An “Object of Interest”: Territorial Behavior

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Coyotes ignore most dogs passing through their territories if the passing-through is done calmly, without getting too close to the coyote, and without paying the coyotes any heed. I spoke about “motion-reactivity” in my last posting. In this posting I’d like to address a dog’s zeroing-in on a coyote — making the coyote “an object of interest”.

A coyote may respond to this by assuming that, “If I’m an object of interest to you, that spells possible danger to me — a threat”. The perceived threat is particularly true in coyotes’ regular-use areas. In the wild it would occur if the onlooker were “after” the coyote in some way, either a predator or a competitor for the resources in the area. “I therefore need to keep an eye on you, and maybe let you know that I won’t allow you to carry through.” So the dog now becomes an object of interest for the coyote. The coyote may just watch, or he/she may follow, or even try to message the dog to leave or stay away.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

The best way to keep your dog from focusing intently on a coyote is to keep moving when a coyote is out there, be it nearby or far away. Moving AWAY from the coyote communicates to the coyote that you are not interested in the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will reflect back this lack of interest.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow -- their interest has been piqued by the dog's interest in them.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow — their interest has been piqued by the dog’s interest in them.

A prototypical example occurred today with a dog named Lily. Lily usually ignores coyotes and actually runs towards her owner whenever she senses or sees one. Owner and dog then leave the area together. But today, something about two coyotes caught Lily’s interest. She stood there, mesmerized by them, and they, in-turn, looked back at her. I think the owner was oblivious to the situation at first — this is why it’s important to always be aware of your dog when out.  I probably should have interfered, but the distance was great, and the coyotes were below a bluff, which added another layer of separation.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt -- it's a message to leave them alone.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt — it’s a message to leave them alone.

Lily’s interest was intense. She stared and watched them for several minutes, and began flinching in anticipation of something exciting. Her owner then noticed her and felt this would lead to no good. Dog and owner left, with Lily leashed at first, but then unleashed and lagging some distance behind.

As they distanced themselves, with Lily lingering behind, both coyotes — when there are two, they often act as a team — headed in Lily’s direction, excited and at a fast clip — they now were on a mission. I yelled out for the owner to call his dog which he did. Seeing that the dog and owner were together and both moving away, the approaching coyotes stopped.

But it did not stop there — coyote activity never stops where you think it might. They had sensed that they had become objects of interest and now they needed to do something to keep it from going further. One coyote watched to make sure the duo left. The other now sniffed, peed, and kicked-up-dirt where Lily had stopped on her exit path at the edge of their field — a sign of their displeasure. Then they hurried over to the bluff where she had watched them intently for so long. There they again sniffed the area thoroughly. They were trying to find out as much as possible about Lily through any scents she might have left. They did this for some time, covering every inch of the area.

I don’t know what they found out — maybe they were trying to find out Lily’s dominance status or whether she was a male or female — but they left their own scents there — as messages. When they were done they headed back into their field again.

Both dogs and coyotes remember these interactions. The dog may now start looking for coyotes every time she comes to that park — I’ve seen this new sense of purpose occur in many dogs once they become aware of coyotes. But also the coyotes may keep a lookout for this dog, or others, who show such a keen interest in them: an interest, from their point of view, that could only lead to no good in their eyes.

My advice to dog-owners is that, when you see a coyote, leash and continue on and away from the coyote, showing as little interest in the coyote as possible. Please read the How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

Motion Reactivity in Coyotes

2016-10-27

Motion reactivity is a big factor influencing coyote behavior. If you have a dog, you need to know about it.

Motion reactivity is a reaction to excessive or fast motion. Coyotes are programmed to react to this kind of stimulus. It’s because of this that we tell folks not to run from a coyote. When a coyote sees something running, say a running rabbit, it is immediately put on alert and pumped with adrenalin in preparation for pursuit. It is a hunting and a defensive instinct.

If your dog is actively chasing a ball, actively chasing or wrestling with another dog, or fighting with another dog, these involve fast and hyper motions. A coyote’s attention is immediately attracted to the activity. They stop what they are doing and are drawn to it.

Today, we saw a classic example of this motion reactivity. A dog walker, who knew a coyote was nearby, allowed her dog to walk off-leash in the area. The dog’s attention was caught by a juvenile Red-Tail Hawk who had slammed into the grasses to grab a rodent and then hovered close to the ground for a few seconds. None of us noticed how quickly the dog ran off, excited, enthusiastic and full of unleashed energy, after the hawk.

The dog’s excited dash across the field — involving hyperactive movements and speed — immediately caught the coyote’s attention. The coyote had been foraging calmly in the grassy field several hundred yards away — not at all close to where the hawk activity had been. She had been ignoring the continual stream of dogs and walkers passing by for the previous couple of hours, looking up only now and then from her own activity — they all had passed through calmly and uneventfully.

But when the hyperactivity began, and the dog’s quick movements were in her direction and away from the owner, the coyote’s instincts kicked in, and she dashed like a bullet towards the dog. As a number of people yelled at the owner to get her dog, the owner scrambled to do so and was able to leash the dog. The coyote stopped about 75 feet away, deterred by the number of people — five of them — standing by the dog.

Chances are that the coyote and dog might never have made contact. But the coyote is territorial, which means she protects her hunting areas. Coyotes drive outsider, non-family coyotes out of their territories. Territories belong exclusively to the one coyote family which lives there and these territories are not shared with other coyotes. The coyote’s motivation in charging at the dog would have been to drive the dog — an obvious hunting competitor judging by its pursuit of the hawk — out.

The coyote was deterred from advancing further by people. If people hadn’t been there, and if the owner had been alone with her dog, the owner’s option would have been to leash her dog and WALK AWAY immediately, thereby showing the coyote that the coyote nor the territory were “objects of interest”.  This is accomplished by walking away and increasing the distance between dog and coyote. Increased distance is your friend.

The event was very interesting for everyone present, but it could easily have ended with a nip to the dog’s haunches, and been a more frightening experience for the owner. On the other hand, the incident could have been entirely prevented in the first place had the dog been leashed in an area where a coyote was known to be foraging.

2016-10-30-10

Finally, on a leash

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.

2016-10-06-0

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).

2016-10-06-7

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.

Please Don’t Feed The Coyotes!

2016-10-08

[Situation report and photo by Nathan & Yvonne]

This coyote on Rodeo Beach has been wandering around trying to get food from people. Folks are blaming this behavior on the belief that the coyote has become used to people. But “getting used to people” — known as “habituation” — does not cause coyotes to approach people for food, or to approach people at all.  Coyotes actually are naturally wary of people and, habituated or not, will do their best to avoid us. What causes coyotes to approach people for food is the act of feeding them in the first place. It’s called food-conditioning. Feed them once, and they’ll start coming back for more.

“Habituation” and “food-conditioning” are totally different things. Coyotes in all urban centers get used to people and this is not necessarily a bad thing for people, pets or  coyotes. However, food-conditioning is what makes coyotes approach people and it causes problems. Such coyotes hang around in the wrong places. They could become belligerent in their demands for food. And if hand fed, they could end up biting the hand that feeds them.

Many people think they should “scare” coyotes whenever they see them to keep them fearful of people. This is not so. In fact, coyotes often get used to being scared off by people and learn to ignore the tactic. It’s a technique which should be used sparingly if at all. We counsel everyone, especially dog owners, to leash and walk the other way the minute they see a coyote. Keeping the distance between your dog and the coyote is your best insurance against incidents. Incidents really don’t happen all that often — proximity is what sets them off.

And please don’t feed coyotes. By doing so, you are creating the potential for injury to yourself, and the possibility of death for the coyote: “A fed coyote is a dead coyote”. People often want to “eliminate” coyotes who approach people or appear bold.

A Coyote Visited My Home! by Christina

imag0139-2

Great blog! Recently caught a coyote on camera in the Aptos area very close to the house. We love coyotes but also have a cat we are concerned for. She’s sort of an outdoor cat, but we keep her in at night. Now she may have to be restricted to her catio while we’re away.

Our new outdoor game camera picked up the two images attached (one still; one movie) Thursday morning in the wee hours at our home in Aptos.  In the movie, he’s sniffing at our bedroom window.  We used to have a bird feeder attached to that window to entertain our cat but the feeder drew rats, not birds, and while that interested our cat it mostly just upset all of us.  (We kidded about it being a potential owl feeder as we have great horned owls in the oak trees nearby!)  I wonder if the coyote had caught rats here before and came for supper or if he heard us or saw the cat in the window.  We have a water basin in the back yard so when he turns to go around the house we think that may have been where he was headed.  This could explain why we haven’t seen the deer herd in our yard for the past week. They’ve probably distanced themselves from the coyote activity.

Note: Please read Melanie Piazza’s information on catios and how to keep your cat safe: Reversing the CATastrophe.

Coyote Afflicted with Mange in Danville, CA is Hit By A Car

2016-09-06-danville-coyote-mange

Hey everyone, the rules of “don’t feed” are to discourage healthy coyotes from hanging around, but when a coyote, or any animal for that matter, obviously and badly needs help, we need to help it. The advice given to this neighborhood — to not leave out food or water — was thoughtless advice imposed from “rules” that have become too generalized.

Coyotes who are affected by mange, or anything that alters their appearance, are shunned by other coyotes and ousted from their social groups and their territories. Besides causing a very obvious change in the coyote’s appearance, mange also is extremely contagious. The mite causing the skin disease burrows deeply, causing excruciating itching. The coyote scratches so hard that bald spots result on his skin. The skin, then, cannot carry out its protective function. Slowly, all bodily functions become diminished.

The shunning of such an animal by other coyotes may serve to isolate the animal so that these other coyotes do not get infected by the mite. Shunned animals have to make it on their own now, in unfamiliar areas where they may not know the best food sources. So they become more visible not only because they look odd and have lost their camouflage, but also because they are now moving around in new, unfamiliar areas where survival is now that much more difficult. So mange causes both social and bodily issues for coyotes.

People could have helped this coyote both with food and with medications until the animal could be caught and helped more intensively. Instead they were instructed to stick to “rules” which did not fit “the case”. Let’s be humane towards our wild animals — here we could have helped abate the misery of an already suffering animal.

http://kron4.com/2016/09/05/sick-danville-coyote-reportedly-hit-killed-by-car/

Westside Observer Publishes “Circling The Wagons Around Our Coyotes”

The Westside Observer has published a more concise version (1/3 the length) of the same article which I published here on Coyote Yipps on August 15th. If you didn’t want to read that because it might have been too long, this version is much shorter.

2016-09-06at06-21-46

To read on, press here: http://www.westsideobserver.com/news/coyotes.html#sep16

Previous Older Entries