Managing Urban Coyotes: False Advertising about Hazing and Habituation Can Lead To A Coyote’s Death Sentence (Updated and Revised)

2014-11-15 (4)

Managing Coyotes:

Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.

Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.

Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.

What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues.  I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on knowing how to shoo one off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards.

As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by leashing and walking away from a coyote the minute you see it. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.

Habituation and Hazing:

I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it.

The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.

Coyote Behavior:

We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts for survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.

The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises — it happens very infrequently, but it has happened. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise! Keeping your cat or dog away from coyotes is easy.

Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in. By the same token, you may sight them now and then in your neighborhood.

Most importantly, coyotes avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.

 Simple Guidelines Are What Is Needed:

What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. All habituated coyotes retain their wariness of humans.

It is feeding coyotes which should not be allowed. This attracts coyotes to yards and brings them closer to people — they could become demanding. Attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. Shooing off a coyote should probably be reserved for when one has entered your yard, or if, for example, you need to get to your car and it happens to be standing too close. Avoidance however, is always the safest strategy: this goes for whether you see a coyote in the distance, coming towards you or if it’s already underfoot — leash your dog and go the other way without running.

The elderly, children and those who are afraid should not feel they need to haze or harass a coyote. Walking away accomplishes what is needed: the coyote’s entire intention in approaching is to move your dog and you away. So, do it! Vulnerable smaller dogs which might be viewed as prey should be picked up and walk away. 

Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. It is normal to see coyotes in parks, but dogs have to be kept far away from them. Please see this flyer for detailed information on how to handle coyote encounters: PRESS HERE.

Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s really important that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas and especially after spotting a coyote, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to handle encounters. So, guard your pets carefully! Remove food attractants from your yard.  Notwithstanding, on occasion, you may see a coyote pass through the area — but that this should not be cause for alarm.

Examples of Misinformation or Misbehavior by Humans:

One of the problems in some communities is that the only option they are taught to use to deter coyotes is “hazing.” In some instances, when “hazing” may no longer be effective, because coyotes have become “habituated” to people and/or hazing, residents may see coyotes linger longer in their yards. When this happens, the coyotes are sometimes, incorrectly, perceived as “aggressive and dangerous”, as they have been in Seal Beach, California. Of course, those who have an informed understanding of “normal” coyote behavior know that habituation does not mean aggression — it just means that the coyote has become accustomed to seeing humans — and does not in any way indicate that the animal will react “aggressively” or that it is in any way a danger.

Another problem is when people are so fearful of the “mere presence” of coyotes that they overreact to seeing one — sometimes leading to coyotes being killed unnecessarily. For example, a coyote was shot and killed a week ago in Mamaroneck, NY after a resident called the police simply because they saw a coyote in their backyard — one that didn’t run off which is a sign of “habituation” and therefore “danger” some folks think. The responding officers, instead of providing an escape route for the coyote to walk away, surrounded the coyote and it responded defensively, as any animal would when it felt surrounded and trapped — and, therefore, was deemed “aggressive.”

Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor.  These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.

2014-11-15 (3)

[revised for clarity 12/9/2014]

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pierceflynn
    Nov 19, 2014 @ 22:39:54

    Thank you, this is a very good post. I agree with it. But I am noticing some un-clarities in the terms that you are using that might be confusing to some. You use “shooing”, “scaring” and “hazing” sometimes interchangeably, other times as if they are different actions. Is it possible please to clarify your terms? Our newly built community in San Marcos, California (North San Diego county) has seen a significant improvement in urban coyote behavior in the past 12 months since we began a neighborhood “shooting/hazing” program. 12 months ago, Fish and Wildlife told us the we had “a coyote problem” which has now greatly diminished. Before, coyotes were seen in groups of three to five nearly every night in our front yards, against our backyard fences looking in at our small dogs and cats, leaving voluminous scat territory marking droppings all over the neighborhood sidewalks in front of our homes and in the nearby Sunset County Park near the Tot Lot where little 2 year-old children play, jumping over a neighbor’s fences to wait for puppies to be let out at night to pee, following humans and their leashed dogs to the off-leash dog park and looking in through the fence, etc. Now, most of this former coyote behavior has ceased, though we still see coyotes, though not nearly as many, every week or so but they keep a much greater distance away and are not leaving scat territory markings everywhere. We used consistent “shooing/hazing” methods that included strong flashlights and whistles when the coyotes came into our neighborhood. Since our neighborhood was a “coyote canyon” before our development was build, I think that the coyotes are doing a good job of re-educating/changing/accommodating their behavior to accommodate the new humans. The coyotes still have a ten mile+ canyon to hunt in that is connected to our neighborhood canyon. They now seem to be staying there more and not coming up as high into the neighborhoods. We will see. I keep a “coyote siting log”. Thanks again!


    • yipps
      Nov 19, 2014 @ 23:44:30

      Hi Pierce —

      A number of coyotes seen together is always a family. You may be seeing fewer coyotes grouped together because of the dispersion which is occurring: some family members have been driven out of the family group.

      “Hazing” as a cure-all is what I’m addressing, as well as a coyote’s lack of response to hazing being, incorrectly, used to label the coyote as aggressive. As far as I have seen, a coyote will always flee as you get closer to it. By “shooing it away” you can probably get it to move off a little quicker. But using this scare tactic from any substantial distance, or advocating the use of it from any substantial distance, is not going to be effective, especially over time. When such a coyote doesn’t move, it would be/is labeled “habituated” which to some people means “aggressive and dangerous”: this is a false belief. I use the term “shooing off” to scare off a coyote who is too close, say on a path. It is always effective unless there is a pet involved, in which case you have to walk away, dragging your dog if you have to, but keep walking away: your aim is to prevent any contact between the coyote and your dog. The term “hazing” comes with all sorts of connotations and expectations attached. Without those connotations and expectations, “hazing” is simply “scaring them off”. Janet

    • Gail
      Nov 20, 2014 @ 02:35:58


      You stated “……significant improvement in urban coyote behavior in the past 12 months since we began a neighborhood “shooting/hazing” program. 12 months ago, Fish and Wildlife told us the we had “a coyote problem” which has now greatly diminished”

      Just wondering if “shooting” was a typo and if you meant to write “shooing”??

      Please clarify … and thank you.

    • pierceflynn
      Nov 21, 2014 @ 04:23:33

      Hi Gail, Yes! “Shooting” was a typo! Good catch. I meant to write “shooing”. BUT I do admit that I took a “shot” with my sling shot and a glass marble at the ground in front of an aggressive coyote who was consistently coming toward my two small spaniels in both my front yard and at my backyard fence. The marble bounced by the coyote and he ran away, fast. This coyote now greatly keeps his distance from us for as long as I have continued my regular “shooing” behavior with strong flashlights and whistles, etc.

  2. Gail
    Nov 20, 2014 @ 02:50:59

    Thanks, Janet. Maybe a copy should be sent to police departments and ACO’s in areas where coyote presence is only recently being noticed. I believe it was a police officer who killed the coyote in NY state because it was supposedly acting “aggressively”. Required reading, perhaps? I wish they’d stop taking all of their cues from wildlife agencies although even the NY DEC doesn’t seem to be fear mongering.


  3. Keli Hendricks
    Nov 20, 2014 @ 05:48:52

    Regarding your complaints about the spread of bad hazing information; I think we need to be careful before publicly criticizing organizations or individuals who work to improve lives for animals. Most do great work, and once we check our egos, we often find that just because something isn’t done how we do it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s done wrong.
    I haven’t heard any organizations giving hazing tips without also supplying other coyote information for context. I have seen reporters interview experts and seen the resulting articles turn out to be nothing like what had been promised. Experts have little control over the information that gets published after an interview. A blogger on the other hand, has total control over their messaging and frankly when you claim that hazing coyotes is ineffective but ‘scaring’ them works great, you send a confusing message that casts doubts over the effectiveness of non lethal solutions.

    I enjoy this blog and think it gives people important glimpses into the dynamic of coyote families which helps them see coyotes as individuals instead of scary pests.
    I think we can all become more effective advocates by supporting those who are working towards similar goals as ourselves, and by not allowing petty differences to turn us into adversaries.


    • yipps
      Nov 20, 2014 @ 17:16:42

      The purpose for this posting is to inform folks, including police officers, other officials, and urban residents about this issue so that it can be rectified immediately. My posting is not a complaint — it’s an across the board check and call to immediate action to correct the misinformation before more innocent animals are killed, and before we increase the human fear level even more. My purpose is to let folks know that a coyote is not dangerous or aggressive if it doesn’t flee quickly, or if it stops and looks at you — yes, it may be habituated, but this is not an indication that it is dangerous — habituation is normal. My posting is not about organizations — my intention is neither to shore them up nor tear them down — except maybe to let everyone know that we are, indeed, working together to save coyotes. You can help. I’ve given you fodder for your program — get to work and fix it!

  4. Judy Paulsen
    Nov 20, 2014 @ 18:45:54

    I had a referral last week from our local animal control officers to a man who was complaining about the coyotes hanging around his house. He’s mostly concerned that they will attack his young grand children who live next door. We discussed what attractants might be at or near his home and I about fell over when he informed me the local pizza restaurant gives him the leftovers each day which he puts in his chicken pen (not fully enclosed). I explained this is a major attractant for not only coyotes but other animals as well – there are a lot of dogs-at-large in their neighborhood. The man even admitted his wife has been bitten twice by a neighbor’s dog who wanders the streets. I can imagine those coyotes, dogs and other critters are waiting around for their daily pizza delivery guy! I told him he needs to fully enclose his chicken pen if he is going to continue feeding them pizza, but I also warned him the smell of the pizza will continue to attract the coyotes, so it’s likely they’ll continue to visit his property. When I visited his property I encountered no coyotes, but one very large Mastiff-type dog standing in the middle of the road! I am the person to whom animal control refers coyote complaints as I have been working in the field with them for many years.


    • yipps
      Nov 20, 2014 @ 19:30:47

      Hi Judy —

      Thanks for your comment and your work! Please note that, throughout this posting and comments, I have avoided naming any organizations: that’s not what the posting is about. Janet

  5. takebackthegreen
    Nov 22, 2014 @ 14:07:13

    Interesting article with a major edit needed. Near the end, the analogy to Ferguson, Missouri is awful. Terrible. The most obvious of the many reasons: the shooting of a coyote is simply not comparable to the shooting of a human being.

    Please consider removing the reference, if for no other reason than it distracts from your message.


    • yipps
      Nov 22, 2014 @ 18:11:06

      Hi Allen — Thank you for your comment. If you want to offer some editing, I will be happy to look over what you come up with. As for the analogy to Ferguson, it was put in there as an example of our all-too-ready use of guns in our society to “take care of” perceived behavior issues: shoot now, think later. I think the analogy is apt and will leave it in there for now. Janet

  6. Charles Wood
    Nov 22, 2014 @ 23:17:48

    Naming ourselves as human beings, in my opinion, undeservedly ‘sanctifies’ just us. We are, after all, one species among many. So saying that ‘shooting a coyote is simply not comparable to the shooting of a human being’, in my opinion, is to make a distinction without a difference. (I say ‘sanctifies’ for lack of a better term and I understand that it is my term, not yours.)

    Also, the comparison is apt if we keep in mind that humans can kill other humans without believing it is humans that they are killing. In such cases we call each other dogs, cock roaches, beasts, etc., as if there were a distinction between us and dogs, cockroaches, beasts, etc. If only we could be consistent, if only we could believe that either 1) we all are dogs, or, 2) that none of us can claim that special status!


  7. Trackback: Coyotes in San Francisco: How To Peacefully Coexsist | San Francisco Raw Feeders (SFRAW)
  8. Andy
    Jun 22, 2022 @ 05:35:41

    Coyotes eating cats is “infrequent”?. Interesting, and this article was about myths apparently.

    At least read a few studies about Coyote behaviors in urban environments before sharing as you said, “your personal views”.

    For those looking for answers you won’t find them here.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jun 22, 2022 @ 06:09:32

      Hello Andy — In San Francisco, there had been few cats taken back 8 years ago when the posting was written in 2014. This blog is about San Francisco coyotes and that was the case at that point. Today it’s true that more cats have been grabbed by coyotes, especially during the pupping season, both feral cats and house cats. This blog is not about *my personal views*, it is about first-hand observations here in San Francisco. I will revise the article to bring it up to date. Thanks for your input, in spite of its being condescending.

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