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.