“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!.

An “Object of Interest”: Territorial Behavior

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Coyotes ignore most dogs passing through their territories if the passing-through is done calmly, without getting too close to the coyote, and without paying the coyotes any heed. I spoke about “motion-reactivity” in my last posting. In this posting I’d like to address a dog’s zeroing-in on a coyote — making the coyote “an object of interest”.

A coyote may respond to this by assuming that, “If I’m an object of interest to you, that spells possible danger to me — a threat”. The perceived threat is particularly true in coyotes’ regular-use areas. In the wild it would occur if the onlooker were “after” the coyote in some way, either a predator or a competitor for the resources in the area. “I therefore need to keep an eye on you, and maybe let you know that I won’t allow you to carry through.” So the dog now becomes an object of interest for the coyote. The coyote may just watch, or he/she may follow, or even try to message the dog to leave or stay away.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

The best way to keep your dog from focusing intently on a coyote is to keep moving when a coyote is out there, be it nearby or far away. Moving AWAY from the coyote communicates to the coyote that you are not interested in the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will reflect back this lack of interest.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow -- their interest has been piqued by the dog's interest in them.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow — their interest has been piqued by the dog’s interest in them.

A prototypical example occurred today with a dog named Lily. Lily usually ignores coyotes and actually runs towards her owner whenever she senses or sees one. Owner and dog then leave the area together. But today, something about two coyotes caught Lily’s interest. She stood there, mesmerized by them, and they, in-turn, looked back at her. I think the owner was oblivious to the situation at first — this is why it’s important to always be aware of your dog when out.  I probably should have interfered, but the distance was great, and the coyotes were below a bluff, which added another layer of separation.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt -- it's a message to leave them alone.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt — it’s a message to leave them alone.

Lily’s interest was intense. She stared and watched them for several minutes, and began flinching in anticipation of something exciting. Her owner then noticed her and felt this would lead to no good. Dog and owner left, with Lily leashed at first, but then unleashed and lagging some distance behind.

As they distanced themselves, with Lily lingering behind, both coyotes — when there are two, they often act as a team — headed in Lily’s direction, excited and at a fast clip — they now were on a mission. I yelled out for the owner to call his dog which he did. Seeing that the dog and owner were together and both moving away, the approaching coyotes stopped.

But it did not stop there — coyote activity never stops where you think it might. They had sensed that they had become objects of interest and now they needed to do something to keep it from going further. One coyote watched to make sure the duo left. The other now sniffed, peed, and kicked-up-dirt where Lily had stopped on her exit path at the edge of their field — a sign of their displeasure. Then they hurried over to the bluff where she had watched them intently for so long. There they again sniffed the area thoroughly. They were trying to find out as much as possible about Lily through any scents she might have left. They did this for some time, covering every inch of the area.

I don’t know what they found out — maybe they were trying to find out Lily’s dominance status or whether she was a male or female — but they left their own scents there — as messages. When they were done they headed back into their field again.

Both dogs and coyotes remember these interactions. The dog may now start looking for coyotes every time she comes to that park — I’ve seen this new sense of purpose occur in many dogs once they become aware of coyotes. But also the coyotes may keep a lookout for this dog, or others, who show such a keen interest in them: an interest, from their point of view, that could only lead to no good in their eyes.

My advice to dog-owners is that, when you see a coyote, leash and continue on and away from the coyote, showing as little interest in the coyote as possible. Please read the How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

Motion Reactivity in Coyotes

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Motion reactivity is a big factor influencing coyote behavior. If you have a dog, you need to know about it.

Motion reactivity is a reaction to excessive or fast motion. Coyotes are programmed to react to this kind of stimulus. It’s because of this that we tell folks not to run from a coyote. When a coyote sees something running, say a running rabbit, it is immediately put on alert and pumped with adrenalin in preparation for pursuit. It is a hunting and a defensive instinct.

If your dog is actively chasing a ball, actively chasing or wrestling with another dog, or fighting with another dog, these involve fast and hyper motions. A coyote’s attention is immediately attracted to the activity. They stop what they are doing and are drawn to it.

Today, we saw a classic example of this motion reactivity. A dog walker, who knew a coyote was nearby, allowed her dog to walk off-leash in the area. The dog’s attention was caught by a juvenile Red-Tail Hawk who had slammed into the grasses to grab a rodent and then hovered close to the ground for a few seconds. None of us noticed how quickly the dog ran off, excited, enthusiastic and full of unleashed energy, after the hawk.

The dog’s excited dash across the field — involving hyperactive movements and speed — immediately caught the coyote’s attention. The coyote had been foraging calmly in the grassy field several hundred yards away — not at all close to where the hawk activity had been. She had been ignoring the continual stream of dogs and walkers passing by for the previous couple of hours, looking up only now and then from her own activity — they all had passed through calmly and uneventfully.

But when the hyperactivity began, and the dog’s quick movements were in her direction and away from the owner, the coyote’s instincts kicked in, and she dashed like a bullet towards the dog. As a number of people yelled at the owner to get her dog, the owner scrambled to do so and was able to leash the dog. The coyote stopped about 75 feet away, deterred by the number of people — five of them — standing by the dog.

Chances are that the coyote and dog might never have made contact. But the coyote is territorial, which means she protects her hunting areas. Coyotes drive outsider, non-family coyotes out of their territories. Territories belong exclusively to the one coyote family which lives there and these territories are not shared with other coyotes. The coyote’s motivation in charging at the dog would have been to drive the dog — an obvious hunting competitor judging by its pursuit of the hawk — out.

The coyote was deterred from advancing further by people. If people hadn’t been there, and if the owner had been alone with her dog, the owner’s option would have been to leash her dog and WALK AWAY immediately, thereby showing the coyote that the coyote nor the territory were “objects of interest”.  This is accomplished by walking away and increasing the distance between dog and coyote. Increased distance is your friend.

The event was very interesting for everyone present, but it could easily have ended with a nip to the dog’s haunches, and been a more frightening experience for the owner. On the other hand, the incident could have been entirely prevented in the first place had the dog been leashed in an area where a coyote was known to be foraging.

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Finally, on a leash

A Dog Chase Can Prime A Coyote’s Suspicions About Other Dogs

This morning, I observed a coyote’s “protective mode” kick-in and then linger-on for a while. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

A female coyote was out in a park before dawn, sticking to the park’s edges and hedges as she casually hunted. She just wanted to be left alone to hunt her fill of voles and gophers — critters which tunnel underground. A few runners, walkers and dogs passed by — some noticing her and vice-versa, and some not. When notice of each other was taken, it was taken in-stride by all: humans, dogs, and coyote.

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Unleashed dog sees coyote and chases after it

Then a runner who in the past has thrown fits of defiance when asked to leash — “her dog wouldn’t chase coyotes,” she said — came running by with her unleashed dog leading the way. The dog saw the coyote and, of course, made a bee-line for it. The coyote dashed to get away but, as the dog continued its pursuit, the coyote turned around to face her pursuer. In the meantime, the coyote’s “other half” — the male of the pair, who had been resting in the bushes — saw the goings-on and came to the female’s defense. This male will protect his female. And the dog, of course, was now outnumbered and overwhelmed. When this happens, some dogs freeze, not knowing what to do, and it was no different this time. At this point, the runner ran in to retrieve her dog, leashed it, and then ran on, miffed.

Okay, you might think that the incident was over, that the woman runner may now reconsider leashing her dog when coyotes are out (which she has for the few days since) and that is a good thing. But the incident was not over. The coyotes now were “primed”: suspicious, and in “defensive-mode”. I’ve seen this behavior a number of times: where once their defensive-mode kicks in, usually due to being chased, their suspicions and readiness for another incident remains heightened for a while.

While “she” lolled over to an edge of the park and continued hunting for gophers, “he” lay down, claiming a little patch of ground, while keeping a protectively watchful eye on her, and at the same time, keeping a lookout for repeat treatment either from another dog, or maybe from the same dog.

No “suspects” presented themselves, so after not too long, he got up and trotted in her direction. High-pitched barking of a dog from behind a solid wooden fence now began — some dogs can sense the presence of coyotes, even without seeing them.  The male coyote, still suspicious and on-alert, checked out the fence separating him from the yappy dog. But all was secure, so the little dog could not be reached — just annoyingly heard. (This is where the male acquired his cobwebs which I wrote about in the last posting).

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Two coyotes who have been “primed” into their protective mode, begin to follow a small dog

There was no threat to the coyotes here, so both coyotes then meandered up a path to leave the area, but a woman with her little Jack Russell now appeared coming towards them. I asked the woman to shorten her leash which she did and she moved off the path, taking a short-cut so as not to get any closer to the coyotes. As she did so, the coyotes themselves trotted away from her and then turned to watch. The coyotes watched her for a moment, and then one of the coyotes, the female this time, began following, and soon the male, too, followed. The woman turned to face the coyotes, which caused the coyotes to freeze and stop advancing. It was the perfect thing to do. But every time the woman then turned to move on, the coyotes continued to follow.

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

I suggested she lean down to pick up a rock, which she did — to hold on to “just in case”, she told me — and when she did this, the coyotes hurried off the path and away. They seemed to know this meant business.  Owner and dog then walk on out of the picture. Their moving away from the coyotes showed the coyotes that the owner and dog were not interested in them, which caused the coyotes to lose interest in her and her dog. The coyotes relaxed, spent some time grooming, and then climbed a rock to survey the area from a high vantage point. A runner passed, thrilled that he could see urban coyotes.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

Then one last walker with two large dogs appeared from behind the rocks. One of the dogs saw the male coyote and vice-versa. The dog growled at the coyote who was several hundred feet away. This pricked the coyote’s interest in them — so the coyote headed in the dog’s direction, not getting close, but in clear view. Remember that his suspicion and defensiveness were still running high.  The woman leashed and walked on and away from them — she, too, did the right thing. Walking AWAY from coyotes is the best option always. After watching them walk away — walking away showed him that they were not interested in him — the male coyote turned and went in the opposite direction, until he came to a dense thicket into which he disappeared.

Intense Focus on Approaching Danger

This coyote’s focus on the tumultuous dog activity up ahead on a path was intense. The dogs were playing, chasing and barking at one another, but to a coyote the approaching spurt of activity and noise spelled possible danger.  All had been calm and quiet a moment before. As the dogs got closer, the coyote lowered himself closer to the ground and then slithered, undetected, out of sight and away from any possible encounters or interactions.

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