Urban Coyote Myth: Coyotes Luring Dogs to Their Deaths, Explained. . . by Mary Paglieri

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.

Best,

Mary Paglieri,
Human – Animal Conflict Consultant,
Behavioral Ecologist,
www.littlebluesociety.org

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. yipps
    Oct 31, 2015 @ 17:09:40

    To see comments on this writeup, which was originally posted on the Stern Grove Dog Owner’s Group Facebook page, see: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SternGroveDogOwners/permalink/890804840997303/

    Reply

  2. August Strozier
    Sep 09, 2016 @ 17:30:40

    Maybe you can help explain this scenario. I live on 100 acres in a very rural area of south Texas. We have a robust coyote population (you can hear them howling almost every night from all directions). I was out walking this morning with two of my dogs following. Both are large, athletic dogs who have survived plenty of coyote interactions (they’ve never injured or killed any to my knowledge). I spotted a coyote about 20 yards away. It yelped, drawing the dogs attention, they paused with ears erect, it yelped again and they took off after it. The dogs were quickly out of sight, but I could hear the coyote yelping all the time. I followed, calling out to the dogs to come back. I came up to where the coyote had stopped, still yelping as if it were injured, hidden right behind the tree line in a dry creek bed. My dogs had apparently obeyed my calls and headed back home.
    I climbed up a nearby tree to try and see down into the creek bed. I couldn’t see anything, but the coyote continued yelping. After about ten minutes, the yelping ceased and a coyote, (it seemed to be a larger individual) came out of the brush and looked around for a moment, and then went back. I waited another five minutes or so, (no more yelping), and then left. It certainly struck me as some type of feigned injury ambush strategy, although they certainly would have had a hell of a time with those two dogs. A few years ago a small dog I had was killed and eaten in that same area early one morning. I hold no grudge against them, and enjoy listening to them howl of an evening. Just thought this was interesting behavior and was looking for some input. Thanks.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Sep 10, 2016 @ 03:40:16

      Hi August — I’ve contacted Mary to reply to this. Janet

      Reply

    • yipps
      Sep 11, 2016 @ 03:44:32

      Hi August —

      I forwarded your comment to the Behavioral Ecologist who wrote this posting. She says that what you observed looks like a run-of-the-mill interaction. You said there were other coyotes in the area. It’s not surprising that another coyote was curious about what the commotion was — they are inquisitive and curious. You know, if you want to believe that coyotes lure other dogs to kill them — even if they’re outmatched, which would be suicide — you could interpret almost ANY dog/coyote situation that way. Wild animals (coyotes) do not put themselves into situations where they may be injured by larger dogs. This is because if they are injured, they wouldn’t be able to hunt and they could die. A number of myths like this one have made their rounds, such as that a coyote seen during daytime hours is aggressive. Some people still believe this. There have been hundreds of scientific studies done on coyotes – they are the most studied animals on earth. If “luring” was in fact a “hunting” strategy they use, then because of its “uniqueness” in the coyote world, it would have been noticed and studied and written about. But nowhere in scientific literature that describes their food-acquisition behavior is it even remotely mentioned. When observing coyotes and their interactions, you need to look at it from the perspective of the animal, not from a human point of view, which is invariably wrong and may be colored by all sorts of myths and unfounded beliefs about the animal – that coyotes are “sneaky”, ” cunning”, etc. Please go back and re-read the first section of the original post. By putting these human characteristics on coyotes, you miss a great opportunity to see what a truly amazing animal they are. I am happy to tell you just how amazing, if you are interested.

      Reply

    • Mary Paglieri
      Feb 01, 2017 @ 03:59:18

      Hi August,

      Sorry for the long delay in my response.

      “Yelping” is a high intensity startle and/or submissive response in coyotes. This coyote, most probably a youngster, was frightened by the presence of your big dogs. The yelping while it was hidden, is a sign of submission (to your dogs).

      This type of distress vocalization will effectively “call in” coyotes of all ages and social groups in the vicinity, as well as fox, bobcats and probably many other predators – putting this coyote in danger.
 This explains why you saw the larger coyote – it was drawn by, and curious about the vocalization.

      This had nothing to do with any kind of “hunting” strategy used by canids. Furthermore, coyotes are pursuit predators – they chase their prey, they do not “lure” and “ambush” prey. Lure and ambush hunting strategies are almost exclusive to certain fish, insect and reptile species, and carnivorous plants.

      Best,
      Mary Paglieri
      Human-Animal Conflict Specialist
      Behavioral Ecologist

      Reply

  3. Morgan
    Nov 17, 2016 @ 21:24:57

    The coyotes where you live much be special, because those of use who live in semi-rural and rural areas have lost plenty of dogs to coyotes who lured them away from safety.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Nov 19, 2016 @ 00:18:06

      This is not true. The dogs went chasing after the coyotes and should not have done so. Please let folks know to keep their dogs from going after coyotes — this is safest for the dogs AND the coyotes. Janet

      Reply

  4. William Logan
    Dec 14, 2016 @ 05:40:49

    You make these cunning coyotes sound like the old-time “loose woman” who lured helpless, innocent young men into temptation and trapped them with her feminine wiles.

    Just like those yong men, your dog was curious and went willingly. Because that’s what dogs do.

    Reply

  5. Randall S Hardy
    May 01, 2017 @ 17:29:48

    For many years, I had a pet coyote/dog cross. The mother coyote had pups in my tool shed. I saw her only a few times, each time she heard or smelled me first and fled. As she left, I saw that she held one back leg off the ground and hopped or limped away using just one back leg. I have always believed that her injury is what caused her to live close to people and mate with my neighbor’s dog. However, today I happened upon a coyote den. The mother was about 50 feet away when I saw her, and she limped off into the woods on one back leg. Coincidence? or is feigning an injury a stategy to lure predators away from the pups?

    Reply

    • yipps
      May 01, 2017 @ 17:52:09

      Hi — The biggest cause of death for coyotes in urban areas is cars. When a car doesn’t kill outright, it may leave a lasting injury. I’ve been documenting a coyote with a limp who we know was hit by a car only a few days ago. Five years ago I watched a mother coyote raise her two pups singlehandedly (father coyote had been poisoned) after being hit by a car. It took this coyote months to recover. The injuries are real. I’ve never heard of a mother coyote feigning an injury as a lure, and I’ve never seen a coyote fake an injury. However, I will confirm with a behavioral ecologist I work with and let you know what she says. Janet

      Reply

  6. Randall S Hardy
    May 01, 2017 @ 18:18:06

    Hi Janet, thanks for the quick reply. For 25 years I have thought that the mother of my coydog had been shot or hit by a car, I only wondered about it being a stategy when I saw another mother act the same way today. When I first saw her, I was about 20 feet from a pile of concrete slabs that had been dumped and she was about 50 feet. After she left, I could hear sounds coming from from the concrete pile so I guessed she had dug under them to have her pups. I gave the whole area a wide berth after that so she wouldn’t be afraid to return. The one that had pups in my tool shed would leave for a whole day everytime I stepped into my back yard, but her behavior may not have been normal.

    Reply

    • yipps
      May 01, 2017 @ 19:11:28

      Hi Randall — I’ve seen coyotes leave their pups all day long. I don’t think this is unusual mother coyote behavior. They do so to go hunting. It’s during this period of time, when the pups are young, that mothers need extra nutrients to produce enough milk. Fathers hunt extra hard during this time, too, in order to bring more food home. Fathers actually eat the food and then regurgitate it for the pups. Mother coyotes may do the same later on. I’ve cautioned people not to *rescue* *abandoned* pups because, more than likely, they have not been abandoned at all — they’ve simply been left for the day by the parents who went a-hunting!

      You are doing great by giving the mother you saw today a wide berth. I wish more people were as respectful as you are. Thank you for your input, and thank you for abiding by their needs. Do you have a photo of your coydog? I would love to see it! Janet

      Reply

    • yipps
      May 02, 2017 @ 03:43:54

      Hi Randall — I just got this reply to your comment from the behavioral ecologist, Mary Paglieri, which I’m sure you will very interested in reading:
      “It’s called distraction displays for offspring defense. Feigning injury is something that has been observed mostly in birds as “nest protection.” It has also been noted in fish and some mammals such as primates. It doesn’t always have to be feigning an injury, it could be something the parent animal does to attract the attention of the predator away from the nest or den. Sure, female coyotes will do this to protect their young – but what tactic they use is dependent on the coyote. It’s more than possible that the coyote was feigning injury to draw him away from her den.” Janet

      Reply

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