‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

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Huffing and Grunting Her Antipathy


You might be surprised to learn that coyotes indeed have very intense personal emotions, and they even hold profound grudges against other coyotes or dogs who have mistreated them or who are seen as a threat.

The coyote in this video displays grudges towards just two individuals who might be considered her arch-enemies: another coyote and a dog. The female coyote rival moved on, so that is no longer an issue.

But the dog is someone who the coyote has not yet come to terms with. In addition to the subtle negative communication between the two most of which is below our human radar, the dog, who walks in her park daily, has slipped her collar several times to chase and even “mark” the coyote’s favorite lookout points in a display of one-upmanship: there’s always a reason for a coyote’s feelings. In the past the coyote would follow and howl at that one female dog, and no other dog, letting the dog know how she felt about the dog’s being there. Sometimes the coyote just followed without howling: this is sort of an “escorting” behavior, insuring herself that the dog is headed out of her area. The dog’s owner is amazingly tolerant and respectful of the coyote and always walks away from her when their paths come within seeing distance.

More recently, the howling and following have calmed down. But that doesn’t mean the anger and antipathy have subsided, as you can see in this video, which shows this same coyote huffing and grunting her discontent for an extended period of time upon seeing the dog. If you listen carefully, you can hear the grunts, and of course you can actually see her huffing. But she did not howl or follow this time, she just watched dog and owner move away and out of sight..

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.

Messaging: Challenging Displays Are Warnings

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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.

A Stormy Monday – The First Day of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intense Focus on Approaching Danger

This coyote’s focus on the tumultuous dog activity up ahead on a path was intense. The dogs were playing, chasing and barking at one another, but to a coyote the approaching spurt of activity and noise spelled possible danger.  All had been calm and quiet a moment before. As the dogs got closer, the coyote lowered himself closer to the ground and then slithered, undetected, out of sight and away from any possible encounters or interactions.

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Responding to Recent Postings on Social Media: A Recap of Some Urban Coyote Behaviors and Some Explanations

This posting is a slightly revised and expanded version, with photos, of what was originally written for, and posted on, Bernalwood.com on May 27th.

our Bernal coyote at dawn

coyote at dawn

We have coyotes in most of our parks here in San Francisco, and most folks I’ve spoken with are thrilled about it!  Enjoy it and respect its wildness! At the same time, there are some people, especially pet owners, who are not so thrilled. Here is some information I’ve put together about coyotes, much of it based on my own observations, as a response to concerns and comments which have appeared in some of the social media recently. This is information that applies to urban coyotes everywhere, not just here in SF.

COYOTES ARE TERRITORIAL AND LIVE IN FAMILIES

coyotes in our parks

coyotes in our parks

Most parks in San Francisco have one stable resident family, or a loner. Coyotes are not “pack” animals of unrelated individuals. Families “claim” territories which they “own” from which they exclude other coyotes — this is what keeps the population density down. They trek through the neighborhoods every night, during the early morning or early evening hours — and, more rarely, during the brightest hours of the day — marking their territories to keep other coyotes out and looking for hunting opportunities. Studies show that in urban areas, there is generally about one coyote per square mile — a family of 4 would require about 4 square miles. You will always be seeing the same individual coyotes in any particular area.

Although we have parks with loner coyotes, most parks have mated pairs with families. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young. Coyotes mate in January or February and produce young in April — births occur only once a year. 

The number of family members fluctuates up and down continually over time. In one park, it went something like this: 2-5-3-4-2. The fluctuation is due to new pups, and then to their dispersal or deaths. There is only about a 30% survival rate of pups during their first year — disease and nutritional issues take their toll.

When it’s time for youngsters to “disperse”, the parents will drive them out, or they may just pick-up-and-go. This usually occurs between one and two, and sometimes three years of age, and it occurs throughout the year — there is no “dispersal season”. However, the breeding adult pair will remain in the same territory over many years. Interestingly, wolves will actually kill their own kin in order to preserve their own statuses and territorial rights. I’ve not seen this in coyotes, but I have seen the altercations that drive coyotes out of their birth territories.

Cars are urban coyotes’ chief cause of death — please drive carefully! They often trek on our traffic grid — it’s often the “path of least resistance”.  A few days ago, in our Diamond Heights neighborhood, a car swerved right into someone’s house to avoid hitting a coyote during the early morning hours.

MORE ASSERTIVE OR INSISTENT BEHAVIOR

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

As the individuals in a family mature, some of them may go through phases of what might be called more “assertive”  or “insistent” behavior, such as: following or running in the direction of a dog. During pupping season, the assertiveness is strongest, with coyotes even approaching and possibly even nipping at a dog’s haunches. These are coyote “messaging” behaviors: coyotes want dogs to move on and to know the territory is taken. These behaviors don’t “define” a coyote, and they don’t last. Think of these as phases in a teenager’s life, or in a parent’s life — there’s an ebb and flow to behaviors for each coyote, often based on what is going on within the coyote’s individual family: Are there new pups? Is there increased sibling rivalry? Are parents having issues with the offspring, or trying to get one to disperse? I’ve seen no evidence to indicate that such behaviors build up towards more aggressiveness. Many of the more apparently “assertive” behaviors, both in juveniles and adults, are based solely on circumstances and happenstance encounters, so keep your distance.

SIGHTINGS

trekking through the neighborhood

trekking through the neighborhood

A substantial increase in “sightings” doesn’t necessarily translate into a spike in the coyote population, though this is what many people assume. Again, increased sightings could be due to their current family dynamics which may cause individuals to wander farther afield.

Unusual weather conditions can have an effect on sightings. San Francisco has just been through a four-year drought. Drought conditions cause coyotes to hunt further afield and for longer hours. They become more visible to humans and more prone to incidents during these times when their activity overlaps with ours. It takes 8 full months for an ecosystem to recover from a drought.

Human changes to the environment, including new construction, will affect coyotes in an area. In San Francisco, coyotes may be lingering longer in neighborhoods recently, and therefore be seen more, because of the current program of thinning and eliminating dense and protective thickets in the parks, reducing coyotes’ normal secure habitat.  Stopping the destruction of the habitat, and compensating for the exceptional weather or drought in various ways until the ecosystem has recovered, both are steps that could be taken to reduce sightings, and possible dog/coyote encounters, and coyotes’ spending the past-twilight hours in neighborhoods.

FEEDING

feeding coyotes is not good

feeding coyotes is not good

Please don’t feed the coyotes. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food conditioned  — which is different from “habituation” (see below) — problems could develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for a negative incident to occur. Feeding them also encourages them to hang around yards where people don’t want them.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything, but their preference in San Francisco is for gophers, squirrels and voles, which they eat whole: they need the meat, muscle, bones, fur — all of it — to nourish themselves properly. They also eat fruit, nuts, bugs, weak or juvenile raccoons, skunks, opossums, and possibly snakes. They prefer their whole foods over human-made foods, but if that human food is available, they’ll try it. And they will eat the occasional cat or small dog if circumstances are right — they don’t know who is a pet and who isn’t. Don’t create the right circumstances that could add your pet to the food chain. Please protect your pets by not allowing them to roam free and by supervising them closely when out-of-doors.

As top predators to an area, coyotes have helped rebalance the environment: they control rodents and some mesopredators, such as opossums, skunks and raccoons.

HABITUATION

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

Urban coyotes do not “fear” humans — that is an incorrect term. Rather they are “wary” of humans. This means that, although a coyote won’t flee lickety-split in fear when they see a human, they nonetheless will maintain distance and not approach us. And we, in turn, need to respect them and their wildness by keeping as far away from them as we can. “Habituation” is a normal progression in urban areas — you cannot prevent it because you cannot stop coyotes from seeing humans on a daily basis — they get used to seeing us. A habituated coyote is not a dangerous animal. In fact, the term “habituation” was first used to describe bears as being more dangerous if they got used to people and lost fear of us. This assumption has been turned on its head: scientists now know that bears who are habituated tend to ignore humans, whereas bears who have never seen humans become reactive. In Africa, to make gorillas less reactive to humans, for the tourist trade, people purposefully habituate them — they become less dangerous.

Coyotes also habituate to “hazing” tactics, which is why such tactics should not be used if a coyote is way out in left field. Scaring off a coyote should be used sparingly. It should be reserved for when a coyote has come too close to you. It is a useless tactic unless the coyote is closer than 50 or so feet to you, which generally delineates its critical distance for discomfort.

Note that “habituation” is different from “food conditioning”. When visibly feeding or hand-feeding a coyote, you are conditioning it to approach humans. Don’t feed coyotes.

THE ISSUE IS WITH PETS

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

Whereas coyotes don’t approach humans, dogs are a different story because of territorial issues and because of prey issues. In many ways, coyotes and dogs look alike, but coyotes and dogs are naturally antagonistic towards each other. Remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories. Coyotes are also both curious and suspicious of dogs: they may feel compelled to come in closer to investigate. Always supervise your pets to prevent incidents: the minute you see a coyote, leash and go in the other direction. Most dogs have a tendency to go chasing after coyotes. Please don’t allow your dog to do this.

coyote messaging a dog -- the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

coyote messaging a dog — the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

Coyotes have approached dogs. If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog who the coyote considers a threat to its territory or its personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don’t let them. You can prevent an incident by keeping your dog away from coyotes in the first place, by leashing when you see one, and by walking away from it. It’s no different than when you encounter a skunk with its tail up: keep your dog off of it, and move away from it. 

coyote following

coyote following

 IF, inadvertently or by surprise, a coyote gets too close, that is when to scare it off, otherwise just walk away without running: see http://baynature.org/article/how-to-get-along-with-coyotes-as-pups-venture-out/

Coyotes may follow dogs to find out what the dog is doing and where it is going (they do the same to non-family coyotes). If you and your dog are moving away from the coyote, and away from any denning site, the coyote soon will no longer follow. If you don’t want the coyote to follow at all, toss a small stone in its direction (not at it), and/or approach it (but don’t get too close) using your own blatantly angry body language and angry yelling. Noise alone, or waving flailing arms, is not always effective in making a coyote move — something has to move  towards the coyote. And it isn’t going to help if you are too far away. You’ve got to get within the coyote’s critical distance — at most 50 feet — and you have to be assertive about it. Walking towards the coyote while slapping a newspaper viciously on your thigh works, but tossing stones towards it is probably more effective. However — and this is a very important “however” — if the coyote doesn’t budge, it is probably protecting a nearby den site. In this case, turn around and leave. Do not provoke an incident. See the above link in Bay Nature.

It’s always best to be proactive in keeping a coyote away. The minute you see a coyote, leash up and move away from it, and know how to shoo it off effectively if it comes closer to you than 50 feet.

Note that practically all scratches or bites by coyotes to humans are due to feeding the coyote, or to an owner getting him/herself between a coyote and a pet, so don’t do these things. And, never run from a coyote: this activity actually initiates the chase response in a coyote who may also nip at your heels. They also sometimes nip at car tires when the car is in motion. The phenomena is called “motion reactivity”.

ENCOUNTERS CAN BE SCARY

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounters CAN be scary if you are unprepared and don’t know what to expect or what to do. Please learn what coyotes are like, not what you think they “should” be like — for instance, that they don’t “fear” humans but are “wary” of them, and not that “coyotes should be heard and not seen”. By knowing their true normal behaviors, and by knowing what to do *IF* they approach your dog, you will be informed and you will not be so fearful. For starters, watch the video, Coyotes As Neighbors:  https://youtu.be/euG7R11aXq0, which will spell out normal coyote behavior and what you can do to keep coyotes away from a pet.

MANAGING COYOTES

The number one method of managing coyotes for coexistence is through human education and human behavior modification: that is what this posting is trying to help with. These have been shown to be extremely effective. The City of San Francisco has been lax in putting out signs or getting educational material to folks. Some of us have been filling the void, getting material, information and guidelines out to people, but as individuals or as small organizations, we have not been able to reach everyone. Please visit coyotecoexistence.com for specific information, and  coyoteyipps.com.

Many cities have coexistence policies — they all work when folks abide by the guidelines. BUT, as with car driving laws, even if you know them and follow them, there will be some fender-benders that might be frightening. We have fewer than 100 coyotes in the City; the number of dogs is in the 250,000s. There is bound to be an incident now and then.

The number of real coyote incidents in the City is not many. There have been less than a handful of dog fatalities by coyotes — all were unleashed small dogs in known coyote areas — all were preventable. There have been many incidents of people being frightened and reporting “attacks” on their dogs. Few if any of these attacks were reported on a questionnaire which would tease out what actually occurred. Instead, these incidents have been spelled out on the social media with warnings of doom that is awaiting us all.

Most of the sightings of coyotes have been reported as charming. But there have been some fearful encounters, and recently groups of dog owners in some of the parks have turned decidedly against them. Social media tends to perpetuate, spread and amplify the fears, and encounters are inevitably worded as deliberate “aggressive attacks”. For instance, recently, there was a report of an attempted “attack” on a dog at 5:30 in the morning. However, a lone coyote, who weighs 35 pounds, is not going to “attack” a 130 pound Mastiff… Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety. These are not “attacks”, nor are they “attempted attacks”. Hopefully, by learning about coyotes, we can diminish the very real feeling of fear which comes from not knowing what is going on.

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

Our Animal Care and Control Department has had many people report “aggressive” coyotes: but when questioned further, the majority of these reports were of a coyote just standing, or doing nothing but looking at the purported victim.

Two years ago I watched a man, straight faced, tell me that he had been frightened “out-of-his-wits” by a monster 100-pound coyote just a few moments before seeing me. He was visibly shaken. He hadn’t seen me watching the whole incident a little way down the path. The incident involved his dog chasing a coyote. The coyote turned around to face the dog. When the dog ran back to its owner, the coyote proceeded on to where it had been going. But the owner was left frightened, and justified his fright by saying it was a “monster 100-pound coyote”. If the dog had been leashed, the incident would not have happened. It happened in a park where everyone knows there are coyotes.

If you have questions, or if you want help with specific issues, please contact me or anyone at coyotecoexistence@gmail.com

Coyote Splits, Lickety-split, Upon Seeing a Large Pack of Large Dogs Running Loose

Coyotes know that they don’t need to be afraid of everyone that comes to their parks — they simply keep their distance and continue whatever they were doing. If humans walk by in the distance with their leashed dogs, a coyote more often than not will continue its foraging, or may stop to observe as the dog and walker pass through. Distance is everyone’s friend, as is controlled calm.

However, danger is signaled to coyotes by individual or packs of unleashed dogs running about, as happened here. This coyote looked up from her peaceful foraging to see several large dogs running around wildly and exploring hither and thither, with no owner in sight initially. It was a signal for the coyote to head towards a safer area. Our coyotes are chased often by dogs. An individual dog which pursues them they can handle now and then even though they dislike it tremendously, but a large pack of large dogs is something they do not want to test.

The dogs did not see the coyote, but the walker did. He leashed up his seven charges as soon as he saw the coyote, and he walked on. The coyote sat, close to the bushes to where she could make a quick getaway if needed, but she didn’t need to. When the pack of dogs was out of sight, she simply lay down and took a nap!

leashing up the dog pack

leashing up the dog pack

Vigilance!

2015-09-11 at 08-24-51

Click on either of these images to read the rest of this extremely short (200 words) and to-the-point piece on the importance of vigilance if you have a dog in a coyote area.

2015-09-11 at 08-18-14
Note: The article, in its shortness, or possibly because of a misunderstanding by its author, is missing some important points. Most important, coyotes avoid humans, so if you don’t have a dog with you, just keep your distance to help yourself and the coyote not feel crowded or threatened. And, even if you have a dog with you, you would never challenge a coyote as described in this article unless it had come very close or was coming directly at your dog. Otherwise, leash and walk away, and always keep your distance. The point is to avoid any interaction and a confrontation always.

Pupping: Coyote Parents Are Worried, Concerned, and Suspicious of Dogs

The Behavior

Dad coyotes are out for a while in the mornings to perform “sentry duty”. With so many dogs in the parks, you can be sure Dads are concerned and worried about the areas where youngsters have been stashed to stay safe.

Most of the time, a dad will just lie and watch, sometimes with one eye shut, from a location with a broad view. He is not only watching, he is also making himself visible. Making himself visible during this time frame is a communication device for letting others know that he is there — the territory is taken. This is about territorial behavior — about protecting one’s turf.

During the time that he’s lying there, he may become uneasy over a particular dog he’s spotted in the distance. If this happens, he’ll sit up or stand to watch more keenly. This may be all he does before lying down again. However, being the good caregiver and guardian that he is, he may hurry after the dog and follow to assure himself that the dog is headed away from, and not towards, a pupping area — sort of “escorting” the dog away.

If the dog owner is not vigilant, the coyote could get close and might even deliver a messaging nip to the dog’s behind — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to hurry along. All dog owners should be aware of the possibility of this behavior. Remember that coyotes don’t allow other coyotes into their territories: If YOU were not there with your dog, the coyotes would be trying harder to let the dog feel unwelcome. This does not happen frequently, but I’ve seen it a number of times.

What To Do

What should a dog owner do? I’ve posted this before, but it needs to be emphasized. Remember that coyotes are not interested in tangling with humans — rather, they want to message the dog. First and foremost, if you see a coyote, always leash and continue moving away from it. You should keep your dog in sight at all times. Don’t let your dog lag far behind you where he’s out of your line of vision.

If you see a coyote following and getting too close, you need to stop and shoo it away. Simply turn around and glare at the coyote. Eyeball him eye-to-eye to let him know you mean business and that you are targeting him.  You can add emphasis by lunging or stepping towards the coyote. You want to move in his direction without getting close. One walker recently told me that she pointed at the coyote by extending her arm out far and pointing her finger at the coyote in a commanding sort of way as she stamped her foot and lunged at a coyote. By eyeing the coyote and pointing at it, there will be no mistake about who your message is for. Picking up a small stone and tossing it in the coyote’s direction is always effective. Either way, you are moving in his direction, or moving something in his direction, which is what causes him to move. Then turn around and walk on, but continue looking back. If he continues to follow, you should repeat this more emphatically — it may take several attempts before the coyote gets the message. Never run from a coyote.

NOTE, that if a coyote is close enough to engage with your dog, you’ll need to be ferocious in your shooing it off. Please see the demonstration in the “Coyotes As Neighbors” YouTube video (you can google this). It’s best never to let a coyote get this close in the first place.

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.

Leapin’ Latrans

2015-02-23 at 17-42-53 Here’s a coyote — Canis Latrans — leaping through a wild mustard field in an urban park. He’s flying high above the three-foot tall flowers which are not only impeding his progress, but are also impeding his view. And what’s he so interested in seeing? An unleashed dog running erratically through the field in the distance! Coyotes are extremely curious critters — curiosity is a measure of their intelligence. “What was the dog doing, and where was it going?”

Please keep dogs leashed if you are in a coyote area of your urban park, especially now during pupping season! As soon as I informed the owner about coyote behaviors, he leashed his pet and was on his way. Leashing a pet not only keeps the pet away from coyotes, it also keeps them calmer. Coyotes sometimes react to the hyperactivity of some dogs. The coyote sat a safe distance away and watched them depart.

Wet Day Activities and Saving Something For A Rainy Day??

wet coyote

wet coyote

We’re being pummeled by rain — our fiercest storm in five years!  California has a desert climate, with normal yearly rain averaging only about 21 inches. Last year, in 2013, we received less than 4 inches of rain during the entire year. That is the same amount we are expecting just within these next few days. Streets are flooding, electricity is out, and there is water everywhere.

I waterproofed my camera and myself and headed out into the torrent. Very few folks were out visiting the parks where gophers were being pushed to the surface of their tunnels by all the water: coyotes were aware of these things. I watched this fella, in the driving rain, head straight for a gopher hole and go to work. The mound of fresh dirt around the gopher tunnel opening must have been a dead giveaway to a gopher’s location. He cocked his head back and forth only a few times before he zeroed in on the gopher’s exact location. Notice the coyote’s beautiful diving technique, then his furious digging which sent the wet mud flying in all directions.

He caught his gopher — looks like a huge two pounder — and gulped it down. He then marked the location — claiming, and advertising, his triumph.

He then meandered across the field and within seconds found a second very large gopher. No triangulation, no pouncing, no digging was involved this time — the gopher was just there for the taking, right at the opening to its tunnel. The coyote picked it up, looked around carefully surveying the area, and then trotted across the field to a clump of bushes, eyeing me to make sure I wouldn’t come after his catch. He emerged from those bushes seconds later without the gopher, so he obviously left it there.

He spent the next little while criss-crossing the field searching for more gophers, shaking water out of his coat at various times, noticing and being noticed by a lone dog walker who had bravely ventured out, spooking at noises, warning an unleashed dog away, messaging displeasure at that dog and then lying down and then waiting for the dog to leave when the dog’s owner appeared, and just plain looking around.

the gopher had been left in a little hollow

the gopher had been left in a little hollow

He then headed out of the field for about 30 seconds, during which time I hurried to the clump of bushes and found the dead, soaking gopher where it had been carefully deposited in a little depression on the ground.

Maybe the coyote had headed out of the field to see if the coast was clear, because he came back, eyed me suspiciously since I was closer to the clump of bushes with the gopher, retrieved the dead gopher and then retraced his steps in the same direction out of the field.

I watched him carry it a substantial distance, stop and look around a couple of times. He was looking for a place to hide it, apparently, because he then trotted further, to a distant grassy area, looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, and buried it. Possibly he would retrieve it and eat it when gophers were harder to catch. We like saving things for a rainy day. Might he possibly be saving it for a dryer day?!

Coyotes Celebrate Coming Out Ahead: Intact and Uninjured, and Still In Charge of Their Territory

Here is a typical morning in an urban park where there are coyotes and where dogs run free. If you have a dog and know coyotes are out, or if you see a coyote, you need to leash up and move on. In this park, there is a particular team of dogs which chases and harasses these coyotes on an almost daily basis.

On this day, coyotes were out finishing their nighttime trekking. They picked one of their favorite knolls to hang out on. They often stay out to watch and keep an eye on the dogs which visit the park daily, but also they are there “to be seen” by these same dogs: they want these dogs to know that the territory is already claimed — their presence sends this message. It is a purposeful activity. They knew the route and the time that most dogs would walk by, and that time was coming up. They plopped themselves down high up on the incline a substantial distance from any trails and began grooming themselves.

Most dogs and their owners passed uneventfully, as usual: most folks in San Francisco are in awe of and love their urban coyotes in the parks: It makes the parks seem a little more “natural”, a little closer to the nature that humankind once knew, a little further removed from the city right next door. Both coyotes and dogs learn something about each other as they watch one another, and peace is maintained by the owners keeping their dogs away from them.

Unfortunately, there are antagonistic dogs who pursue, and owners who allow their dogs to pursue and harass coyotes. It is always the same dogs, and it is always the same owners who allow it, and it happens on a regular basis. It happened again today, as predictably as the dawn itself. Two dogs from the same family — therefore a “pack” working as a team together — came up the trail ahead of their owners and went searching for the coyotes, saw them and chased after them. The coyotes ran further up the steep incline which was difficult for the dogs. The coyotes stayed up high on the hill and watched. At one point, when the second dog appeared they came down a little, still keeping their safe distance away.

One of the dog owners, one who had no intention of ever leashing his dogs to control them, ran up the hill towards the coyotes and starting heaving rocks at them, snarling, “Darn coyotes, stop bothering my dogs!!”  The coyotes backed up a little preparing to flee, but the dog owner backed down the hill. Of course, it was the dogs and owner who were doing the harassing, not the other way around.

Eventually the recalcitrant dogs and disrespectful owners walked on. The coyotes watched them leave and then hung around to watch and just “be” for a short time, grooming themselves and probably communicating in ways we humans cannot understand: their distress, relief, joy, excitement, and fears, among other things, are communicated simply by the way they act — by their body language and facial expressions.

Then it was time to go. The coyotes ran towards each other, tails wagging, bodies bouncing and wiggling, and headed off. They were all intact, there were no injuries, the territory was still theirs. They seemed to celebrate all this as they left the area hugging next to each other as they went.

 

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