Coyote Communication: An Example

Coyotes communicate constantly through eye-contact, as I’ve written about many times. The communication can become stronger with an intense gaze or stare, and the communication can turn physical, for emphasis. I’ve seen females prod or poke their mates either with a paw or their snouts, or even push with their forelegs and entire bodies, to get the other coyote to do something. I’ve given some “proding” examples previously in Intruder: Territorial Fighting (slide #30), and Pestering. 

The injured male insisted on remaining out in the open and visible (he has been primed by human feeders and befrienders to hang around — note we are working on eliminating this human behavior), whereas it appears that his mate’s instincts were telling her that being exposed out in the open wasn’t such a good idea. Coyotes do watch out for each other. HE did not seem to agree with her wisdom and resisted her. She persisted in upping her communication intensity, causing him a lot of anguish and uneasiness which can be read in his tense body stance and movements.

This series of photos shows a progression in intensity of communication between a protective female mate and her resistant, injured male “better-half”.

[Click on each series-of-four to enlarge and run through them as a slide-show]

The female begins her communication to the injured male (above) by simply making him aware that she’s there: she walks over and lies down close by under the bushes where she is somewhat hidden but “present”.  He must have sensed her gaze from that distance. I missed the signal, but before she even gets up to approach him, he bolts up guardedly and looks in her direction: has she emitted a sound that has alerted him to her intentions?


Next (above) she approaches him decisively, places herself directly in front of him, only inches away, and looks at him razor-sharply in the eye. She holds that gaze for many seconds. The gaze breaks for a second, but then recommences closer and more intense than before, and she gives him a little tweak of the nose — first with a nose-lick and then a nose-nip. He squeals in pain and moves away from her mouth, standing erectly and guardedly.


When she begins turning her head in his direction again, he lunges away. When she looks at him again he returns a pained and uneasy look — it’s his muzzle that has been injured (above).


She seems to understand and now uses her paws to push/prod him to get going, and then gives him a whole body push. He responds by distancing himself from her. She approaches him again (above).


After more of the same, he relents, and she finally is able to lead him away, reluctantly at first, but he does follow, tarrying a little and resisting by sniffing as they move along, and eventually stepping in line with her, until they both disappear into the underbrush.


[I spend my time observing and documenting coyote behavior and then writing and posting about them, in order to show people what they are really like. Mine are all first-hand observations, made on my own, usually about family life, which you can’t find much about beyond a few photos of pups on the internet. I get into what is actually going on. I’m a self-taught naturalist who is in the field many hours every day. I don’t know of any academics who are doing this, so this information is not available elsewhere. Hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and then embrace coyotes for who they really are! Janet]

Messaging: Challenging 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 challenging 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, is your most effective option, resulting in a win-win-win solution for everyone: dogs, people, coyotes.

Leg Injury Impedes Interactions

2014-07-19

The little guy to the right ran circles around the gal to the left in an attempt to get her to play: they are siblings and BFFs, but she couldn’t uphold her end of the deal. She just sat there and watched him. He eventually gave up and walked on with their dad, but he turned around to look at her as he walked off.  She watched him go and, in my eyes, she looked sad.

When she got up to go — to follow them — I finally could see what the problem was. She was limping. She held her left front leg out in front of herself awkwardly as she limped. She could keep up with the two others, but she preferred lagging behind them, possibly to avoid the rough play she was accustomed to.

It was dusk and I couldn’t see much — the camera could see better than I could. When I reviewed the photos later at home, I could see that she had been holding that left front leg up in front of herself the entire time. These animals are very astute. I’m pretty sure her sibling and fellow playmate knew that she was hurt and in pain. He probably was trying to raise her spirits by inviting her to play. She could not. Hopefully it will be short-lived injury.

Goodwill Teasing!

There was almost no light, and there were tall grasses between the camera and the coyotes, so these photos are totally washed out and blurry. However, the behavior depicted in them is absolutely fabulous: I decided it was worth it to post them, so I enhanced them as best I could.

A little female yearling coyote “teases” her dad and then her brother by affectionately stretching herself on top of them, and either nuzzling their legs as in the case of her father, or nuzzling their ears, as in the case of her brother! Her behavior was good-willed fun. It was not meant to provoke any kind of reaction — it was simply a display of her affectionate teasing. It looks like this little gal has two BFFs!!

She had been out alone, whiling away the time until the daily family get-together/rendezvous time.

Then her brother appeared and he was absolutely ecstatic to see her. He seemed to “jump for joy” as she and their dad approached him: first he performed one bounce, then one squiggle sitting down, and finally a jump, squiggle and bounce all at the same time!

2014-06-17 (8)Then they all piled up together where there were the usual kisses/nose-touches and wiggly-squiggly movements which are a dead giveaway for the excitement and joy they were feeling.

 

After the general excitement of the initial encounter and greeting died down, the female youngster “hopped on Pop”. It was affectionate contact that they both soaked up. She then twisted her head down and around him and gave him little love nuzzles and bites on his legs. Wow!

The three then broke out into an intense play session: they chased each other wildly, they wrestled, they groomed each other — no photos because the movement in tall grasses with no light just shows blurs. These are all activities which regularly follow the initial rendezvous greetings after spending the day apart sleeping.

During the intensive play period, the female youngster jumped on her brother, as she had done to her dad earlier. Only this time she tugged at one of his ears and then the other, teasing him affectionately.

They played intensively some more and then ran off and out of sight. They would spend the night trekking!

 

photos 6-17pm

Territorial Messages, by Charles Wood

Dad came part way out to my dog Holtz and me to defecate. He scraped dirt unenthusiastically and walked away. His message said, in a word, “Mine.” He chose to walk towards us using an access road, that choice also showing his low interest level in us today. It wasn’t the direct route to us.

The second half of the video shows Dad a little later, a bit further away and closer to the fence bordering his field. His barks are a territorial message. I’ve rarely seen him barking out his claim to the field. Considering his lackluster performance earlier, I’m puzzled as to why he felt that he needed to vocalize. It didn’t last long and when done he walked away. No other coyote answered his barks. Perhaps his pack understood that Dad was not talking to them.

I then went to the bridge hoping for a pack reunion and giving Dad more space. Once there I didn’t see Dad or other coyotes. I packed to leave and saw a homeless man, Larry, coming towards me from the east part of the field. Arriving, he asked me if I had just seen “…that coyote run off?” I hadn’t. Dad had been watching me and I hadn’t seen him. Larry walking nearby was enough to push Dad back. Unenergetic today, but not a slacker, Dad had been on watch duty the whole time.

Rottweiler Harasses Coyotes

I have seen the kind of activity in this video too often. Our Animal Care and Control Department, ACC, points out that some individuals continue to allow their dogs, “off-leash in active coyote areas despite education, posters, flyers, signs and barriers all warning dog owners to abide by the law and keep their dogs on-leash, or, better yet, avoid the marked areas entirely.”  So a few irresponsible individuals are setting themselves up for unexpected coyote encounters by not following the simple rules. The only method to keep coyotes and dogs apart is to leash the dog in a coyote area. If you and your dog see a coyote, walk in the opposite direction, not towards it.

We are lucky to have an Animal Care and Control Department which is taking a proactive stance to protect both our native coyotes and companion pets. ACC has recently cordoned off areas and instituted temporary park closures — they have been forced into doing this because a few dog owners continue to be irresponsible towards their pets and our wildlife, putting both at risk.

People have asked about “relocating” our coyotes — this is not an option since another coyote would just fill the vacant niche left behind, and relocation is a death sentence for any moved coyote. Coyotes are here to stay and the community needs to learn how to peacefully coexist with them. Ninety-nine percent of everyone I speak to loves having coyotes — a bit of the wild — in our urban parks. It brings back something that they’ve been out of touch with for too long. Note that it is only a few individuals who are irresponsible. Please be a responsible pet guardian: leash your dog in a coyote area or visit parks which do not display coyote warning signs. We only have ten coyotes in the city — it doesn’t take a lot of effort to coexist with them.

Mister Tries, by Charles Wood

Mister Scrapes

My dog Holtz and I ran into Mister Wednesday while walking in my Los Angeles area coyotes’ field.  I was glad to see him ahead of us, he going down a path on which we were going up.

The photographs show that Mister looked, scraped, evaluated and fled.  In contrast, Dad’s scraping display signals that next he will approach.

It took me some time to notice body language in the photographs that Holtz probably instinctively knows how to interpret.  The photographs show that Mister’s feet are pointed away from us before, during and after the scraping display.  In comparison, Dad stands on a perpendicular to us when he scrapes.  Dad’s perpendicular stance doesn’t suggest fight or flight.  Mister’s angled away stance suggests flight.  I wonder if a perpendicular stance creates more stress in the observer for being ambiguously not fight, not flight.  In any case, the perpendicular stance Dad uses shows his full length and a better view of his raised hackles, an awesome side view of a coyote’s power.

Mister fled.  Holtz and I continued along out of the field and Mister was nowhere to be seen.  (Dad would have visibly followed Holtz and me).  Near the exit, on the other side of a chain link fence, Dad appeared and began scraping, positioned on the perpendicular.  Not needing to see more, we left and so did Dad.

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

Easing Up A Little After Intense Barking

This is a continuation of the previous posting on “Distressed Barking”. It is part of that same 20 minute barking session. The barking became less “distressed” and less “insistent” as time wore on, probably because there was no “threat” anywhere in sight. Here there are more pauses, and more half-hearted huffs, puffs and grunts, although the coyote still throws its head up and far back for the high-pitched barking. The coyote is also sitting, which furthermore relaxes the impact of any warning message that the coyote might have wanted to impart.

At one point, the coyote takes a break — a totally unthreatened stance — to scratch itself. Hmmmm. But it got up to bark some more, more half-heartedly, before finally walking away to find a spot to lie down. A few more barks were in order, and then rest. I was going to add the last sequel: the coyote finally lying down — but I feel that would be overkill — or rather, overbark!!

Distressed Barking After Interference From A Dog

He could have been belting out the Star Spangled Banner, holding the notes perfectly — after all, it happened to be the fourth of July!

I started taking the video as an Irish Setter spotted a coyote trotting down a hill. It was a chance encounter — a mere momentary brush-by — but a surprise for both. The dog turned to go after the coyote, but stopped in an instant response to his owner’s “no”. Nonetheless, adrenalin was already flowing, and the “I’ll get you” look had already been exchanged between the canines, so the coyote ran to an out-of-reach spot and began its distressed and upset barking. The owner and dog left immediately, which made no impact on the coyote who kept barking away for about 20 minutes to an audience of no one. However, as the minutes ticked away, the intensity of the initial barking subsided — I’ve posted a second video of the next part of this same barking session — to be continued on the next posting.

“Mom Intensifies”, by Charles Wood

Friday evening I watched from the river bank looking east.  I stood at the chain link fence that separates their field from the bike path that runs the length of their field.  With me was my dog, Holtz.  We watched a dirt road about 130 yards from us, a road often used by my coyotes.  I hoped to see youngsters.  Instead I had an encounter with Mom.

I watched for a while and saw no coyotes.  Suddenly Mom was at the chain link fence, confronting us.  Holtz slipped his leash.  He barked and chased Mom south along the fence.  I ran and retrieved him.  Mom returned to face us.

I have observed her for a little more than a year.  Upon seeing me last Sunday she was content to mark and perform a short mock charge, the first aggression she had shown towards us.  Friday evening her display was intense.

My past impressions of her were of a timid coyote.  Her display this evening differed little from the Dad’s aggression.  She didn’t vocalize where Dad often does.  The fur on her back was raised, yet not as extremely as Dad’s.  She urinated whereas Dad usually drops scat.  Like Dad, she scraped dirt repeatedly, prowled back and forth and included a yawn in her performance.  She then withdrew to watch us.  What she saw was Holtz and me retreat north.

It was too dark to see if she stayed put or followed.  I took the bike path under the east-west main street.  As I emerged on the north side a bicyclist called to me that I was being followed by a coyote.  She had gone under the bridge, though it was too dark there for me to see her.  I reached for my flashlight and found I had lost it.

This evening was the first time Mom was out of her field on the bike path.  The bicyclist kept me appraised of her position.  He soon said she was looking at him from the top of the southern embankment of the east-west street.  By the time I reached him she was gone, presumably back to her field.  I went to my car and left.

It is important to remember that my coyotes specifically direct their aggression towards my dog and me.  Many travel the bike path on foot or bicycle and never see my coyotes.  A few people visit their field and are not bothered by the coyotes.  In contrast, the coyotes recognize me as an individual who, with his dog, while frequenting their field, got too close to their pups.  Until that event, I was able to visit their field and rarely saw coyotes.  When I did see them, they saw me and avoided me.  Clearly I transgressed and am singled out for negative treatment.  Perhaps the value of my experience with them is as an example of how to not behave towards coyotes.  Don’t, as I have done, continually bother a wild animal with its young.  Doing so brings risks that are difficult to manage.  My primary motive was to photograph them.  To do so, I ignored the best advice and the best advice is that when you see a coyote, avoid it and let it avoid you.

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

More Dominant Male/Father Coyote Behavior

Charles Wood has written more about his encounters with a coyote family which includes a dominant male as the father. Please click here to read what he has written in the comments section: Dominant Male/Father Coyote Behavior. These photos are copyrighted by Charles Wood and may be used only with his explicit permission. He has generously allowed me to use them on my blog.

“Papa discipline photos. I like that the pup’s eyes are open in the first one, and then boy does he close them fast! He looks like he initially thought a chin lick would disarm papa, but boy was he wrong about that! He stumbles around as he gets the idea he had better hit the ground. My guess is that the pup was being disciplined for getting away from the group. I had observed them earlier in another area, so papa knew I was around and of course could see me as I took the discipline pictures.”

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

A Dominant Coyote’s Awareness of Everything

[NOTE: In a coyote family, the designation of “dominant” “alpha” or “parent” are interchangeable. Coyote “packs” are actually not packs, but families — there really are no “packs” as there are  packs of dogs, which where the members are mostly unrelated to one another, and which operate more as marauding gangsters or thugs. Coyote “families” are more like yours and mine, with parents and offspring. So, within the family, there will be parents who are in charge, and often one parent is more aware than the other.]

I zeroed in on a dominant mother coyote’s awareness and staying in control of her territory today. The day began with the coyote walking towards a dog which was trotting down the path — with one of the coyote’s year-old pups sauntering along behind the dog as if they were out on a hike together! The dominant coyote gave her bouncing warning display — thereby communicating what she wanted to communicate — and then marched off with the pup following her. It was the same display as in my posting of:  Keep Away From Me.

The walker and dog continued their walk out of the area, the coyote pup disappeared, and I stayed to watch the dominant coyote perch high on a ledge where she kept a lookout on a place way across into the distance. After only about five minutes, the coyote leaped down and was off. I lost visual contact with her, but decided to head to the spot where she had been looking. Sure enough, that is where she had gone — she had followed her pups there, probably having seen them from the distance.

From here, she appeared to lead them all to another distant spot where they all stayed for a while. She kept an eye on the others who played and hunted. She did not participate, but sat down to watch. She watched the younger coyotes, and she watched a couple of dogs and walkers in the far distance. After about 15 minutes, she got up and began trotting back. She trotted in front of the other two — it was probably a signal to them —  and they followed her to yet another area. At this point she curled up on a rock while one of the younger coyotes hunted for a few minutes and then disappeared as the other had.

Within a short time she got up, stretched, caught a couple of voles, then headed up to a bluff where she spent the next hour. She watched a few dogs on a trail below. As the morning wore on, several walkers and their dogs walked in the direct vicinity of the bluff, but on the path below it. When this happened, she sat up, or stood, to get a better view over the rocks. At a certain point, she began very soft, barely audible to me, but continuous “grunts” — as if she were preparing to bark. She was reacting to dogs, however distant they were from her; dogs which bothered her on some level.

This continued for some time, so I left to take photos of other wildlife close by. I was only about 300 feet away when she began an intense barking session, so I immediately returned. I could see a dog and walker on the path, but I had not seen what about them had provoked the coyote. The coyote barked for close to 20 minutes, then hopped down off her ledge and headed out of the picture for me. I had been watching her for almost four hours: I suppose she was “making her rounds.”

The picture I got was of a dominant mother coyote’s being very in charge of her life and very purposeful in her behaviors. She warded off a possible dog threat (not really a threat, but she was doing her job), she monitored the area from a high perch and kept her eyes on her pups who were far, far off in the distance. She ran hopped down and ran the distance to join them and then led them to an area for further hunting and playing. When she was ready to return she did so in such a way as to cause the pups to follow. She curled up in another area, always keeping vigilant of what was happening around her as the pups finished their hunting and then disappeared. Then she went up to another high ledge where she again, this time without the encumbrance of her pups, monitored dog activity, grunted when she became distressed, and then went into a full mode barking session as a statement of her presence and possibly a claim to her territoriality in that area. Then she hopped down and disappeared into the underbrush!

Narrowed-Eyes

A slight narrowing of the eyes is an instinctual, universal expression of anger across various species in the animal world. Today I noticed a coyote narrow its eyes a number of times. I was also able to take a photo of the eyes not-narrowed each time, so you can see the difference. The three photos on the first line show the narrowed eyes, the second line shows normal eyes. The other expression that a coyote uses when it feels displeasure is tightening of the lips so that the teeth show. This is not always meant as a communication, because in these cases sometimes it did not occur when another animal was close enough to have noticed. So it also is an expression of the coyote’s inner emotional state. The 7th photo shows this clearly. The 8th and 9th photos are of a coyote grunting in disapproval — actually preparing to bark. The barking did not begin in these instances.

When did these expressions occur? When dogs were coming towards the coyote, OR when the coyote saw dogs that have intruded upon it in the past! As you can see, our urban coyotes have strong feelings based on their own past experiences and on feeling themselves threatened. I have only seen this in dominant female coyotes.

The Issue of Coyote-Dog Habituation

Some people have been concerned about the possibility of coyote habituation to humans in our parks. Of course coyotes will become used to humans by the circumstance of us all being together in the parks.  However, with many hours of watching time, I have to say that I have never seen a coyote approach a human — I have only seen coyotes flee as humans get nearer to them. My belief is that unhealthy habituation is caused by an interaction — an exchange. Coyotes are not interested in interacting with humans. The one circumstance which I have read “forces” an interaction between coyotes and humans is humans feeding them. It is against the law to feed wildlife. Feeding coyotes is the one factor which has been implicated in coyotes becoming aggressive towards humans. Please do not feed coyotes.

However, I’m sure everyone has noted that coyotes have become habituated to dogs in our parks — not in the same way they have to humans. With humans, coyotes guard their distance. This is not so with dogs. Coyotes have approached some of the dogs. It is only some dog owners who have had issues with the coyotes in our parks — and these have always been unleashed dogs.  If we keep our dogs leashed, that would help a lot. Nonetheless, we cannot prevent the visual contact and body language that inevitably go on between some dogs and coyotes as they watch each other from a distance over time — this is a communication, it is an “exchange”, it is an interaction. Dogs and coyotes, through regular visual contact with each other, do learn each other’s behaviors and they become “familiar” with one another. We’ve all heard that familiarity breeds contempt — well, maybe a little of this is going on with the coyotes and dogs? I’m trying to make sense of the behaviors I have seen so that we all may know how to deal with them. This is what I am seeing.

So coyotes have approached some of the unleashed dogs in our parks, not viciously, but in an almost “testing” manner — something between “testing”, “taunting”, and “play” — with a kind of “I’m playing, but I mean it” attitude — and this appears to happen with dogs which the coyote has come to know, mostly through visual observation on a regular basis or from a previous interaction of some sort, such as the dog’s having chased the coyote or approached it. There is an aspect of oneupmanship in the coyotes’ and the dogs’ behavior. The coyote actually ignores the human who is with the dog, unless the human sees the coyote soon enough to make an effort to shoo it off. Note, again, that these coyotes have never come towards a human who does not have a dog: the interest is in the dog. If you keep your dog right next to yourself and leashed, a coyote is unlikely to dart in.

The most common coyote behavior towards a dog which I’ve seen involves a short charge-and-retreat sequence which seems to say: “note that I’m here, keep away from me and my kin.” It is not vicious, but there is a display and bluff that can be intense. At its core is probably the issue of territoriality: that this is the coyote’s turf. After all, dogs come and go all day long, whereas a coyote is in the park all the time and depends on the park for its very survival: for food and shelter and raising its family. This behavior is not something that a coyote carries on and on with. Rather, I’ve seen a coyote engage one dog this way and then remove itself from the area. The dog is always one which happens to be in the coyote’s immediate vicinity at the time. This behavior does not happen often, but I have observed it a handful of times. The dog will often respond to the coyote so that the behavior ends up being a  short “chase-chase” sequence back and forth before it is over.

The blatant display described here, as I’ve seen it, is always carried out by a dominant breeding female coyote. A couple of times younger coyotes have tentatively approached a calm, uninterested dog — one which they have observed is unlikely to chase them — it is a friendly approach, purely out of curiosity. These younger coyotes don’t approach dogs in a “testing” sort of way and always back off immediately if shooed away.

Please note that we can prevent this kind of physical interaction by keeping our dogs leashed in the first place, and by loudly and blatantly shooing off a coyote which comes too close for our comfort. You will not be able to prevent the visual communication between the coyotes and dogs which actually sets the groundwork for this behavior — though the communication can be minimized by leashing. This is because dogs very often direct their attention to the extent that their leashes allow them to go, and coyotes have little need to communicate with a calmer dog. If we take our dogs to parks where there are coyotes, this sort of habituation is inevitable. What we can do is be aware of the behavior so that it is not unexpected when it occurs. If we are prepared, maybe even with a shake-can, a possible unhappy incident might be prevented.

If anyone has further insight and observations on this behavior, I would love to hear from you! As I said, these are my own observations of a behavior I’m trying to make sense of.

Encountering More Than One Coyote

The morning, which ended up in such a leisurely fashion, did not begin this way. I spotted this mother coyote early on as she headed up towards a rock. She stayed up there, moving between several high rocks, and eventually sprawled out on the highest one, but she definitely was keeping her eye on something on the trail below. Then, in a flash, she dashed off. I thought that was the end of my coyote viewing for the day. Within minutes the coyote began her distressed barking — she only does this when she has been chased or interfered with by a dog — it may be one of her ways of keeping dogs at bay, but it also shows that she is upset.

It turns out that she had seen a dog, a dog she has seen often, which got too close to one of her yearling pups — she had come to its aid. The pup was probably in absolutely no danger, but we have to see it from this mother’s point of view: after all, dogs have chased her plenty of times in the past. When she first appeared on the scene, the dog, which should have been leashed, chased her off — this is normal unleashed dog behavior. But she responded by returning and coming in pretty close. This is typical coyote behavior. It can only be prevented by leashing our dogs immediately when a coyote is spotted, and not allowing a “casual” encounter — you cannot predict what will happen with any animal, much less with a wild animal, and in this case there was more than one coyote — the mother and the yearling. Keeping your dog leashed and close to yourself will serve to deter a coyote from coming in closer as you move out of the immediate vicinity.

There is usually an alpha female somewhere around in any coyote group: she is the only one that breeds and she is the one that controls the group and is responsible for their safety. If we allow our dogs to approach or threaten — or even appear to threaten a coyote — the female may come in to help so that you might be dealing with more than one coyote. Coyotes work as a team when there is more than one of them, with one serving to distract while the other goes around to approach from the other side — this usually is more than most dogs can handle — dogs feel overwhelmed by this behavior. But the coyotes are trying to send a message as clearly as they can: “Leave!” and “Don’t mess with us.”  They will continue this behavior, coming back again and maybe again, until dog and owner move on out of the immediate vicinity where the dog had come too close to the yearling.

The dogs, too, may feel they need to defend “their pack”, which includes all dogs or individuals in their party. Each side — dogs and coyotes — want to feel they have “won” by making the other leave. In this incident today, once the coyotes left for the first time, the dogs thought they had “taken care of the matter”, but the coyotes returned to continue vexing the dogs and owner until they left. Only we humans can prevent these interactions from happening by leashing our dogs. It is a canine-canine thing which needs our intervention if we all want to coexist together: humans, dogs, and recently returned wildlife.

The best policy is to leash up and move on. Please read about coyote safety and how you can shoo a coyote off if you encounter one at a close enough range to make you uncomfortable: Coyote Safety published on November 3, 2009.

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