A Dog Chase Can Prime A Coyote’s Suspicions About Other Dogs

This morning, I observed a coyote’s “protective mode” kick-in and then linger-on for a while. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

A female coyote was out in a park before dawn, sticking to the park’s edges and hedges as she casually hunted. She just wanted to be left alone to hunt her fill of voles and gophers — critters which tunnel underground. A few runners, walkers and dogs passed by — some noticing her and vice-versa, and some not. When notice of each other was taken, it was taken in-stride by all: humans, dogs, and coyote.

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Unleashed dog sees coyote and chases after it

Then a runner who in the past has thrown fits of defiance when asked to leash — “her dog wouldn’t chase coyotes,” she said — came running by with her unleashed dog leading the way. The dog saw the coyote and, of course, made a bee-line for it. The coyote dashed to get away but, as the dog continued its pursuit, the coyote turned around to face her pursuer. In the meantime, the coyote’s “other half” — the male of the pair, who had been resting in the bushes — saw the goings-on and came to the female’s defense. This male will protect his female. And the dog, of course, was now outnumbered and overwhelmed. When this happens, some dogs freeze, not knowing what to do, and it was no different this time. At this point, the runner ran in to retrieve her dog, leashed it, and then ran on, miffed.

Okay, you might think that the incident was over, that the woman runner may now reconsider leashing her dog when coyotes are out (which she has for the few days since) and that is a good thing. But the incident was not over. The coyotes now were “primed”: suspicious, and in “defensive-mode”. I’ve seen this behavior a number of times: where once their defensive-mode kicks in, usually due to being chased, their suspicions and readiness for another incident remains heightened for a while.

While “she” lolled over to an edge of the park and continued hunting for gophers, “he” lay down, claiming a little patch of ground, while keeping a protectively watchful eye on her, and at the same time, keeping a lookout for repeat treatment either from another dog, or maybe from the same dog.

No “suspects” presented themselves, so after not too long, he got up and trotted in her direction. High-pitched barking of a dog from behind a solid wooden fence now began — some dogs can sense the presence of coyotes, even without seeing them.  The male coyote, still suspicious and on-alert, checked out the fence separating him from the yappy dog. But all was secure, so the little dog could not be reached — just annoyingly heard. (This is where the male acquired his cobwebs which I wrote about in the last posting).

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Two coyotes who have been “primed” into their protective mode, begin to follow a small dog

There was no threat to the coyotes here, so both coyotes then meandered up a path to leave the area, but a woman with her little Jack Russell now appeared coming towards them. I asked the woman to shorten her leash which she did and she moved off the path, taking a short-cut so as not to get any closer to the coyotes. As she did so, the coyotes themselves trotted away from her and then turned to watch. The coyotes watched her for a moment, and then one of the coyotes, the female this time, began following, and soon the male, too, followed. The woman turned to face the coyotes, which caused the coyotes to freeze and stop advancing. It was the perfect thing to do. But every time the woman then turned to move on, the coyotes continued to follow.

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

I suggested she lean down to pick up a rock, which she did — to hold on to “just in case”, she told me — and when she did this, the coyotes hurried off the path and away. They seemed to know this meant business.  Owner and dog then walk on out of the picture. Their moving away from the coyotes showed the coyotes that the owner and dog were not interested in them, which caused the coyotes to lose interest in her and her dog. The coyotes relaxed, spent some time grooming, and then climbed a rock to survey the area from a high vantage point. A runner passed, thrilled that he could see urban coyotes.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

Then one last walker with two large dogs appeared from behind the rocks. One of the dogs saw the male coyote and vice-versa. The dog growled at the coyote who was several hundred feet away. This pricked the coyote’s interest in them — so the coyote headed in the dog’s direction, not getting close, but in clear view. Remember that his suspicion and defensiveness were still running high.  The woman leashed and walked on and away from them — she, too, did the right thing. Walking AWAY from coyotes is the best option always. After watching them walk away — walking away showed him that they were not interested in him — the male coyote turned and went in the opposite direction, until he came to a dense thicket into which he disappeared.

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