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?

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.

“Messaging” May Include Growling

Coyotes live in all of our parks, and they can be seen on the streets sometimes. So always remain vigilant when out walking your dog. If you see a coyote, keep away from it. Most of the time coyotes will flee as they see you coming, but sometimes they may not, and I want to address this potentiality here. The safest protocol always is to shorten your leash and walk the other way, no matter how far or near a coyote is. This sends a signal to the coyote that you and your dog are not there to challenge the coyote’s personal or territorial space.

If you see a coyote while walking your dog, shorten your leash and go the other way.

Coyotes are territorial animals. They don’t allow coyotes other than family members into their territories unless they’re maybe just passing through. The good news about this is that territoriality keeps the coyote population down naturally in any particular area. You and your leashed dog should just keep walking on and away from the coyote — just passing through.

Coyotes and dogs know how to read each other on a level that we humans are not very tuned into: the same thing occurs between dogs: one twitched facial muscle reveals their position to other dogs.  So, when walking your dog, please don’t stop and allow this communication to take place or be acted upon — just keep walking away, dragging your dog after you if you must, showing the coyote that you have no interest in her/him.

If for some reason you find yourself closer to a coyote than you should be and the coyote growls at your dog — know that this is a warning message meant to keep your dog from coming closer: “please stay away from me”, “please don’t come closer”, “please go away”.  It may be set off by the dog being in, or heading for, the coyote’s personal or territorial space, and/or may involve negative communication between the animals. It is not necessarily an indication that it’s “an aggressive coyote”, rather,  it’s more likely to be “defensive” behavior aimed at making the dog keep its distance or leave. Please heed the message!  Coyotes and dogs generally do not like each other. Every coyote I know has been chased multiple times by dogs, and they remember this and are ready for the next time, or the next dog. You can prevent this message from escalating by shortening your leash and walking away — this shows the coyote you aren’t a threat, and the coyote will learn this.

If you have a dog, always walk away from a coyote, dragging your dog if you have to.

This also holds true for when you are in your car with a dog. If close enough, the coyote might growl if he/she perceives your dog — who is usually hanging out the window and staring or even barking — as a territorial or personal threat. It’s best to drive on rather than allow visual communication between your dog and a coyote.

A coyote who is walking towards you, again is messaging you more than anything else: making sure you are aware of its presence so that you and your dog will know he/she is there, i.e., that the territory is taken, and possibly even assessing if the dog will come after it. There’s an aspect of curiosity here, but it’s more investigative. Again, just walk away, and keep walking away with your short-leashed dog in-tow, even if the coyote follows you for a little bit.

Prevention is always the best policy, and that involves keeping your distance. Once your dog and a coyote have engaged, you’ll have to try your best to pull your dog away and then keep moving away from the coyote. Scare tactics — such as making eye-contact, lunging at (without getting close), clapping and shouting aggressively at a coyote — do not always work. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the video at the top of this blog: Coyotes As Neighbors: what to know and do, but know that it’s best to practice utter prevention proactively than to reactively have to scare off a coyote who comes too close.

Here is a concise flyer on  How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

[These guidelines are the most effective, and the safest I have seen, based on my daily observations of interactions between coyotes, dogs and people in our parks over the past 11 years]

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: 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.

Having A Mellow Dog Is Not Insurance That A Coyote Will Not Approach

2016-04-12“My dog is the mildest, shiest dog I’ve ever known. She startles at everything — runs from the drop of a pin. Yet, two coyotes approached her anyway, dashing in our direction from the distance. At first I thought they were two dogs who wanted to play, so I didn’t do anything, but as they hurried closer, I realized my mistake too late.

They headed immediately for her rear end.  She had been unleashed, but fortunately she didn’t run off. I grabbed her and leashed her. I kept my eyes on the coyotes which is what seemed to keep them away as I slowly backed out of the situation and then walked away. It was very frightening.”

A coyote doesn’t care if your dog is aggressive or mild — all the coyote cares about is that the dog is in its space. In fact, it is often the calmer dogs that coyotes attempt to *message*, either through body language (which most dogs can’t read) or more directly by nipping the dog’s haunches if the coyote can get close enough. Coyotes may pick a milder dog to message simply because they are able to do so — it’s easier — whereas it is more dangerous, in their eyes, to message an aggressive dog. So a dog’s mildness is not a factor in attracting a coyote’s interest to a dog. Whether calm or barking aggressively and lunging at them, any dog could be “messaged” to move it away. Remember that coyotes would do the same for intruder coyotes — this is a function of their territorial behavior.

It appears that this particular dog and owner happened upon one the coyotes’ favorite “lookout” spots — folks had seen the coyotes often relaxing in this spot. The dog was standing there, in a solidly planted stance, as if he were claiming the spot, staring at the coyotes as they came in closer. Another contributing factor may be that these coyotes might have just been chased by another dog — dogs chase coyotes often. I’ve noticed  that sometimes coyotes are more eager to “message” other dogs when they themselves have just been provoked by intrusive dogs, and I’ve seen them choose a milder dog to do so. This can be prevented by moving away from coyotes the minute you see them: doing so shows them that you are not interested in them and not there to threaten them or fight for the spot.

Please always remain aware and vigilant when you walk your dog in a park with coyotes. If this owner had been aware from the start, she could have leashed and moved away as the coyotes approached — this is what the coyotes wanted, and it is something that is easy to do. And it would have saved the dog-owner from a lot of unnecessary fear and anxiety.

Knowing Me

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It's actually dark outside, about 9pm -- it's astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It’s actually dark outside, about 9pm — it’s astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

I’ve known this coyote for seven and a half years — I’ve known him from before he was born. I can say this because I witnessed the entire courtship and pregnancy leading to his birth and knew he was on the way. He probably knows me as well as I know him. Coyotes are as curious about us and our dogs and probably spend more time watching us than vice-versa, and they are fast learners.

I once read that, “Your dog knows you better than you know yourself. Why wouldn’t he? After all, he/she spends all his/her time watching you.”  I thought, “well, of course!” Well, coyotes also spend time watching and getting to know us, our patterns of behavior, our attitudes and treatment of them. They are known for their curiosity and for observing. They are consummate hunters because they come to know the minute behaviors and reactions of their prey — they learn this by watching.

For the most part, this fella treats me the same as he treats anyone else: he keeps his distance and is suspicious. Yet at the same time, we have an understood pact, born of years of experience: my pattern is to stand off and observe. I stay well out of the way so as not to be an element in the behaviors I observe, and I never purposefully engage his or any coyote’s attention or interact in any way. I have defended him against dogs and he understood my role during those occasions. He’s formed an assessed opinion of me based on all of my behaviors which are relevant to him over the last seven-plus years.

But once I did break my rule to not interfere. A photographer with his dog was enticing/encouraging the coyote to approach them. The photographer and dog were on the path the coyote was trotting along. The coyote took a very wide detour around the man and dog to avoid them but then stopped to watch this duo staring at him. The man started taking photos and walking towards the coyote who now was within 50 feet. From years of observation, I could see that the coyote was turning to his defensive/messaging mode. If you, and especially if your dog, stares at a coyote, especially while approaching it, the coyote will become aware that he has become an *object of interest*, and the coyote may wonder why and what is going on. In a coyote’s world, *the interest* would be one of either predator/prey or possibly a territorial dispute.

This man and his dog have continually been a little too *in-the-face* of this coyote which is probably why the coyote stopped when he was being stared at so intensely. I did not want the photographer to set up an antagonistic situation and then get a photo of the coyote messaging his dog, and it looked as though this was going to happen. The coyote would have *messaged* either by taking on fierce-looking body language as a warning or possibly even by nipping the dog’s haunches as a stronger warning. The  photographer and his dog should have been moving on and away from the coyote — not towards it. So I interfered to prevent any engagement — and the possibility of such a negative photo — by clapping my hands and getting the coyote to move on.

What is interesting — and this is the point I want to make in this posting — is the coyote’s total surprise at my unexpected behavior. The coyote didn’t seem to believe his eyes at first — this wasn’t one of the behaviors he had ever seen in me before. I could see that he was actually confused. The coyote look at me, frozen, in seeming-disbelief. I repeated my actions and the coyote backed away slowly, while looking at me quizzically. My behavior here was totally out of character. And I, too, felt that I had betrayed our understood contract, and I had. But that was better for the coyote than having him photographed in an antagonistic pose next to a dog by a man who was intent on publishing his photos — that would have been more negative publicity for our coyotes. This is an isolated instance of my interference and it hasn’t happened again with this coyote. I need to remain totally neutral always to get the natural behaviors I’m seeking.

Another instance of a stunned reaction from this  very same coyote was the time I walked my son’s dog. This coyote did an obvious double-take because I never before, during his lifetime, had been *with* a dog. This particular coyote, by the way, always flees the instant he ever sees the one and only woman who pursues him relentlessly and aggressively. The coyote has learned to avoid this one person because he knows she will engage in hostile behaviors towards him: she charges at him no matter how far off in the distance he is as he’s minding his own business, flinging rocks at him and screaming. These little vignettes I’ve described here are to show how *in-tune* coyotes are to our behaviors — they do get to know us.

As I said, this coyote treats me like anyone else: keeping his distance and maintaining his suspicions. BUT, he knows I will never pursue or hurt him, and in a pinch, I suppose he knows I’ll be the one who will be accommodating and will move aside to let him go by — this sort of routine has played out often between us.

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a "hello" type of look

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a “hello” type of look

Back to the story behind the photos posted here. So today, when I saw the coyote trotting briskly in my direction and then look over his should at the two walkers and dogs coming towards him from behind, I realized that he was fleeing from the dogs and I was in his pathway. If he hadn’t known me and my patterns of behavior, he probably would have diverted off of the path to get away from both me and the dogs. Instead he hurried in my direction because he knew I was safe and that I would move for him. And indeed, I hurried down the path and away from him onto a cross path so that he could get by, and I then turned around to watch him and the developing situation. The coyote had come within 10 feet of me and, turned around to watch the dogs and their owners who were still approaching him. He peed/marked for them — actually a message of warning — as he watched them coming closer. He was aware that I was right there but he paid me no heed. Then he turned to continue on his trotting way,  acknowledged me as he went, and I acknowledged him with, “Good day” and a nod, and he trotted on into the cover of bushes, with one last glance at those of us in back of him before disappearing from view.

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

I reminded the dog walkers of the best way to keep his dog safe around coyotes: when you see a coyote, whether it is in the far distance, approaching, or at your side, always tighten the leash on your dog and walk away from the coyote without running.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

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