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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coyote encounter and the alternative universe

Within a couple of minutes of rolling out the door with K, I noticed the stippled sky to the east and stopped to take a photo. I didn't scan the meadow between me and the horizon. Look closely at the foreground of the photo - a coyote is standing slightly left of center near the bottom. I didn't see him at the time, and I went on to take another photo of the sky.

At that moment, K zoomed into view in fast pursuit of the coyote. As I've written in the past, I've used an electronic collar to stop K's coyote chasing because positive methods alone weren't working to stop this dangerous behavior. I fumbled for the transmitter but K was too close to the coyote (within 20 yards or so) for me to find the right button in time. So, I simply called her. To my complete and utter amazement, K whipped around and sprinted back to me. We had a huge victory celebration - she ate at least half of the treats that I had with me, meant to last the whole ride. I wanted to make sure that she knew what an amazingly good thing she'd just done.

I kept glancing at the coyote who was standing like a statue about 75 yards from us. He watched us closely but didn't move. I asked K to 'sit' and 'stay'. I took a couple of photos of the coyote. Then, I asked K to 'heel' as we rode out of the meadow. She followed my cues perfectly. I have no idea what possessed her to be so obedient around a coyote - but it saved the day. Maybe K remembers the lessons that she learned last fall or she's suddenly become sufficiently mature to resist the temptation of a fleeing coyote.

For months, I've been alert for coyotes whenever I've traversed this meadow with my dogs. But, I've been lulled into a false sense of security because our last encounter was about 4-5 months ago. So, today, it didn't cross my mind to look for coyotes before starting to snap my photos. Today, I got my reminder that I need to go back to a high level of alert.

It's mating season for coyotes, and I've been seeing a pair hunting together in the meadows. However, this pair hasn't been doing their 'dog luring' behavior. Even today, the coyote didn't try to tempt K to chase him after she returned to me. In the past, coyotes have displayed playful and teasing canine behaviors like playbows and spins to try to get my dogs to chase them.

So, today, K and I headed away from the lower elevation meadows and up to the more exposed ridges and peaks. I took a photo of our star pupil on a peak. I felt lucky that my inattention hadn't caused K to get hurt or killed and gave her a big hug.

After I rode with K, I headed out on a ride that presented a smorgasbord of changing conditions. The first 3/4 of the ride was on dry rocky ground with lots of glimpses of the Continental Divide peeking over the bone-dry grasslands and forests (see below). Then, I planned to return home via a northwest-facing ledge trail that's usually impassable with snow drifts until late May. Because of the ledge trail, I rode my Fatback bike. I continue to be completely and utterly amazed by my Fatback - it handles incredibly nimbly on dry rocky ground and the huge tires act as a plush suspension. It's exceeded my expectations in every way.After a long and hot climb up a gulch paralleling a creek, I topped out at a viewpoint and took a brief rest before dropping down to the snowy ledge trail. It's a popular resting spot for hikers but I was alone today.

I descended to the ledge trail and it felt like I'd beamed to an alternative universe. I'd sweated in the 60 degree sun just minutes before and now I was on a shady, cold, and snowy trail. It was obvious that I was the first human to tread on it since fall. But, it teemed with pine marten tracks. A marten had packed down a groove into the middle of the trail as he vigilantly patrolled his territory. With such a fierce predator on the prowl, it wasn't surprising that there weren't many red squirrel tracks despite the prime pine forest habitat. Either they'd fled the marten or they'd been eaten.

Superimposed on the dominant marten tracks, I saw bobcat tracks, scat, and scratchings on some bare earth. Near the end of the trail, I saw a few deer and elk tracks, plus some bigger tracks that I couldn't identify.

I nearly jumped out of my skin once - when I was hit in the back by a springy branch that I'd unknowingly bent as I brushed past it. At that instant, I remembered that my friend calls this trail 'Wild cat alley'. The cliff section shown in the two photos below completely freaks her out - especially since I like to pick raspberries here in the summertime. With knee-deep snow drifts below the north-facing cliff, it was hard to imagine summertime coming anytime soon.


  1. W.O.W.!!!

    K is an amazing girl!!!!!!!

    And beautiful :) Thank goodness she has brains to go along with that beauty!!!

  2. I read through all your posts pertaining to the work you've done with your dogs not to chase coyotes and I'm seriously thinking about combining the insurance of a shock collar with the daily work I'm doing on coming when called. Like you said, you do what you can with training and rewards, but it's hard to simulate the draw of a coyote chase.

  3. Mary,

    Since you read my previous posts about coyote training, I'm sure that you saw that I see the electronic collar as a very unpleasant absolute last resort for a life-threatening situation. I use it only for coyote chasing, and I did tons of positive training first to make sure that K understands and reliably does recalls in a variety of situations. I've used the collar only three times.

    If you decide to use a collar, be sure to rehearse in your mind exactly what you plan to do if you have a coyote encounter. In my case, I decided to teach K that chasing the coyote was very scary so I shocked her as she started to chase. That stopped her in her tracks, and then I did a recall and gave her a ton of positive reinforcement for coming to me.

    I overcame my aversion to these collars because a number of dogs in my neighborhood were killed by coyotes that lured them into chases so I felt that I needed to protect K from her urge to chase them. Of course, another option would've been to keep K on a leash - but for me and her that wasn't a reasonable option.

    Feel free to email me if you run into any questions. My email address is with my profile.



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