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

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

2015-12-30

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/

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