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.

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