Claiming a Disputed Area

On the surface, this photo might look like fun and games to everyone, and it is: two coyotes charmingly playing with an old torn up ball. Coyotes love finding novel items. Playing with the items is a way of finding out all about the items and working together, even if competitively. However, as usual, there’s much more going on here than meets the eye at first glimpse.

This coyote parent-pair, whose den is close by, purposefully scared a dog and owner out of the dog playpen and then claimed the area as their own for about half an hour before trotting off.  I heard the dog-owner scream her surprise, and looked over as she grabbed her dog while two coyotes who had hopped the fence were facing her with arched backs and wrinkled noses, no more that 15 feet away from the dog. It would have been a frightening situation for anyone, not only because of the menacing-looking coyotes who had come so close, but because it was so unexpected: the dog-owner was startled and unprepared. Within seconds, the dog and owner, and both coyotes, went in opposite directions, clearing out of the pen. The coyotes had as little interest in actually “engaging” as the dog and owner: their purpose had been to “message” the dog to leave, and they succeeded.

However, the coyotes soon returned, hopping back in over the fence where there now were no dogs or people, and where they now appeared to celebrate their victory by hanging around and playing ball, no different from the way dogs do: they chased each other, had a tug of war, tossed the ball and even tore it apart. There was an aspect of defiance to the dogs’ perpetual claim to the area. They kept an eye on a couple of us onlookers as we watched behind the fence until they hopped back over the fence and out.

The quandary is that this particular dog run is adjacent to a denning area and there is no buffer zone: i.e., dogs and coyotes who notoriously don’t get along are literally forced to be in close proximity to each other. As Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors”, but the fence here is useless.

The fenced-in dog run has been there for years, but the fence itself is only 2.5′ feet high in places. The area adjacent to it has also been there for years: it’s a steep, rocky drop-off with dense thicket growth including poison oak and thick impenetrable tangles of blackberry brambles: people and dogs can’t and don’t go there, which is why it was chosen as a denning area by the coyotes at least 8 years and possibly longer ago.

Back eight years ago, the coyotes in the city were still much more secretive. Issues were few and far-between. But several years ago, several dogs became very aware of the coyotes and started looking for them. At the same time, feeding and even worse — hand-feeding — began bigtime in this park. Coyote fleeing-distances shortened, and the timeframe for doing so lengthened, as coyote youngsters learned increased proximity tolerance from their parents. How to deal with other species, be it dogs or humans — with all the inherent subtleties and with the variety within each species — is passed on to the youngsters by parental example as well as by experience. Dislike of dogs is a constant — how could it not with the continual chasing, barking at, lunging from dogs. The coyotes look for openings in this perpetual boundary dispute with dogs — it’s part of their opportunism and self-defense. By entering and remaining in the dog run which is at their doorstep, they were claiming the spot, even if not for very long. It happened to me once.

Coming up with a solution for the dog park vs. denning area is difficult. BOTH dogs and coyotes have jumped over the low fence, into and out of the dog enclosure area — not that frequently, but it happens: dogs jump out to chase coyotes who keep an eye on them from a nearby hilltop; coyotes sometimes, as today, have jumped INTO the enclosure when there are only one or two dogs and owners in there. 

I hope I’m not making it sound like a war zone or even a battlefield. It isn’t. Rather, there are occasional “skirmishes” as described by Walkaboutlou, instigated at times by the dogs and at times by the coyotes, which let their true feelings be known. A functional fence would help — the current fence which is just 2′ high in places does not work. 

Fence hopping that occurred during a half-hour play session

Please understand that designated off-leash dog areas, whether fenced in or not, ARE NOT designated coyote-free zones, and you should always remain vigilant for a coyote’s unexpected appearance in these areas. Even when and if a full high fence is in place, we’ll still need to stay vigilant to see if this kind of solution will work. Not until we find out if it totally keeps coyotes out should you let down your guard.

But also, please realize there frequently are altercations between dogs and dogs in these enclosures, so vigilance HAS to continue for this reason. I myself was viciously barked at and then charged by a dog who grabbed my ankle in her mouth and bit me within that enclosure. My heavy jeans prevented the skin from breaking. The point is, we have to stay vigilant and be prepared to quickly extract our dog(s) and ourselves from all sorts of situations. 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy
    Sep 08, 2022 @ 01:35:23

    Fantastic post, Janet! I have seen behavior changing around the city from a distance myself, and I’m not a dog owner. I really appreciate these photos and suggestions for possibly creating better boundaries, but also reinforcing the need for continued vigilance. Thank you for your incredible eyes into the world of the coyote, may we all continue to coexist peacefully. I wish I could still climb fences like they can!

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Sep 08, 2022 @ 04:51:42

      Wendy!!! So great to hear from you! Thank you for all your support over the years. Hopefully, all the correct information and easy guidelines will continue to increase acceptance. Are you still playing the mandolin? I actually burned out on the harp, but as of today began working again on a Bach piece. Huge hugs! Janet

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