Why Fathers Have Pups

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 Pup Play: I’ve watched Dads engaged in play as an almost equal but always with that “ultimate” control over the youngsters, and I’ve watched them *tolerate* play right underfoot (or above!) in which they are included but they really don’t participate. They were absorbed in their fun and play which included learning and teaching. I’ve posted these photos instead of videos because photos (unlike video which passes by in a whirlwind) stop the action and you can actually see, what is going on. There is perpetual motion, and 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, almost none of which is caught by simply watching or even taking a video: the motion has to be stopped an examined! 

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 Above are fathers playing a spirited game of tug-of-war with their youngsters

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Above Dad tolerates the play right under (or over) foot — he’s the yard gym.

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Above: *grooming* is one of the joys of parenthood — the kid has to stand there whether he likes it or not!

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Discipline is another privilege Dad gets to engage in. Dads, of course, have to be dictators: some are tyrannical, but others are benevolent dictators. The Dad above is a little bit of a tyrant on this spectrum. This is how the unbending hierarchy is maintained.

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Above: Dads are sources of endless and (almost) unconditional  affection.

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This dad continued bringing *presents* in the way of food until these youngsters were well past the need for it — he did so simply out of fatherly benevolence.

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And finally, it’s Dad who may help in the dispersion process. Some youngsters get happy sendoffs, and some must be driven out, as above — father is on the right, driving a yearling son away.


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. I’ve had to exchange the photos in the original posting with these you see here because some of those actually were two siblings: in a couple of families, the resemblances between a father and son was uncanny and threw me off for a full several months before I finally and definitely teased apart the differences.

© 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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