Dog Work
I was introduced to using dogs while trapping and calling coyotes, over 30 years ago. I had met a guy in Montana who used one for decoying coyotes while calling and denning in the spring. He also used it to help find coyotes and cats caught in footholds on drags. That dog was pretty much his constant trapline companion, and earned his dog food in a variety of ways.

I had heard of using a dog to find coyote scent posts and other areas of coyote interest, but this was my first in-the-field demonstration of a good dog working, and its value. I was impressed enough to get a pup from the guy the next year.

It was a hound/Airedale cross, a fairly small male dog they named Putt. I took Putt trapping that first season, and he got acquainted with fox, coyotes, and cats. Since I was fairly nomadic at the time, trapping various areas and states in the course of the year, sometimes Putt was my only companion. Just like Tom Hanks' character Chuck in the movie Castaway, who talked to (and expected answers from) the volleyball he named 'Wilson', I got that way with Putt at times.

He became part of my operation pretty fast, and lived through some pretty lean times with me. He was always vigilant, and I trusted him to let me know if someone strange was around my camp at night. Hey, let's face it, dogs are a good judge of character.

When I landed a denning job in Wyoming, of course Putt went with me. We were both new to the world of coyote denning, but that didn't stop either of us. I was lucky to get to work with someone who kept and used dogs for denning, and both Putt and I got to jump up about 30 years on the learning curve. We got to see well-trained dogs and how they decoyed coyotes back within rifle range. My enthusiasm and desire to learn no doubt bled over to ol' Putt, and he was right there on many successful hunts and den situations.

I camped out a lot in those days. A canvas shop in Cody, Wyoming, made me a standard canvas bedroll that covered my good sleeping bag and help keep it clean and waterproof. Putt wasn't allowed to sleep on it because I didn't like dog hair on my stuff, but he slept fairly close to my feet. While denning, we would try to sleep in spots where we could hear any coyotes in the area, to help locate the dens. It hadn't taken me very many long walks to learn that having this vocal locating down as pinpoint accurate as possible was very important.

I've never been a real heavy sleeper anyway, and I wasn't real worried that I wouldn't be awakened by coyotes howling, but that little dog never seemed to miss anything and I usually woke up to him first. When we heard coyotes I'd get up and listen intently in the direction of the howling, taking special notice if I heard any pups. Putt picked up on this right away, and he would listen too, almost like he was visualizing where they might be, and the best approach.

After several nights doing this, with a little encouragement from me he started howling back at them. This vocal answering and 'challenge' wasn't always met with the desired result, though. A few times we had coyotes close enough that they came right into my 'camp', looking for the intruders. Putt got put on a leash after that started to happen. Even though he was pretty well trained, I didn't want him to get into more trouble than he could handle.

Many times we walked from my camping spot and ran right into the coyotes that were between us and the den. Like Putt, I learned the value of scanning ahead of me, and working slow. Surprises came in a variety of forms, and we liked the upper hand. If we could stay above the coyotes, or at least at the same level in the terrain as them, we stood a better chance of calling them in. Coyotes like to get above you if they can, almost as much as they like to get downwind of you. If they have both height and wind in their favor, it's pretty tough to get them to respond.

Putt and I both learned the hard way how aggressive a pair of coyotes defending their den and pups can be. When we were around our first several dens, we were with my friend who had at least one, if not two dogs working. Putt was more or less there to watch and observe, but he had learned fast and had no real fear yet of the flashing teeth and the 'scolding' and challenging the coyotes had previously given him.
But he underestimated his opponent a time or two and got a few bites on the butt. He had enough grit to stand his ground, though. And I got my first real observations of coyote body language. Putt already had this awareness genetically built into him. We both learned, together, to size up the coyotes as they made their approach. Not all coyotes are super aggressive, and Putt and I learned what it took to sweet talk those coyotes in as many times as possible. I had hunted upland birds with dogs many times before, but that first denning season really hooked me on the fact that a well trained coyote dog was a must-have.

With his senses tuned in to receiving and interpreting smells and sign, I should have known that Putt had a better handle on things than I gave him credit for at times. I remember making him follow me up a draw, following tracks I had found, when he obviously wanted to go another direction. I can be more than just a little stubborn, so I didn't give in at first. Finally I realized he was way ahead of me in the sign reading department, and I followed him. To the den.

I didn't always see the increasing amount of tracks, or the scent that came with them, but he did. Even on very hot days he would perk up a lot and show obvious excitement when we were getting close to a den, where the congregation of sign would come to a peak. I watched his tail, ears, and gait while at the same time watching ahead of me, taking it all in, waiting for things to liven up. When I realized that things were about to happen I'd have my pack off and the rifle in the shooting sticks, while looking for the right spot to sit and call from. Those little signs that Putt gave me helped me take a lot of coyotes, and we worked well together.

Denning became our occupation between beaver trapping the rivers and high country in the spring, and guiding fishermen during the hot summer months. Come fall, though, Putt and I would be back on the fur trapline. He learned quickly to avoid trap sets, and I had no problem letting him run around at the set location while I put traps in the ground. I had read about coyotes avoiding dog smells, and that was in the back of my mind from time to time. But, again, personal experience shined through, and I realized the benefit of having him along. Being a male, he would lift his leg on projecting objects along his line of travel, if they needed it or not. I didn't always use these spots to set traps, as it would have taken me all day to get a few miles at times, but I did set a few (and still do). Again, watching his body language showed me the spots that had the most potential. He'd kick and scratch, and return over and over to the spots that needed a trap, at least in his opinion.

I grew up trapping canines with drags, and was pretty fair at finding trapped animals fairly quickly. But having Putt along paid off so many times that I can't even express it. He could interpret the different smells on the air, and find a catch quickly -- if I stood back and let him do his job. I didn't like him to fight the coyotes, as I think the smell of agitation they then give off might actually hurt future catches, so I usually called him off when he located them. Again, he learned quickly, and I got used to relying on him for yet another way that I was making my living. We covered a lot of ground together, and he no doubt enjoyed it as much as I did.

Well, time flies by and 30 years have come and gone. I've had a lot of good coyote dogs, and a few great ones. Some never got the exposure to responsive/aggressive coyotes to become really good denning dogs, but they showed their value on the trapline. All were a welcome addition to my operation, and I couldn't have got done what I did without a few of them.

I still use dogs. Just yesterday I had to stop and let my best coyote dog, Dodger, work out the sign and find a coyote den. I wanted to work down a draw and follow some tracks in the mud that I figured would pan out. But he wanted to go a different direction; his body language showed that even though he would go with me, he wasn't happy about it. I hadn't gone very far when I realized the sign wasn't what I needed to see, and Dodger had already summed the situation up. I turned around and let him take the lead, in the direction that he had originally wanted to go.

He found the den in about a minute.