Coyote Encounter: Tips for Dog Walkers and Homeowners
Ah, the coyote. Celebrated for its adaptability and scorned as a nuisance. A couple of generations ago, you would have had to leave civilization for a chance to see one. A sighting would normally be difficult, though, because they’d hear you coming and vanish like the wind before you would even see them.
Nowadays, you often only have to look out your own window to see one. Coyotes are common in suburban and even urban settings. In general, coyotes fear humans and will run away when they become aware of us, but not always.
Some coyotes may have grown a bit complacent as a result of their exposure to human activity. They’re drawn to our bird feeders and dumpsters, for instance, mostly because of the birds, squirrels, and other prey animals that frequent them. That can put people and their pets in danger.
From late autumn to early spring, a lot of woodland creatures are curled up in their dens enjoying their long winter nap. That means that coyotes, which don’t hibernate or migrate, have slim pickings for food, which may make them a bit bolder and less selective. It’s also a time when you have a better chance of encountering a coyote when you’re walking your dog. The days are shorter, which may find you walking at dawn or dusk. Coyotes tend to be active at dawn and dusk because some of the animals they hunt are active at that time, too.
During the day, they may be more interested in your bird feeder because of the squirrels and other wildlife it attracts. Birds aren’t typically an easy prey item for them. Occasionally, a coyote will get lucky with turkeys, pigeons, and mourning doves.
What to Do If You Encounter a Coyote
Healthy coyotes usually fear humans, and you should do everything you can to perpetuate that fear. But, when times are tough, they may be less fearful of humans. Here are some things to be aware of that will help you in the event you encounter a coyote.
- Pick up and carry children and small dogs if necessary.
- Walk your dog on a 6-foot leash. If you use a retractable leash, you don’t have full control of the dog, and you must prevent him from running towards or away from a coyote, and from engaging the animal.
- Don’t let your dog off leash whether in a tight neighborhood or wide open spaces.
- Make yourself look bigger and more imposing. Stand tall and maintain eye contact. Don’t turn your back on or run from a coyote. Running may trigger a prey drive.
- Make a lot of noise. Experts use the term hazing or aversion conditioning. They say haze a coyote by scaring it away with loud noises and actions.
- Throw things towards (but not at) the coyote, flap your jacket at it, open and close your umbrella rapidly, shine your flashlight, stomp your feet.
- If the coyote runs a short distance, stops and turns around to check on you, continue the hazing, moving towards the coyote until it runs away. Calmly leave the area yourself.
- If a coyote has never been hazed before, he or she may not run away immediately just by you vocalizing. You may need to move towards the coyote while hazing it.
Special Consideration for Coyote Breeding and Whelping Season
In most cases, human presence is enough to scare a coyote away, but in lean times, the rules could change. The rules also change during the coyote breeding and birthing season which usually runs August through January.
Don’t haze a coyote when they’re breeding or whelping. That may force them to act defensively. The experts say to stand tall, maintain eye contact, and back away from the area. Again, never turn your back on the coyote.
As you depart, the coyote may follow you for a short distance (also known as shadowing), as its way of escorting you away from its den. Maintaining eye contact and a tall posture balances things out, signaling to the coyote that it doesn’t have the upper hand.
How to React to a Bold Coyote
Report overly brazen coyotes to animal control officers, the police, your county or state wildlife agency. "Overly brazen" could be interpreted as a coyote that:
- comes too close to you
- follows you for too long
- acts aggressively
- is not scared off by hazing
Be prepared to give as much detailed information as possible. Provide the exact location where the encounter occurred, and try to provide as much identifying information about the animal as possible. Note features such as coloration, injuries, or vocalizations.
Such animals may have become comfortably habituated to humans or may be obtaining food from humans. For that reason, never leave pet food or treats outside. If you or your neighbors have backyard chickens, be aware that coyotes will be attracted to them, their feed, and the rodents that are attracted to their feed.
The experts say to always haze coyotes with loud noises or hurled objects, whether or not they’re an immediate threat to you. The object is to keep the animals in fear of humans, but to do so humanely, without injuring them.
Courtesy of Coyote Watch Canada, a non-profit organization which advocates conservation and science-based investigation, education, prevention, and enforcement, here are more facts you should know:
- The coyote ranges throughout North America and, as the human population encroaches upon its territory, it adapts and coexists.
- Pet dogs are members of the family Canidae, which also includes wolves, foxes, coyotes, and jackals.
- All canids are curious and driven by instinct to explore and chase wildlife.
- Coyotes and other wildlife are protective of family members and may perceive domestic dogs as a threat.
- 92% of conflicts between wildlife and domestic dogs occur when dogs are off-leash.
- Conflicts between off-leash dogs and coyotes often occur near coyote den sites or in established coyote territory.
- Dog walkers are often unaware of dens and territories and may frequent them daily without even realizing it!
- It is not uncommon for a coyote to escort or "shadow" a dog walker out of an area when pups or a den are nearby.
- Allowing dogs to chase or harass wildlife is illegal in most jurisdictions.
- Wildlife harassment incites conflict between species and alters natural behaviors, often causing animals to venture outside their territories and expend vital energy unnecessarily.
- While coyotes normally avoid us, intentional/unintentional feeding may change a coyote’s proximity tolerance, resulting in them approaching people or yards.
- Each coyote has a different “food education:” some coyotes have been taught that people (and their property) will provide food (e.g., direct feeding, compost bins, bird feeders, or cat and dog food left outside).
Coyotes Possess Redeeming Qualities as Well
Incredibly important to natural ecosystems, the coyote is a keystone species. A keystone species is one upon which other animals in an ecosystem largely depend, and one that, if it were removed, would change that ecosystem drastically.
While they will hunt and kill game, coyotes are also scavengers and are often referred to as nature’s clean-up crew. They are very effective in keeping rodent populations under control as well.
As devoted parents and diligent protectors of their offspring, coyotes mate for life and maintain significant family bonds.
- Learn About Coyotes
Coyote Watch Canada:
- For The Love of Leash!
- Co-Existing with Wildlife
- Coyote Hazing Overview
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2017 Bob Bamberg