An Eye-Opening Revelation

It’s true that coyotes have chased dogs, but almost always this occurs after the coyote was chased first. To most people, a dog chasing a coyote looks much like a dog chasing another dog, or a dog chasing a squirrel. It looks like a game.

Focused-in closer, it looks like a terrorized coyote running away from danger more often than a game. Wild-animals instinctively know that any injury could compromise their ability to hunt and fend for themselves, and therefore their survival: fleeing from possible harm for them could be a matter of life or death.

Fortunately, coyotes are smart, and they are quick: most can get away. Nevertheless, energy expenditure during an attempted escape is enormous, and not something any animal wants to put up with.

In the case I’m depicting here, the owner had been playing tennis, with his dog sitting there calmly on the court with him. When the owner noticed a coyote beyond the court on a hill, he went over to take a photo, which attracted the dog’s attention to the coyote. In a flash, the dog was after that coyote.

They ran zig-zag all over the steep incline, through uneven piles of brush and wood-piles. It was not an easy chase for either of them. One false move — a misplaced step in a hole or on a sharp stick — and the threatening dog could tear into the wild animal, whereas the dog probably didn’t comprehend the chase as anything more than a game. The dog could stop whenever he wanted. Coyotes being very light-boned, sinewy, stream-lined and lithe can handle steep inclines and debris better than dogs who are more muscle-bound and heavier, and lead a more indoor life. The heavier dog wore out first, and it is at that point that the owner was able to finally grab his evasive and excited dog.

Notice that the coyote’s tail is tucked deep under and his hackles are up, his ears are back and he’s carrying himself low: he’s running scared.

I spoke to the owner after the event. He told me he had feared for the life of his dog as he tried to recall his dog, a 70 pound solid-looking dog. I told him that, in fact, his dog could have killed that little 25 pound coyote. The surprised owner opened his eyes wide: “Oh!” He hadn’t thought of that: it made immense sense to him and he wanted to know more. It was not the answer he was expecting — in fact, it was indeed an eye-opening revelation to him.

He had heard only that coyotes attack dogs. I gave the owner the link to the video, Coyotes As Neighbors, and when I next saw him he told me that his view of coyotes had changed. Now we have someone else onboard to help us spread information about coexistence: Yes, you must keep your pets away from coyotes for TWO reasons: to protect your pet, and to protect the coyote. Leashing the dog when coyotes are around is the best way to accomplish this.

Fleeing From Father

I’m trying to get a handle on a family where the youngster is never present. The parents’ daytime resting time is almost always in close proximity to each other, either in an open field or under cover of some forest edge habitat. Even when I can’t see them, I can tell they are fairly close together because when a siren whizzes by, they respond by yipping which reveals their proximate locations.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the youngster — and with the parental relationship with him — because I seldom see the youngster. Until today. Today I watched this youngster out in the unhidden open. What a rare treat! He did not immediately flee to the underbrush the minute he saw a person (me), but rather allowed me to spend time observing. He just sat there and looked around from his safe-zone in the far distance where I know he stays, but this time he wasn’t concealed behind bushes and thickets.

Soon he got up to go: he stretched and yawned, and obviously was at ease, even though a person was observing him. He looked at me, but basically went about his business. He casually walked off, and then started descending a hill when suddenly he stopped cold, did a quick about-face, and headed up the hill in a hurry, lickety-split. He stopped to look back once and then disappeared over the crest of the hill. I looked down the hill to find out what he might be running from and was surprised to see his father staring at him. Hmmm. Instead of running towards each other for a happy greeting, the youngster was running away with trepidation!

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Had there been an altercation earlier? Might one of these coyotes have secretly taken and reburied a food cash that belonged to the other? Might there have been an issue with insubordination? Might lessons about territoriality and not crossing boundaries have been involved, or even safety issues about remaining away from dogs? Might the firm establishment of a hierarchical order be involved? Or, highly unlikely, might this have been the beginnings of an early dispersal process? I’ve never seen a coyote dispersed under one year of age here in San Francisco, but I’ve heard it alluded to. The bullying that precedes dispersal may go on for months before the youngster decides to take off for a better life elsewhere. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to see coyote family behaviors from this distant fella. We’ll see what happens.

Youngster Makes a Quick Dashaway

The youngster in the middle here is a seven-month old male pup. He’s on good terms with both his parents. He greets both parents, and then Dad, to the left, “puts the youngster down.”

Dad has been out of commission for several days, at least during my observations, due to an injury he sustained either from an aggressive dog or possibly from a fight with a raccoon: his face and head have lacerations, and he limps on both his left legs. I’ve noticed that injured coyotes lay low for a while. Because of his recent absence, he may have a need to re-establish his position in the family hierarchy, which may be why he puts this pup down. The youngster submits easily.

Mom is to the right. She has just finished a pretty amazing harsh attack on this youngster’s female sibling.  Is this youngster fearful of the same punishment which has just been dished out to his sister?

Hide N’Go Seek

I became aware of a group of dogs and their walkers only when this coyote kept looking up in their direction. As the group approached, the coyote moved several times to better and better vantage points, but did not head off. As they got closer, the coyote moved over to patch of grass.  He nibbled the grass, almost as a distraction to himself, as he continued to watch the approach of the dog walking group. Was he getting nervous? One might have thought that the coyote would have hurried off rather than stick around. But no — curiosity can be powerful! Finally, when the group was about at the point where they would have been able to see him, the coyote bounded out of sight and out of harms way to a hiding place, where he remained until they passed.

Having avoided detection, and still wanting to watch them, he now ascended to another lookout, one from which he could make an easy getaway should that need arise. He still kept watching them! Was he testing his luck, or testing his ability to not be seen? They continued their walk, descending a path that circled around, and the coyote ran to the other side of the rocks to watch them as they went. The coyote remained undetected until the very end — almost. When the walkers entered a wooded area they could no longer be seen — all except an unruly dog who was lagging far behind. This dog had her eyes and nose out for the coyote — there have been plenty of previous chases by this one. Having caught whiff of the coyote, the dog went after it, and that is when the coyote finally split for good. The chase occurred  unbeknownst to the owner who had walked on ahead. I later told her about it.

Unleashed Dog Ahead

This coyote was hoping to slither quietly along without being detected when, directly ahead, there appeared an unleashed dog. You can read what the coyote is thinking through its posture, eyes and ear positions. The dog does not see the coyote at first, and continues to play with its owner. By standing or sitting very still, coyotes often can evade detection by those who are occupied doing other things. But the dog does finally glimpse the coyote, and when he does, he goes after it.

Coyotes don’t always just flee. Sometimes they will stand up for themselves when they are chased by engaging in a long, distressed barking session, or by chasing back. In this case, the coyote just wanted to escape the dog, and it did so by speedily dashing away and then ducking into a thicket of underbrush. The dog could not follow, so he returned to its owner.

Push-Pull of Wind-Buffeted Palms

The wind was pretty strong when this coyote stopped at a palm tree where the fronds were whipping around strongly. The coyote was startled and scared, jumping several feet, and then fleeing, but only a few feet. Curiosity was stronger than the fear, because the coyote returned again and again with the same response. Slowly the coyote calmed down, and just watched for a few minutes, and then trotted off on its merry way. This is a young coyote, still learning about the world. It was fun to watch and reminded me of an incident with my own dog.

My dog, a large 96 pound lab-mix was not by any means a fearful dog. However, on one of our normal everyday walks, on the planted space adjacent to a sidewalk, someone had placed two life-sized ceramic geese. They must have looked pretty real and been somewhat scary, because my dog went up very carefully, stalking and walking low, and absolutely ready to flee. These geese were not even moving. But my dog approached, growling and ran back. Then he did it again, and then again. There was a NEED to approach, yet a fear. This was the exact same behavior as the coyote when it reacted to the palm fronds whipping around in the wind.

Curiosity vs. Fleeing

Coyotes generally prefer not to be seen. However, they also can be quite curious which at times overrides their shyness. I think both of these tendencies, curiosity and shyness, are always present in a coyote, but sometimes one is stronger than the other. If you happen to see a coyote, you can be sure that it saw you. It might stop to examine you or your dog, especially if you have stopped to look at it. It is probably best, if you have a dog, to always keep moving on — all interactions between coyotes and dogs should be avoided in order to avert future problem interactions. Here are three examples of coyote encounters I have had:

I was alone when one coyote came in my direction. It stopped when it saw me and placed its front paws on a rock to lift itself so that it could see me better. I stopped to watch it and I was very still — it was probably curious because of my own stillness. This stillness often increases a coyote’s curiosity: it wants to know what you are doing and where you are going, and it can’t figure these out when you are still! The coyote did not hang around long, just long enough to get a good look.

In a second example, the set of two coyotes, pictured above, had been fleeing from a group of dog walkers when they happened in my direction. Again, I was alone and very still as I watched them — they approached a short distance to look at me. At the same time, they kept their attention mainly on the dog group which was coming in their direction.  Dogs have often chased coyotes, so the coyotes often are wary and defensive against dogs, especially the more active dogs. As the dog walkers approached, the coyotes fled.

In my third example, I saw a coyote which was very shy. It saw me walking on a path. Without stopping, it hopped up on a rock to get a better view of me. I continued walking. I could see that this coyote was uncomfortable that it had been seen. It did not stay to examine me, but fled very quickly and I did not see it again.

Please keep your dogs leashed in a coyote area. Please see the posting at the head of this blog: safety measures for keeping a coyote from coming too close. Coyotes in our parks have never come up to humans, though they have approached some of the dogs. Please keep a safe distance for your own, your dog’s and the coyote’s safety.

Experts at Eluding Detection: Coyote behavior

I keep my eyes open for wildlife — this is where my focus is, so I have become pretty good at catching what someone else might miss. Today I spotted a coyote on a path — pretty visible right in the open — but it was gone in the blink of an eye. The minute it knew it had been seen, it immediately was absolutely and totally GONE. It had bounced, like a rabbit, into some underbrush, and although I thought I might be able to see it again, I did not. The day before I was able to make out two ears way up ahead on the horizon with the sun coming from that direction — visibility was bad. When I got there, no critter was to be seen anywhere until with much effort I was able to detect a slight movement off to the side. It was the coyote, well camouflaged behind some thorny underbrush. I had only an instant to look, before it was off and gone.

Coyotes are often not seen by walkers: they easily elude detection, even if you are looking for one. I have seen many walkers not see one that crossed very close in front of them! Of course, at other times you might see one wandering boldly on an open path, totally unconcerned, and it might turn around and examine you out of curiosity. Or you might see one surveying the area from a lookout. There are no generalities with coyotes.

Fleeing from a Mountain Biker

I came across a young coyote sitting in a field, facing a small path. I sat down to watch for a few moments. Suddenly, and quietly, a biker on his large, very bright yellow mountain bike came up the winding dirt path. The bright colors of the biker and bike were in complete contrast to all the other outdoor colors that one would find in a natural setting: the bike clashed with the environment. The coyote immediately took off at a high speed run — really flying with both feet off the ground — into the distance, about 120 feet away. Here it stayed and watched until the biker had passed through. Interestingly, once the coyote was far enough away, it did not slither into the underbrush, but turned around to watch the biker. This may be because the coyote was aware that the biker was not pursuing it and probably had not even seen it. People very often do not notice a coyote, even one that is only a short distance in front of them — I think we humans have our minds on other things. When I spoke to the biker, he told me that he had not seen the coyote.

Another interesting thing about this particular incident is that shortly after the biker passed, who should appear on the scene but mom coyote. Had she been watching the entire time? When the young coyote saw her, it bounded up to her, and they both proceeded slowly across the field, looking for gophers until they disappeared from my view into a thicket area.

Like Mother/Like Pup: Coyote behavior

Today I saw a coyote which I know to be nine or ten months old — this is full grown in coyote terms. Coyotes at this age are ready to move out on their own if they want, though some wait another year, or even remain with the family. I have observed this one’s mother over a long period of time, and now I’m seeing some interesting similarities and differences between the mother and this pup. I’ve seen no real behavioral similarities between this mother and her other pups. I have not seen the mother and pups together recently, nor have I seen the mother in a while.

In the early morning at first, as usual, I saw no coyotes. But then one was suddenly there where none had been. It was in the exact spot that its mother used to hang out to watch the world, sometimes for almost an hour. This one appeared to be following in its mother’s footsteps: it sat on a little knoll, at a safe distance, where it kept its lookout in several directions: up above there would be unleashed dogs and walkers, down below there would be unleashed dogs and walkers, and then there I was, on the same middle ground as the coyote but a ways off to the side.

The coyote never lay down, as its mother would have, but remained sitting upright. And it was on edge, I could tell, because the part of its body which was in contact with the ground was twitching: so the coyote was alert and ready, though it appeared pretty calm. As a dog — a dog which frequently chases coyotes — and walker passed on the far upper path, the coyote remained still and seated, only turning its head to observe.  And, again, as a man with his three dogs — non-chasers — walked on the path below, the coyote remained seated upright, but watchful. The coyote allowed me, off to the side, to take some photos in the bad light. I had seen the mom with a couple of her pups in this same spot once before for a short duration, but this is the first time I had seen this young coyote imitating its mother in this way.

“Observing” at this same location would have been a taught/learned/imitated behavior. But there also must be a predisposition to do so. Like mother, like pup? This coyote is the leader of its sibling. Is it destined to become a dominant one?

More loud walkers could be heard from below, and when the coyote saw them, it headed off, slipping into the brush area. But it reappeared again shortly thereafter, further along in a quiet area of the park, and began to forage — keeping me in sight but pretty much ignoring me. And then, with me not too far off and in plain sight, similar to its mother, it curled up on the ground by a tree. I, of course, took photos.

The biggest difference that I have seen between this coyote and its mother is that this one is much more ready to flee from humans and dogs — active humans and dogs — and has a much longer critical distance it keeps from them  – this difference may simply have to do with this one’s young age and inexperience. And the difference may also have to do with the fact that the mother is a mother. Motherhood brings with it dominance and leadership: one can sense that this is HER park — her territory — from the way she sits, from the way she interacts with other coyotes (the few times I have seen this), and from the way she expresses her dominance to the dogs that chase her: she does not just flee, but stands her ground. She has been dubbed “bold”.

The younger coyote, on the other hand, is much more careful and is always ready to flee — it would not, at this stage, stand up to another dog, nor stand its ground if it were chased. It would have fled rather than confront or offer resistance. However, this one has followed a couple of dogs (leashed dogs or dogs that don’t chase)  and their walkers, for a short distance off to the side of the path: this coyote has shown curiosity. Is it learning to become bold?

Most dogs are pretty keen on coyote scent, but they sometimes can’t figure out the time frame: they know the coyote has been around, but they really can’t tell if it just passed by or if it is still in the area. I know this, because some of these dogs would like nothing better than to chase — they only turn away because they think the coyote has already gone. I observed this today with this coyote.

Defensive, Dominant or Aggressive: Coyote Reactions to Dogs

I’ve realized recently that the coyote reactions to dogs which I have written about involved mostly a dominant female coyote — a mother of pups. I need to distinguish between various individual coyote reactions to dogs which deviate from those of a dominant female. The dominant female with pups will always have the severest reactions to dogs — defensive reactions and controlling reactions. Most coyotes have milder reactions to dogs. Several distinctions might be useful.

1) Almost all coyotes will “flee” from humans. Coyotes do not want to tangle with humans. Humans are larger and more intelligent than coyotes, so invariably when the two approach in the same vicinity, the coyote will run off. I have never seen a coyote not run off when a person walks toward it. Approaching a coyote defiantly and noisily will make it leave faster. Most coyotes will also flee from dogs that run after them.

2) I have seen a coyote approach a dog on a path non-antagonistically if the dog has been previously seen by the coyote as fairly benign: the coyote may be curious. If a coyote approaches a leashed dog, please know that it is the dog, and not the human, which is attracting the coyote, and the approach may be antagonistically motivated. It could be that a dominant female coyote feels a particular dog is a threat — it appears almost always to be a dog she has seen before and evaluated. The dog may be one who pulls at the leash, or looks at the coyote defiantly or maybe it has chased the coyote in the past. The dog owner may be seen only as a minor deterrence to the coyote’s approaching. The coyote will approach with a dominance display, described below. A human can get the coyote to leave by facing the coyote and flailing his arms and making loud, sharp noises, such as clapping or shaking a can with bolts in it. HOWEVER, whether a coyote is in the distance or approaching or already close by, it is always best to leash and WALK away from it: utter and complete avoidance is always the safest policy.

3) “Defensive” means that an animal will protect itself when it is attacked or feels threatened. A coyote might begin by fleeing from a dog which goes after it, and when unable to get away, it goes into a defensive mode. Or, it may just stand its ground without fleeing: in this case it is just standing up for itself and is not going to be pushed around. Most animals will try to defend themselves at some point when others intrude upon them, and we all expect this. I’ve seen a gopher bite a coyote back, even though there was no hope. He was fighting for his life, but it was a defensive fight, not an aggressive one. The coyote’s defensive behavior towards dogs involves a dominance display, then a charge-and-retreat sequence, and ultimately a nipping at the haunches of the dog to get it to leave, much as a cattle dog does.

4) A “Dominance display” can be distinguished from aggression. It is more about “bluff” and “show” and is used to impart a message. It lets dogs know — dogs who are perceived as a threat to a coyote, such as active dogs or dogs who have chased — that they are not welcomed or liked by the coyote. It looks very much like the defensive behavior, which also might begin as a display, except it is initiated by a coyote as a message to the dog, usually because of previous negative encounters, be they overt chases, or simply messages imparted by body language and eye contact. We humans are simply not in tune to a lot of canine communication behavior.

Bluffing displays are used to dissuade and move other animals in hopes of averting a fight that might actually cause injury. We’ve all seen dominant dogs: they want it to be known that they think of themselves as “top-dog” by displaying their bigness and ferocity. They do this by standing up straight with their head high, raising their hackles, maybe growling, not wagging their tail or wagging it stiffly, looking down on the other animal, etc.

A dominance display is a warning — all dogs can read this. The dog is not only saying “don’t mess with me”, but maybe expecting its will to be the controlling factor — for instance, it may want a hyperactive dog to calm down. The dominant coyote behavior I have seen is more pronounced than dog dominance displays, after all, coyotes are fairly small animals and need to appear much more fierce and scary to have the same effect. It appears unprovoked to us humans — but often is provoked in subtle ways by the dog’s behavior which we humans seldom are aware of. The display serves as a clear message to ward off a dog: “go away” or “don’t mess with me.”

5) Coyotes in our parks are seldom outright aggressive towards dogs. We normally think of an “aggressive” animal as one who will actually attack without provocation — it just doesn’t like the other guy, and may not like most other guys. There is less of a message than an attack, though the attack itself leaves a message. Coyotes are not known to be aggressive. However, it is the exceptions you want to be prepared for, even though statistically this is so rare that these are seen as anomalies. We have learned that the few aggressive encounters between coyotes and humans have almost always been preceded by humans feeding them. I have never seen an aggressive coyote of this sort. For safety’s sake, please, never, ever feed wildlife. The closest looking thing to an aggressive coyote that I have seen is one defending itself from a dog — see the defensive photo above.

Please see posting of  December 7th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “ANOTHER reaction to dogs”, November 17th: “More reactions to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge”.  Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3. Blatant Visual Message to Newcomer Dog of 2/9/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” of 2/4/10.

Fleeing: Coyote behavior

In contrast to the dominant coyote in the previous posting which felt secure enough to sit out in the open while watching and assessing the walkers and dogs in a park, this coyote here immediately became alert when it heard dogs and humans approaching in the distance. When I first saw it, it was walking as if it needed to get away. It was on the move and very aware of “danger” to itself from the possibility of a human or a dog encounter.  It didn’t seem to be headed in any particular direction, rather, it was assessing its immediate options for fleeing: looking around in a nervous sort of way for escape routes and for exactly where the “danger” was. It climbed up on a rock for a better view, but it could not see any more than when it had been on the ground. As the noisy group of dogs and walkers came down a main path, several hundred feet away from the coyote, the coyote suddenly dashed, swoosh, into a dense brush area where no dogs or humans could follow. I did not see it again. None of the humans saw it, and if a dog saw it, it did not go after the fleeing coyote. I noted that this coyote was visible for less than 4 minutes.

This particular coyote has always reacted to human and dog sounds in the manner described here. Although it has allowed itself to be seen for a few moments, it always has dashed off shortly thereafter. The behavior is consistent for this particular coyote and cannot be generalized to all coyotes. Each coyote is different. Each coyote is an individual. The same is true for the “monitoring” behavior of the coyote I posted below: that coyote is consistent with itself. It will also flee when it needs to, but it has a predominant need to “check things out”, which requires it to be out in the open more.