Still Looking Up To Mom: Coyote Behavior

One early morning walker who was out early with her small dog had something interesting to say about her small dog’s behavior when the dog became aware of coyotes up ahead on a path. As the unleashed dog came over the crest of a hill along the path, it suddenly turned back and hugged against its owner’s legs. The owner said the dog was “asking to be leashed — asking for protection”!! When the woman herself reached the crest of the hill, she found out why. There were three coyotes. They were quite a distance away, but nevertheless, the little dog was nervous about them. The woman sat down, hugging her dog, and watched for a while and then she took a path which circled way around where the coyotes were. When I saw her again the coyotes had moved a bit, but they were still there.

The small leashed dog was actually trembling and began barking when it saw the coyotes again, yet at the same time, this dog was very curious about the coyotes, and vice-versa. I think with many dogs there is a “push-pull” interest about the coyotes. Coyotes appear so familiar to us all in many ways, yet at the same time they are sensed by the dogs as being so completely different from themselves. The woman took a quick photo and decided to walk on. That her dog had asked for protection — that he had asked to be leashed in the face of potential danger — was fascinating. Could this also have been meant as a message to the owner: “beware of what is ahead?” The same behavior had been described to me once before, but in this previous instance the dog had been a very large male Labrador.

While this woman was circling around I watched the coyotes. There were two young ones — they were very alert. But what was of primary interest was that they kept their attention on “mom” who was sitting up higher on a hill. The young coyotes moved around a little bit, but mostly they were still and strained their necks at times to keep their mother in view or to find her.

As a set of dog walkers went by in the distance, the mother went further up the hill where she was now hidden — she kept her eye on this dog group. I could not see her, but the young coyotes knew she was there and they kept their gaze on her. As the walkers and their dogs descended the hill I noticed that the mother coyote had come up behind them: she wanted to see them, but didn’t want them to see her! There must have been communication between the two young coyotes and their mother because the youngsters wandered slowly towards a brush area as they kept looking back at her — as if they were following her orders or getting her approval. After 25 minutes of continually returning their gaze to their mother, they finally slithered into the underbrush. These young coyotes are not quite a year old.

“Monitoring”: Coyote Behavior

There is a coyote in one of the area parks that enjoys “monitoring” the dogs as they are walked — morning time is prime time for watching dogs for this coyote. After most of the dog walking activity calms down, the coyote usually heads into some underbrush or up onto a hill where it snoozes. One of the places from which the coyote keeps an eye on the dogs is way up on a rock ledge. The coyote is definitely not interested in people as shown by where its gaze is, and by where its attention is, and by how its movements are directed — except to keep a safe distance from them.

On a particularly foggy morning, I was out walking with a friend when we spotted this coyote on this high ledge. My friend has a very old and large, calm dog. We went to a place where our view would not be obstructed by branches. The coyote looked at us all, but particularly at the dog, from way up high, with not only height but also distance as a barrier. It is always exciting to see a coyote.

After some observing and some photos, my friend and her dog departed to continue their walk, but I continued to watch. The coyote’s attention turned towards a group of dogs and their walkers coming down a path. It was much too foggy to see very far, but the coyote’s attention and gaze was riveted on the group — I became part of the woodwork, apparently. The coyote stayed in its safe location, keenly watching the dog group until they had passed below and further on. When they were far enough past, the coyote scurried down to another rock ledge, a much lower one, from which it could continue to watch these same dogs until they exited the area. The coyote then remained resting on this rock for some time, until another dog spotted it and went after it. I had moved on at this point, but I was able to see the coyote whiz by as it evaded the dog. The coyote escaped the dog by dashing away and nimbly jumping up a rock cliff  to its original high ledge way above reach until the dog and its owner had walked out of sight.

I am writing this here again to emphasize that coyotes monitor dogs for their own safety — they have to know what dogs are around and which dogs might threaten them and pursue them. Coyotes have shown no interest in humans whatsoever except to keep their distance. Coyotes have never approached people in our parks, they have always fled when people get near them. The coyotes in our parks have not altered their behavior at all towards humans since they first appeared several years ago.

However, coyotes do keenly watch dogs whom they have visually gotten to know, and they defend themselves when necessary from unleashed dogs which have chased them. I’m wondering if our coyotes are becoming more bold with dogs because owners have allowed their dogs to interact with them on some level, including chasing them? This would be a kind of “habituation” to dogs? It is something to further look at.

The Purpose Of A Coyote’s Monitoring Some Dogs

So I was able to clearly see the reason why a particular coyote has felt a need to monitor groups of dogs. These dogs are walked unleashed and have chased the coyotes a number of times. The cause for monitoring is clearly revealed in the photos — mostly by the direction in which the coyote’s attention is riveted as seen by where she looked. The reason for the monitoring was to protect this little guy, a nine-month old, seen here in the first photo. On this particular day, this young fellow appeared on a path and watched the group of dogs and walkers approaching from the distance. It was the same group of dogs I spoke about in my previous posting yesterday: Purposeful Monitoring of Particular Dog Groups, posted on January 28th.

After figuring out that the dogs were coming its way, the fella took off up a hill. At that very same moment, down the hill ran his protector, his mother. She went over to a high ledge from where the path that the dogs were on could easily be seen. The mother coyote remained here, watching, as the group meandered around and finally left the area — she was making sure they didn’t come after her pup or her. She occasionally looked up the hill to where the pup was, and then she watched it as it headed “home.” This entire sequence can be seen very clearly in the photos I took this day.

The coyote’s watchfulness lasted about half an hour. After that she relaxed and even closed her eyes at times. She remained in the same spot until some people came too close for comfort. At that point she got up and trotted away. The coyotes in our parks have always kept their distance from people.

Purposeful Monitoring of Particular Dog Groups

As dawn was beginning to break, a coyote appeared, clearly silhouetted on the edge of the horizon in the far distance, which, just as promptly as it appeared, it disappeared. The morning seemed darker than usual because of the dark cloud cover — and because of this, the dawn seemed later than usual. I walked in that direction and soon the coyote came trotting down the path I was on, stepping off onto a grassy area as it got closer. It was clearly on its way “home”, and away from dogs which were trickling into the park. It was particularly nice seeing a coyote — the rains, I think, made them less visible for a time.

I wondered if the coyote would hurry on, or be here when the gang of dog walkers came over the same horizon. Unleashed dogs often chase the coyotes, and I really didn’t want to see this happen. The coyote kept looking back in their direction. Finally it decided to continue on, at a brisk trot. I followed a certain distance, but it soon was gone. I thought how lucky I had been to glimpse the coyote and at the same time have it successfully evade the dogs — that is an ideal situation. As I was thinking this, another coyote briskly trotted in my direction — it had obviously been on the same trajectory as the first one and for the same reasons. This set of dogs has chased these coyotes any number of times, so it was in the coyote’s interest to keep track of them. This coyote, however, instead of moving on, climbed up some rocks to get a better view and watch the approaching dogs.

The coyote was monitoring their every movement. It stood there, at first listening for the group in the distance — you could not see them at first — and then watching them, still in the distance, as they wove in and out of visibility due to the shrubbery and trees around the path they were on. The coyote watched them for twelve minutes, until they came within about 200 feet and then it took off down a hill. None of the dogs seemed to have been aware of the coyote, and neither did the owners. I thought that might be the end of the coyote’s monitoring this group, but nope.

Ten minutes later this coyote had climbed up to another lookout, where I noticed it was keeping its eyes on this same group of dogs and walkers as they moved forward!! The coyote knew the habitual route of this group — it knows all the dogs in its park and is particularly leery of certain of these. It chosen this lookout where it would be able to see them exit this part of the park!

After that, the coyote relaxed for a while, grooming its legs and finally it slithered off about half an hour after I first saw it up there! Please see my posting of January 29th for a more complete explanation of the monitoring: The Purpose Of A Coyote’s Monitoring Some Dogs.

A Coyote Surprises Me: Coyote behavior

It was a foggy morning. The fog was very dense — so much so that I actually turned off at the wrong intersection on my way to the park: none of the familiar landmarks could be seen. This, on top of the dark dawn hours, made the beginning of the day very mysterious. It was a suitable morning for surprises.

When I reached the park where I was headed, I began walking and recording park sounds. I wondered if the dampness in a dense fog might affect the quality of the sound. Sound travels further, but not as crisply, I think: I say this because this is how the foghorns in our area sound. I stopped a couple of times to record water, birds, and voices in the distance, and then I continued down a very open path — one with no bushes for hundreds of feet.

When I was halfway down this path, I turned around — I think I was expecting some walkers to appear — the same ones whose voices I had heard in the distance. But there, on my path, not more than 40 feet behind me, was a coyote hurrying towards me — a coyote which I am familiar with. I have seen coyotes approach dogs and their walkers in this same way, but I had no dog with me — a coyote has never hurried up to me from behind this way before, so I was surprised. When I turned around and faced it, it stopped.

The coyote had been coming towards me rather purposefully. At first I thought that maybe this was part of its monitoring/patrolling behavior, or that I may have entered its “space” without knowing it. But, this particular coyote has always ignored me — allowing me to observe it from the sidelines. Never, until this day, I thought, had any of its behavior acknowledged me or been directed at me. Other coyotes have watched me, but not this one.

Just then, as I was trying to figure out this behavior, a walker and her very large dog appeared from further back on the path, over the crest of a hill, in back of the coyote — and the dog chased the coyote. Ahh, that was it — the coyote had been actually evading this dog, hurrying ahead of it, on the same path I was on. The owner was able to call her dog back, but the coyote wanted it known that it didn’t want to be chased or interfered with, so the coyote returned back after the dog in an antagonistic and defensive posture: crouched, hackles up, and teeth bared. The dog again chased it off and this time the coyote headed away, hurrying into the distance.

At the same time, two other beautifully sleek, young adult coyotes appeared and sat in the distance — these are all part of one family group. I walked in their direction. As I got closer, they walked towards me and stopped — they’ve done this once before, looking at me curiously — maybe assessing me — there was definitely a questioning aspect to their stance. I have photographed these two, not too often, but often enough to feel that my respect for their wildness and their space has led to a returned respect which warranted them not fleeing.  I took a few photos in the fog, and then both coyotes, as the first one, hurried off as they heard more human voices coming down the path.

** IF A COYOTE COMES TOO CLOSE FOR YOUR COMFORT, it is important to know how to ward the coyote off. Flail your arms, make yourself big, and make sharp noises, facing the coyote. The coyote is no match for a human and will most likely flee. Statistically, coyotes are not a danger to humans. However, it is important to remember that they are wild — so, for your own feeling of safety it is important to keep them at a safe distance.

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