Eluding: Coyote Behavior

Walking up 6 blocks in the middle of the street — few people saw her.

I was able to observe this three-time-mom coyote over a half-hour stretch of time as I concentrated on her eluding tactics. Coyotes really don’t want to be seen by humans; they are the opposite of “in your face” for the most part: reclusive and almost deferential. IF they feel they’ve been seen, they might tolerate it for a short while at a distance, but most will slither into the bushes rather than expose themselves to humans or dogs for too long. If they have to travel — say through the streets to get to where they need to go — they’ll take the safest and most direct route possible: notice in the first photo, she’s traveling right in the middle of the street — she did so for six blocks. There were no gaps between houses, so this was her safest route, and also, in the middle of the street she could see pretty far in all directions, giving her plenty of time and space to escape sudden potential danger. And actually, she was somewhat inconspicuous in that vast sea of concrete where I had to point her out for some people to even see her,

Skedaddling by as quickly as possible where people had their eyes on her.

Of course, some coyotes do hunt or relax with people around in the distance — it’s inevitable in an urban situation where almost all the coyotes have become used to seeing people. And if there are very few (or no) people around, a coyote is more likely to approach a dog to let that dog know that the territory is taken: coyotes don’t allow non-family coyote members into their territories, so it’s natural that they would feel the same way towards dogs. During pupping season coyotes become fiercely protective against dogs who could easily harm any pups. So their elusiveness is cast aside for this more important purpose.

In addition, coyotes have different individual personalities — not unlike humans — with some being born less fearful than others and some learning to tolerate human omnipresence at a closer range. Making generalization from these few would be incorrect because even these coyotes avoid us. Another factor: our parks used to have many more dense and impenetrable wild areas where coyotes could remain unseen, but these have been hugely cleared over the last 15 years.

What alters this general state of wariness and elusiveness is people offering them food.

She kept herself hidden in the foliage whenever possible.

Here are some photos of that 1/2 hour. She covered about a 1/2 mile distance in that time. For part of that distance she had purpose and direction to her gait; for the rest she was meandering more than anything else, assessing the minimal human and dog activity in the area. You’ll see that her elusiveness is a constant — it is built into a coyote’s behavior.

When she was visible, she was casual about it, seeming not to have a purpose or destination in her movements.

More out in the open: scratching herself nonchalantly, marking, observing but moving away from a dog intent on avoiding her.

There was only one dog walker out during my 1/2 hour timeframe. She kept a close eye on the leashed dog from the distance. The owner was aware of her and simply turned and walked away when he saw her. Yay! That’s the right thing to do, and exactly what she wanted. She, too, did the same thing: walked away from them.

This sequence above shows her relaxing by a tree until loud walkers approach. She can only hear them at first, but she keeps looking in their direction and around her, and as they come into view, she hugs herself around the tree and slithers invisibly into the shade of the grove where no one can see her.

In another instance, two loud and animated people (no dogs) were coming down the path where she was relaxing after ducking away from a couple of other walkers. Above are the shots of her avoiding their detection. She was really good at this! They never had any clue that she was practically underfoot, which is what the coyote wanted. I can see why coyotes are sometimes called Ghost Dogs

I want to point out that this particular coyote was fed relentlessly and mercilessly in her early years which trained her to hang around visibly, daily, at feeding spots for many years — it changed her nature. Fortunately, over time, and helped by the fact that she moved and became focused on her family, much of her wariness and evasiveness returned.

At one point during this observation period, she emerged from the bushes and sat down as she saw a car coming, making herself purposefully visible. I watched as she carefully approached the car when it stopped. Enough food has been tossed to her from cars so that she still sometimes waits expectantly for it. She was hoping, but the driver saw me with my camera aimed at his car and he moved on. Yay! Most people now know that feeding coyotes is highly frowned on — it’s actually illegal.

She did not evade the car — in fact, that’s when her visibility became purposeful.

Coyote elusiveness is what keeps many people from seeing them for anymore than a few minutes at a time. The increased sightings we’ve been reading about on NextDoor are usually not caused by the mating season, dispersal season, birthing, pupping, a purported increased population or anything else that you’ve heard. More sightings are more likely due simply to us humans. Over the last few years, especially since COVID, more people have been out in the parks where coyotes might be spotted. Social media spreads sightings like wildfire which causes people to think there are many more coyotes than there actually are. More people are using night security cameras because of higher crime in the city which reveal their presence. San Franciscans have more dogs than ever — dogs often bring coyotes out into the open — coyotes react to dogs — with resultant increased sightings and encounters.

After 1/2 hour she wandered off and I had to go.

What can you do to prevent negative encounters? Do pretty much what the fella with the dog did in this posting: the minute you see a coyote, walk away from it, and keep your dog from engaging on any level, visually, or allowing antagonistic barking which could cause a coyote to react. Every coyote is different, personality-wise, so it’s best just to get away from them always.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nushka
    Mar 23, 2023 @ 18:07:35

    Hi Janet, I observe this elusiveness too. However, yesterday I had two encounters where the coyotes almost seemed to invite my dog that really surprised me. I am intrigued by this behaviour because 99% of the time they are very good at not being seen. 1) I believe the coyote knew for sure that my dog and I were coming – it was very quiet in a wild urban park, my footsteps where loud on the frozen, crackling snow, there was the clinking of the tags on my dog’s collar and harness. yet it let itself be seen by the dog, took off, not very fast and my dog (a very athletic English Shepherd) running behind it not fast, and maintaining an even distance of about 20 m all along (ie not attempting to catch up with the coyote). My guess is that this was the male luring my dog away from the three legged female (according to a local wildlife biologist she has one leg dragging). My dog quickly gave up the run and came back, not at all panting or excited, more like coming back from an exploratory walkabout. It felt very uneventful for a chase. 2) a little later, I saw what I thought was a young female mutt, maybe a red corgi- small shepherd mix LOL She was intentlly curious about my dog, wanting to meet but unsure. No owner. I thought after a while that it was a lost dog and let my gentle dog off leash to meet her so I could catch her. I noticed when she got up that it was in fact a small and slender coyote. It ran away with my dog after it, it was again a rather lazy chase. He quickly came back. The area where she was is a high off leash dog traffic area of the park, she has a zillion other choices. Why was she there in the first place? Perhaps it was the one I met last year and who lied down 30 m from us in the sun. She seemed to like us then. but this one seemed a bit smaller. Note: I always put my dog on leash when I see a coyote or suspect they are close by. In both cases I really did not expect coyotes to show themselves to us like this. It was clearly their choice. So what do you think happened?


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Mar 23, 2023 @ 20:21:19

      Hi Nushka —

      Thank you for contacting me. Pupping season has begun or is about to begin. It appears that this might be an area the coyotes deem safe or they wouldn’t be there, in spite of its being an off-leash dog area. It may be close to an area that has a water and food source: they like to den close to where these are available because that’s where pups will have their first lessons.

      I remember being very aware the first time it appeared that coyotes were purposefully making their presence known in a very obvious way. They would cross someone’s path, right IN FRONT of them, rather than sneaking around them in back, which seemed totally bizarre to me since they really want to be left alone. So I believe that what you are describing is this same behavior. In other words, they appear to WANT to be seen: it’s a message to you and your dog that they are there and that this is their area. I don’t know this, but it could be that this is the “politest” way to get their message across — kind of a first step that might be escalated next time around. My suggestion, both for you and the coyotes’ benefit, would be to not allow your dog to follow them at all — even a lazy chase is still a chase in their eyes.

      As for lying down 30 meters from you and watching you: they are very curious and trying to figure out your and your dog’s intentions: they could even bounce along with little hops and jumps, approaching the dog to see if your dog might react. I think that ultimately they are testing themselves AND your dog. Dogs, after all, do look like them, so they have a need to test — find out limits and parameters of the situation. They’ll do so only if things remain calm and in their control — which it seldom does.

      Please let me know if this helps and if you think this fits your situation! Janet

    • Nushka
      Mar 24, 2023 @ 04:24:39

      Yes, Janet, what you say seems to fit. And I am totally on board for no chase. Normally my dog is back on leash before a chase can happen, but this time it looked like we were set up by the coyotes! I’ll avoid getting that close to that area for now. I am in Western Canada, we’re still in snow here and it seems that these coyotes were mating about 3 weeks ago.

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