Not Signs of “An Escalation of Aggressive Behavior”

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe from dogs

This post was written in response to recent postings on social media — see the posting below. It addresses fears that there has been an “escalation of aggressive or dangerous coyote behavior” if a coyote approaches a leashed or larger dog, hisses, uses frequently-used paths, or nips a dog in the haunches during pupping season. This is not so — these are not indications of progressively dangerous coyote behavior. They are normal coyote behaviors during pupping season which have to do with parental protectiveness, not with coyotes “becoming more aggressive”.

A friendly reminder . . .  Leashes in-and-of-themselves do not keep coyotes away from dogs. Coyotes do not know what leashes are and probably are unaware of them. No one ever said leashes would keep coyotes away. What leashing does is to keep the dog close to you and under your control. A leashed dog is also a calmer dog. You can control a dog which is leashed; you cannot control an unleashed dog. Most effective is a short leash, not a long retracting leash which allows your pet to wander 20 feet away from you: 20 feet away is not very close. Keeping your dog close to you, leashed and under control, discourages but does not prevent coyotes from approaching.

In the unlikely event that a coyote does approach a dog, he’ll usually do so from behind if possible. They are smart and want to avoid the dog’s teeth. They also want to remain undetected as long as possible — coming up from behind accomplishes this. This is why it is important for a dog walker to always remain vigilant — keep an eye open in all directions around you. You can stop the coyote from approaching your dog, often simply by facing the coyote, or if this isn’t enough, try scaring it off vehemently. Then walk slowly away from the coyote. If the coyote is already next to your dog, you’ll need to quickly pull your dog firmly away from the coyote while you quickly distance yourself and leave without running. It’s important to prevent further engagement by leaving — leaving is the important point.

So, please don’t let the coyote get close to your dog in the first place: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coyotes have nipped the rump or tail of dogs to message them if they feel their areas are threatened, usually when the dog has come into a sensitive area. This is normal, standard coyote behavior, especially during pupping season — it is how a coyote would communicate to another coyote. It has nothing to do with “escalating or progressive aggression” of a coyote. It doesn’t matter if your dog is docile or more assertive — the coyote will want to message any dog he considers a threat — it has less to do with the dog than with the space and the season. Please pay attention to your surroundings — being zeroed in on an iPhone precludes vigilance. Always, always, keep looking around. The better we understand coyote behavior, the less likely we will be surprised by an unexpected behavior, and the better we will be able to deal with such contingencies.

To put this in perspective, coyote nipping behavior is not something which occurs at all frequently, but it has occurred, which is why I’m trying to make everyone aware of it. It is exceptional coyote behavior which all dog owners should be aware of, and, just in case, be prepared for, during pupping season. Your dog is much more likely to be bitten badly by another dog than a coyote.

Also, I want to point out the incident I saw today, and which I see all too frequently: a dog ferociously pursuing a coyote. It’s fun for the dog — it’s terrifying for the coyote. The coyote ran for his life and remained as hidden as he could under a bush from the harassing dog. The owner was not even aware of what was going on until she was yelled at to leash her dog. Whereas a coyote will normally nip a dog’s rump as a message, dogs can actually maul coyotes, compromising their ability to survive: no one will help them with their wounds.

Please keep your dog away from coyotes — it’s best for both dogs and coyotes.

Please note that “hissing” is not hunting behavior. It is “warning” behavior: a “message”. Move away from the coyote as you would from a skunk with its tail up.

Coyotes take trails all the time: it is very normal for coyotes to take frequently used paths when there are not a lot of people on them. This, again, is normal coyote behavior and is not a sign of “escalating aggression.”

By the way, a nip to the tail area isn’t always a *warning* message. Here’s a video of a coyote delivering a playful/not unfriendly “please notice me” message. In this case it’s more the *semblance* of a nip — there’s no real nip here as you will see. This video is one of the first videos I took of a coyote in 2007 — well before I knew a whole lot about them:


This, below, was posted on various neighborhood internet groups  under the title: “Aggressive coyote incident on 65 lb. ON LEASH dog” . It shows lots of concern and fear for what the author thinks might be “escalating dangerous coyote activity” — this is not what is going on. I hope I’ve helped explain the activity as normal coyote behavior above.


Given the increasing frequency of coyote/canine/people interactions, I thought it would be useful for all of you – especially pet owners – to be aware of what happened tonight. Our dog Roxy is a five year old, 65 pound female golden retriever. The most docile and passive dog that you’ll ever meet. We were out for an evening on-leash walk around 730 on the path that follows the south side of Washington Blvd between Compton and Park. About halfway to Park, Roxy suddenly turned her head back and I did the same to see a coyote trying to bite her tail and hind legs. I immediately stood between Roxy and the coyote making a lot of noise. The coyote slowly backed away hissing the entire time. It took a few minutes for the coyote to back off and it finally turned its back to us when it was 15-20 yards away.
We continued east on Washington to Park. At that point, I decided to return home to more thoroughly inspect Roxy to make sure she had not been bitten. However, the coyote was laying in the grass along the south side of Washington making that path unusable for getting back home. We started to walk home using the bike lane on the north side of Washington. A motorist helped screen us such that their minivan was between us and the coyote. As we walked past the coyote, it began to hiss at us again. However, there was no further incident and, as best we can tell, Roxy is uninjured.Considering the size of our dog, that she was on-leash, and that we were on a highly traveled path next to a main road, this seems like an escalation of potentially dangerous coyote/canine/people interactions that have taken place across San Francisco.”

Playfulness of Coyotes


Being the social and family oriented animals that they are, coyotes who are “loners” — without families — often get . . . lonely!

Most coyotes eventually find a mate and live in families, but there is a time after dispersal– when they leave “home” — when they may be on their own, alone, and when they may miss the companionship they had growing up with their parents and siblings. Coyotes are often forced out of their birth families and territories by other family members. This usually happens between one and three years of age for various reasons, for example, when the smooth-running of the family is interfered with, because of growing competitiveness due to a domineering parent or sibling, because of new pups, or because of limited resources in an area. So the coyote moves out and on. Each coyote needs about a square mile of territory to provide for itself. When they find a vacant niche, they’ll fill it.

As seen in the video, this little coyote very definitely wants to engage with other canids — he’s running back and forth in an engaging sort of way, with his head bobbing up and down like an excited pony, and he even poses with his rump up and paws out front in the classical “lets play” stance which dogs use. But he’s also testing and assessing — notice that he does not fully approach the dogs who are facing him and close to their owners. He appears both excited and a bit anxious about initiating the interaction — there’s a push-pull of desire and fear.  I have seen short romps shared by dogs and coyotes, and then, the coyote is off — but the coyote may return day after day for this same type of  contact. Please beware that even a playful coyote such as this one in the video may suddenly nip at a dog which has been allowed to play with it: this just happened in one of the other parks where the coyote began to feel threatened or harassed and ended up biting the dog’s leg. We need to remember that wildness will always be part of who the coyotes are. At the same time, the coyote’s good will and good intentions can be clearly recognized.

The first coyote which appeared in the City outside of the Presidio (where they first re-appeared in the City in 2002) actually appeared on Bernal Hill in about 2003.http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Coyotes-usually-seen-in-West-spotted-in-2633779.php, and this coyote, too, was reported to have romped with one of the dogs.

Respecting the coyote’s wildness means keeping our distance and not allowing our dogs to engage with them. When a coyote eventually does find a mate, he may feel very protective of his chosen mate, of himself, and of his territorial claim from all potential threats, be they real or perceived. He’ll do so with “warning messages” in the form of body language. Sometimes this “messaging” is conveyed assertively, as with a nip. Think about it: how else might coyotes clearly get their message across? Know what is going on, and please respect him by keeping your distance. And know how to shoo the coyote away if he comes too close to your dog.

At the same time, be thrilled and filled with awe and wonder at this wildlife returned to the City! Coyotes are fascinatingly social and interact with each other in the gamut of ways we humans interact with each other, including through playing, through a full array of family interactions which show that they share many of our emotions, and through protecting personal and home spaces from dogs who  they consider potential threats.

Coyotes have been moving into all urban areas — into what we consider “human areas”. It’s interesting because we humans have excluded, persecuted and wantonly killed this species for so long. Our presence helps keep away other top predators which is why they may feel safer living among us.

Thank you everyone for trying to understand coyote behavior and for accepting them as a neighbors! To become more aware of coyote behaviors, watch the video presentation,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. And, stay tuned! In a new posting which will be appearing here and on Bernalwoods.com within the next few days, I’ve addressed some of the issues and hype that have been appearing on some recent social media sites.

Siccing Your Dog On Coyotes Is NOT Cool

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Some unleashed dogs, through the negligence of their owners, run off chasing coyotes. If your dog has a tendency to get excited and wants to chase coyotes, you need to keep your dog leashed or walk in a different area. The problem is the repeat offenders: it appears to always be the same few unrestrained dogs who go chasing after coyotes because their owners refuse to leash them when coyotes are around.  But even worse are the dog owners who blatantly prompt their dogs to go after coyotes: I’ve seen this innumerable times, and I’ve heard stories from others who have recounted their observations of this dog-owner behavior. This is not cool. It might be entertaining and fun for the dog owner, but it is not so for the coyotes, nor for other folks in the park who have watched this happen. In fact, it’s illegal to harass the wildlife in San Francisco. Another variation of this human behavior is to leash their dog and then proceed to approach the coyote as close as possible.

Coexistence involves respecting the wildlife and not interfering with it. It involves keeping your distance to begin with. It means leashing and walking on, away from the coyote whenever you see one. It means advising other walkers with dogs if a coyote is out and where it is so that they can take the proper preventative precautions — it’s important to prevent all interactions by keeping these species as far apart as possible. It means understanding that a coyote might approach your dog for territorial reasons or, if your dog is very small, it might even grab your dog. These contingencies are easily avoided by keeping vigilant, by keeping your distance, and by walking on, away from the coyote. Coexistence also means knowing how to shoo one away if there is an encounter which is uncomfortably close or if a coyote approaches your dog. See the YouTube video, “How To Shoo Off A Coyote.”

Please don’t allow your dog to go after coyotes, and please let others know that doing so is not cool. In fact, it hurts everyone in the park when the coyotes are taught by this treatment that they must remain suspicious of dogs even if they are out in the distance. They are territorial and NEED to defend their space — and they are more likely to do so when provoked. To prevent inciting this instinct, we need to keep away from them. It’s not hard to do: I see folks constantly doing their part to make coexistence work. So please let’s all help those not in-the-loop to come into the loop by letting them know good/safe practices and why keeping our distance and moving on is so important.

 

Dog Chases Coyote, Coyote Chases Back, Walkers Cheer For Coyote!

dog chases coyote

What first caught my attention on this foggy San Francisco morning was a dog running at ultra-high speed down an embankment. Then I heard someone yelling for his dog, with the tell-tale panicky tone which is always a dead-giveaway for what is going on. The dog was a young, small German Shepherd, maybe 70 pounds, while the coyote it was chasing was a small 30 pounder. The dog was persistent and fast, but the coyote was faster. They raced around a large field several times while onlookers froze, wishing the dog would stop.

dog and coyote face each other

The dog would not respond to his owner’s frantic calls. The coyote finally stopped and stood still, which left the dog in the lurch — what to do now? Each animal looked at the other: the coyote was assessing his pursuer. Coyotes can read a dog’s character and intentions visually. One look at the German Shepherd told the coyote that this animal was all bluff. But all bluff or not, the coyote did NOT like being chased. Now the tables were turned. The dog, seeing that the coyote seriously meant business, began running away — fast, lickety-split, with its tail tucked under. The sullen bystanders suddenly perked up and cheered for the coyote: “Yay, Coyote! Way to go!”

coyote chases back

At this point, the dog decided to take refuge next to its owner, and as it reached its owner, the coyote stopped and turned to go the other way. The coyote, who simply needed to message the dog to leave him alone, would not get any closer to the human owner. Most unleashed dogs, by the way, will chase a coyote the minute they see it. The owner gave the dog a thorough body-check for nips: there had been none — this time. Hopefully the dog was sorry and won’t do it again, but often it takes a good nip before some dogs learn to leave coyotes alone.

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Coyote looks back as the owner examines his dog, and then trots away

Coyote “Attacks” and the Media, OR “Messaging”

The following news item and video (click on the link) serve as a departure point for exposing the truth about most reported “attacks” by coyotes, and for explaining coyote “messaging”: “Caught On Camera: Dog Attacked By Coyote”.

Although the video purports to show an “attack”, it does not do so. By calling this an “attack”, the article is creating a news story through sensationalist hype and playing on people’s fears. It sells well, it’s exciting, and it raises the fear level to a frenzy that, for most folks, justifies killing coyotes. It is irresponsible journalism, but it is how the press has been handling almost all reports regarding coyotes. We have suggested to journalists and news stations that they please contact biologists trained specifically in coyote behavior to help them get correct information out to the public, and this article does at least list what folks can do when they see a coyote. At the same time it calls what happened an “attack” which is blatantly incorrect.

What the video does show is a few seconds of a dog running from a coyote chasing it. Also, the article reports a couple of sightings, and that the dog, Lexus, came home with a few scratches. These are the facts from which this “attack” article is spun. But the dog wasn’t maimed, he wasn’t hurt, and there’s no proof at all that he was “attacked”. That he “got away with his life” is pure fabrication and sensationalistic. If anything at all, the dog was simply “messaged” to stay away for intruding or even chasing the coyote. That’s it.

I’ve been photo-documenting urban coyote behaviors, including their interactions with humans and pets, in urban parks for eight years.  I have only seen coyotes chase dogs in the manner shown in the news video clip, when a dog has gone chasing after the coyote first, or when the dog has intruded on the coyote in some way and then decided to run off. Dogs are constantly intruding on coyotes. A coyote’s nipping message is their attempt to drive the dog away, not maul him to death. It’s how they protect their territories or dens and it’s how they drive intruder coyotes away.

This series of 17 slides shows what happens when coyotes and larger dogs engage. When a coyote approaches a dog, it does so by making quick, short charges and quick retreats, where it is always ready to run off if the dog faces it. Coyotes aren’t animals who will take chances of being injured, so they avoid all-out fights with dogs. Please remember that running away by any animal raises a coyote’s adrenaline and incites a coyote to chase. We advise people never to run from a coyote for this reason. For more information on dog encounters, see video presentation, “Coyotes As Neighbors” and posting of March 30th: Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A Dog, and What You Can Do,.

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“Messaging” by coyotes consists of nips to the dog’s hindquarters and rarely amount to more than abrasions or scratches. You need to watch this behavior as it happens to really know what is going on. The coyote does not open its jaws for a big massive and incapacitating chomp into your dog. The coyote’s jaws remain fairly closed with only it’s lips pulled back a little from its front teeth so that it can pinch the dog enough to give it a firm message, and these are delivered to the back legs or rump of the dog.

How to prevent it in the future? Don’t let your pet wander freely in coyote areas, even if it’s your own wooded backyard. Coyotes want to be left alone, so keep your dog away from them. Since small pets can be mistaken for prey, please never leave your small pet outside unattended. Note that your fenced yard is a human fabrication which is supposed to keep other humans out. It won’t keep out raccoons, skunks, birds, gophers or coyotes. Coyotes have boundary markers which consist of fecal marking material, not physical fence barriers. So the only way to protect your pets, even in your own yard, is to supervise them or keep them leashed.

http://wtnh.com/2015/03/29/dog-attacked-by-coyote-in-ansonia/

Coyotes and Dogs, Coyotes and Humans, and How To Shoo Off A Coyote

The updated presentation — updated on June 13th — is at the top of the page in the second posting on this blog: It’s called Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus on Facts.

The version I’m posting today, here, in this posting, is called Coyotes As Neighbors: How To Shoo Off A Coyote. It is a shorter version of that first one: I’ve cut out some of the coyote behavior slides and the section on killing coyotes, and I’m concentrating on human and dog relationships to coyotes, and how to shoo them off in each instance. This version here is 20 minutes long, versus 30 for the one at the top of the Yipps blog. Otherwise, they are exactly the same.

Addendum August, 2015: PLEASE NOTE A BIG PROTOCOL CHANGE AS OF mid-2015: The BEST POLICY IS AVOIDANCE: Whether you see a coyote in the distance, approaching you, or at close range, leash your dog and walk away from it, avoiding any kind of confrontation or engagement. If you feel inclined to shoo it away, you may try this, but my preferred approach is total avoidance.

I don’t think a lot of the information in these videos can be found anywhere else — I don’t think much of this detailed urban coyote/dog behavior has been observed or documented. Except for some statistics and the section from Robert Crabtree (I think that’s the original source) that killing coyotes increases their populations, most of the coyote information in these videos comes from my own 7 years of first-hand observations. I’ve been spending 3-5 hours daily in our parks, engaging in my “pioneering photo documentation” (that’s what one journalist called it!) and research of coyote behavior and their interactions with people and pets. I believe these are the first such presentations which concentrate on the urban coyote himself! I’ve been told by coyote specialist professors that the dog/coyote observations are new. The video has been reviewed by an experienced wildlife conflict manager with 15 years of experience in the field.

Anyway, I would like to to get the information out there now because we’re in the middle of pupping season — there might be more coyote encounters coming up.  This information will be useful especially to dog owners. If you have time for the longer version, I recommend that one. If you don’t, try this shorter version. They are both pretty long, but they contain most information that you’ll need, especially if you are a dog walker.

Grunting More Than Huffing Here

This video, again, shows the reaction of a coyote to a hostile dog appearing on a path about 200 feet away. Coyotes seem not to be bothered by dogs that have never bothered them. So when a dog appears that causes a coyote to react this way, it is because of the dog’s previous behaviors — a coyote always remembers each dog and its behaviors, be it a blatant antagonism, or something more subtle like a “dirty look”.  I’ve seen this over and over again. By the time I got the camera set up, most of the grunting was over — it had gone on for over a minute.  The grunts are very audible in this video. Fortunately the walker and his dog veered off the path and left the area, so the grunting just petered out, as in the last video I posted. The coyote  took the opportunity to lie down right there where it was camouflaged by the tall grasses. Coyotes frequently are right there in the open, but you can’t see them!

Shortly after this grunting episode, another dog and walker — with a history of being hostile and antagonistic towards coyotes — appeared in the distance. The coyote heard them coming and stood up, waited until they were in sight, and, before being seen by them, trotted off into some bushes rather than wait for the possibility of an encounter. I’m sure if the coyote had stayed down, it would not have been seen, but it chose not to take this chance.

One might wonder why a coyote would be out when dog walkers are out. Do  rodents tend to stick their noses out more during certain times, making hunting more successful at these times? I don’t know, it’s just a guess. Also, though, coyotes seem to want to get a glimpse of what is going on in “their” territories before hunkering down for the day.

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