Coyotes Respond to Previous Dog Behaviors; Coyote/Dog Interactions Are Drawing Coyotes Towards Humans

Coyotes have approached certain dogs in our parks — and not always just out of friendly curiosity. I have only seen this happen IF the dog first came to within about 100 feet of where the coyote was, and only to particular dogs. Could the wariness which coyotes have always had be waning? No one I have spoken to has ever seen a coyote approach a person in our parks, not ever  — it is always the dogs which they approach. However, this has occurred even though a human was near by. Humans who are with their dogs can ultimately scare the coyote off because coyotes do maintain their fear of humans. But why are they sometimes approaching dogs?

There are a number of unleashed dogs which have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote. From what I have seen, these are the ones the coyote reacts to later on if the dog comes within its “critical distance” — about 100 feet, rather than just flee. In fact, these particular dogs — those that have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote — seem to actually “attract” the coyote: it is these the coyote monitors, it is these the coyote has followed. The coyote seems to need to keep tabs on these dogs, and to even “show them who is boss” . . . IF the coyote has a chance. The coyote’s behavior is a defensive “standing up for itself.”  In this case, the coyote has taken the initiative to give warning to a dog to stay away.

My own little cattle dog, Cinder, is the very best example I have of this behavior: Two young and large unleashed Dalmatians went after her a number of times as she and I walked on a sidewalk. The owner apologized, but this did not solve the problem for my dog. She was a shy little dog who was actually afraid — she always stayed right next to me. Then at a much later date we passed these two dogs again. My husband and our larger dog were with us this time. We could not believe what we saw: my shy little cattle dog actually charged at these two dogs as they headed away from us — she barked ferociously at them — her body language was very clear: “take that, leave, and leave me alone.” She came loping back to us triumphantly. The shy little dog had the will to let the dogs know what she thought; she was sick of their treatment of her. She was standing up for herself. Our reaction was “Yay Cinder!”

Coyotes can distinguish each and every dog that frequents a park. And they certainly remember the behaviors that have been dished out to them by certain individual dogs. Some of these dogs, always those which are unleashed and unruly, have distressed the coyotes by chasing them and by approaching too close to them. The coyotes have always reacted in the past by fleeing, or by backing off to a safe distance before barking or exhibiting bluffing displays to ward off the dog. These self-protective warning displays are very clear messages.

Coyotes more recently have actually approached a few of these dogs in the same manner that Cinder approached the two Dalmatians. The coyotes don’t run across the park to accost a dog; what happens is that a dog will unknowingly come into the coyote’s wider “critical space”, or the dog and coyote will inadvertently find themselves heading in the same direction. This then is when the coyote might make a move — as far as I can tell, always coming up from behind, the same as my dog did. The coyote’s behavior involves the same “chase-chase” and “oneupmanship” which I have described before. Others have read it as taunting. In all cases it is a warning and a message. The “display” is clearly a repellant one.  To understand the logic of this dynamic one has only to know how certain dogs have treated the coyote, no matter how long ago.  A subtler interaction that few humans are attuned to is the eye-contact, body language and energy level which so easily communicate threat to a coyote. A dog pulling at its leash towards a coyote is in this category. The coyotes read the meaning of these behaviors easily, and may react to them. These are interactions we need to prevent. Keeping our dogs leashed and as far away from any coyotes as possible is the only method that works for keeping them from interacting on any level. Please keep your dogs leashed in our urban parks, both for your dog’s protection and the coyote’s.

In an urban park it is expected that there will be a certain amount of “habituation” taking place between a coyote and humans and dogs: each is going to get used to the other, no matter what, due simply to being in the same physical setting. However, it is actual “interaction” that needs to be prevented in order to keep our coyotes wild. Interaction seems to breed familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt, it appears. Dog owners have allowed interaction and interference between their dogs and coyotes: chasing, communication which is antagonistic and getting too close to the coyotes. It is “interaction” of this sort between coyotes and dogs which is actually slowly breaking down the “wild” barrier that was in place when these coyotes arrived in our parks. It is this dog/coyote interaction which is actually drawing coyotes towards humans — it is happening through our dogs. The only interactions I have ever seen between humans and coyotes has involved humans shooing them away from their dogs: here you have a coyote and a human in close proximity — interaction and proximity is breaking down the “wild” barrier that we all want so badly to preserve. Dog owners can keep this sort of interaction from occurring. Humans observing or photographing coyotes in the park do not interact with coyotes or attract them. These same humans have not caused dogs to approach or pursue the coyotes, and neither do these same humans cause coyotes to approach the dogs. I’m mentioning this here, because it has been absurdly suggested by dog owners who refuse to leash their dogs. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs in check.

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michael Wanger
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 12:03:00

    I had an experience in the wild with my 2 adult female labs and 3 coyotes. My labs chased the coyotes for a short while, and then the coyotes turned around and chased the labs until they got about 50 feet from me. The dogs and coyotes were very close to one another. I yelled out, and the coyotes stopped chasing the dogs and slunk away slowly, checking us out the whole way. My dogs wanted to resume chasing the coyotes, but I kept them from doing that. Neither the dogs nor the coyotes acted scared of one another, and i don’t know if their confrontation, if there was one, would have been hostile.


  2. Charles Wood
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 15:16:54

    My dog has had both play and discipline from different coyotes, contact of any type not being good for the dog or the coyote. The experts say that for being wild animals, coyotes are unpredictable, play one day, maybe try and discipline the next. Its good to hear your coyotes reacted to your yelling by going away, which is what I’ve seen too.


  3. michael wanger
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 21:33:52

    Do you feel like the coyotes could constitute a physical threat to my dogs? My dogs are considerably larger than them, but I was somewhat concerned when I saw the coyotes chasing them – they seemed awfully brazen.


    • yipps
      Jul 29, 2011 @ 22:43:02

      Hi Michael — You can read our observations about dog/coyote encounters on this blog. Almost all encounters have been benign if simple guidelines were followed. Statistically — to put this in perspective — your dogs are much more likely to be bitten by another dog you encounter on a trail than by a coyote. Nonetheless, there are instances where dogs have been bitten by coyotes, and small dogs have been known to be carried off.

      So, as Charles points out, even if the coyotes seem to be looking for fun, it is best to keep them apart — these are wild animals with their own set of rules for survival. Keep your dogs leashed in coyote areas, keep them away from where you know coyotes will be, and know how to dissuade coyotes from getting close to you with loud noises and threats of your own. It is possible that if you see the same coyotes over a period of time at close range, an antagonistic relationship could develop between your dogs and the coyotes. You might want to review some guidelines: Coyote Coexistence and Behavior — an update.

      Coyotes are very protective of their young and their den sites. If you are seeing a threesome, it is most likely a family group. It could be three teenage siblings expressing their intense curiosity. If two of the three or even one of the three is a parent, they will be very protective of the other/s. The protection usually comes in the form of messages to “keep away” — these messages might take the form of visual defensive postures, but if the messages need to be stronger, coyotes have been known to go in and take a nip at the rear end of dogs which they consider a threat. If an antagonistic encounter does ever occur, make sure to leave the area quickly — walking, not running, and make sure you leave with the message that you have the upper hand — you don’t want the coyotes to think they have scared you off.

  4. Charles Wood
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 10:32:58

    Hi Michael – With coyotes you do need to keep in mind that there is a possibility that they could harm your dogs. They shouldn’t be allowed to interact with each other at all because there is that possibility. Once you know that an area has coyotes in it you need to leash your dogs in that area to play it safe. I came to that conclusion through trial and error with my 60 pound dog, he was never harmed by a coyote he interacted with, and I don’t want to exaggerate or minimize the risks. I just want to point out that there is a risk, as has Janet. As it turns out, my dog is just as happy being a dog on leash as he is being a dog off leash, and on leash is better for me, him and the coyotes.


  5. Autoimmune Maven
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 13:58:42

    I have several coyotes living in close proximity to my home & my yellow lab interacts with them on a regular basis. I was unaware of this until recently as I live in a remote area and my lab is frequently outside on his own. The interactions (I’ve observed) with my lab have been friendly & playful with no signs of aggression. Now the coyotes are very curious and come up in my yard-close to the house. They have not been aggressive and back away when I open the door, but they don’t run away. I do not leave food outside so they aren’t coming up to eat but I do have a surplus of wild rabbits & other critters which (I’m sure) is a buffet for them. Any suggestions for handling this situation? I don’t mind them being around but I don’t want to create an unhealthy/unsafe situation for them, my dogs or myself.


    • yipps
      Nov 09, 2011 @ 04:41:53

      Thank you for sharing your situation with me. A single lone coyote rarely creates any difficulty for a dog or generally, but a group could present a problem. Most people are okay with a coyote’s occasional visit, as long as the coyote doesn’t hang around long. I see coyotes enter yards adjacent to city parks all the time. I don’t think its harmful unless food is offered — this is the activity you need to avoid because there could be a progression: food which initially is freely offered then becomes begged for, then becomes demanded — sometimes aggressively so. Also, if a coyote is eyeing a small pet, it needs to be discouraged from passing through.

      It sounds like your dog and the coyotes are mutually respectful friends. Encounters with a single coyote may not be a problem, but pack/family groups often ban together for protecting territories or hunting activities. They can be very purposeful. If there were a conflict with your dog, your dog could be targeted as the outsider: this is the danger. Of course, every coyote and every situation is different — no one can predict an outcome — but these are wild animals with their own set of rules. You don’t want to find out after the fact that you should have kept your dog away from them.

      I would discourage coyotes from hanging out around my living area, not only for the possibility that they could cause harm to your dog, but also for the reason that the coyotes may begin hanging around other people’s houses who are less tolerant than you are, and may actually harm them.

      What to do? Just whenever you see them within your yard area, let them know they’re not welcome: noise, tossing a stone towards them (but not at them), charging at them in an aggressive fashion. Flailing your arms half-heartedly will not work — you have to let the coyotes know that you mean it and actually make them move off. They’ll soon get the idea that they should keep their distance.

  6. Autoimmune Maven
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 10:10:27

    Thanks for your quick reply! I have a pair of coyotes hanging around on a predictably regular basis & they will come up to my porch. They haven’t ventured up the steps (to my knowledge). I will certainly get noisy and obnoxious; however, I love seeing them. Much appreciation!

    Sheila in KY


  7. Candis
    Sep 04, 2012 @ 15:14:35

    I frequent a desert mountain area where I hike with my two lab mixes, who are always unleashed. We have had several encounters with groups of coyotes, but nothing that seemed particularly worrisome. However, a couple of months ago I had a very frightening experience with a pack of about 15-20 coyotes. I saw my dogs mingling with several coyotes about 60 feet ahead of me. I called them back to me and started yelling for the coyotes to go on. Not only did they not leave, but they started progressing toward me, were in the arroyos on each side of me and began howling. It was terrifying because there was so many of them. I slowly started walking away but they followed. I turned around and despite my throwing rocks, screaming, etc., two of them kept creeping toward me, hunched down like they were stalking. When they were about 10 feet from me and nothing was working, I turned and ran. They backed off the closer I got to the neighborhoods. I know they were hungry. We’ve had no rain. They were vet mangy. I’m just curious, were they wanting to attack my dogs? And why weren’t they afraid of me?


    • yipps
      Sep 05, 2012 @ 19:34:39

      Hi Candis —

      Your comment about your recent coyote encounter is indeed very interesting. It would be helpful if you could supply answers to the following questions. The answers might help interpret what was going on. Janet

      What time of day this incident took place.
      What position the ears and tail were on the coyotes that were approaching.
      When the dogs were “mingling” with the coyotes, what were the dogs doing? What were the coyotes doing?
      Hi Janet,

      The incident happened around sundown on June 29, right after a rain shower (the first rain of the year).  We live in the Chihuahuan desert and I hike three or four times a week in the mountains near my house.  When I noticed the dogs with the coyotes; it looked like one of the coyotes was “on top” of one of my dogs, but not in a particularly aggressive way.    I really didn’t have enough time to observe what they were doing because I yelled for my dogs and they quickly ran  to my side.  As i mentioned, despite my yelling, rock throwing, etc., the coyotes not only didn’t back off but started creeping toward me.  My eyes were on the lead coyote and he had his ears back, his tail was down and he was hunched low… Like he was creeping.  My dogs never barked, growled, or acted interested in any way.  That’s another thing I don’t understand.  We have had multiple coyote encounters and the dogs NEVER act like they do when they see another dog on the mountain.  Thanks for your help! Candis
      Hi Candis,

      [UPDATED AND REVISED] Although you might have seen that many coyotes together, it is really unusual because coyotes live in family units and actually drive other families away from themselves. MIGHT it be possible that you thought you saw more than there really were? I ask this because I have at various times been with folks who later describe an encounter as involving many more coyotes than there really were. Fear has a way of making the feared object(s) bigger than they are. But also, there is a possibility that two related families — say, two siblings had formed different families and remained intouch.

      A coyote family will be the parents, this years pups and possibly pup yearlings born the previous season: so about two to seven coyotes.

      Twilight, whether dawn or dusk is when coyote activity normally picks up: they rendezvous, or congregate for their daily greeting and rank confirmations — this is why you saw a number of them together.

      Your dog is an outsider and definitely was seen as threat to the group. Also, dogs and coyotes do not tend to like each other at all. Your dog may have submitted to an antagonistic encounter rather than engage in an altercation.

      Coyotes are less out to *attack*, than to *message* their needs: their need was to make your dog leave the group. Your dog did not bolt from them, instead her surrendered. Had the dog done so, a coyote might have pursued and given the dog a nip.

      The coyotes coming towards you were not after you, but after your dogs: even the most habituated coyote retains its wariness of humans. However, your proximity: entering their safety-space by getting too close, may have triggered their need to *message* you, too, as well as the dogs and, so to speak, push you away by coming towards you. Several coyotes may feel more confident/self-assured than when there is just one. Always walk away from coyotes — don’t run — walk. Ears back and down means angry; hunched was probably more of a protective stance than a stalking stance; tail tucked down displays fear. So what you experienced was actually a two-pronged stance: messaging coupled with fear. Stalking also occurs with this crouched position, but in that situation, the ears would have been up and pointed forward and the head, up rather than tucked down, and the tail down or out a little.

      Following you for even a short distance is normally how the coyotes assure themselves that you are leaving.

      It is hard for most people to read coyotes. Because of this, the rule always is: walk away from them, dragging your dogs if you have to, and keep walking away from them.

      Their howling afterwards may simply have been a coincidence — a communication was begun and responded to, or it could have been a coyote’s distressed reaction to the incident. Coyotes often howl in distress after being intruded upon by dogs, and in this case, several coyotes could have have joined in the chorus — they actually love to communicate back and forth.


  8. Charles Wood
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 09:16:10

    Hi Candis, Janet, and Mary. Thank you Mary for explaining each element of the situation, I found it very helpful, particularly how ears back, tail down and hunched in approach signals a basically deferential approach by a coyote perhaps mixed in with caution and some fear.

    Candice I wonder if your dogs, because they did not bark, growl or show interest, were actually giving a signal to the coyotes that they didn’t mind being approached by the coyotes? Especially because, as Mary points out, the coyotes were asking the dogs nicely if they could come closer? For instance, my dog responds appropriately to any of the body language that a coyote gives him. He barks and moves forward on his leash when a coyote is coming towards him showing aggression. He has played with a solitary coyote that solicited him for play. If like my dog, yours show the appropriate reactions to various canid signals, then perhaps their reaction to the approaching coyotes confirms Mary’s read of the behavior of the coyotes, i.e., that theirs was not an aggressive approach. Another confirmation of Mary’s observation is that though you turned your back on them, they still didn’t get close enough for actual physical contact.

    You mentioned that your dogs had had several encounters with coyotes and that nothing ever occurred that appeared worrisome. I wonder if, I respectfully suggest that, the previous contacts your dogs had with coyotes may have contributed to your having been placed in a situation where mixed signals were sent from you (go away) and from your dogs (hey, come closer)? From Mary’s observations, it sounds like the coyotes would naturally pay more attention to the benign signals that came from your dogs than the warning messages that came from you. Of course I wasn’t there and don’t know your dogs. But it really sounds like your dogs weren’t helping you out. If all they have had is good experiences with coyotes, then they wouldn’t be all that concerned about a coyote trying nicely too get close.

    Also, I wonder what you mean when you say that your dogs never act with coyotes the way they act with other dogs they meet on the mountain? How do your dogs behave towards dogs versus coyotes?

    I do want to add that, having in the past allowed some contact by my dog with coyotes, I nevertheless don’t allow it now and strongly agree with experts who advise that no dog/coyote contact ever be allowed. If that means always having dogs on a leash, so be it.

    Lastly I want to describe how I have handled getting away from a coyote that wouldn’t leave me be. (The first time was scary!) I’ve halted a coyote and moved it back using a combination of stomping, yelling, object throwing, and stomping forward in short mock charges. Once the coyote stops I stand and glare at it. Then I walk slowly backwards while glaring at it. If it comes forward at all I repeat the warnings. Once I get a coyote to listen and stop or move back I know I have control. (Just a little control helped to reduce my fear and give me more confidence.) If they coyote ends up being far enough away I’ll turn my back to it to walk, BUT!!! I turn around constantly to see what it is going to do. Like I’ll turn, take two steps and abruptly turn back around. It decides when it will stop following. Following at a distance is OK and there isn’t much to do about that, or any reason to try and keep it from following at a distance. That it keeps its distance is the important thing. If it is trying to close the distance, I repeat the warnings.


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