Tuesday, January 26, 2010

(Not a) Wild Pack of Family Dogs

Headed out on the sloppy slushy muddy trails today. Dixie was unusually skittish at the beginning of our ride, behind the pueblo house. She is a spazz and I'm used to that, but it seemed a bit different today, so I started thinking about coyotes. And I got that Modest Mouse song stuck in my head!

We rolled on down toward the mines. We'd just gotten down the hill by the flat bit of trail near the Road to Nowhere when Dixie slammed on the brakes. I looked where she was looking and saw several coyotes about 50' away. They are so amazingly camouflaged - I saw three or four, but there could've been more. We sat and watched them for a few minutes. Often coyotes move along, doing whatever they do, so I was waiting for this group to keep going.

They didn't. They stared at us, and for the first time, I really viscerally understood why horses get nervous when you stare in their eyes. One would stare at me - and I'd stare at it - and then I'd realize that another one was moving, so I'd watch that one and it would stop and another one would start moving. All of a sudden I realized they were trying to flank me to get to Cersei (who had no clue they were there).

I whistled to Cersei to turn around, and once she'd passed behind us I let Dixie turn to follow. The coyotes immediately moved in closer, so I wheeled Dixie and ran her a couple feet at them. The coyotes were not remotely afraid of us, but they did stop when we charged. Then Dixie and I turned and lit out for home. Dixie was so freaked out she kicked at Cersei as we cantered past her. Dear, sweet, innocent oblivious Cersei was unfazed by getting kicked at, but she did put on a burst of speed once she realized we were gonna go fast.

I let Dixie canter uphill til she got tired, then pulled her down to a rack and risked my neck by checking behind us a few times. That was pretty pointless; you can't see them unless they're moving, and I dared not turn around for longer than a second or two. I never saw them again, and about a half-mile later Dixie relaxed and we walked on in.

I am very aware of where Cersei is at all times, and she's a good dog with a really strong recall. It's still really risky taking her, and it would completely break my heart if they got her. I'm not sure what to do, really - just accept the risk and continue taking her, or price out an air rifle and try to tag one the next time they start hunting my dog? I could get a regular rifle, but that would be even harder to desensitize the horse to.


  1. Gah...that's scary and a big risk, IMO. My dogs have fantastic recall too, about 99% of the time. In your shoes I'd start leaving Cersei behind, at least until the weather gets better and the coyotes have more hunting opportunities. You don't want to watch your dog get taken down, you don't want to get in the middle of your dog getting taken down, and you don't want to risk things going awry for you on horseback with an unpredictable mare not sensitized to gunshots. I'd leave Cersei at home for the rest of the winter, start getting Dixie used to a rifle, and look forward to riding out with both next year.

  2. Our Swampish coyotes are significantly smaller than those you see in Nevada, and ours are also much less "organized" than the group you describe. I rarely see more than two coyotes, unless it's a mum with young pups.

    Are you sure that you are seeing coyotes ? Dogs and coyote/dog hybrids are much more likely to form packs, and these groups can be truly dangerous because they aren't shy of humans as a regular coyote will be.

    If a real coyote is aggressive to humans or medium-to-large size dogs, it's usually either starving or diseased.

    I recommend that you check with local wildlife authorities and tell them what you see and where you see the groups. They will probably be able to give you good advice.

  3. dp - I'll definitely consider leaving Cers at home. I don't know if I'll ever have the balls to shoot OFF of Dixie. Getting her used to a .22 (maybe with subsonic rounds?) being fired from the ground beside her would be much, much easier.

    AareneX - they were definitely absolutely not dogs. Possibly coydogs, I don't know for sure what they look like when they hybridize. They were small, slender, grey and tan beasties with prick ears, huge tails, and yellow eyes. And they were completely unafraid. I yelled when I charged them, in the Big Bad Voice that scatters dog packs, and they didn't budge.

    They do take domestic animals in that area quite often - outdoor cats have a suicidally short lifespan, and yard dogs that don't have tall kennels disappear.

  4. wow! i always HEAR lots of coyotes in packs (and there seems to be a LOT of them around here this winter), but I never SEE more than 2 together. A coyote once ran right in front of me riding my horse on the trail - he was chasing a rabbit (which streaked in front of first) and we startled him. My horse just looked at both with interest. I think I might've been a bit nervous this close to a bunch of coyotes!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  5. Yeesh that is scary! How big are our coyotes out there? Ours here are sort of large fox size, but I hear further north they're like German Shephard size. Which is terrifying. Then again, up north they also have wolves and bears so it probably pays to be bigger. Do you get mountain lions too?

  6. I suggest, instead of a riding with a rifle, ride with a container of Bear Spray instead. Quite effective and you don't have to worry about desensitizing your horse to the gun, missing the coyote or other possible problems.

    My mom carries it when she rides in the Sierras, and I've been carrying it when I trail ride because there have been some close calls with some not so nice loose dogs.


  7. Scary stuff!

    We get coyotes all the time where I board and sometimes they're in groups of two or three. I make it a point to charge them with Max- I primarily do it to desensitize him (and he seems to like chasing them).

    I have a friend who has a serious problem with wild dogs where he rides- there was even one occassion where he had to run them down to keep them from attacking (apparently his horse likes to kick out at them).

    Coyotes are one reason I don't take my dog out on the trail- he views himself as a tough guy and sometimes he doesn't listen. I don't want to take a chance.

  8. Wow. That's unnerving. With Cersei's point-perfect recall, I would be SHOCKED if they actually came after her while she was near you, though. I'd be far more concerned if your dog hada tendency to want to chase the coyotes. IME, that's how they get them - lure them away with a game of chase to wear them out and meet up with a larger pack. But then, they're pretty effing smart so it's not like your Reno coyotes couldn't have come up with a different strategy.

    How big is Cersei? They often seem more intimidated by larger dogs, and may have just been scoping her out.

    If you do decide to carry a .22, may I recommend rock salt? If you do manage to hit them, they'll remember it.

  9. Wow! VERY scary. I would leave her home personally, but I'm not there and I don't know your dog. I did grow up in BC with coyotes though and those don't sound like the coyotes I grew up with. Def send in a report to USFW describing their behavior. Any habituated wild animal is a danger to people and domesticated animals.

  10. I'd leave her home...she wouldn't have a chance against a pack. Makes me kind of glad I'm in the midwest. We have coyotes but they are much more timid, rarely seen, and when you do they are alone. You wouldn't want to go off your horse in a pack that bold either. That scares the bejeebers out of me. ~E.G.


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