How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer* (updated)



Normal Coyote Behavior

Although mostly seen during the darker hours, it is not unusual to see coyotes out during the daytime, on park trails, or on the streets.  They like grassy fields where they can hunt, and they like woodsy areas where they can take refuge.  At times they may pass through our backyards. These are within the realm of normal coyote behavior.

We might ask, “Don’t they know they should stay in a park and out of sight?” But how could they possibly know OUR boundaries?  Remember that humans delineate their “boundaries” very differently from coyotes: we use physical and visual boundaries which have meaning for us, such as fences and streets, whereas coyotes use olfactory ones which they create by marking or urinating along their territory’s periphery. Most of the time when you see a coyote, it will be hunting in a field for rats or voles, or just passing through. Most of the time, when a coyote sees you, it will flee or keep far away.  If a coyote is minding its own business, we try to leave it alone.

Eliminate Opportunities

Coyotes are known as “opportunistic” eaters — they eat what they happen to find. You may be inviting them into your yard if there is a food source there, such as pet food or even a small pet if they are easily accessible. There is no way for coyotes to distinguish a small pet from any other form of prey. Do not make your beloved pets a part of the food chain. Always supervise small dogs and keep your cats indoors if coyotes are around.

Shooing Off a Coyote In A Chance Encounter or From Your Yard

Coyotes want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. If a coyote comes within 30-50 feet of you, it will most likely be just an unexpected chance encounter. Coyotes are curious and may stop to observe. This is not an act of aggression. You can avoid the coyote by turning and going in the other direction. However, if you want to trudge on in the coyote’s direction, which we don’t recommend, you may try yelling or stamping your foot as you approach the coyote — this may work with some coyotes. Tossing a small stone in the coyote’s direction — not AT it so as to injure it — may also cause the coyote to distance itself. If the coyote ignores you and holds its ground, it could indicate pups are around — in this case, just leave without forcing a confrontation. If a coyote comes to your yard, if you want to scare it off, simply open the door, bang pots, while walking in the coyote’s direction.



A dog walker’s first line of safety in dealing with a coyote should always be vigilance and awareness. Leashing in a coyote area is your primary tool for controlling your dog and keeping it away from coyotes.

Then, whether a coyote has been spotted in the distance, is approaching, or suddenly appears right next to you, the *first line of action* should always be, unmitigated avoidance not hazing, which is engagement.

Tighten your leash and walk away from the coyote, keeping your eye on it may keep the coyote from approaching further. This is an easy protocol to follow, especially for dog-walkers with little or no coyote knowledge or experience, and those who are fearful of coyotes. Simply get your dog away from that coyote — disengage and move away: Strict Avoidance.

It’s really not practical or fair to ask elderly people or those who are afraid of coyotes to “haze”/harass them. Walking away — without running — accomplishes what is needed: the coyote’s entire intention in approaching is to move you away. So, do it!

Vulnerable smaller dogs which might be viewed as prey should be picked up immediately. 

The coyote may end up following you for a little ways as you walk away, but as you distance yourself from its area, he will soon lose interest.

It is especially important not to confront a coyote when pups are around because, like all parents, the coyote will defend its young against your dog.

If You Have Not Followed These Recommendations

Prevention is the best policy. Once your dog and a coyote have engaged, try your best to pull your dog away and keep moving away from the coyote. Scare tactics — such as making eye-contact, lunging at (without getting close), clapping and shouting aggressively at a coyote — do not always work. It’s best to practice prevention proactively than to reactively have to scare off a coyote who comes too close.

Quick Summary For Dog-Walkers

  • Always be VIGILANT and AWARE when you are out walking your pet.
  • AVOID, AVOID, AVOID, whether you see a coyote far away, at a mid-range distance, or coming in close to you, by calmly tightening your leash and walking in the other direction. Keeping your eye on the coyote may discourage the coyote from approaching further.
  • Do not run. Stay calm and collected.
  • Always pick up a small dog and walk away calmly.
  • Learning about coyote behaviors and the “why” behind their behaviors will help you lose your fears. Watch “Coyotes As Neighbors” on YouTube.

[Downloadable and Printable version: How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer

Footnote: Understanding Some Coyote Behaviors:Habituation is a process which occurs in all animals whereby, after exposure to anything new in their environment over time, they become *used* to it, be it a smell, sounds, or a visual object, including people — they stop behaving as though these might be dangerous, because they aren’t. They learn that we are not their predators or competitors. By the same token, coyotes also get used to hazing — they get used to it — which is why it often does not work. 

Conditioning is a learning procedure involving association. Food is a primary conditioning agent. If  you leave food out regularly, you will be conditioning or teaching, through rewarding with food, a coyote to come visiting. Hand-fed coyotes have been trained to approach people. This is why we ask folks please never to feed a coyote! 

Contrary to common thought, a habituated coyote is not dangerous to humans.  All urban coyotes are habituated: Becoming used to human presence results in coyotes seeing us a simply a part of the not-too-threatening landscape. AND, the reverse is also true: coyotes become less of a threat to humans BECAUSE they are used to us: there is no reason for them to become defensive towards us.  Please remember that aggression is generally a fear-based response. However, they WILL respond fearfully and aggressively if they feel intruded upon, say by a dog, or when they are guarding pups or their space. It’s best always to walk away from a coyote. [Wikipedia and CCC]

On another note: Excessive LOVE for a coyote — be it through feeding, befriending, trying to get near, attempting to communicate, or even prolonged mutual visual contact, even if the coyote appears amenable — can break down natural and healthy safety barriers. Instead, try loving their wildness — at a distance!

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rena Lee
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 17:58:17

    just found 4th coyote killed cat (neighbor’s pet) in our backyard. I’m worried for my own pet cats. i need to know more about coyote behavior. He keeps killing in this same, small, defined area. I believe that this represents “positive reinforcement” to the coyote. Is that correct? meaning that he will never stop killing near our home because he’s had so many “successful” hunts here. I feel that the only solution is to kill the coyote, since he will never leave our area alone now. This was a beautiful, country setting, and now we all feel under siege. I love all animals, but this can’t continue — i want the coyote shot. If you had repeatedly found small, defenseless pets ripped to shreds on what was formerly a peaceful and beautiful lawn, i think you’d understand. It would really help if you could answer the question i’ve posed here: that the behavior i describe has been repeated successfully so many times here that it will therefore keep being repeated. thanks for your input. Rena upstate NY


    • yipps
      Jul 19, 2014 @ 18:33:44

      Hi Rena —

      Thanks for writing. I am very sorry about the loss of your pets. This could have been prevented so easily. The good news is that you can prevent it from happening again.

      If indeed it is a coyote who is feeding himself on your cats, and if this is the “fourth” one to go, I wonder why you allowed cats out there after the very first incident?

      What is going on is that, by allowing cats to free roam in the area, you’ve actually been training coyotes to come around.

      If you keep cats, and other food sources, out of the area, the coyotes will move on: cats can be a food source for them if they are given an opportunity. Coyotes are attracted to food sources, be it dog food or small pets. Coyotes can’t see the difference between your pet or any other small wiggling creature which they see as prey. How would they know the difference?

      We have to remember the bizarre way things are set up in the animal kingdom: species eat each other — that’s how we stay alive. Your cats have probably been killing countless birds and eating them; the food industry kills chickens for your cat so you won’t have to. Humans kill and eat cows, chickens and pigs, etc. Coyotes are simply trying to stay alive like the rest of us.

      Science has shown that if you kill the coyote, another one will soon come and find the same food source, and you’ll basically be in the business of serially murduring coyotes, one right after the other. The cycle will be unending. Not only that, if you happen to kill an alpha coyote, all the betas in the area will reproduce — that’s how coyotes keep their population stable when they are eliminated — and you’ll have more coyotes than you had when you began.

      The ONLY solution that is going to work is one that works for you, your cats and the coyotes. You can create a win-win solution for all concerned by following simple guidelines: Please always supervise your small pets out of doors and don’t let them roam free. If you don’t want coyotes in your yard, remove all food sources. Also, coyote-proof fences can be built: if you are interested in doing so, please let me know and I’ll direct you to the appropriate source.

      Hope this helps. Please let me know if I can be of further help. Please watch the video presentation, Coyotes As Neighbors by CoyoteCoexistence.Com, at the top of this blog page.

      Sincerely, Janet

    • yipps
      Jul 20, 2014 @ 22:14:01

      Hi Rena —

      I have not posted your last three responses to my comments because they are inflammatory and accusatory, but here is my reply which alludes to what you have said.

      Please read my note to you again. I didn’t say that you, specifically, ate cows, I said that humans — as a species — did. The “you” I speak of is a generalized “you” — like, “if you don’t close the door, the house will get cold”. It doesn’t mean I’m accusing you of leaving the door open.

      As for your specific pointed question, I specifically replied to that. I said that if you repeatedly have cats out in your yard — not “you” specifically and not necessarily “your” cats, but anyone’s — you will be training coyotes to come around. Yes, it’s the repeat situation here which is important — that’s what is “training” them. “Training” is accomplished through repetition and rewards. Remove the repeat attractant/reward and the coyote will no longer repeatedly come around.

      If you shoot the coyote, another coyote will soon fill its niche, and he, too, will learn where the cats are easily available. And, again, if the coyote you kill is an alpha, you will be increasing the number of coyotes in your area, and increasing your problems without having solved anything.

      If you truly love animals and wildlife and nature, as you say you do in your comment to me, then you won’t attempt “conquering” or “dominating” nature and wildlife by killing what’s out there, rather, you will learn to “fit in” with it. Humans, as a species, have intelligence and have the ability to think out solutions that work. Let’s put that to work. I have given you easy-to-follow guidelines to help that happen. If you want additional suggestions for keeping coyotes out of your yard, please let me know. Janet

    • yipps
      Jul 19, 2014 @ 18:46:41

      Hi Rena —

      I should have included this flyer for you on cat-coyote conflicts. Hope it helps! Janet

    • yipps
      Jul 21, 2014 @ 05:10:50

      Hi Rena,

      Janet asked me to respond to your question regarding the coyote you are having issues with.

      When people do not keep their cats indoors even after they know there is a coyote around that is taking cats, than there is a high probability that their cat will also be taken. You should talk with your neighbors about keeping their cats indoors.

      The fact is, this coyote is trying to survive, and yes, predators do hunt their prey. They do not have the luxury of supermarkets and grocery stores where their food animals are killed for them and neatly packaged in plastic wrap.

      If you had to kill your own food, I’m sure it would be just as shocking to other people who are watching and hearing the cries of the animals you are slaughtering. Any one who is a “nature and animal lover” ought to know that nature in many ways is brutal, it’s not simply the lovely images you see on nature programs.

      Whether you want to believe it or not, coyotes are a part of Nature, and you benefit from having them around. Coyotes clean the environment of carrion that would otherwise harbor diseases, and they keep the environment and our watersheds clean. They help keep the songbird populations thriving by eliminating and keeping in balance the mesopredators that raid nests. I would hardly describe coyotes as vermin, since they do play a very important ecological role in protecting biodiversity.

      My advice is to continue to keep your cats indoors. If you are feeding strays around your house, make sure they have somewhere they can escape to – Janet’s emailed you the flyer on how to avoid cat-coyote conflicts. The coyote will eventually move on – most likely it is there because it’s natural prey base is declining on account of drought or other environmental impacts. Cats are not natural prey for coyotes, and they will always prefer natural prey over cats, however, they will take advantage of cats if they are starving and cats are accessible. Tell your neighbors to keep their kitties indoors, and make provisions for the strays. The coyote will definitely move on, once there he cats are made inaccessible. It will move on and most likely never come back again. You need to give it a few weeks.

      Most importantly, move a large piece of lawn furniture into the area where the coyote is leaving the remains of the cats. The novel stimuli will keep it from coming around, eliminating your distress, and there will be no need to shoot it.

      I do understand how upset you are. Please let us know how things work out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: