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 Interrupted

Sirens set this coyote off, with long drawn-out howls and barking, and pauses in-between.  I’ve only included part of the recording here. During one of the last pauses you will hear, unusually, a dog’s response, which surprises the coyote who stops to carefully listen. “What the. . . . . who does he think he is?”  Anyway, the interruption seems to tick off the coyote who throws herself into the next howl with a spirited leap, howls some more, and then hurries off to a place where she might get a view of her competitor. I don’t think she saw anyone. The coyote continued to howl, but the dog did not, and the siren had long since ceased, so things quieted down fairly quickly.

Sniffing For, then Scratching At an Irritant

This fellow had been relaxing when he suddenly bolted up and looked into a neighbor’s yard, then trotted over and stood behind some thick growth and sniffed intently, with his nose high in the air. He spent a full minute doing this, closing his eyes sometimes as if to really savor what might be in the air. He was in an overgrown empty field, and directed his sniffing towards the yard next door where several dogs lived. These dogs were never out of their house without their owners. However, I had seen one come over to the overgrown field to do its business and I had seen this particular coyote sniff out these messes and urinate on top of them. Also, I’ve seen one of the dogs chase this coyote, though not in a very intense manner. These dogs are particularly acute at either hearing or smelling coyotes that come to the property: at the slightest hint that a coyote might be around, one and then all of them will begin barking together. I think there are four dogs who live there, on and off.

On this day, no dogs were around. The coyote sniffed carefully from a long distance away, and then slowly trotted closer to the hedge which divides the properties — yawning on the way over. I think coyotes sometimes yawn to maintain a casual-calm mood for themselves. At the hedge-line, the coyote stopped and stretched its neck up to get a better view. Again, no dogs in sight, and no barking.  So the coyote carefully and slowly entered the yard, walked around casually, found the smell he was looking for, urinated on the spot, and then kicked and scratched that area of ground where he had urinated.  The coyote had probably found a spot where one of the dogs had urinated.  “Take that!” It was one of those “oneupmanship” behaviors directed towards the dogs which have been an irritant to the coyote. When done, the coyote exited the yard and continued trekking through uninhabited areas before disappearing.

No Wiggly Squiggles For Me, by Charles Wood

Mister runs

Monday my leashed dog Holtz and I went into my Los Angeles area coyotes’ field.  A man headed toward the east end of the field with his dinner.  He asked me if the coyotes were still coming in there.  I said they do and that I had seen some last night.  He walked on in and I got settled.  Mister and one of his siblings soon came north towards me.  Mister wasn’t happy and immediately ran towards me.  My friend Lynne and her dog were watching from the bridge.  It unsettles me to see one of my coyotes running towards Holtz and me.  I know they are going to stop short, yet I still feel a little like turning and running.  I wonder if an intruder coyote would turn and run upon seeing Mister’s territorial display.  Mister stopped short, as they all have in the past, and delivered a message.  He hovered over it for a long while and I had thought he was heaping on a lot more.  He wasn’t.  Although his eyes were on my friend, his ears were on Holtz and me, which I think was an interesting choice.

It is hard for me to reconcile Mister’s warning behavior with his rendezvous joy.  Is this tough guy the same coyote that wiggly squiggles with his mom and dad?  He is tough with me.  After giving us his message he ran back south some.  Then he started barking and yipping, doing so until I left.  Meanwhile his companion was hidden.

When I disturb a pair, one typically warns while the other either hides or backs off a bit.  I don’t think the one that doesn’t warn lacks courage.  I think it waits as a reserve force.  I think so because when meeting paired Mom and Dad, they trade off as to who warns and who holds back.  Whether Mom or Dad, the one who warns is probably the one who feels the most irritated by me that day.

Mister dumps

A few years ago I ran into a fellow in a wetlands area.  He told me he had once been surrounded there by eight provocative coyotes near where we were standing.  Feeling uneasy, I asked him what he did to get out of that situation.  He said he picked up some rocks.  I looked around and didn’t see any rocks handy.  I asked him where he got the rocks.  His girlfriend’s jaw dropped, her eyes bugged out and she stepped back.  The fellow’s answer was embarrassed and vague.  I didn’t believe his story.  In fact, in that same general area, I once did happen upon a number of coyotes (I didn’t count them).  One came forward to bark and yip while several waited to its rear.  It was easy to walk away with leashed Holtz and none of the coyotes followed.

I’m not sure who Mister teamed with Monday, its photograph was unclear.  Yet it seemed to have Mister’s lower lip black bubble, which I thought was a trait shared only with Dad.  Yet Mister’s Monday companion almost certainly wasn’t Dad, the size and the eyes weren’t Dad’s.  So who was it?  To confuse me further, the coyote in my April 21 video post I first identified as Bold and subsequently as Mister.  It isn’t Mister, the lower lip isn’t right.  Yet I’m not sure it is Bold either.  Bold’s conformation is superior and the April 21 coyote’s isn’t.  That its body shape was lackluster made me think it Mister, but I missed that the lower lip wasn’t Mister’s.  I wonder if there are four, perhaps five of the seven last year pups still with Mom and Dad.  If there are more than three yearlings in there, I may never really know it to a certainty, and if there are extra yearlings in there, I don’t really know if they are siblings to the others or not.  What I do know is that this group is pretty good at delivering confusion.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

So, There!!

Here is a sequence of events that gets you right into a coyote’s world.

I came down a path to find a coyote high on a rock, carefully watching some dogs and walkers approach. As the dogs and people reached a point where they might have spotted the coyote, the coyote hurried down the rock, waited for a moment and then hurried to behind a bush to hide and wait for the group to pass by — I was impressed with this little coyote’s intelligence and planning. Neither the people nor the dogs saw the coyote at all.

After this group had passed, the coyote scrambled back up to the lookout on the rock, watching this group until they were totally out of sight. A huge yawn and stretch was in order to celebrate the successful evasion. But it was important now for the coyote to “speak its mind”. It trotted down to the path where the group had passed, smelled for the exact location to leave its mark, and pooped. Then it walked a little further, smelled another spot where the group had been and this time urinated on that spot. And that is precisely what this coyote thought of that group.

The history behind this is that this particular group of dogs has continually chased this coyote, and one of the walkers has continually thrown stones at the coyote. So, yes, the coyote avoids them, but feels free to “speak its mind” about them — telling them off in its own way!

No Contest

Sometimes, the best strategy is to lay low, even though you are already as low as you can get. There was a little bit of snapping at the aggressor, but the fellow on the ground opted to stay down. He usually flees or hits the ground when the dominant guy approaches to get a rise out of him. The aggressor soon tired of this and moved away — which is what the underdog wanted!

A Coyote Surprises Me: Coyote behavior

It was a foggy morning. The fog was very dense — so much so that I actually turned off at the wrong intersection on my way to the park: none of the familiar landmarks could be seen. This, on top of the dark dawn hours, made the beginning of the day very mysterious. It was a suitable morning for surprises.

When I reached the park where I was headed, I began walking and recording park sounds. I wondered if the dampness in a dense fog might affect the quality of the sound. Sound travels further, but not as crisply, I think: I say this because this is how the foghorns in our area sound. I stopped a couple of times to record water, birds, and voices in the distance, and then I continued down a very open path — one with no bushes for hundreds of feet.

When I was halfway down this path, I turned around — I think I was expecting some walkers to appear — the same ones whose voices I had heard in the distance. But there, on my path, not more than 40 feet behind me, was a coyote hurrying towards me — a coyote which I am familiar with. I have seen coyotes approach dogs and their walkers in this same way, but I had no dog with me — a coyote has never hurried up to me from behind this way before, so I was surprised. When I turned around and faced it, it stopped.

The coyote had been coming towards me rather purposefully. At first I thought that maybe this was part of its monitoring/patrolling behavior, or that I may have entered its “space” without knowing it. But, this particular coyote has always ignored me — allowing me to observe it from the sidelines. Never, until this day, I thought, had any of its behavior acknowledged me or been directed at me. Other coyotes have watched me, but not this one.

Just then, as I was trying to figure out this behavior, a walker and her very large dog appeared from further back on the path, over the crest of a hill, in back of the coyote — and the dog chased the coyote. Ahh, that was it — the coyote had been actually evading this dog, hurrying ahead of it, on the same path I was on. The owner was able to call her dog back, but the coyote wanted it known that it didn’t want to be chased or interfered with, so the coyote returned back after the dog in an antagonistic and defensive posture: crouched, hackles up, and teeth bared. The dog again chased it off and this time the coyote headed away, hurrying into the distance.

At the same time, two other beautifully sleek, young adult coyotes appeared and sat in the distance — these are all part of one family group. I walked in their direction. As I got closer, they walked towards me and stopped — they’ve done this once before, looking at me curiously — maybe assessing me — there was definitely a questioning aspect to their stance. I have photographed these two, not too often, but often enough to feel that my respect for their wildness and their space has led to a returned respect which warranted them not fleeing.  I took a few photos in the fog, and then both coyotes, as the first one, hurried off as they heard more human voices coming down the path.

** IF A COYOTE COMES TOO CLOSE FOR YOUR COMFORT, it is important to know how to ward the coyote off. Flail your arms, make yourself big, and make sharp noises, facing the coyote. The coyote is no match for a human and will most likely flee. Statistically, coyotes are not a danger to humans. However, it is important to remember that they are wild — so, for your own feeling of safety it is important to keep them at a safe distance.

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