Strong Sense of Smell

Recently I’ve observed two incidents of a coyote using its strong sense of smell. In the first incident, the coyote appeared to be looking for something. This coyote trotted back and forth, looking around. Finally, it stuck its nose up high, as if reading the wind, and headed off to where the trees become thick. The coyote disappeared into this area for a few minutes, and then, TWO coyotes emerged! So the coyote had been looking for its friend! After finding him, the coyote waited for the other to come with him. Most domestic dogs have an extremely strong sense of smell, and a coyote’s appears to be stronger. I was told that part of the nose smelling system of these animals is really much closer to our human tongues: that the animals almost “lick” the air to pick up a scent that we humans would not be able to detect at all. I once sat about 70 feet off of a path in a wooded area where a number of dogs came to check me out — they could only have found me by smell. The first six photos belong to this first instance of a coyote using its sense of smell.

The second incident was more interesting, and is depicted in the last nine photos. A coyote evaded a woman and her leashed dog coming down the path that the coyote was on by moving off the path about 30 feet into an area protected by bushes. The coyote did not hide — we all could see it; and the coyote kept its eyes glued on the dog and walker.  After the walkers had moved on about 150 feet, the coyote came back to the path where it watched them walk off into the distance. Then the coyote proceeded to “sniff” the ground where the walkers had trod, as if seeing them walk by had not been enough — it needed to gather more information about them through smell. After a substantial amount of time doing this, the coyote walked in the opposite direction in which the walkers had gone. I’ve put in enough photographs to show how intently the coyote smelled the area. I wonder what kind of information the coyote was after?  Possibly gender, reproductive status, dominance?? Or even if a “message” had been left for the coyote??

That a coyote might want to “perfume” itself by rolling on a smelly dead animal such as a snake, lizard or vole makes sense. If other animals can detect a coyote’s presence simply by its smell, masking its own smell with a much stronger odor would serve the coyote well by allowing him to parade around incognito as he goes about hunting!!

[See more recent posting on how dogs, and also coyotes, “see” with their noses:]

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nikki
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 22:34:09

    hi my name is nikki i am a 11 year old girl who lives near coyotes i just found that out today and i hear the coyote howel tonight and i was in the woods and my friend cory hear a twig snap and i was wondering if a coyote can follow the smell a human and follow the smell and see were that person is.


    • yipps
      Dec 11, 2010 @ 23:16:32

      Hi Nikki,

      Yes, a coyote can follow the smell of a human and can find where that person is. But coyotes are not very interested in people, so they will leave you alone unless you interfere with them. If one comes too close to you, scream your loudest and angriest at it and flail your arms to scare it away.

      If you go out where there are coyotes, you should always be with an adult. Adults are bigger and coyotes are more afraid of them. Never go up to a coyote and never feed one. Coyotes are not generally dangerous to humans, but since they are wild animals who are looking out only for themselves, we cannot ever predict what they will do next. It is best not to get too close. I love to hear coyotes howling — but it is nicest to hear them from the safety of inside your home if you are only 11 years old!

  2. neymar
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 15:39:14

    Hi my name is Neymar I am 12. I live on the mountain, and I wanted to know will a coyote come straight at you or will it go away When it sees you?


    • yipps
      Dec 24, 2013 @ 20:08:02

      Hi Neymar — Thanks for writing! Coyotes, for their part, try their hardest to stay away from humans — a coyote will not come straight at you. It might stop and watch you because it is curious, but then it will run off. Coyotes are afraid of humans. For our part, it’s important for us humans to stay away from all wild animals, including coyotes, to give them their space. We should never approach a coyote — this is a job all humans have when they are out in nature.

      You might like the video about “Coyotes As Neighbors” — press here to see it: One important point we try to teach everyone is never to feed a coyote. Feeding implies friendship to humans, but to a coyote all it means is that humans might have more food, and this could cause them to come up to humans. Coyotes don’t want friendship, they just want the food. That’s why it’s important never to feed one.

      Hope this helps answer your question! Janet

  3. neymar
    Dec 26, 2013 @ 19:06:42

    One more question. Will a coyote attack a dog if the dog barks at it?


    • yipps
      Dec 26, 2013 @ 19:30:58

      Hi Neymar —

      I’ve never seen a coyote attack a dog for just barking at it. Coyotes are interested in defending their territory and personal space. The reason a coyote might approach a dog and nip its haunches is that the dog came too close to the coyote’s personal space. If the dog is particularly active, this could further upset a coyote who is watching out for its territory.

      If you are with your dog and you see a coyote, you need to leash your dog and walk (never run) away from the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will flee first, but if it doesn’t, you should move away from it with your dog. There is no point in testing the coyote who really just wants to be left alone.

  4. Charles Wood
    Dec 26, 2013 @ 21:12:53

    Hi Neymar, I walk my dog on leash in a brushy field near my home. I know coyotes sometimes visit that field. So as I walk, I make some noise. That way any coyote around will hear me coming and leave long before I see it. For noise, I’ll talk loudly to my dog, or call out “hey” every so often. Charles


  5. neymar
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 15:18:38

    Do coyotes smell better than a bloodhound?
    Do you see coyotes often?


    • yipps
      Dec 27, 2013 @ 18:12:30

      Hi Neymar —

      I don’t know which animal has better smelling capacity — both are pretty darn good! I see coyotes more frequently than other folks because I study them and document their behavior in the city.

  6. El
    Mar 18, 2016 @ 22:58:39

    Hi,I know this is an old post but lastnight I took my dog in my backyard and I never do that time of night cause of coyotes.a coyote jumped the fence to grab my dog but thank God it was scared off by me before grabbing her. but our our fence is solid so the coyote couldn’t see if my dog is small or big. My question is can a coyote smell the size of my dog without seeing it?


  7. Justin
    Nov 12, 2016 @ 11:07:22

    Hi My name is Justin Newman saw. A some kind of a coyote. It’s look like half coyote & jakel head. Creepying around at night near my sliding glass door by my. Bedroom I live by a wild life resort. At San deago county in Fallbrook,California.


    • yipps
      Nov 14, 2016 @ 14:08:20

      Hi Justin — We don’t have any jackals here in California, but it very well could have been a coyote. Coyotes are taking to more urbanized areas. Know that they’ll keep away from you — they are wary of people and try to avoid us. They may have been attracted to your yard by food that was left out, or even by the scent of a pet. Please remember to supervise your pets when they are out-of-doors if there are coyotes in your area.

  8. Lauren
    Nov 19, 2016 @ 00:09:03

    I have rather the same type of question about scent. There is a cement wash behind our house (Covina, CA) that functions as an easy way for a coyote to travel without being seen. We believe a coyote found our cat when it went outside early one morning a year ago. We have a new rescued cat, and it weighs 15 pounds. We’re reluctant to let him outside, but it seems cruel not to let him explore. My question is: can coyotes smell cats , even when they’re not in sight?


    • yipps
      Nov 19, 2016 @ 00:16:00

      Hi Lauren —

      Coyotes, as well a pet dogs, have amazing noses. It’s not that they can smell through a wall, it’s that they can pick up odors of animals that have come and gone lone ago. If your cat is EVER outside, coyotes would smell the cat. If your windows are open, they would smell the cat. Here’s a short, well-made video on dogs “seeing with their noses” — the same information would apply to coyotes:

    • Lauren
      Nov 19, 2016 @ 00:24:30

      I pretty much thought so, but I wanted to confirm. Bummer! Thank you, Mr. Yipps!

  9. Trackback: Episode #1333 - Tom Papa - JRE Handbook
    • yipps:janetkessler
      Aug 20, 2019 @ 19:25:40

      I don’t know if this has been measured, but I know the distance is substantial. Remember that smells dissipate with distance, so, for example, you’ll of course smell the apple pie in your kitchen. But if you leave the door open, and the winds are favorable, you might smell it way down the street. Remember that our smelling is NOTHING as strong as a coyotes. Here’s a posting I wrote about it: Coyotes See With Their Noses.

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