A Mated Pair’s Routine Evening


Not all coyotes are experiencing the intense drama you’ve been reading in some of my recent postings. Some have been leading calm and routine existences, without notable incidents except for dogs, and here’s such an example I observed last month.

I find the female snoozing in a large field. Eventually, slowly, she gets up and stretches and wanders off, foraging as she goes. The evening looks to be a very routine one, which is what I want to post here. Soon a siren sounds. She sits down and begins her yipping in response, and then her mate joins in, even as he is hidden from view in the close-by thicket edging the field.

He emerges from the thicket as their chorus ends and looks around until he spots her. Ahhh, there she is! He does a lot of marking and looking around, and both coyotes continue foraging, maintaining a substantial distance between themselves. He keeps glancing over at her, more than usual because it’s mating season — his protective and possessive instincts are in overdrive.

Here she is looking back adoringly at him

Dogs are always around in this park, and today is no exception. During mating and then pupping seasons, coyotes are particularly protective of themselves and their mates or families, so it’s important to keep dogs away from them. This is easy to do: the minute you see a coyote, shorten your leash and walk the other way.

A small unleashed dog appears in the not-far distance coming in the direction of the male who, therefore, kicks dirt. Kicking dirt shows he doesn’t like the situation, that he’s angry. Nevertheless, he moves off and out of the dog and walker’s way. But when the dog, who had been oblivious to the coyote finally sees the coyote, he runs several feet towards the coyote and starts barking. This all takes place at a distance of about 100 feet. The coyote turns around to face the barking dog and begins walking in their direction: the coyote is responding to the dog’s challenge. I ask the owner to leash, and they head the other way. Note that it would have been a much calmer situation had the owner leashed the minute she saw the coyotes and simply walked on. The coyotes continue on their way with the male sniffing and marking the ground continually.

Kicking dirt shows he doesn’t like the situation with the dog approaching, nevertheless, he moves away  and out of the dog and walker’s way.

Soon, the female stops foraging and heads off on a path and the male follows not far behind, continually marking. They walk more parallel than together.

When they reached a larger field within the park, the female somehow captures a bird within the blink of an eye. I’ve seen coyotes catch birds a number of times, and its almost always an injured bird on the ground. This seems to have been what happened here because she expended no effort in the process. She begins devouring it right away. The male, forever curious about everything the female does, comes towards her to investigate. Ahhh, she knows about his tricks (he has taken things she dropped) and so she walks away from him as she finishes off the bird.

As the duo continue foraging in the grass, another dog — a leashed one this time — approaches closer and closer, so, of course, the coyote messages the dog to keep away. I explain the behavior to the dog owner, and that it’s best not to ever approach them. The dog owner is understanding and goes the other way. These messages always look scary and aggressive: it’s meant to be in order to be effective. Note that coyotes really don’t want to tangle with dogs, but if a dog comes after them, they’ll defend themselves. However if you walk away, they become assured that you aren’t after them. So you need to heed their message and go the other way. Actually, you should not walk in their direction to begin with. Here is a photo sequence of this messaging:

The coyotes keep moving along. They have a direction in mind — it’s one of several paths they routinely take as they head out trekking for the evening. But soon they stop: half a dozen people and dogs are lingering on their intended pathway, so now the two coyotes find a place to hunker down and wait-it-out until the path is clear. The coyotes are in no hurry and they know from experience that, as dusk thickens, dogs and people disperse. When it is clear, they move on.

Everyone who sees them this evening appreciates them sitting and waiting so patiently on the hill above the path. One set of dogs barks and lunges at them ferociously, but they are leashed and far enough away so that the coyotes don’t react. One set of runners goes by without even seeing them. When it is dark and the path is clear, they slowly get up and descend into the forest and then out into the ‘hood.

There’s always drama in coyote lives, but sometimes it’s in routine packets and not life-altering as in some of my other recent posts. The everyday life of a coyote is a pageant full of activity, emotion, tension, suspense: i.e., a true melodrama.

What Would Be The Outcome In a Coyote/German Shepherd Altercation? by Charles Wood

Folks have worried about what might happen if their dog and a coyote were to confront each other: what would the outcome of a fight be? The question, “Who would win in a fight between a German Shepherd and a coyote?”, was posed on a forum on Quora, and answered by Charles Wood, who has given me permission to republish it here. His answer to the question:

There wouldn’t be a fight, generally speaking. Let me show you why I say so.

Here’s what is a stake for the coyote when a German Shepard Dog gets interested in a coyote.

Here’s team Mom and Dad coyote. That’s Mom at the left of the frame. Big. Irritable, look at her ear, end stage otitis I believe.

Here’s Dad charging my dog and me. Yeah, its a bluff and we were on the other side of a chain link fence.

Now, the following photograph, I did not take, it was taken by a friend of mine, Janet Kessler in a San Francisco park.

[Edit: I want to emphasize that the dog pictured above was not injured. It returned to its owner, was put back on its leash, its owner talked to Janet, and then went home with a good education. Janet Kessler is all about education.]

Coyotes have skin in the game. That particular German Shepard-ish Dog is someone’s pet. It lives in one world. Coyotes live in the real world and take care of real business every day. In the above photo, no real dirty work was required. The German Shepard-ish Dog is a pet and totally out of its element. I’m talking typically. The above shot was part of a series. The other shots showed a chase and some maneuvers. The coyote danced its way into the position we see. The coyote has practiced all its life on this stuff. It isn’t like in a dog park.

Generally, although a German Shepard Dog has the weight advantage, coyotes with their experience and situational intelligence have a considerable advantage over a German Shepard Dog. The dog pictured has never seen real action. Nor has it really seen a very motivated opponent. The stuff dogs argue about? Who gets to keep the ball. Coyotes can puff up and make themselves look way bigger than their average of about 26 to 30 pounds out here in the West. There’s no hint of play in their demeanor when their family’s safety is at stake. I think it is safe to say that because of the size of a German Shepherd Dog, coyotes don’t want to eat it. They don’t rank it as prey, it’s an interloper. Coyotes deal with interlopers a lot. That pictured dog? He’s getting it in gear to run away at full speed. He’s a real chicken, and needs to be. He tried to pick on someone smaller, and he got told.

Coyotes intrude on each other’s territory all the time. They test one another looking for fun or for the chance of a gain. At stake is their food, their mate, and their children. I’ve read from studies that unlike wolves, coyotes have one coyote defend their territory. Wolves I’ve read just kill intruders. Coyotes? Their strategy is to give an intruder a thrashing. Enough so that an intruder won’t forget. With my coyotes, Mom was there as backup and Dad did the work.

Here’s a real contender. Note it looks like he had lost an eye, maybe in a fight. He’s in his prime, and he hooked up for life with one of Mom and Dad’s daughters. After he came on the scene, I didn’t see Mom and Dad again. They had grown old and had aches and pains. The last time I looked, a few years ago, it seemed that not much was known about coyote inter-generational transfers of territory. In this one observation of mine, it looked pretty ugly.

And in urban and suburban settings, coyotes don’t want a fight. They huff, puff, and bluff to warn an intruder away. And they will run away. That can be a rope a dope, a run for a better site for parrying, or to keep on distracting a dog until it gets worn out. They don’t want contact. They don’t want to be injured. But a dog? They tire sooner, or get called back by their owner. The dogs don’t know the territory as intimately as a coyote has to know its own territory. For a pet dog, they just don’t have game. The coyotes I’ve seen seem to have most dogs figured out. To a wild coyote, a dog in coyote territory acts untutored in the ways of the wild.

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

[Note from Janet: The Shepherd could sustain a nip to the haunches if he were persistent in going after the coyote. Note that the nip is a reinforcing *message* to the dog to “leave me alone and get out of here”. It is not meant to maim the dog.]

Pups

I literally stumbled upon a family greeting/meeting during my evening walk a couple of days ago. I had been photographing a 1 to 2 year old female who was mozeying along a trail, minding her own business, pouncing for gophers of which she caught several which she wolfed down, and then she diverted into a pathless forested area.

I remained on the path but peeked over a hedge in her direction, only to find an adult who may have been Mom (or possibly a babysitter yearling), and a pup — pups here in San Francisco are about 6 weeks old now — who had emerged to greet the approaching yearling female. The female approaching did so in a crouched position, which messaged a non-threatening subordinate status. I took a couple of quick photos (which revealed the pup to be a male), and immediately began retracing my steps out of the area. These coyotes withdrew into the bushes due to my presence in order not to reveal any of their additional *secrets*.

As I was distancing myself, Dad appeared, and he wasn’t too happy about what he knew to be the discovery of his family’s hiding place. Dads spend much of their time protecting their den areas and scaring off trespassers. They hope that their mere presence will serve as a deterrent, and indeed, that should be enough. I continued distancing myself, keeping my eye on Dad. Dad messaged me his concern with a few grunts, in addition to his presence, as he watched me leave.

The gophers caught by the yearling might have been for the pup. Yearlings are older siblings to the new pups — they are from the previous, and even previous to that, year’s litter, so they are either one or two years old. They are the “aunties” and help provide for the new litter. Only one or two yearlings, if any, normally stick around like this, the rest of the youngsters from those previous litters “disperse” out of the area to make their own way in the world. A number of San Francisco’s dispersed youngsters last year were tracked as far south as Los Gatos — that’s 60 miles south — all of these were eventually killed by cars. Cars are the primary killers of dispersing coyotes: these coyotes are young and have had very little experience with the extreme dangers of automobiles.


Now might be a good time to review etiquette for coyote encounters, especially during pupping season:

The Golden Standard, and the safest and most effective option, especially when walking your dog, is simple and complete avoidance. Whether you see a coyote in the distance, at mid-distance, approaching you, or if you are surprised by the sudden appearance of one at close-range, shorten your leash and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement — and continue walking away. IF you make a personal decision to shoo it away, please follow the guidelines in the video, How to Shoo Off A Coyote”, but know that this is engagement. What’s safest is simple and complete avoidance.

Coyotes are territorial. Coyotes are possessive. This is no different from you in your home: you don’t allow outsiders to come wandering through, and if you see someone suspicious in the neighborhood you may follow that someone to make sure he/she leaves. This is what coyotes do in the only effective way they can: they repulse with their scary “Halloween cat like stance”, they may follow an intruder out of their area, or or they may nip the haunches of the dog they want to move on and away. They want you to leave, so why not do it?! For more information, see How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

This is how pint-size coyote pups look right now, mid-May, at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

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.

“Messaging” May Include Growling

Coyotes live in all of our parks, and they can be seen on the streets sometimes. So always remain vigilant when out walking your dog. If you see a coyote, keep away from it. Most of the time coyotes will flee as they see you coming, but sometimes they may not, and I want to address this potentiality here. The safest protocol always is to shorten your leash and walk the other way, no matter how far or near a coyote is. This sends a signal to the coyote that you and your dog are not there to challenge the coyote’s personal or territorial space.

If you see a coyote while walking your dog, shorten your leash and go the other way.

Coyotes are territorial animals. They don’t allow coyotes other than family members into their territories unless they’re maybe just passing through. The good news about this is that territoriality keeps the coyote population down naturally in any particular area. You and your leashed dog should just keep walking on and away from the coyote — just passing through.

Coyotes and dogs know how to read each other on a level that we humans are not very tuned into: the same thing occurs between dogs: one twitched facial muscle reveals their position to other dogs.  So, when walking your dog, please don’t stop and allow this communication to take place or be acted upon — just keep walking away, dragging your dog after you if you must, showing the coyote that you have no interest in her/him.

If for some reason you find yourself closer to a coyote than you should be and the coyote growls at your dog — know that this is a warning message meant to keep your dog from coming closer: “please stay away from me”, “please don’t come closer”, “please go away”.  It may be set off by the dog being in, or heading for, the coyote’s personal or territorial space, and/or may involve negative communication between the animals. It is not necessarily an indication that it’s “an aggressive coyote”, rather,  it’s more likely to be “defensive” behavior aimed at making the dog keep its distance or leave. Please heed the message!  Coyotes and dogs generally do not like each other. Every coyote I know has been chased multiple times by dogs, and they remember this and are ready for the next time, or the next dog. You can prevent this message from escalating by shortening your leash and walking away — this shows the coyote you aren’t a threat, and the coyote will learn this.

If you have a dog, always walk away from a coyote, dragging your dog if you have to.

This also holds true for when you are in your car with a dog. If close enough, the coyote might growl if he/she perceives your dog — who is usually hanging out the window and staring or even barking — as a territorial or personal threat. It’s best to drive on rather than allow visual communication between your dog and a coyote.

A coyote who is walking towards you, again is messaging you more than anything else: making sure you are aware of its presence so that you and your dog will know he/she is there, i.e., that the territory is taken, and possibly even assessing if the dog will come after it. There’s an aspect of curiosity here, but it’s more investigative. Again, just walk away, and keep walking away with your short-leashed dog in-tow, even if the coyote follows you for a little bit.

Prevention is always the best policy, and that involves keeping your distance. Once your dog and a coyote have engaged, you’ll have to try your best to pull your dog away and then keep moving away from the coyote. Scare tactics — such as making eye-contact, lunging at (without getting close), clapping and shouting aggressively at a coyote — do not always work. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the video at the top of this blog: Coyotes As Neighbors: what to know and do, but know that it’s best to practice utter prevention proactively than to reactively have to scare off a coyote who comes too close.

Here is a concise flyer on  How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

[These guidelines are the most effective, and the safest I have seen, based on my daily observations of interactions between coyotes, dogs and people in our parks over the past 11 years]

Shy Mom – Brave Mom, by Charles Wood

Janet’s post from May 4th reminded me of my Mom coyote from about 7 years ago. Janet noted that it took courage for her coyote to message a dog that in the past had chased that coyote. I agree.

My mom coyote was shy when I first ran into her. She had shown herself to me and my dog Holtz as we wandered around in her territory. I didn’t know how to communicate with Mom coyote and had some vague hope that we would become friends. She showed herself and so I decided to sit down. I did sit down and so did Mom. She seemed pleased that I had sat. However, being friends wasn’t in the cards.

Shy Mom


The Shy Mom photo is her at what turned out to be an easy entrance to her den area. She chose to stand her ground where pictured, barring Holtz and my progress into the brush. We moved toward her. She went back into the brush. I couldn’t see where she was so I went forward. She came out as soon as we stepped forward. That was a message that was clear and I left.

Mom – Braver


Later I thought I had such a good picture. I was close up to her and there was a lot of detail in it. I carefully edited it as it appears in this post. What I edited out of the photo was something it took me a couple years to notice. I had edited out her full breasts and swollen nipples. I hadn’t looked carefully. Once I did look, it fully explained to me the reason she had barred the path to her den area. Yet she had been so polite. She wouldn’t make eye contact, instead averted her eyes. Previously she would shadow us and occasionally stand out nervously in the open for a while. I decided she was terminally shy.

Brave Mom

A few months later Mom became brave. With Holtz by my side and separated from Mom by a chain link fence, Mom came up to us and did a number. Then she showed us how fit and brave she was. After that day, going just by my percepts, she was no longer shy with Holtz and me. After that day Mom gave us more of the same and then some. I couldn’t help but interpret her change in behavior as her change in mind and spirit when around us. Being friends, of course, was not in the cards that Nature dealt us.

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

Coyote Uses Her Wits To Escape From A Dog

In this video, a coyote who begins her evening trekking routine, is spotted by a dog and harassed. After sprinting to escape him, she uses her wits to avoid a face-to-face confrontation. Although the dog may look as though he’s close to the coyote’s size, the dog easily outweighs her in heft by about double.

I have read where, to escape from pursuing wolves (which weigh two to three times as much as a coyote), coyotes will run up and down hills. A coyote is light, so running up a hill doesn’t take nearly as much effort for them as for a wolf. The wolf, who needs to expend much more energy going up the hill, wears out quickly and soon gives up the chase. Coyotes are able to figure this out and use hills strategically for their advantage.

Please also note that, although the coyote was able to wear out the dog totally, it also was exhausting for the coyote. She collapsed in the grass for a long time in order to recover. This amounts to harassment of wildlife and is actually illegal. Please don’t allow your dogs to chase our urban coyotes!.

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