Not Signs of “An Escalation of Aggressive Behavior”

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe from dogs

This post was written in response to recent postings on social media — see the posting below. It addresses fears that there has been an “escalation of aggressive or dangerous coyote behavior” if a coyote approaches a leashed or larger dog, hisses, uses frequently-used paths, or nips a dog in the haunches during pupping season. This is not so — these are not indications of progressively dangerous coyote behavior. They are normal coyote behaviors during pupping season which have to do with parental protectiveness, not with coyotes “becoming more aggressive”.

A friendly reminder . . .  Leashes in-and-of-themselves do not keep coyotes away from dogs. Coyotes do not know what leashes are and probably are unaware of them. No one ever said leashes would keep coyotes away. What leashing does is to keep the dog close to you and under your control. A leashed dog is also a calmer dog. You can control a dog which is leashed; you cannot control an unleashed dog. Most effective is a short leash, not a long retracting leash which allows your pet to wander 20 feet away from you: 20 feet away is not very close. Keeping your dog close to you, leashed and under control, discourages but does not prevent coyotes from approaching. However, your goal is to totally avoid an encounter, and for that leashing also MUST be paired with walking the other way. Walking the other way is the key.

In the unlikely event that a coyote does approach a dog, he’ll usually do so from behind if possible. They are smart and want to avoid the dog’s teeth. They also want to remain undetected as long as possible — coming up from behind accomplishes this. This is why it is important for a dog walker to always remain vigilant — keep an eye open in all directions around you, and when you see a coyote, no matter how close, walk away from it, dragging your dog if you have to. Sometimes you can stop a coyote who is approaching your dog from approaching further by facing the coyote, or leaning down to pick up a small stone and tossing it in the coyote’s direction. Then walk slowly away from the coyote. If the coyote has already come next to your dog, you’ll need to quickly pull your dog firmly away from the coyote, dragging while you distance yourself and leave without running. It’s important to prevent further engagement by leaving — leaving is the important point.

So, please don’t let the coyote get close to your dog in the first place: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coyotes have nipped the rump or tail of dogs to message them if they feel their areas are threatened, usually when the dog has come into a sensitive area. This is normal, standard coyote behavior, especially during pupping season — it is how a coyote would communicate to another coyote. It has nothing to do with “escalating or progressive aggression” of a coyote. It doesn’t matter if your dog is docile or more assertive — the coyote will want to message any dog he considers a threat — it has less to do with the dog than with the space and the season. Please pay attention to your surroundings — being zeroed in on an iPhone precludes vigilance. Always, always, keep looking around. The better we understand coyote behavior, the less likely we will be surprised by an unexpected behavior, and the better we will be able to deal with such contingencies.

To put this in perspective, coyote nipping behavior is not something which occurs at all frequently, but it has occurred, which is why I’m trying to make everyone aware of it. It is exceptional coyote behavior which all dog owners should be aware of, and, just in case, be prepared for, during pupping season. Your dog is much more likely to be bitten badly by another dog than a coyote.

Also, I want to point out the incident I saw today, and which I see all too frequently: a dog ferociously pursuing a coyote. It’s fun for the dog — it’s terrifying for the coyote. The coyote ran for his life and remained as hidden as he could under a bush from the harassing dog. The owner was not even aware of what was going on until she was yelled at to leash her dog. Whereas a coyote will normally nip a dog’s rump as a message, dogs can actually maul coyotes, compromising their ability to survive: no one will help them with their wounds.

Please keep your dog away from coyotes — it’s best for both dogs and coyotes.

Please note that “hissing” is not hunting behavior. It is “warning” behavior: a “message”. Move away from the coyote as you would from a skunk with its tail up.

Coyotes take trails all the time: it is very normal for coyotes to take frequently used paths when there are not a lot of people on them. This, again, is normal coyote behavior and is not a sign of “escalating aggression.”

By the way, a nip to the tail area isn’t always a *warning* message. Here’s a video of a coyote delivering a playful/not unfriendly “please notice me” message. In this case it’s more the *semblance* of a nip — there’s no real nip here as you will see. This video is one of the first videos I took of a coyote in 2007 — well before I knew a whole lot about them:


This, below, was posted on various neighborhood internet groups  under the title: “Aggressive coyote incident on 65 lb. ON LEASH dog” . It shows lots of concern and fear for what the author thinks might be “escalating dangerous coyote activity” — this is not what is going on. I hope I’ve helped explain the activity as normal coyote behavior above.

Given the increasing frequency of coyote/canine/people interactions, I thought it would be useful for all of you – especially pet owners – to be aware of what happened tonight. Our dog Roxy is a five year old, 65 pound female golden retriever. The most docile and passive dog that you’ll ever meet. We were out for an evening on-leash walk around 730 on the path that follows the south side of Washington Blvd between Compton and Park. About halfway to Park, Roxy suddenly turned her head back and I did the same to see a coyote trying to bite her tail and hind legs. I immediately stood between Roxy and the coyote making a lot of noise. The coyote slowly backed away hissing the entire time. It took a few minutes for the coyote to back off and it finally turned its back to us when it was 15-20 yards away.We continued east on Washington to Park. At that point, I decided to return home to more thoroughly inspect Roxy to make sure she had not been bitten. However, the coyote was laying in the grass along the south side of Washington making that path unusable for getting back home. We started to walk home using the bike lane on the north side of Washington. A motorist helped screen us such that their minivan was between us and the coyote. As we walked past the coyote, it began to hiss at us again. However, there was no further incident and, as best we can tell, Roxy is uninjured.Considering the size of our dog, that she was on-leash, and that we were on a highly traveled path next to a main road, this seems like an escalation of potentially dangerous coyote/canine/people interactions that have taken place across San Francisco.”

Fire!

2011-10-08

Coyotes are very aware of even small changes in their environment. Here, something big has happened and they are checking it out, looking around, spooking, “tasting” it and marking it. It was not until several days after the fire that they would even approach the area. As time goes on, the change will be accepted as the way things are, but initially this is never the case where coyotes are concerned.

I was not there to see the fire as it occurred, and probably neither were these coyotes, or they might have tried putting it out in its early stages! Hope Ryden in her book, God’s Dog, on page 144 refers to an incident she witnessed whereby a coyote put out a small fire (posted in May of 2011) which I’m reprinting here again, below:

“Did you know that coyotes put out fires?” The man asking the question had been smoking a cigarette, which is what probably prompted the question to Hope as they observed a coyote. The man proceeded to set an envelope on fire with his cigarette and tossed it in the coyote’s direction. The coyote quickly “pounced on it, and began drumming the flames with her forefeet while bouncing on and off the blaze until only the edges still had sparks”. The fire wasn’t out yet, so the coyote, with its shoulder, pushed the scrap of paper with embers against the ground, then stood up to examine it, and repeated this again. The fire was now out. Apparently all coyotes put out fires — small fires. Wow!!

Change is Highly Unsettling

This coyote knows her territory like you know the back of your hand — she knows every inch of it — cold! So she’s going to notice all changes.

All changes are unsettling to her. Change is an indicator that something is going on which might be harmful to her. A while back I watched as she followed her usual path. She suddenly stopped, seemingly dumbfounded, and stared straight ahead. Then she turned her head, pensively, as if she were thinking about what it was which was so different. SOMETHING was very different but she couldn’t tell WHAT.

It was a “repaired” retaining wall, which, as a temporary measure, consisted of a burlap covering. It had been all green ivy before the change. She stood absolutely still as she stared at the change.  Then she looked around in back of herself, keeping her head turned as if she had to think some more about it by looking away, possibly trying to remember why she had this tremendous “uneasy” feeling. She examined it one more time before turning around and going the other way. Better not to take a chance with something that makes you this anxious.