Precept or Percept? by Charles Wood

In her post on messaging, Janet quoted some material and shared her thoughts about it. I wanted to also comment on the following: “One individual suggested that he thought it might not be a good idea to give-in to the coyote’s demands by leaving — he thought this might be teaching the coyote the wrong *lesson* — that it might be best to *push your way through*. He has had good results with scaring the coyote off, but the coyote continues to habitually follow him and his dogs.”

Pat-1

How do we interpret coyote behavior? From precept or from percept and instinct? From an idea? Or from what it looks like and what it feels like? Pat 1 isn’t being hospitable. It’s rude. The message isn’t so clear with the two photos of my Dad coyote of years gone by.

Dad 1 is charging. Dad 2 is the stance Dad took after he halted his charge. Note that there is a chain link fence separating us that doesn’t show in the two pictures.

What should I have done about Dad charging and then halting, both done as a way for Dad to message his displeasure at my dog and my presence? Should I have acted from a precept like “…it might not be a good idea to give-in to the coyote’s demands by leaving….”, or, should I have acted, well, like what then? I did wonder at the time if by my behavior I was encouraging something that later might not be good for Dad or for another person. At the time I thought, well, at least I was holding my ground. But there’s more to it.

Dad-1

When Dad halted his charge he did stand as pictured. After that encounter, and after a couple previous years of similar encounters, Dad’s behavior toward me changed. He was much less confrontational after that day. I can describe from memory how Dad’s behavior toward Holtz and me changed.

As Janet pointed out, much of coyote messaging behavior is patterned, ritualistic. We know that coyotes are territorial. And we know that at times they are more territorial than at other times. That day Dad was highly territorial and charged my dog Holtz and me because he had pups around. However when the pups were older, my coyotes weren’t to be seen. They were there, but with older youngsters Mom and Dad would not bother with us as much. However, I did notice a change in Dad’s manner toward us when younger pups were around for Dad to protect. Dad would still message us. Yet he would do so without his former vigor. For example, at times when he saw us he would saunter over in our direction, kick up a little dirt, and then wander away. Or at times he would not message us at all. When Mom coyote was around, she would message and Dad would also, but with less vigor. That’s how his behavior changed. The question remains as to why his behavior changed. As to the question of why his behavior changed, at issue is whether or not Dad from reflection, from thought, made a decision to change his behavior toward Holtz and me. I acknowledge that I don’t have an objective basis from which to answer the question: “Did Dad’s behavior change because he thought it over and decided to change his behavior, or did his behavior change for another reason, or for no reason at all?” The answer to that question is presently beyond the reach of science and I want to be clear that the following speculations about Dad’s mind are my subjective assessments of why Dad’s behavior changed.

Dad-2

It is a guess for me to say that the Dad 2 picture shows why Dad changed. My guess is that in the moments before, during, and after the Dad 2 picture was taken, Dad formed a judgment about a couple years of his messaging experiences with Holtz and me. The basis for my guess is ‘vibes’ I felt that day as I photographed Dad coyote. So the following is a story I tell myself based on vibes. My account has value to my poetic self as a story, but only has value to my scientific self as evidence of the workings of one aging human male’s own subjectivity.

What I felt when Dad was halted and looking at us, looking into the camera, was that Dad was just flummoxed by how Holtz and I behaved. Here he had peed, pooped, scraped dirt, and charged. None of that worked for him. Holtz and I just kept standing there. I kept taking pictures. And you can see from the Dad 1 picture how earnest Dad was and you can imagine how uneasy that charging behavior of his could make me feel. In the Dad 2 picture, I felt sorry for him, he seemed to recognize that whatever he did, it just didn’t do any good. I could sense the gears grinding in his head as he contemplated the situation. I could tell the gears were grinding slowly. I felt bad for putting him in a mental situation where he was shown to be ‘slow’.

From Dad’s point of view, we hadn’t moved, reacted, or responded to his messaging behavior. I regard it as fair to say that Dad engages in messaging behavior to effect change. I regard it as fair to say that Dad could tell he wasn’t effecting change by his behavior toward Holtz and me. I regard it as speculative to wonder if Dad recognized Holtz and me as dysfunctional compared to all the other animals in his community. Why dysfunctional, speculatively? Because I, as a human animal, didn’t know how to act like all the other animals Dad had experiences with. I regard it as fair to say that almost any other animal must have given Dad respect in such situations and left the area. Spring is the time in nature where we all gorge. The babies of other species are abundant, easy to catch, chew, and swallow. That’s why we get escorted away by coyotes. They want to prevent their offspring from being eaten. But as to Dad, I had often wondered why he was so slow to realize we weren’t a threat. Well, he was slow because after all, Dad was a coyote. I wondered during those years if he would ever go off script, if he was capable of that. As it turned out, he did go off script.  It took a couple years for him to go off the script of his ritual behaviors. Again, if I consider that Dad thought it all over, it’s just my interpretation of why he changed. If someone said Dad, in the moment pictured, tarried from a bout of bad gas, then I couldn’t with evidence refute it.

If Dad thought, well, what did he think? My story is that Dad thought Holtz and me were mentally about the slowest animals he had every come across. We just didn’t get it, we didn’t know how to read plain animal-ese. And we seemed incapable of learning simple animal-ese. And so he began to disregard us as hopelessly irrelevant although he could not convince his wife, Mom, of that fact. She would visibly be upset with him when she saw that he had relented. She would get real irritated by him over that. Mom and Dad were married alright, yes they were. Kids coming, kids all around and Dad becoming unreliable? Not in her world. She just took up the slack and had an evil eye for him over that.

Again, if I sound like I’m anthropomorphizing, then you are probably looking at my story from precepts of science. The beauty of science is that science will change its ‘mind’ when provided with a supportable basis for a particular change.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Messaging: Aggressive Displays Are Warnings

[*Note corrected title from mailing]

This is a clear *message*. It’s so easy to abide by it to avoid escalation. Simply tighten your leash and walk away.

If the message is ignored, as seen below, a coyote could up the ante by attempting to nip the haunches. In this case, the coyote pinched the dog’s ankle which made the dog wince and move on. The owner could easily have prevented this by leashing and moving away from the coyote.

In one of our parks, folks have been worried recently about the sudden change in behavior of their neighborhood coyote from fairly mellow and chilled to snarly faced with bared teeth, high arched back, tail tucked under and sometimes walking on tip-toes.  I call it a halloween cat pose. Please know that this is an aggressive display that may not need to lead to an attack if the dog and owner understand it. This is *messaging* in the only way this coyote knows how.

This stance is taken towards dogs that come too close, leashed or not — it’s a classic posture. Please keep dogs as far away as possible from the coyote so that dogs and coyote may feel safe. It’s pupping season, and whether or not any coyote is having pups, during this time of year it will display more defensiveness for its self and its space. If the coyote ever comes in your dog’s direction, simply leash and walk away. There’s no point in challenging it simply because it wants to defend itself and defend the only space it has.

Here is what has been experienced in one of our parks:  1) One individual suggested that he thought it might not be a good idea to give-in to the coyote’s demands by leaving — he thought this might be teaching the coyote the wrong *lesson* — that it might be best to *push your way through*. He has had good results with scaring the coyote off, but the coyote continues to habitually follow him and his dogs. 2) Someone else said that the scaring tactic didn’t do a thing, and that the coyote followed several hundred feet, even though there was no dog involved here. 3) In another instance, a dog-walker saw the coyote on the path, stopped and waited for it to run away, but it wouldn’t. The result was a standoff — each waiting for the other to leave. The coyote arched its back, ears back, tail down, and showing teeth. Continuing on their walk caused the coyote run away, but one time it came back and followed a little.

I’d like to comment on these experiences. We’re learning that coyotes, over time, just get used to “hazing” and eventually stop responding — then, when you really need a tool to get the coyote away from your dog, you won’t have one. The better tactic is avoidance.

It’s probably not a good idea to *push your way through* or walk in the coyote’s direction. By doing so, you aren’t *teaching* the coyote anything except that your dog is a threat. *Backing down and leaving* teaches the coyote that your dog isn’t a threat. A *standoff* is a challenge. Over time, the coyote could even become more reactive — upping the ante to get his message across. You wouldn’t have a standoff with a bear or even a skunk! Instead, be wary of the animal and keep away from it. Best to turn around and leave, and then come back a few minutes later. The coyote could be protecting something of value, be it a food source or maybe even a den.

As a rule, coyotes don’t go up to humans, but they can become food-conditioned to do so. So if a coyote follows you, there’s a possibility that the coyote may be hoping for food which he/she has received from walkers in the past. All of us need to be ambassadors for the coyotes, spreading the word to not feed and not engage in any way with this coyote. MOST following is out of simple curiosity, or because they want to find out why they have become an object of interest to you. If they feel threatened by your dog, the coyote may follow to assure itself that you and dog are leaving: the coyote is just being cautiously vigilant and protective of its space. This is a manifestation of their *wariness*. Sometimes a close chance-encounter can’t be avoided, in which case both you and the coyote may become startled. Here again, the coyote may follow you.

My advice is to just keep walking away. Don’t engage, and walk away. Avoidance is always the best policy: Avoid, Avoid. Any type of foot-stamping or scaring should really be done only as a last resort, and always as you are walking away. You don’t need to *teach* the coyote anything — just walk (don’t run) away from it. Walking away shows you are not interested in him — and this is what the coyote wants to know. By the way, turning around and facing the coyote — gazing at it — as you walk off is often enough to prevent it from advancing further. Feeding and friendly engagement of any kind is what will teach a coyote the wrong lessons — they are hard to unteach. Avoidance, as I’ve seen over many years of observing urban coyote interactions with dogs and people, and which is the policy of Mary Paglieri/Behavioral Ecologist, is your most effective option, resulting in a win-win-win solution for everyone: dogs, people, coyotes.

Social Communication After A Siren

This vocalization here is the flip side of the “Stormy Monday” posting which depicted distressed vocalization by a coyote who had been pursued by a dog. I have seen that two vocalization types predominate in urban areas: 1) the distressed howls and yips due to the intrusion of a dog, and 2) The cheery howls and yips during greetings and long-distance social communications, which can occur at any time of the day or night.

These vocalizations here — although the one close by sounds a bit harsh at first due to the coyote’s proximity to the microphone — is a much more gentle and peaceful communication than in the Stormy Monday posting, engaged in by two coyotes after a siren has sounded. In this case, the coyotes are simply confirming their unity as a family, their well-being, location, and no doubt more about their mundane situation. It also may serve as a territorial message proclaiming ownership of the turf by the family: in other words, a confirming “Keep Out” message to other coyotes in the distance.

Coyotes are able to convey, who they are, where they are and how they are doing, something like: “Hey over there, how’s it going and where are you? I’m fine, looking forward to seeing you, nice hearing from you, see you soon!” The variety of sounds produced by each coyote often makes it sound as though there are many more coyotes than there really are. They produce a variety of tones, pitches, modulations, and inflections of their various sounds. The unique combinations, lengths and use of these various articulations form signature howls for each coyote. I myself can distinguish a number of coyotes from each other simply because I know their very individual howl patterns. Female voices tend to be higher pitched than the males.

 

A Stormy Monday – The First Day of Spring

This video is very long at 11 minutes, but less than 1/3 the length of the dog/coyote interaction. It’s not necessary to see it to understand the post.

I donned my heavy raincoat and boots and went out to walk my son’s dog and to post some signs as the rain let up a little. When we got to the park, I thought I heard a distressed, loud scream in the far distance. I finished stapling up a sign and then became aware that the screams were occurring at very regular intervals. It had to be a coyote who was upset.

As I hurried towards the sound, I passed a dog owner who was calling and searching for her dog who got away. Okay. Now I had the picture. The coyote would be very upset because it was being pursued: Coyotes howl for two reasons in our parks: either they are communicating and responding to sirens, or they are being harassed by a dog. It was a large 70 or so pound pooch who had gone after coyotes before. I ran towards where the sound was coming from and found the dog running and weaving excitedly through a thicket in pursuit of a coyote. I could not help the owner retrieve her dog because of the little dog I had in tow, so I began documenting the upsetting activity. The coyote did a great job of keeping away from the dog with minimal effort, and when she wasn’t actually evading the dog’s advances, she screamed loudly and incisively in regularly spaced spurts — she was piqued.

Meanwhile, the owner climbed up and down the hill, over and over again, exhaustively, looking for her dog and calling him repeatedly, but to no avail. The dog would not come. Some onlookers arrived asking what all the noise was about. They, too, attempted calling the dog, enticing him to come with cookies. It didn’t help.

The coyote’s intense screams continued over a period of about 20 minutes. She was venting: expressing her anger and displeasure at the dog’s onslaughts. Most urban dogs are wary of this noise — dogs read it as a warning — most will keep away. The dog didn’t seem to approach when the coyote was howling like this. As time wore on, the screams stopped occasionally as the coyote looked intently into the thicket, watching the owner make inroads into the thicket to get  her dog.

At a certain point, the coyote stopped screaming and looked around, and began sniffing something in the air by putting her nose up high. She seemed relieved, relaxing a little, and hurried off to behind a bush. It was HIM, her mate who had arrived. Her screams must have alerted him — possibly purposefully — to come help — he was now there to aid her.  They had work to do. Now they would work as a team to fend off the dog. They proceeded to the edge of the thicket, better prepared for the dog to come after them again. They didn’t have to work hard though, because the large dog was already exhausted and the owner must have been able to grab her dog just about when the two coyotes met. When the coyotes saw the dog leave the area, they ran back and forth with their body’s wagging, wiggling and squiggling. There were body presses and nose rubs and smiles and twists. It was a more exuberant form of their routine evening greeting. I almost read these as a victory celebration.

We next saw the owner and her leashed dog walking on a path in the distance. About 100 feet behind them, on the same trail, were the two coyotes, making sure that that particular dog left the park — escorting them out. The coyotes watched the duo exit the park and then the male went back into the bushes. But the female lay down right in the middle of the path. She, too, was probably worn out from the harrowing experience. No other people except me and my dog were to be seen in the park — it was very quiet.

As she lay there, I noticed that she kept her eye on something off the path up ahead. I went to investigate what it was, and as I did so, I heard sobbing. It was a young woman, sitting in the grass in the rain under a large black umbrella, crying. I asked her if she was okay, or if I could help with anything. She told me that she was just having a very hard day.

A man and his dog then came walking down the path towards us. I called out to him that the coyote was there, and he leashed his dog. I told him about the upsetting coyote activity — that was why the coyote was lying there — and about the young woman who was having a hard day. He said, “Man, it’s just a stormy Monday”. He was about to turn to go the other way so as not to disturb the coyote, but the coyote got up, stretched, turned around and wandered down the path out of the area. So, the man continued his walk and I, too, left the area with little dog in tow.  In the video you can hear the raindrops hit the plastic I use as a raincoat for the camera. Yes, it was a stormy Monday.

Four Years Later, by Charles Wood

Protector 1

About four years ago the pair of coyotes I watched for several years were supplanted by their daughter Mary when she pledged herself to an older scallywag male coyote that I named Rufous. The new couple kept different hours than the ousted Mom and Dad coyote I had been watching. Recently I saw coyotes in the same place as before. Now I am trying to get their story.

Protector 2

I suspect that the two coyotes pictured together are mother and child. I assume the mother is the one looking into the camera and I suspect she is the mother because she looks like she is showing, this being the time of year where she would be showing. The protector coyote is a male and there is no reason yet to be sure that he is the presumed mother’s mate as opposed to being her son. Likewise, the presumed mother’s stare reminds me of Mary’s, but I can’t yet be sure that it is her.

Protected

I wish Rufous would have showed up to do the protecting. But I haven’t seen him. Had he shown up I would have recognized him because he is a big handsome fellow and four years ago he looked like he had a blind left eye.

Protector 3

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but the protector coyote has a reddish coloring and Rufous was a markedly reddish coyote. I know there is a fourth coyote among these three, and there may be more than four. Also, the protector coyote has eyes that remind me of Mom coyote from 4 years ago. The showing female has a harsh stare. The protector coyote, like Mom, has something tentative in his expression. Yet despite Mom’s shyness, like today’s protector male, both get the job done in good form. The job is to make their claim to the territory known and to nudge Holtz and me away. We did leave, very slowly because Holtz is now about 15 and wobbles when he walks.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Bites Off A Twig That’s In The Way

This branch is definitely in the way so it'll have to go.

This branch is definitely in the way so it’ll have to go.




Let's try from this angle? It didn't help, the coyote ends up leaving empty mouthed. :((

Let’s try from this angle? It didn’t help, the coyote ends up leaving empty mouthed. :((

These Small Dogs and Coyote Are Respectful of Each Other

20170206_073518
These two small Yorkies — one weighing a mere 7 pounds and the other 18 pounds even though they are full siblings — are used to this visitor. These dogs bark regularly at this coyote when they see it while they are out walking on their leashes. The coyote understands the barking and keeps a respectful distance away. In their own yard, too, on several occasions, as seen in this photo, they have barked viciously at the visitor to proclaim ownership of their turf, and the coyote, again, always gets the message by not getting too close as the owner, in this case, shoots the photo and swoops in to grabs her two tiny dogs to take them indoors.

Owner Rachel never lets these two roam free and always supervises them out-of-doors. About a year ago the coyote showed up and replaced the raccoons who used to come around. What attracts the coyote to her yard? Possibly the pond, but maybe not — the water level is really low and the coyote could not reach it. In the Spring, there are persimmons in the yard, but not now.

Most of the residents in this area are perfectly happy with this visitor — it adds to their enjoyment of their neighborhood, they tell me! They know there could be issues between their pets and the coyote, so they have educated themselves, and they have taken the proper precautions to keep them apart always. Yay for the community!

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