Warning! Eyes wild with desire, coyotes covet dog toys.
My friend Beth is a school teacher. One day a parent brought in pictures of a coyote playing with a dog toy. The parent had photographed the coyote out her window. The coyote was romping around her yard throwing her dog's toy in the air. Beth gave me some copies of the shots.
I had been wanting to paint and to write about this coyote ever since. When I got around to painting the coyote, I could not locate the pictures Beth had given me. I also could not remember the name of the woman who had taken them. I went online to see if she might have posted them, as it was a spectacular moment to have captured with a camera.
I looked up “coyote plays with dog toy”. I did not find the pictures online that Beth had shown me but I did find other shots and videos of coyotes playing with dog toys. Later, Beth re-gave me the photos. In the meantime, what I had come across online made me realize that the behavior and incident was not a one off for coyotes. Coyotes were visiting backyards and playing with dogs' toys from Massachusetts, to New York to California.
This made me wonder at their behavior. I have seen adult coyotes jump on leaves and sticks and tussle with them a bit for fun (mostly in cold, sunny, frisky weather). I assumed that they were playing. The fact that adult coyotes play with objects and are not too busy sheltering, surviving and mating, to play, is not what intrigued me.
What intrigues me is this: do dog toys inspire play in coyotes? Like a Milk-Bone left on a lawn might inspire the coyote to stop and snack, does the toy invite the coyote to play? Are the coyotes intrigued by the softness, the eyes, the fuzz, the imitation of an animal? Does this help turn on the imagination of a coyote and induce it to stop and take a moment to play?
We must assume it does in our dogs. We would not spend money on these toys if we did not think they inspired our dogs to play. There is research that shows dogs have a preference for novel toys. Dogs will mostly choose a new toy that they have not played with before over a more familiar one.
It is cool to imagine that a little set of wild eyes shining from the forest edge may be waiting for the chance to fling your dog's toy high into the sky. Take heed, though. Your dog's favorite toy may end up in a private coyote cache!