Posts Tagged ‘decoy dog’

In most of the US, coyotes, people, and domestic dogs live quite close to each other, and there are certainly conflicts. Coyotes can behave as predators toward small dogs and cats, and when someone loses a pet to a coyote, it is a truly sad event.

One idea that seems to be out there is that coyotes lure dogs to their death. This is an old cowboy story, but it goes this way. A coyote runs up to a dog that you’re walking. They coyote tries to play with the dog, and most dogs will play with the coyote. The coyote runs away the dog, taking it back into the cover where its pack then leaps upon the dog and kills and eats it.

These events may happen, but I doubt they are as common as people assume.  What is actually going when something like this happens isn’t anything planned out by the coyotes. Coyotes generally don’t regard dogs that are their size or larger as being distinct species.

Coyotes are socially monogamous. Only one female per territory has a litter every year, but very often, offspring from the previous year will remain with their parents. They will often be on a look out for a potential mate, and if one these young, unpaired coyotes discovers a dog, it might try to flirt with the dog.

The problem happens when the flirting coyote, usually a young female, takes the dog back to meet the parents. Coyotes generally hate when dogs get near their dens and rendezvous sites, and the parents may attack their daughter’s new boyfriend.  These encounters almost always occur during mating and denning seasons.

They may kill the dog, if the dog is of the right size and the coyote pack is large enough. However, they never planned out that they were going to kill a dog in this fashion. That is attributing far higher reasoning powers upon an animal than the animal possesses.

Large and mid-sized dogs are not easy prey for coyotes. They have jaws and sharp teeth, and even if a pack were to swarm a large dog, the risks of injury are quite high.  Coyotes are generally smart enough to avoid taking unnecessary risks with their prey sources.

So the idea that coyotes have a predation strategy that involves luring dogs into their deaths is based upon a faulty understanding of coyote behavior.

And it is a textbook example of projection. Why do I say this?

Well, one well-known method for hunting coyotes involves using decoys dogs.  During the denning and mating season, a coyote hunter will play coyote howls or prey in distress sounds.  These sounds, when played in a sequence, will tell a resident coyote pair that a poacher is upon their land.

When the coyotes come in to investigate, a well-trained, mid-sized dog is sent out. This dog, called the “decoy dog,” plays the role of the poaching coyote that was howling and killing prey on their territory. The coyotes rush the dog. The dog annoys them, and when the coyotes decide to come in strong, the dog runs back toward the hunter who then shoots the coyotes.

This way of coyote hunt is essentially the same as the behavior ascribed to coyotes when they are alleged to lure dogs away.

Indeed, I bet if we actually knew the real numbers, dogs are responsible for killing more coyotes than coyotes are for killing dogs. Not only are dogs used to hunt coyotes in the way that I just described. but there are plenty of scenthounds, curs, HPRs, and coursing dogs that are maestros at taking out coyotes.

Because coyotes are so controversial and often so reviled,  very few people have questioned the behavioral sequences that lie behind that old cowboy story.

I am not denying that coyotes can and do kill dogs. I know that conflicts between humans and coyotes are very real, and they often can only be addressed through lethal means. I am also not opposed to coyote hunting, because hunting them can be a way of keeping the peace between coyotes and farming and hunting interests.

But we do animals a disservice when we attribute human characteristics upon them, whether it is to confer positive or negative intent. We need to accept that animals are animals and appreciate what they really are.


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From Chambers’s Journal in an article called “Norfolk Broads and Rivers” :

On some of the broads there is still to be seen an industry fast falling into decay—decoys with decoy ducks and dogs. These require to be worked with the utmost silence and caution. One winter-night in 1881 Mr Davies inspected in company with the keeper the decoy at Fritton. Broad. The night was cold and dark, and each, of the men had to carry a piece of smouldering turf in his hand to destroy the human scent, which would otherwise have alarmed the wary ducks. This made their eyes water; and the decoy-dog, a large red retriever, being in high spirits, insisted on tripping them up repeatedly, as they crawled along in the darkness bent almost double. The interest of the sight, however, when at length they reached the decoy, fully made up for these petty discomforts. Peeping through an eyehole, a flock of teal were to be seen paddling about quite close to them; while beyond these were several decoy-ducks, and beyond these again a large flock of mallards. The decoy-ducks are trained to come for food whenever they see the dog or hear a whistle from the decoy-man. The dog now showed himself obedient to a sign from his master, and in an instant every head among the teal was up, and every bright shy eye twinkling with pleased curiosity. Impelled by curiosity, they slowly swim towards the dog, which, slowly retiring, leads them towards the mouth of the decoy-pipe, showing himself at intervals till they were well within it. The keeper then ran silently to the mouth of the pipe, and waving his handkerchief, forced them, frightened and reluctant, to flutter forward into the tunnel. He then detached a hoop from the grooves, gave it a twist, and secured them by cutting off their return. This seemed the last act of the drama, and Mr Davies took the opportunity to straighten his back, which was aching dreadfully. ‘Immediately there was a rush of wings, and the flock of mallards left the decoy. ” There, now, you ha’ done it!” exclaimed the keeper excitedly. “All them mallards were following the dog into the pipe, and we could ha’ got a second lot.” We expressed our sorrow in becoming terms, and watched the very expeditious way in which he extracted the birds from the tunnel net, wrung their necks, and flung them into a heap.’ Few places now are suitable for decoys, for even life in the marshes is not so quiet as it used to be (pg. 274).

In Norfolk and Suffolk, there is a series of deep rivers that open up into something very much like a lake. These areas are called “the broads.” This area was home to a peculiar type of retriever called the “Norfolk retriever,” which has now become extinct. It was more like a liver water spaniel/retriever cross.

I have already written about red decoy dogs, which were not large dogs, and were never called retrievers. They are at the base of the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever breed.

The red color was a necessity for any decoy dog, for it mimicked the fox, which has also been known to toll in ducks near to the shore. For some reason, ducks are easily beguiled by a dog or fox’s playful antics, and if one is also using decoy ducks that have been accustomed to entering a trap, one can use both the dog and the decoy ducks to capture them. (More on the history of this method for trapping ducks can be found at the Poodle History Project’s page on the decoy dogs).

I don’t know exactly what sort of retriever was being used as a decoy here. It could have been anything. Perhaps it was aberrant red wavy-coat that would never be used for a shooting party but was biddable and “sagacious” enough to be trained as a decoy dog.

In an article in Dogs in Canada from this February, Col. David Hancock, MBE, writes about a dark golden retriever doing decoy work in East Anglia (the historic region that includes both Norfolk and Suffolk):

A Golden was quite recently used as a decoy dog in East Anglia, charming many visitors. So the next time you throw a stick for your Golden Retriever, you may be re-enacting the role for which the dog’s ancestors were greatly valued, not merely idling away time and providing exercise. We may not, in these sophisticated times, need all of the wide-ranging skills of our dogs, but each must be exercised and we should honour their innate desire to be active, their instinctive interest in hunting and their inherent talent for serving mankind.

I am not suggesting that the large red decoy retriever was a golden retriever, but if trapping ducks had remained a popular activity, it is possible that the yellow and red retrievers would have been entirely developed for this task.

That color may not have been fashionable for late nineteenth century and early twentieth century shooting parties, but on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, the dogs of this color did have a function.

Most of the decoy dogs were mid-sized reddish dogs, not big retrievers.

So the exact origins of this large red retriever are quite interesting.

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