What Would Be The Outcome In a Coyote/German Shepherd Altercation? by Charles Wood

Folks have worried about what might happen if their dog and a coyote were to confront each other: what would the outcome of a fight be? The question, “Who would win in a fight between a German Shepherd and a coyote?”, was posed on a forum on Quora, and answered by Charles Wood, who has given me permission to republish it here. His answer to the question:

There wouldn’t be a fight, generally speaking. Let me show you why I say so.

Here’s what is a stake for the coyote when a German Shepard Dog gets interested in a coyote.

Here’s team Mom and Dad coyote. That’s Mom at the left of the frame. Big. Irritable, look at her ear, end stage otitis I believe.

Here’s Dad charging my dog and me. Yeah, its a bluff and we were on the other side of a chain link fence.

Now, the following photograph, I did not take, it was taken by a friend of mine, Janet Kessler in a San Francisco park.

[Edit: I want to emphasize that the dog pictured above was not injured. It returned to its owner, was put back on its leash, its owner talked to Janet, and then went home with a good education. Janet Kessler is all about education.]

Coyotes have skin in the game. That particular German Shepard-ish Dog is someone’s pet. It lives in one world. Coyotes live in the real world and take care of real business every day. In the above photo, no real dirty work was required. The German Shepard-ish Dog is a pet and totally out of its element. I’m talking typically. The above shot was part of a series. The other shots showed a chase and some maneuvers. The coyote danced its way into the position we see. The coyote has practiced all its life on this stuff. It isn’t like in a dog park.

Generally, although a German Shepard Dog has the weight advantage, coyotes with their experience and situational intelligence have a considerable advantage over a German Shepard Dog. The dog pictured has never seen real action. Nor has it really seen a very motivated opponent. The stuff dogs argue about? Who gets to keep the ball. Coyotes can puff up and make themselves look way bigger than their average of about 26 to 30 pounds out here in the West. There’s no hint of play in their demeanor when their family’s safety is at stake. I think it is safe to say that because of the size of a German Shepherd Dog, coyotes don’t want to eat it. They don’t rank it as prey, it’s an interloper. Coyotes deal with interlopers a lot. That pictured dog? He’s getting it in gear to run away at full speed. He’s a real chicken, and needs to be. He tried to pick on someone smaller, and he got told.

Coyotes intrude on each other’s territory all the time. They test one another looking for fun or for the chance of a gain. At stake is their food, their mate, and their children. I’ve read from studies that unlike wolves, coyotes have one coyote defend their territory. Wolves I’ve read just kill intruders. Coyotes? Their strategy is to give an intruder a thrashing. Enough so that an intruder won’t forget. With my coyotes, Mom was there as backup and Dad did the work.

Here’s a real contender. Note it looks like he had lost an eye, maybe in a fight. He’s in his prime, and he hooked up for life with one of Mom and Dad’s daughters. After he came on the scene, I didn’t see Mom and Dad again. They had grown old and had aches and pains. The last time I looked, a few years ago, it seemed that not much was known about coyote inter-generational transfers of territory. In this one observation of mine, it looked pretty ugly.

And in urban and suburban settings, coyotes don’t want a fight. They huff, puff, and bluff to warn an intruder away. And they will run away. That can be a rope a dope, a run for a better site for parrying, or to keep on distracting a dog until it gets worn out. They don’t want contact. They don’t want to be injured. But a dog? They tire sooner, or get called back by their owner. The dogs don’t know the territory as intimately as a coyote has to know its own territory. For a pet dog, they just don’t have game. The coyotes I’ve seen seem to have most dogs figured out. To a wild coyote, a dog in coyote territory acts untutored in the ways of the wild.

[Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.]

[Note from Janet: The Shepherd could sustain a nip to the haunches if he were persistent in going after the coyote. Note that the nip is a reinforcing *message* to the dog to “leave me alone and get out of here”. It is not meant to maim the dog.]

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Terri Minnick
    Jun 20, 2018 @ 21:51:27

    I WAS attacked by a German Sheperd while walking my two golden retrievers. The GS was about 100 lbs and bit up my male GR and me as I tried to get him off. I would sooner meet a coyote anyday than someone’s loose dog. It has been my personal experience they ( coyotes) run off as soon as they see me…however I do not let my dogs off leash to harass wild animals.


  2. Charles Wood
    Jun 20, 2018 @ 23:46:09

    I know! Me too, I don’t let my dog off leash either.


  3. Cindie White
    Jun 26, 2018 @ 21:14:35

    Great story. Thank you!


  4. Aaron T Pruitt
    Nov 03, 2018 @ 05:43:53

    This is one instance or a couple, this does not reflect what would happen if a coyote would approach the territory of a FULL GROWN GSD, and a german shepherd-ish dog is not the same as a full blooded pure bred GSD. Let’s be honest GSD are bigger and have a stronger bite force of 238 lbs. Plenty of videos on YouTube if german shepherds protecting there flock from coyotes. They will charge right into battle to save their people or other dogs in the pack. I’m not saying a coyote doesnt have its advantages in the fields mentioned here, but most real GSd of guarding will probably scare the coyote away. Coyote wont risk an injury knowing it could cause death by starvation


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Nov 03, 2018 @ 13:05:48

      Hi Aaron — Yes, you are right. But even in this instance, there is unlikely to be “contact” or an actual “fight” between the GSD and the coyote because, as you say, the coyote would simply flee. I think that’s the point of the article.

  5. Michael Reid
    Feb 13, 2019 @ 05:48:30

    This is wrong. Dogs of the same breed are not equal and neither are men when it comes to raising dogs. The avg city person with any dog is no match for a coyote because of their fear and that fear produces a pet that is worthless against a coyote. When you truly raise a dog like a German Shepard as the breed is intended to be and you have no fear of coyotes your GS will kill a coyote with no issues. My GS, Rotts, and American bulldogs have killed stupid coyotes that didnt respect their territory on my land for over 20 years in Az. Coyotes in the area that are smart stay clear of their territory and don’t have any issues with my dogs. Feral dogs in the area also kill coyotes that get in their way. Large breed dogs that are breed and raised right will kill a coyote if the owner of the dog has showed or let that dog explore his more natural killers side. Dogs that hunt, guard, or protect and have not had their aggressive instincts muted coyotes will be killed easily. Most city dogs are not built for the kill but dogs in our neighborhood don’t have any issues with killing coyotes and protecting livestock from any predator including mountain lions.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 13, 2019 @ 17:09:46

      Michael — Please read this post a little more carefully. What this post says is that a coyote is mostly bluff and will not kill your German Shepherd: coyotes will do their best to avoid a fight. This posting is about urban pet dogs whose owners fear for their dogs, it’s not about trained killer dogs. I would expect any dog bigger than a coyote — 30 pounds — to be able to kill them, even an urban dog. That’s not what we want in urban areas where most residents respect the wildlife and don’t want to harm them. We are working towards a planet that includes all the wildlife. Peaceful coexistence is easy if you keep threatening dogs away from coyotes.

  6. Yikes lol
    Apr 19, 2019 @ 11:47:18

    This is 100% incorrect lol. An average sized, average drive, working line GSD would stand his ground and snap any coyotes neck. He could likely handle 2 at once but no more than that. You’re comparing what seems to be a low drive, house pet of a gsd to a wild animal. The average gsd is not a house pet.


  7. dougandnico
    Jul 11, 2019 @ 17:45:56

    For the last 18 years, I’ve walked my dogs – unleashed away from people or cars – near home at the edge of a large urban area in Oregon. There are many coyotes here in a large public ‘wild’ area a half mile away and we’ve had many encounters with them. Previously, I had a 90-lb Lab and currently, a 96-lb GSD who does NOT like coyotes. Coyotes have often challenged us, most often at night when they’re particularly active – many times by what I’m guessing is a dominant male (?) that ‘zooms’ us, seemingly protesting our existence on their turf by running near and vocalizing. It does seem to be a canine turf issue. They’ll run past at half-speed as if to gauge our ability to respond. They seem to assume they can outrun the dog and can easily increase speed to get away. It’s definitely a challenge, though, and there’s a message – go away. I’ll send my dog after them. We do have fun. The Lab would chase them because they’d run, like he would chase cats. If they would ever stop, though, he’d be at a complete loss because he had nothing against anything – including cats and coyotes. He had many cat pals. He wasn’t a fighter and he never hurt anything. As long as the coyotes would run, there was no problem. They never stopped. The Shepherd, though, is different. He seems to understand the trash talk the coyotes spew and definitely wants to close with them. I let him go. It’s great exercise for him and there’s really no chance of a fight. Although he’s a long, tall fast dog, any coyote can easily outrun him. The coyotes won’t engage with him as any injury could be life-threatening. If injured so they couldn’t get away from him, that would be IT. They didn’t know my Lab was so mellow. For most of his life he was big, fast, healthy – why take a chance? When the GSD was 1, I sent him after 2 coyotes one night. We saw them coming, hunkered down to look small and get them in close – ‘got them in about 15 yds away and I sent him. They went about 100 yds and I called him back. The coyotes returned immediately to harass us again, not impressed by a young dog that was no real threat. We hunkered down again. Again, he chased them. 3 times that night. He was so gassed, it took a while to walk him home, coyotes behind us for part of the walk. A year and a half later, he’d changed. I sent him after 4 coyotes one night. He was furious about a zoom challenge from the biggest one. All 4 seemed to understand he would gladly consume one or more. They did NOT come back. Next day, I saw where he left a 15-yd slide on a muddy backwoods road where 2 split and he changed directions to go for what might’ve been a closer one. They won’t mess with that kind of power or intensity. I don’t delude myself about the opportunistic nature of these creatures. If my dogs were slow, small, old or I was unfirm or otherwise vulnerable, I have no doubt they could be dangerous. One night, with about 6 approaching (headlamps reveal them coming several hundred yards out), I got an uneasy feeling and we left. My Lab was 12 years old and it was time to get back to a housing area and safety. Over my 18 years here, their numbers have increased. Our home security cameras now show them in the street out front at night. I really don’t mind having coyotes learn to show a little deference to people/dogs here. As long as Nico’s in good shape, we’ll patrol our neighborhood. Our last encounter was last week when Nico educated 3 large coyotes 100 yds down the street.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 11, 2019 @ 19:39:16

      May I ask what you are trying to prove by encouraging your huge 96-pound German Shepherd (that’s bigger than I am) to go after a 30 pound coyote — an animal 1/3 his size? Coyotes are the size of Whippets, or Beagles, in weight. Maybe you are having fun. Maybe your dog is having fun. The coyotes are not: for them your activity is putting them into a life-and-death situation.

      Their instincts are programmed to protect their territories — mostly from other coyotes. It keeps the population down in any particular area. You should appreciate this.

      Why don’t you be the “bigger” guy by allowing them to be, rather than trying to engage with them to prove yourself “larger”, which you physically are. Basically you are proving to everyone who reads this that your ego is so fragile that you have to have it out with a little coyote. I mean, really?

  8. Dewayne Stark
    Jul 24, 2019 @ 16:00:04

    I live in Big Park, Arizona. We are in the mountains next to Coconino National Forest at 4250 feet elevation. My GSD is 2 and a half years old. I also have a Yorkie. We have coyotoes. When I walk the country road here my dogs are on leads, We see coyotes almost daily and have them around the house and in the yards (several acres) Tuesday morning I was unloading my Nissan after a visit to the market. I was unloading next to my house when my GSD spotted 2 coyotoes and charged after them. I quickly three down my bags and placed the yorkie in the house then went after my dog. He had the coyotes in the brush and I could hear the coyotoes yelping. My neighbors saw it after they heard the noise. My intention was not to have my dog go after the coyotoes but he did and was not harmed. With the exception of the driveway our area is surrounded by barb wire which makes no difference to deer, mountains lion, bobcats, javelinas or coyotes. My GSD can go under a fence also.
    I do not have a problem with coywolfs or coyotes. I have never seen a wolf here but I have read reports that they exist here. Coyotes are a little faster the German Shepherds 40 mph vs 34 mph Coyotes are much lighter in weight having a different bone structure.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 24, 2019 @ 16:38:56

      Hi Dewayne — Thank you for your observations. Almost all dogs will chase coyotes if they can. The larger the dog, the more danger to the coyote, and vice-versa. Although I have not measured it, I’ve read where coyotes can actually attain a speed of 43 mph. And you are right, because of their lightness, bone structure, light and minimal musculature, and more sinewy tendons, coyotes are very lithe and quick. They often can tire out a heftier pursuer by running up and down steep inclines.

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