Coyote Tail . . . Fun, Fleas, or More?

This coyote spends a lot of her time sitting and observing what’s going on, but recently she has been plagued by fleas — she’s been overwhelmed by them. Many of her behaviors reflect this: scratching them, darting away from them (as though this would help!), running in circles after her itchy tail, curling in a little ball to be able to reach the flees on her back and her tail with her snout, and discovering that she could “roll” when she did this. You can actually see the flea bites all over her face. It must be excruciatingly uncomfortable. I’ve had a couple of flea bites and it was awful. Dogs get fleas and it drives them crazy!

And why does the coyote jump up and down, bouncing a little like a pogo-stick? Coyotes do this when they get excited and when they want a better view. This coyote, judging from the direction of her gaze, has seen something on the other side of the hill which we can’t see. I would guess it’s a dog that simply caught her attention. I’ve seen this reaction to a dog in the distance many times.

A dog walker suggested that, from what she knows about dog behavior, that the coyote’s behavior in this video might be anxious behavior due to the photographer because her own dog freaks out when “a lens is shoved in her face”. I took the suggestion to Turid Rugaas, who studies wildlife to know what is *natural* behavior in order to understand stressed-out dogs. She assured me that this is not what is going on here. First of all, this is not an inbred little domestic dog, it is a wild coyote. Secondly, no lens is being shoved in this coyote’s face — this video was taken well over 100 feet away. Thirdly, this coyote has her freedom to move, and would do so in order to avoid a stressful situation, unlike a dog who feels constrained by it’s owner’s *unnatural* demands: it’s this latter which causes anxiety in dogs. Fourthly, loner coyotes without families invariably become inventive in their play to fill the time that normally would be devoted to family interactions. Coyotes are social animals, so when there are no family members to interact and play with, and because they need to expend their pent-up energy, they invent all sorts of play activities for themselves.


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