U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

January 2007


Published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science 102 (2007) 85–94.


Previous research suggests that within social animals, subordinate individuals are less neophobic than dominant individuals. We investigated the effect of social status on neophobic responses using 10 captive coyote breeding pairs. Social status was determined from observations of feeding behavior and agonistic interactions during a series of reference trials. Once dominance was established, we surrounded an experimental area with novel stimuli (ropes adorned with interspersed flags) to create a novel context around a familiar food source. Contrary to hypotheses, dominant coyotes were first to feed, showed more interest toward novel stimuli, and eventually crossed the barrier, which subordinates never did. Our results indicate that dominant coyotes are less neophobic of novel settings that contain familiar food than subordinates are. Since a reduction in neophobia can be interpreted as an increase in risk taking, our results support previous observations that dominant (alpha) coyotes take more risks than subordinates. Our results also suggest reasons for differential observations of coyote behavior in the field: artificial selection against bold behavior in populations undergoing predator control.