Why Fathers Have Pups — in 58 photos!

Musings: I imagine that raising a family is as much fun and rewarding for coyotes as it is for us, in spite of the work involved. To begin with, for coyotes as well as us, there must be feelings of anticipation and excitement even before the event: knowing that something big is about to happen in their lives that will require preparation, forethought, and effort.

Thinking about it, procreation in the animal world is less of a conscious decision than a subconscious one, directed by cyclical hormones and drives — it’s a programmed activity, as is the job of rearing the pups once they arrive. For us humans, we have more say in the matter than do coyotes, though for us, too, the process is directed by the same hormonal drives and biological factors. But I think coyote parents, as well as us, bring their own unique experiences and characters into the equation, and of course each pup has her/his own individual temperament and unique relationship with each littermate, resulting in variations on a theme. A lot of work and dedication as well as fun are involved in all cases. The different capacities we are born with, the situations we are born into, and what we do with the agency/choices we have, define who we are as individuals: we all fit into the generalities of the species, with specific variations for each individual and family, be it coyote or human. We should be looking for the commonalities we can relate to! What we are able to relate to, we are more willing to embrace. So, what might parenthood involve for coyotes?

Pup Rearing: Early on, well before pups are born, the coyote pair becomes vigilant and alert: they patrol the periphery of their areas daily so as to KNOW everything that is happening in “their” established areas: it is their job to do so, and it’s part of what is required for what comes next. After digging a den, birthing, and lactation carried out by Mom, Dad, in addition to guarding and patrolling the area, joins in with a “progressive” program of feeding his pups: from regurgitated food through dead prey, to eventually live prey, and finally instruction on hunting and feeding themselves.

Education figures big in coyote lives, no less than in ours! Pups must learn about different types of prey: which are the easiest and which the hardest to capture, which are the safest and which are the most dangerous — and about other foods such as fruit, nuts and bugs, and where those foods are found. Over time, they learn to refine their hunting techniques and skills: many of these are taught by example. Learning through imitation and example avoids some of the pitfalls of a trial-and-error approach, such as a bitten nose, loss of an eye, or worse, though hit-and-miss and experimentation can’t be avoided during growing up, as even we humans know.

Coyotes also teach their youngsters how to be safe and navigate the urban landscape. They teach the youngsters all about territoriality and boundaries, about the hard-and-fast laws of nature generally, and about their species’ specific tendencies which they must respect and abide by to survive well.

Coyotes are extremely social. They mate for life, the youngsters stick together normally for 1 to 2 years, and Dad helps raise the young: in a truncated form, it sounds like us, doesn’t it? Their early social interactions take place predominantly within their own families where, of course, it is safer and more hospitable and forgiving than out in the wider world. It’s a good place to learn.

One of the most important things coyote parents do, I think, is to help shape their pups’ social interactions among themselves: this involves how to get along and the importance of hierarchy. These are passed on through example, discipline, and again, learned through trial-and-error. But also, life is simply “absorbed” collaterally by living in a family. Some coyotes are born more gregarious and outgoing — maybe sometimes a little too “overbearing” for the others — so they have to be damped a bit, while others are much more careful and withdrawn and may have to be encouraged more. Positive or negative reactions from siblings and parents teach pups what is acceptable or not: bite too hard or be too rough, and a sibling will move out of their reach and they won’t be able to play. Lesson learned. Those coyotes who don’t learn to fit in tend to disperse earlier than the others.

Learning through Play: And why am I writing about all this learning when the title of this posting is, “Why do Dads have pups?” What might make it worthwhile? I’m guessing that playtime figures large! During play everyone appears to be enjoying themselves the most, including Dad.

A lot of learning takes place through play. For example, hierarchy and personal boundaries are taught and maintained during play. Hierarchy is necessary for the smooth functioning of coyote families: and you can see it being taught and incorporated during play. There’s no question as to who the authority figure is. Boundaries and hierarchies of different degrees are also worked out among the littermates. At the same time, most of the time, the parents aren’t behaving like dominating dictators or leading the family with bravado, rather, they stand back, letting things happen, and make sure everyone is okay and included. For parents, as for youngsters, family life is fun, it’s rewarding and it’s entertaining, above and beyond the effort it entails.

Dad and Son Play: So a month ago, this is what I saw: a dad engaging in play, almost, but not quite as an equal — always with that “ultimate” control over his son. They were absorbed in their fun and play which included learning and teaching. These photos are from ONE play session: you can see the changing light as the sun comes up. Enjoy the photos! I’ve posted photos instead of a video because photos (unlike video which passes by in a whirlwind) stop the action and you can actually see, moment by moment, what is going on. In addition to the perpetual motion, every second there is something important happening which has meaning for the coyotes: in their eye-contact and facial expressions as well as their body language. There are a lot of photos here, 58 of them, so they are better reviewed in small doses. :))

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Immediately upon approaching each other, son hits the ground to show his respect and accept his lesser rank next to Dad. Here Dad is standing over him — all you can see of him are his ears (above). All captions refer to the photos above them. A photo can be clicked on to enlarge it, and then you can scroll through that particular series).

Right after the greeting, one-year-old son, on the right, invites Dad to play: first visually, and then with his body language (first row), which then turns into more forceful yet playful (of course) body slamming. Dad responds but with enough force to, again, let son know who is boss. Son retracts (bottom row) and hits the ground to let Dad know he’s on-board with who is boss.

They engage for play again, always instigated by the son here. Note eye contact and eye expressions. But then again, son hits the ground — he may have gone too far in a subtle way that’s below our radar to detect.

Now they face each other. First Dad squints. . . . and son reflects back the look!

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Son, with ears back (apprehensive and even fearful), gets the upper hand and pushes Dad down: Yikes! has he gone too far? Dad gives him a nip on the snout and then Son falls over almost apologetically: he wants the play to continue.

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And then they go running off together — i.e., no physical contact for the moment.

As they run, Son is full of himself, feeling his beans, and leans down to nip the heels of Dad. He must have either thought better of it and not actually made contact, or maybe nipped very gently, because they keep running after that as you can see above.

Another bout of play wrestling ensues, with son eventually ducking away, and running off with his tail side tucked under, indicating his state of mind: unsure and maybe somewhat fearful.

The play-snarling (but partly for real), and fine visual communication between them continues — mostly in the eyes, ears and face. They read all of these subtleties.

A break, more play wrestling, more visual sparring with Son’s ears flattened, and then they walk on.

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Rest time off to the side and alone for a minute.

Again, Son eyes Dad in a challenge, and Dad responds with a nip to the ear.

Son waits for Dad to pass, and then charges at him, attack fashion, but then changes his mind and runs past him. Maybe a direct charge is not such a good idea!

And now one last bit of sparring, feign-attacking, body shoves, snarly approaches, one-upmanship (above).

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And off they go — that’s enough for the day, and the end of that play session.


Addendum: When I see a coyote, I don’t simply “see a coyote”. I see “Peter” and his whole situation: his age, who his siblings are, who his parents are, the area he ranges, how he deals with people and dogs, how he deals with each parent and each of his siblings, what injuries he has sustained, his general personality. There is always more going on than first meets the eye when they “play” — you can see this by focusing in and “reading between the lines”.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit:©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

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