw those subtle (subtle to me, probably blatant to them) responses of both dogs and coyote to each other. Great comment!

  2. yipps
    May 31, 2016 @ 00:19:30

    Coyotes are interested in dogs and sometimes do play ( and and, but as with coyote siblings, the relationship, as far as I have seen, eventually deteriorates. As coyote youngsters grow up, the playing inevitably evolves/devolves into competition and one-upmanship. Another loner coyote in the city who has been playing with dogs ended up nipping one of them recently.

    It’s best to keep coyotes and dogs apart. The best response always to an approaching coyote is to keep walking quickly (not running) away from the coyote. It could be that, since these dogs and this coyote see each other frequently — more than three times a week according to the dog owner who took the video — the coyote may feel somewhat familiar with the dogs who have never chased after it. This familiarity, and that the dogs aren’t trying to pursue the coyote (they are being restrained), may be driving the coyote’s behavior. [reposted from a comment on another blog]


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