What to Do If You See a Coyote While Walking: Wildlife Safety Tips
What to Do If You See a Coyote
Coyotes are native wildlife, and year after year as we continue to develop land and shrink wildlife habitats, humans and coyotes are forced to share the same territory. Whether you live in rural areas where coyotes freely roam, or live in a city like San Francisco where wildlife can be seen roaming through urban residential areas, you may be wondering what you should do if you see one, and whether or not your dog or cat is safe. We will go over several scenarios:
- What to do if you encounter a coyote while hiking.
- Are coyotes dangerous? (Do they carry rabies?)
- What to do if you have a coyote in your yard.
- What to do if you see a coyote while walking your dog.
- Is your dog or cat safe?
- How can you keep coyotes away?
Whenever I'm hiking in the backcountry or solo, I carry a portable air horn. This is usually used for emergency situations while boating, but I use it in case I encounter wildlife. Most animals, including mountain lions, will startle with this loud noise (you will too).
What to Do If You Encounter a Coyote (Hiking, Walking, etc.)
- Stand tall. Coyotes are both curious and neophobic. If you see a solitary coyote—and yes, I've had them run right by me while out hiking—chances are they are going to leave you alone. They might be curious, watch, or trot, but for the most part, they are on their own agenda. This is often the case if they are healthy and habituated. They tend to scavenge, so they may be after something else you can't see. Whatever is going on, stand tall. You don't want to make yourself a target. Sometimes it helps to square up and face them (in a non-challenging but confident manner).
- Look at them. Don't stare them down, but you can look at them, even from the side. This lets them know that you see them. Most of the time, you can ignore them and they will scare off or ignore you. Essentially, treat them like you're encountering a slightly questionable stranger on the street. Hold your own, but don't act foolish.
- Leash or pick up your dog. This is actually step one if your dog is off lead or you have a small animal, but often times you have to notice and stare at the coyote first to know what it actually is. Don't let your large dog interact or chase and don't leave your small dog on the ground. Carry smaller breeds. Coyotes will snatch a small dog, so carry your small dog with you, keep your large dog tight on the leash, and wait until you're certain the coyote has moved on.
- Vocalize if you feel unsafe. Coyotes aren't fond of new noises, new things, and being "identified." If you feel like the coyote is a little too interested in you, square up, raise your hands overhead and yell "Hey! "Hey!" or something you would do to get someone's attention in a dangerous situation. If you can startle the coyote, you can often drive them off. Most of them are terrified.
- If threatened, get help ASAP. If you encounter an aggressive coyote or several coyotes and feel unsafe, get help right away. Yell for other hikers, call 911, do anything you can to get help by your side. Wildlife is wild—don't mess around.
- Use a prop. If the coyote is diseased, acting strangely, acting aggressive, and you can't get a hold of an emergency contact, use props. This means you can throw rocks or sticks near the coyote to drive it off. If there's a tree and you're alone, climb it. If there are branches or bushes, grab them and use them to extend your size and reach (look big). Continue to yell.
- Report the encounter. Call the parks and recreation department of the area, animal control, your local wildlife center, or a similar entity to report any bizarre wildlife behavior—especially if the coyote is acting diseased or abnormal (aggressive).
Are Coyotes Dangerous?
There have been only two confirmed deaths from coyotes. According to Wikipedia.com, a three-year-old died post-attack in 1981 in an urban area of Glendale, California. In 2009, two coyotes stalked and mauled Taylor Mitchell in Nova Scotia. She later died from blood loss.
While there have been coyote attacks throughout the years, for the most part, coyotes are fearful of humans. There is the risk, however, of coyotes becoming habituated and less fearful of humans. Your pets—small dogs and cats (and children!)—are most in danger of attacks.
Do They Carry Rabies?
There are two forms of rabies. The "furious" form which results in agitated behavior and drooling and the "dumb" form which results in scenarios where wildlife atypically approach humans without fear. Because rabies is a neurological condition, you will see neurological symptoms—disorientation, imbalance, etc.
Rabies is spread via saliva, but is a fragile virus—it's primarily transmitted via bite wound, it CAN be spread if aerosolized (saliva droplets), via contaminated water or food (for short periods), or scratches via open wounds or mucous membrane entry.
Vaccinate your pets (cats and dogs!). Although uncommon, rabies is still prevalent in the United States. If you or your pet may have been exposed, contact your veterinarian or doctor immediately for post-exposure prophylactics.
What to Do If You Have a Coyote in Your Yard
Wildlife and livestock interactions are an ongoing challenge. Approaches to keeping humans, livestock, and wildlife safe varies state by state. The good news is that there are currently many humane ways to deter coyotes. According to Project Coyote, here are a few solutions for both rural, suburban, and urban areas:
- Electric fences
- Strobe lights (set off by motion)
- Radio devices
- Streamers on fence or property
- Guard animals (llamas, large dog breeds in number)
- Placing garbage and compost in secure containers
- Keeping your small dog or cat on a leash or indoors
- Calling a local wildlife center (sometimes they will relocate the coyote if it's in an urban area or appears to be juvenile)
Free Rodent Control
Coyotes limit the overpopulation of ground rodents—gophers and similar species that can tear up land, turf, and soils.
What to Do If You See a Coyote While Walking Your Dog
Make sure that you have your dog vaccinated for rabies. In many areas, this is a legal requirement by county and only a veterinarian can vaccinate for rabies and have it be recognized by the state. That means that if your dog is suspected of exposure, several things will happen if they aren't vaccinated:
- They will be quarantined; or
- If they bite someone and aren't vaccinated and die shortly after suspected exposure, they will be sent off to the lab to be tested for the virus. Unfortunately, this means that your pet will be decapitated. This is a necessary process of the testing. If you don't like this scenario, vaccinate!
Is Your Dog or Cat Safe?
Don't let your small dog (or cat) roam in the backyard if you suspect a coyote is lurking. Walking your pet on a leash with necessary deterrents. Keep your dog close. If you encounter a coyote in an urban area, try to startle it, move away (don't run), and carry your small dog with you.
Do not let large breeds chase after a lone coyote. This puts them at risk of disease exposure, injury, and your dog could possibly be lured into a pack of coyotes, which could result in death.
Consider keeping your indoor/outdoor cat inside at night especially. If you really have a coyote problem, look for natural deterrents and consider building a cat atrium so that your cat can enjoy the outdoors without the risk.
How Can You Keep Coyotes Away?
There are a lot of great resources for deterring coyotes. As mentioned, it depends on whether you are in urban, suburban, or rural areas. If you have livestock and large property, electric fences, strobe lights (set off by motion), radio devices, flood lights, streamers on the fence, and guard animals (llamas, large dog breeds in number) do work well to deter coyotes.
If you live in an urban area, do not let your small animals out at night without being kept near you. Carry deterrents. Put all of your garbage and compost in secure containers. Always report any abnormal wildlife encounters to local centers and organizations like Fish and Wildlife services. Project Coyote is an excellent resource for people in California and nationally within the United States.
Video: How to Coexist With Coyotes
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Layne Holmes