Specificity: An Instance of Coyote Behavior Towards One Dog

I want to address one specific coyote’s behavior towards one specific dog.

We all know that our domestic canine companions themselves can be very specific and particular about who and how they relate to regarding each and every other individual dog, and even individual people. For example, today I was approached by several dogs who knew me and were all hugs and kisses, wiggles and squiggles, towards me when I saw them. Cool!

Then there is another dog who barks at me ferociously — I keep away — the owner herself doesn’t understand it beyond what we’ve agreed on, that just like humans, likes and dislikes exist in animals, and some of these are strong. Maybe my camera equipment initially set off the dog, but now it’s an ingrained pattern. The owner of yet another dog told me that although his dog is outrageously friendly to almost everyone including me, there were two very specific dogs — only two — who raised his dog’s ire whenever he saw them. He didn’t know exactly why it was just these two dogs, but he told me that one of the dogs walks by his house every day, and so there may be a territorial issue involved in that case.

When chemistry is bad between certain dogs, the result is growling and lunging and worse. Fights can only be averted by tightening the leash and walking away. The behavior is first set off, no doubt, by communication that insinuates some kind of oneupmanship: a threatening or even a disdainful *look* from one dog to another, or maybe one dog reminds the reactive dog of another disliked dog in some way, which might explain why some dogs, I’ve been told by their owners, react to only a certain breed of dog. Dogs read each other well and they are constantly communicating, mostly in subtle, body-language ways, unbeknown to most of their owners.

Once a fight begins between dogs, it becomes difficult and even risky to separate them, so prevention in the first place is always best. Note that coyotes, unlike dogs, seldom actually engage on a fighting level with dogs. Any injury to them could spell death. So their strategy is to “message” through body postures. It’s best to heed their warning messages at a distance: just tighten your leash and walk away. As they get closer, they are more apt to engage in a charge-and-retreat messaging system that could involve a nip to your dog’s haunches. Small dogs could indeed be injured or worse, so please keep your distance in the first place!

1) So, the behavior of the coyote I want to describe — a behavior which for a while replayed almost daily — can be described like this:

Early in the morning, the coyote hangs out on a high knoll close to the entrance of a park, relaxing and taking in the view, watching dogs as they walk with their owners, or jumping up to watch any spurts of dog activity, such as barking or running after a ball: she’s curious about what’s happening on her territory and likes to know what is going on. In particular she keeps her eye out for one single dog who makes her feel very uneasy. That dog eventually appears with its owner and proceeds to walk into the park. (The owner is very aware of the coyote’s presence and behavior, and has learned how to deal with it by just walking on).

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Hanging out on a little knoll

At this point, the coyote hops-to and starts to follow them. Today, unusually, the coyote was intent on getting closer to the dog, so the owner did the right thing, picking up a pebble and tossing it towards (not at) the coyote and walked on. The coyote distanced herself as expected. In the two years that I’ve been watching this behavior, there have been only a couple of instances when the owner has had to do this — her behavior is almost always at a safe distance.

1) coyote jumps with uneasy excitement when she first sees the dog; 2) sometimes her hackles go up, she lifts her lips and scrunches her nose, and she might kick the ground if the duo turn to look at her for any length of time; 3) she follows.

From the moment the coyote sees the dog-and-owner, the coyote could begin her screech/howling. Sometimes there’s no vocalization from the coyote as she follows, but most of the time there is a distressed, high-pitched, raspy grunt/scream, on the level of a “tongue-lashing” tirade. During these sessions, the 100-pound dog, to all appearances, calmly ignores the coyote — that she is leashed helps. And the dog owner with his dog just continues on his way in-spite of the coyote screaming her heart out in back of them.

 

After about 300 or so meters of this, at the crest of a hill where the coyote is able to keep an eye on the dog as it walks on, the coyote invariably stops following and stops screaming, and watches silently as the man and dog distance themselves around the bend and out of sight within the park. She usually then sits here for a few minutes, looking around, and finally gets up and walks about apparently a little aimlessly, but in fact there is purpose to this: she is waiting, biding her time, because that’s not the end of it.

The coyote eventually meanders over to a ledge where she can see the road below. She stations herself here and waits — about 10-15 minutes or so. She knows the dog and owner will be returning that way eventually, and eventually they do.

They re-appear on the road where she expected them

When dog and owner re-appear into view, she keenly watches them again as they walk parallel to where she is, and then she hurries to a second location, still keeping an eye on them, where she can observe dog-and-owner making their last retreat out of the park for the day. And this is when the tongue-lashing can begin anew — with dog and owner again ignoring it and proceeding as though she were not there: this is their best option for handling the situation. Sometimes dog and owner look back at the coyote and smile. Soon the vocalizations stop, and the coyote simply watches as the two — dog and owner — disappear for good for the day into the distant mass of the city and away from her park, her territory. Occasionally she’ll run a little way after them from far in back to make sure they are gone. At this point, the ritual is over, until the next day or the day after that.

The behavior here is intense and specifically focused on this one dog and no other. It’s alarming for many people when they see or hear it for the first time until I can explain it to them.

I should point out that the dog involved has a past history of chasing this coyote, and even running to the coyote’s favorite hangout areas and peeing there, in a sort of “So, there…”, one-upmanship way. This kind of rather casual animosity — there is no barking or growling — is also conveyed through subtle eye twitches or the raising of a lip: these communications are chalk-full of meaning to canines, no matter how subtle and barely perceptible they might be to humans, and they are ever-present.

In addition though, in the past, this owner used to sit with his dog fairly close to the coyote and “chat” in an attempt to “break the ice”, he told me. The result was the opposite of what was intended. The intense focus  may have actually conveyed to the coyote that she was “an object of special interest”, and may have caused her to become more suspicious and more wary of the dog than ever. If you focus on a coyote, they’ll focus back to figure out the reason for your interest: it’s part of their very inquisitive nature. In the wild, of course, there would probably be a sinister reason for another animal to focus on you, right? So the dog became something that the coyote watched out for. My advice is always to avoid focusing on coyotes when you have a dog — always just walk on.

So this particular dog became this particular coyote’s nemesis, and to a certain extent vice-versa. It is the only dog that gets this treatment from this coyote. We are fortunate that the owner is more amused — and maybe somewhat bemused — than anything else, with the coyote’s behavior. How different it might be if the owner had been fearful and intolerant, or had chosen not to flow with the situation: the situation would have been splashed, detrimentally for the coyote, all over the news, with the coyote’s reputation plummeting and fear levels stoked. Instead, a thorough explanation of the behavior and how to deal with it and even how to avoid it calmed everyone down. So we are lucky the owner of the dog is who he is. Thank you, Pete!

Until I’m able to explain the situation to any newcomers, they often come up to me with questions such as, “What is the coyote doing to the dog”, or the opposite, “What is the dog doing to the coyote?”, or they even come up with their own interesting interpretations, such as that, “The coyote was screaming ferociously for a mate.” But no, coyotes don’t scream for mates, and mating season is once a year, not in June, but in January/February. Once folks understand the situation, they are soothed, and become amused and even charmed. It’s much easier to embrace coyotes if you understand them. Certainly, it’s easier to coexist with them with the proper information.


2) I have seen this exact same behavior in another area of San Francisco: another coyote, another dog, and a different place. The setting was along a wide, paved, inner city park path taken regularly by dogs. The coyote’s behavior was reactive against one particular dog she felt threatened by and was worried about — even though that dog had never chased her in the past. This is self-protective and territorial behavior. The behavior might well have been initiated at some previous time through subtle negative communication or possibly even by a memory of a dog of similar breed, as previously explained.

Here is a video of that behavior. Or you may hear an audio below of this coyote’s upset and distressed deep guttural barking — so entirely different from a dog’s bark — as the coyote follows, with distressed bouncing steps and hackles up, within 30 feet of the dog and walker. This might be very upsetting to someone who does not understand the behavior and doesn’t know what to do. I advised the walker to just keep walking steadily away, and sure enough, as they continued to walk away from the coyote, the coyote soon turned away from them:

3) A somewhat related situation occurred years ago in a park where a group of off-leash dogs — always walking together at the exact same time every morning — were allowed, and even encouraged (unbelievably), to chase and harass the coyotes. It was only this one group of rowdy dogs that the coyotes always watched for and followed until they left the coyote’s critical areas. That group considered the coyotes bold, aggressive and antagonistic so they felt justified in letting their dogs pursue them.

They never did accept that it was their dogs’ behaviors which were causing the problem in the first place. The coyotes just wanted to be left alone.  If the dogs had left the coyotes alone, the coyotes would no longer have felt a need to “push back”. This didn’t happen to dog groups that respected the coyotes by preventing harassment by chasing. By the way, the intense, agitated and distressed vocalization after being chased by dogs can go on for 20 minutes or longer.

The Golden Rule for dealing with a dog/coyote encounter is always the same: Your safest option is AVOIDANCE: Whether you see a coyote in the distance, approaching you, or at-close range, leash your dog, shorten your leash, and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in this video, but know that what’s safest is complete avoidance. [This advice comes to you from over 11 years of keenly watching what works in this situation. This is the best option for preventing any kind of escalation. And here is a complete guide on “How to Handle Coyote Encounters: A Primer”]

Coyote Speaks Her Mind, An Update

I want to update the continuing story of the loner coyote I wrote about in: Coyote Speaks Her Mind to the Dog Who Chased Her Three Weeks Ago! The story through that posting evolved from a dog who repeatedly chased the coyote, to the coyote finally vocalizing her distress at being chased while remaining hidden in the bushes.

Soon thereafter, this coyote would follow that dog, which is now kept leashed, screaming out her anguish, now in plain view — no longer hidden in the bushes. For months this behavior continued, daily, and then the vocalizations stopped, but the following behavior still continued, always at a safe and great distance. 

One might ask, “Why would a little coyote follow a dog — even a large 100 pound dog — if she were fearful of the dog?  The answer appears to be that ‘following’ is used by coyotes both to escort out and to assure themselves that a threatening (or perceived as threatening) animal is leaving an area. It is a territorial behavior. Coyotes’ survival depends on their territoriality: they claim, and exclude other coyotes, from the land which will supply them with, and ensure them a supply of,  food and protection from competitors. The screaming, which incorporates deep raspy sounds, is a brave warning, more bluff than anything else, but also a release of the coyote’s distressed feelings. The coyote appears totally aware that the dog is tethered: she has fled like a bullet when the dog got loose and turned towards her.

The little coyote’s behavior towards that dog is continuing to evolve. Yesterday, after seeing the dog in the far distance, she simply ran the other way and disappeared from view over the crest of the hill before the dog had a chance to see her!

A few days ago, having seen the dog from a great distance, she ran off and hid rather than take a chance at being seen.

Crouching low the minute she saw the dog, in hopes of not being seen

And today, the little coyote didn’t notice the dog — the dog is walked daily in the park — until the dog already was close by. Her evasive strategy this time involved crouching down into the grasses and ducking so as not to be seen. She was not seen by the dog, but she was seen by the owner.  She remained in her crouched-down spot as the dog didn’t seem to notice her (the dog was leashed and couldn’t have moved towards the coyote even if she had wanted to). 

The coyote got up and watched them walk away and disappear over the horizon and then took after them, but remaining out of sight.  She spotted them at the crest of a hill where she sat and kept an eye on them from the distance until they left. This owner is doing as much as he can to avoid conflict by walking his dog on the leash and always walking away from the coyote. Fortunately, he is fascinated and amused by her behavior!

By the way, I have seen this same behavior in a number of females, and one male coyote — it’s not so unusual, so folks with dogs should be aware of it so they don’t freak out if it happens towards their dog. What to do? Simply shorten your leash and keep walking away from the coyote. Also, try to minimize visual communication between your dog and a coyote — the communication is most likely to be negative, so why even go there? Again, simply shorten your leash and walk on and away.

Coyote Voicings

Artwork by Kanyon Sayers-Roods

I have added to my Introductory Pages a writeup of Coyote Voicings — Yips, Howls and other Vocalizations: a Panoply of Sounds and Situations.

Summary: Coyote communication occurs mostly via eye contact, facial expressions and body language and it can be very subtle. Coyotes are not forever vocal as humans are; they tend to be on the quiet side — except when they aren’t! Here I explain their voice communications, based on my own daily dedicated observations over the past 11 years, and then I give about 20 examples, chosen from about a thousand that I’ve recorded.

Distressed Barking By Mother Coyote Due to Presence of Dogs

Parent coyotes are especially edgy at this time of year — it’s pupping season.

As this mother coyote foraged behind some low bushes, dog owners with their mostly leashed dogs walked by on a path about 100 feet away: they stopped and looked at her, though it might have been better if they had just walked on. None of the dogs approached her, though they might have communicated some kind of negativity through their facial expressions and body language. The coyote apparently didn’t like them looking at her, or she didn’t like their negative communication. OR, the dogs may simply have been too close for comfort.  I was concentrating on her, so I couldn’t see what the issue was.

Note that she begins her complaining with little grunts and heaves: it’s an emotional and distressed reaction.  As she initially grunts and heaves, she hasn’t decided to go all out with her barking. But soon, she lets loose. All the dog walkers “got it” once I explained to them what was going on: that this was an edgy mother and coyotes don’t like dogs around them. The walkers and their dogs moved on, and she soon quit her howling and then retreated into the bushes.

Her own mother, too, engaged in this exact same type of barking: it is a distressful bark and only occurs when these coyotes feel harassed or intruded upon by dogs. This type of barking is both a complaining — letting everyone know how she feels — and a communication of standing up for herself, though you can be sure that if a dog went after her, she would skedaddle quickly. The barking session shown here lasted only about three minutes, but I’ve listened to one that lasted well over 20 minutes.

Chased Into A Hollow

Being out at twilight in a park allowed me to glimpse an owl hunting — I don’t see this often. It was quiet and it seemed at first as though no one was around, but I was wrong. Soon a dog appeared, and the owl took off as it and its owner got nearer.

As I watched the owl fly away, I heard another man yell sharply at his dog. That was the tell-tale sign that alerted me to the possible presence of a coyote on a trail.  As I headed in the direction of the voice, I began to hear two coyotes bellowing out their distress at having been chased.  One coyote must have run off, because its barking receded into the distance.

However, the other coyote was very close by, in the bushes. I could not see the coyote at all — so, to begin with, I just took a photo of where the sound was coming from. It was in a hollow right next to the trail — not, as usual, up high and away. Although at first I had heard two coyotes barking together, the barking pattern changed when one ran off.  The barking began alternating between them, one after the other, taking turns, seeming to answer each other, until the far coyote stopped altogether. The nearer one continued a little longer and then also stopped.

Within a short time, the closer coyote must have sensed that the danger had passed — the dog and walker were long gone — because it came out to inspect it’s surroundings, looking around carefully before trotting off to continue what it probably had been doing before the dog arrived: hunting for voles and gophers.

I’m including the recording in which you can hear the near and the far coyotes’ barking. Unfortunately the recorder picked up the sound of my walking as I was trying to visually spot the coyotes!


Warning Bark at a Den Site

We noticed a lone coyote hurrying away, way down the path ahead of  us. There were just a few of us on the path, but there was also a dog. The coyote obviously saw us as threats so it hurried up to a lookout, where, half-hidden, it proceeded to warn us off with its bark for about 20 minutes. A couple of people hung around to watch, as did their dog: they had never heard a coyote barking and were very excited and exhilarated by the experience.

I always suggest to people that  it’s best to move on if you have a dog: this is the reason the coyote was barking. Having said that, I’ve noticed that coyotes will continue barking for a considerable time, whether the threat has departed or not! I took this video at the site of on den way back in April. Other people saw the pups, but I did not. On the video, you’ll hear lots of birds, a human voice and a San Franciscan fog horn in addition to the coyote’s barking!

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.

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