Mother/Pup: Affection/Protection

I saw lots of coyote affection and protective behavior this morning. I was waiting for the rain clouds to blow by so that I could get a shot of the crescent moon. I like moons. I was sticking the camera back in its bag when I noticed a young coyote only about 30 feet in front of me. It had to have just arrived and sat down. It was too dark for photos except that of the moon. The coyote allowed me to look at it for about a minute before it headed off walking, and then disappeared.

A few minutes later, I heard a walker whistling loudly. He and his dog were coming up a distant trail. The coyote apparently had heard or seen this walker, because I saw it suddenly run away from the walker. It sat down to watch. Neither the walker nor the dog saw the coyote.

At about this time the mother coyote appeared on the scene, right in back of the young one, and sat down. The young coyote was ecstatic to see her: there was jumping up, muzzle contact, licking of the face of the young one by the mother, licking of the mother’s back by the young one, body contact. This affection frenzy lasted about three minutes. My camera settings were out of sync — so the photos are totally blurry, but I posted a couple anyway: they convey what they need to.

Then both coyotes sat, one in front of the other, watching the area where the whistler had stopped to talk to someone. This man soon walked on. Things appeared calm, so the young coyote got up and walked around for about 6 minutes.

This is when the first set of dogs appeared. These were two unleashed dogs which rushed right after the coyotes. The young coyote disappeared into the brush area, but the older, protective mother, after initially fleeing, came back, as is her normal behavior. She assumed her defensive stance: hackles up, pawing the ground, snarly face. One dog returned to its owner. The mother coyote made short charge-and-retreat motions towards the dog that remained to try to get it to leave. The owner of this dog called, hyper-hysterically, and ineffectively, for her dog to return. Eventually, the dog slowly made its way to its owner, whereupon the owner leashed it and departed.

Even before this first incident was over, three more unleashed dogs appeared, all belonging to one owner. They also ran after the coyote — the owner had absolutely no verbal control of her dogs. She seemed resigned to them going after the coyote, even as she ineffectively called them. I tried to let the owner know that this was a mother coyote who was going to defend her pup. The coyote was leading the dogs away from where her pup was in the brush. The owner of the three dogs decided to leave them — they were nowhere in sight. She went back down the hill. Then the mother coyote started barking, which is how I found where she was. The three abandoned dogs were near by, out of breath, and looking for their owner but couldn’t find her. The largest of the three dogs decided to go after the coyote again, causing the coyote to dash off to a hill further off where it continued its barking. The dogs, I assume, were eventually reunited with their owner, because the coyote was no longer being pursued by them.

This entire episode, or I should say two consecutive episodes of two and then three dogs going after the coyote, took about 18 minutes.  On the hill the coyote barked distressingly for another 3 minutes before calming down. With the dogs gone, she moved higher up the hill where she relaxed for about 45 minutes, keeping an eye on the spot where her pup had hidden.

ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs: Coyote behavior

I saw Jacob again this morning. He has a sheep-dog who is super sensitive to reading other animals. Jacob wanted to let me know of a coyote encounter he had had a few days earlier, an encounter which was closer and therefore somewhat disturbing compared to previous coyote encounters he has had. In the past, he and his dog always passed the same coyote at a distance, the canines would eye each other, and both would become alert to the other’s presence. The coyote might stand up if it had been resting — this is one of the dogs that is much too alert to be yawned at as it passed. The dog also is an enthusiastic ball retriever, which means it has spurts of high energy and activity. Alertness and high activity are clues that the coyote is in-tune with — this type of dog has pursued her in the past, even though this one specifically has not.

On this particular occasion it was foggy and quiet and there was no one else around. Jacob’s dog was ahead of him, when Jacob felt he was being followed. He turned to see one coyote following him pretty closely, maybe at 20 feet, and he noticed there was another coyote further back. As Jacob immediately called his dog to him, his dog noticed the coyote. The dog, now between Jacob and the coyote, walked towards its owner, ever so slowly and carefully, walking backwards, keeping its eyes glued on the coyote. This eye contact may have been seen as a challenge by the coyote.

At this point the coyote backed up a distance, ran up a tiny incline and began scratching the ground with its forepaws and rearing up — a display used to keep the dog away, to keep it from following through on its eye-contact challenge. The coyote’s purpose was to look intimidating — and for the most part it is effective. The other coyote disappeared into the brush. The coyote’s activity didn’t last long as Jacob walked off with his dog. The two coyotes ran off.

Coyotes have sometimes followed walkers the entire length of some park, sometimes at a further distance, sometimes at a closer distance. Curiosity, sizing the dogs up, desire for contact, maybe even a bit of challenge are all possible explanations.

It is always best to create distance when you don’t know what is going on. Jacob did this by calling his dog and then facing the coyote before moving on.

Please see posting of  December 7th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “Some reactions to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge”.  Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” of 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: oneupmanship verging on play” of 2/4/10.

Some Reactions to Dogs: Coyote behavior

I have been able to observe many coyote/dog interactions. Most coyotes are pretty shy and will keep their distance and then flee from dogs. Some coyotes, cautiously and prepared to flee, will allow a calm dog to get a little closer. The coyote reactions to dogs I am delineating in this posting involve a certain alpha female. This coyote is more visible and bolder than others I have seen. She can be seen at times on elevated areas, where she lifts her head as some of the dogs and owners pass at a distance, and she sits up when she feels there might be a need to escape.

This coyote knows every single dog individually that comes regularly to the park and has assessed their potential threat to her. She does this by “reading” their body language and their type of energy as they walk, and she sees where their concentration is. She is also very aware of communicating through eye contact with dogs. Not all dogs are as keenly in tune to communication through eye contact in this manner — but a few are keenly aware of it.

Different dogs have different awarenesses of her. Some hardly notice her, some notice her and think she is an animal to be chased, some know she is “different” and to be respected. One very sensitive sheep dog can spot her from way across the park — this dog is the keenest observer I have noticed: he and the coyote will “lock” into an eye contact, which means they are interacting at a certain level, during which time the sheep-dog exhibits a lot of uneasiness. The owner calls his dog and they move on.

Most dogs that this female coyote observes fall into the category of being yawned at. She observes them through half-opened eyes. These are not a threat to her. Calm dogs on-leashes and calm dogs off-leashes are in this group. They are seldom cause for concern to her. Runners with their dogs whose full attention is with the runner are also in this category and ignored. Actually, almost all dogs are in this category.

There are very few dogs who are not in the above category. The few who are not, are given quite a display.

These dogs, on the opposite extreme of the spectrum from the calm dogs, are the dogs off-leash, who are more alert, aware of their surroundings, wild-acting, fearless and out to explore. Most of them are medium size to large. These are the ones she keeps her eye out for, the dogs of most concern, especially if they have the reputation of having chased the coyote in the past.

This coyote reacts to seeing these dogs by “becoming ready” to defend herself. She begins by standing up, and sometimes running off for a few seconds. This is not a submissive coyote, so she always comes back to stand up for herself, even though she may have to run off again. She has an elaborate defensive display: bouncing up and down, her hackles up, her ears out to the sides and back. Her back is hunched so that she can “spring” up and down for easier and quick movements — it is like a dance. She paws the ground, scratching with her front paws, and makes short darts back and forth and sideways. Her head is sometimes lowered and her lips are pulled back with her nose wrinkled. These behaviors constitute her basic stance and movements. She may grunt a little, which sometimes leads to an intense barking session — but just as likely, the barking session never even begins. This, then, is a visual reaction — a display.

If the owner can grab his dog, the episode will stop there. If the dog chases her, she may initially run off  – she is much, much faster and more lithe than any dog and can always get away, but she usually comes back. She seems to know which dogs she must run from — she can easily exhaust these dogs with her speed and distance, and she knows which ones she can hold at bay or move away from herself. I have seen her run off to an unreachable ledge and begin a barking episode. If she comes back she might begin a barking episode coupled with the above display. Or she could add a short charge-and-retreat sequence directed at the dog, and, if the dog’s owner is not close by, there have been a few instances where the coyote has tried to nip the haunches of the perpetrator, the same as a cattle-dog nips at a cow’s heels, to herd it away from herself. AND sometimes, twice that I have seen, she has gone even further, “escorting” the dog and owner right out of the park — following them fairly closely to the park entrance.

These are the two extreme reactions to dogs, with the calm reaction occurring most of the time, and the reactive one occurring less often. It appears to me that the coyote knows when walkers leash their dogs — it would be so easy to prevent incidents by doing so. I’ve seen her intensified alertness calm down when she sees this.

The same alert, wild-acting, fearless dogs on-leash may elicit a shorter and milder version of the response to the unleashed dogs: the coyote starts “getting ready just in case”, but then lets it pass after only a few seconds when she sees that the dog is restrained. As far as I know, she has never gone after a leashed dog, no matter how threatening to her, though she has “escorted” a couple of them out of the park following an incident of them having chased her while still off-leash.

I once saw a tiny little dog run wildly, off leash towards its owner — it had been lagging behind and decided to catch up. It raced over the path like a little bullet. But I could see that the coyote became very excited and agitated with the seeming hyperactive, fast running little dog. Even though we humans might think that a coyote would see this tiny dog as harmless, the instincts of the coyote might have been primed due to the dog’s hyperactivity.  In this case, the coyote stood up, hunched over and began running back and forth on the crest of the hill it was on. The dog reached its owner, and slowly the coyote calmed down. One must remember that several breeds of dogs, especially cocker-spaniels, often bite children because they cannot handle the unpredictable hyperactivity that is innate in small children. Dogs like predictability, and I suppose that coyotes do, too.

Another time, I saw a coyote resting on a bluff as a walker with three medium-sized dogs walked casually, but energetically by, at fairly close range. The dogs did not see the coyote, since it was hidden from them by the crest of the hill. The coyote rose to its feet, hunched its back, pulled back its gums and began pawing the ground and bouncing. I think the appearance of these dogs had surprised the coyote during an unguarded moment — they suddenly were in its visual field, having been hidden from it, too, by the crest of the hill. But after only a few bounces, seeing that the dogs did not even look up, it stopped and lay down again.

Another time, a coyote was close to the path while a couple of us were observing it. A man with a medium size dog came by. I suggested he leash his dog, which he did, but he would not walk around to give the coyote space. Even though this dog was leashed and close to its owner, it pulled on the leash, towards the coyote, barking — and this is what the coyote reacted to. The coyote stayed back, but immediately went into a “hunched back, gums pulled back, pawing the ground, rearing up on its hind feet, wrinkling its nose, dart-and-retreat sequence”. However, as the owner pulled his dog away along the path, the coyote calmed down. Then, after the dog and owner were 100 feet ahead, the coyote followed at a quick pace, but changed its mind when it noticed more humans up ahead. This may have been one of those times when the coyote felt like “escorting” the dog out of the park, but the appearance of more people prevented it.

In some parks, certain coyotes appear to have become accustomed to some of the dogs, even liking some of them — at a distance — if they adhere to the path. One of these is an unleashed large unfixed male labrador who acknowledges a coyote it sees occasionally, but leaves it alone. There seems to be a kind of mutual “animal respect” here.  This coyote has, several times trotted closer towards the dog, all the while retaining a readiness to flee. The coyote seems to be observing the dog — assessing him.  This coyote has followed this dog and owner a number of times, at about 50 feet, all the way out of the park — all in a very calm manner. Once, before dawn, two coyotes followed this dog, one of them circling around in front of the dog and and the other ultimately running up to him from behind and mouthing its tail before racing away — almost as a dare!  The owner was amused. This dog normally does not like it when there is more than one coyote to deal with. To show how each situation is different, I want to point out that this same coyote gave this same dog a different greeting once. Maybe the dog was behaving differently — he often runs in an ungainly, waddling manner off the path to grab a stick and chew on it: this kind of unpredictable behavior may have made the coyote wary and nervous. The coyote assumed its protective stance: crouching low, baring its teeth and scratching the ground. The owner called his dog back to the path. The coyote repeated this “challenging” stance three times, and finally ran off to engage in a barking session. I put this incident in here to show that although a lot of dog/coyote encounters are predictable, this isn’t always the case.

In another instance a coyote was sitting peacefully in a field, lower than the trail as a dog and owner walked by. The dog was leashed-up when I mentioned that a coyote was right there. The coyote crouched low, remained sitting, and kept an eye glued on the dog as it passed — this was not an instance of yawning as the dog went by.

Ears are a very important “tool” for inter-coyote communication. I have not looked at what difference the positioning and movement of the ears in dogs makes on the coyote’s behavior. It might be something to investigate.

Please see posting of December 12: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 17th: “ANOTHER reaction to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge.” Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3, and “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” of 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” of 2/4/10.

Safety Around Coyotes; PLUS Behaviors to be aware of if you have a dog: Updated

This information was distributed at a health & safety fair here in the city:

PLEASE DO YOUR PART IN PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT WHICH INCLUDES OUR WILD COYOTES!

  •  coyotes are a natural part of this environment 
  • seldom are they aggressive, but they will protect themselves and their territories
  • small dogs could be targeted as prey 
  •  an ounce of prevention works! Protect both your dog and coyotes 
  • first and foremost, always be VIGILANT and AWARE when dog-walking
  • when walking a dog, always walk away from a coyote: Just outright AVOID it.

1) Prevent close coyote encounters in the first place:

  • never feed a coyote or try to tame it
  • never walk towards a coyote – give them space
  • never let your dog chase or play with a coyote
  • leash your dog whenever you see or hear a coyote or know one is in the area and walk away from it
  • pick up small dogs and walk away from the coyote

2) Behaviors coyotes use to protect themselves when chased by a dog

  • charge-and-retreat sequence
  • a long barking episode, often rearing up on their hind legs
  • a nipping at the haunches, same as a cattle dog herding, to move the dog away
  • “escorting” or following you out of the park (rarely)

3) If this should happen, first and foremost, GET AWAY FROM THE COYOTE by tightening your leash and dragging your dog away with you. Walk, don’t run. The coyote’s sole intention is to move you away — so please just do it!  If you choose to scare it away, you could throw a stone in the coyote’s direction or yell angrily while clapping and stepping in the coyote’s direction (without getting close), or slapping a newspaper on your thigh (as demonstrated in the video How To Shoo Off A Coyote), but know that what’s safest is simple and plain unmitigated avoidance. So, mainly:

  • grab your dog when you can and leave the area walking

4) Two coyote behaviors to be aware of — usually between a coyote and a dog who know each other:

  • “Chase-Chase” Behavior: the coyote will be traveling in the same direction as a walker and his/her unleashed dog, and will come in close with a little “darting in”  and “retreat”. The dog will return the behavior. It is almost a “dare” or “oneupmanship” with no other intention than just this — it verges on play. Some dogs can handle this, some need to be leashed.
  • A mother coyote may come to the aid of one of her full-grown pups and the two will work as a team to vex a dog to get it to leave: one coyote will distract the dog, the other will come around to dart in from the other side.
  • In both cases, leashing the dog creates a barrier of sorts: it calms down the dog — and this can be seen by the coyote. But also it keeps the dog next to the owner which serves to deter the coyote from coming in. Coyotes do not care to tangle with humans.

*A compilation of more in-depth information and a video can be found at: “FIRST: Coyote Coexistence Guidelines and Safety Information.”

Please read postings on December 12th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “Some Reactions to Dogs”, November 17th: “ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs”, and December 1: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge”. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: oneupmanship verging on play” 2/4/10.