People’s interactions with urbanized coyotes have given birth to several myths over the years. These stories start from subjective interpretations of observations people make of coyote behavior interpreted through the lens of personal beliefs, biases and the deep-seated evolutionary fear of predators, and have no basis in reality or scientific fact. Which brings to mind a quote by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
One of my all-time favorites is the story that has been repeated over and over again about how a single coyote intentionally lures unsuspecting dogs away from their homes to become a meal for a hungry pack of coyotes that are waiting to devour it. Another popular version of the myth is that it’s a female coyote in heat that intentionally targets and lures male dogs away to be eaten.
I can understand the mechanism by which these myths can start: through lack of knowledge of animal behavior, specifically, how dogs and coyotes interact. Most times, animal behaviors have simple, uncomplicated explanations and it is important to objectively evaluate that natural behavior, if we are to gain an understanding of how to peacefully and safely coexist with wildlife that are sharing the environment with us.
So, what appears to be “sinister” motivations on part of the coyote is simply this:
1. A coyote investigates another canid (dog) in the neighborhood. Younger coyotes are more curious about new things in their environment. Alpha coyotes will also investigate if there is another canid (dog) in their environment to determine whether it’s a threat. Close encounters, interactions and direct eye contact is made.
2. Dogs are also curious about other canids such as coyotes, and the dog will sometimes follow/chase the coyote as it returns back into the woods/hills.
3. The dog at that point may encounter other coyote family members because young coyotes and alphas sometimes travel together – a natural behavior of social canids.
4. The dog entering the coyote’s domain may then be interpreted as an “intruder.” Either as a competitor over resources, or as a threat to their offspring if there are pups around (or the dog becomes defensive like in the video of the dog and wolves that was posted earlier).
5. An altercation ensues with the dog. Depending on the size and strength of the dog, it can either be injured or killed. Severity of the attack is also dependent on the coyotes’ risk/benefit assessment. During such altercations, coyotes are injured as well – and sometimes, nothing happens…
Traditionally, urban myths and legends always have a moral. The moral of this story is to have the proper fencing to keep your dogs confined to their yards and to keep them on a leash when walking them in areas known to have coyotes.
There are many instances where people have had their larger dogs run off and intermingle with coyotes without incident, as well as times where large dogs have chased down and killed coyotes.