Surviving Pup is Excluded

This was an eye-opening, unexpected observation. I arrived at dawn on October 30th to fog so dense that I could barely make out the outline of anything ahead of me. I was at a dog play pen and noticed what I thought were three German Shepherds meandering around. I climbed up the trail parallel to the enclosure looking for the owner of the three dogs. That’s when I encountered Ana, with her dog barking ferociously as she approached me on the trail and I wondered why. I asked her if she had seen the coyotes this morning, and she pointed to within the enclosure. The dogs in the fog had sure fooled me — they were the resident coyotes!

Most of my observations lately have involved single individuals, so I was happy to see several coyotes together for a change and hoped to record some interactions. Coyotes are highly social, so that was bound to happen. The fog and bad lighting were a problem — the “auto” focus was giving me a lot of blurr, but I managed to capture some telling activity.

I began taking still photos. The ones here show Dad, Step-mom and the single remaining pup. The pup’s sister had been killed by a car only a few weeks before. If you know coyote youngsters, you’ll know that they play with each other incessantly: they are always on top of each other, chasing, tackling, poking, teasing — life for them is one of perpetual motion. There were two pups that survived in this family until a couple of weeks ago when Sister was hit by a car and killed. So this remaining pup must feel exceptionally lonely. You would think that Mom and Dad might fill in the void, but that is not what happened as I watched. In fact, the youngster was excluded from the mated pairs fun and games.

Above you see Mom and Dad together, horsing around and teasing each other. Six-month old pup is off to the side.

Here above is the pup, reaching in their direction but not part of the play.

And here, above, he is looking on as his parents play.

The youngster attempted several times to join the fun, but they never invited him in. Instead, the parents were into their own courting play: pair-bonds are being formed and/or strengthened at this time of the year, so that’s where the focus and energy were going. In the last series of photos above, the adults end up turning on the pup angrily, snarling at him and grabbing his snout. In the last photo he snarled back at his step-mom. Below is a video of the group’s interactions immediately after the above stills were taken.

Cuddling, Teasing and Play


Of course pups cuddle, tease and play with each other. And parents do the same with their pups. But in the coyote world, these inter-personal activities are prevalent throughout adulthood between mated pairs: coyotes really like each other (unless they really don’t, which is a different story). They are social, meaning they spend a lot of time together interacting with each other, be it simply through visual communication or more emphatically through physical contact. Their involvement with each other is constant and can be intense.

In this video you’ll see some of that activity between a bonded pair. You’ll see affectionate nudges and teasing, fond provocations, tender mouth clasps or little “kisses” and cuddling. This is what goes on between them when they’re left alone and not having to constantly watch over their shoulders for danger — mostly from dogs. The activity occurs throughout the year, not just during the reproductive season.

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