Intense Focus on Approaching Danger

This coyote’s focus on the tumultuous dog activity up ahead on a path was intense. The dogs were playing, chasing and barking at one another, but to a coyote the approaching spurt of activity and noise spelled possible danger.  All had been calm and quiet a moment before. As the dogs got closer, the coyote lowered himself closer to the ground and then slithered, undetected, out of sight and away from any possible encounters or interactions.









Responding to Recent Postings on Social Media: A Recap of Some Urban Coyote Behaviors and Some Explanations

This posting is a slightly revised and expanded version, with photos, of what was originally written for, and posted on, on May 27th.

our Bernal coyote at dawn

coyote at dawn

We have coyotes in most of our parks here in San Francisco, and most folks I’ve spoken with are thrilled about it!  Enjoy it and respect its wildness! At the same time, there are some people, especially pet owners, who are not so thrilled. Here is some information I’ve put together about coyotes, much of it based on my own observations, as a response to concerns and comments which have appeared in some of the social media recently. This is information that applies to urban coyotes everywhere, not just here in SF.


coyotes in our parks

coyotes in our parks

Most parks in San Francisco have one stable resident family, or a loner. Coyotes are not “pack” animals of unrelated individuals. Families “claim” territories which they “own” from which they exclude other coyotes — this is what keeps the population density down. They trek through the neighborhoods every night, during the early morning or early evening hours — and, more rarely, during the brightest hours of the day — marking their territories to keep other coyotes out and looking for hunting opportunities. Studies show that in urban areas, there is generally about one coyote per square mile — a family of 4 would require about 4 square miles. You will always be seeing the same individual coyotes in any particular area.

Although we have parks with loner coyotes, most parks have mated pairs with families. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young. Coyotes mate in January or February and produce young in April — births occur only once a year. 

The number of family members fluctuates up and down continually over time. In one park, it went something like this: 2-5-3-4-2. The fluctuation is due to new pups, and then to their dispersal or deaths. There is only about a 30% survival rate of pups during their first year — disease and nutritional issues take their toll.

When it’s time for youngsters to “disperse”, the parents will drive them out, or they may just pick-up-and-go. This usually occurs between one and two, and sometimes three years of age, and it occurs throughout the year — there is no “dispersal season”. However, the breeding adult pair will remain in the same territory over many years. Interestingly, wolves will actually kill their own kin in order to preserve their own statuses and territorial rights. I’ve not seen this in coyotes, but I have seen the altercations that drive coyotes out of their birth territories.

Cars are urban coyotes’ chief cause of death — please drive carefully! They often trek on our traffic grid — it’s often the “path of least resistance”.  A few days ago, in our Diamond Heights neighborhood, a car swerved right into someone’s house to avoid hitting a coyote during the early morning hours.


coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

As the individuals in a family mature, some of them may go through phases of what might be called more “assertive”  or “insistent” behavior, such as: following or running in the direction of a dog. During pupping season, the assertiveness is strongest, with coyotes even approaching and possibly even nipping at a dog’s haunches. These are coyote “messaging” behaviors: coyotes want dogs to move on and to know the territory is taken. These behaviors don’t “define” a coyote, and they don’t last. Think of these as phases in a teenager’s life, or in a parent’s life — there’s an ebb and flow to behaviors for each coyote, often based on what is going on within the coyote’s individual family: Are there new pups? Is there increased sibling rivalry? Are parents having issues with the offspring, or trying to get one to disperse? I’ve seen no evidence to indicate that such behaviors build up towards more aggressiveness. Many of the more apparently “assertive” behaviors, both in juveniles and adults, are based solely on circumstances and happenstance encounters, so keep your distance.


trekking through the neighborhood

trekking through the neighborhood

A substantial increase in “sightings” doesn’t necessarily translate into a spike in the coyote population, though this is what many people assume. Again, increased sightings could be due to their current family dynamics which may cause individuals to wander farther afield.

Unusual weather conditions can have an effect on sightings. San Francisco has just been through a four-year drought. Drought conditions cause coyotes to hunt further afield and for longer hours. They become more visible to humans and more prone to incidents during these times when their activity overlaps with ours. It takes 8 full months for an ecosystem to recover from a drought.

Human changes to the environment, including new construction, will affect coyotes in an area. In San Francisco, coyotes may be lingering longer in neighborhoods recently, and therefore be seen more, because of the current program of thinning and eliminating dense and protective thickets in the parks, reducing coyotes’ normal secure habitat.  Stopping the destruction of the habitat, and compensating for the exceptional weather or drought in various ways until the ecosystem has recovered, both are steps that could be taken to reduce sightings, and possible dog/coyote encounters, and coyotes’ spending the past-twilight hours in neighborhoods.


feeding coyotes is not good

feeding coyotes is not good

Please don’t feed the coyotes. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food conditioned  — which is different from “habituation” (see below) — problems could develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for a negative incident to occur. Feeding them also encourages them to hang around yards where people don’t want them.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything, but their preference in San Francisco is for gophers, squirrels and voles, which they eat whole: they need the meat, muscle, bones, fur — all of it — to nourish themselves properly. They also eat fruit, nuts, bugs, weak or juvenile raccoons, skunks, opossums, and possibly snakes. They prefer their whole foods over human-made foods, but if that human food is available, they’ll try it. And they will eat the occasional cat or small dog if circumstances are right — they don’t know who is a pet and who isn’t. Don’t create the right circumstances that could add your pet to the food chain. Please protect your pets by not allowing them to roam free and by supervising them closely when out-of-doors.

As top predators to an area, coyotes have helped rebalance the environment: they control rodents and some mesopredators, such as opossums, skunks and raccoons.


a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

Urban coyotes do not “fear” humans — that is an incorrect term. Rather they are “wary” of humans. This means that, although a coyote won’t flee lickety-split in fear when they see a human, they nonetheless will maintain distance and not approach us. And we, in turn, need to respect them and their wildness by keeping as far away from them as we can. “Habituation” is a normal progression in urban areas — you cannot prevent it because you cannot stop coyotes from seeing humans on a daily basis — they get used to seeing us. A habituated coyote is not a dangerous animal. In fact, the term “habituation” was first used to describe bears as being more dangerous if they got used to people and lost fear of us. This assumption has been turned on its head: scientists now know that bears who are habituated tend to ignore humans, whereas bears who have never seen humans become reactive. In Africa, to make gorillas less reactive to humans, for the tourist trade, people purposefully habituate them — they become less dangerous.

Coyotes also habituate to “hazing” tactics, which is why such tactics should not be used if a coyote is way out in left field. Scaring off a coyote should be used sparingly. It should be reserved for when a coyote has come too close to you. It is a useless tactic unless the coyote is closer than 50 or so feet to you, which generally delineates its critical distance for discomfort.

Note that “habituation” is different from “food conditioning”. When visibly feeding or hand-feeding a coyote, you are conditioning it to approach humans. Don’t feed coyotes.


suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

Whereas coyotes don’t approach humans, dogs are a different story because of territorial issues and because of prey issues. In many ways, coyotes and dogs look alike, but coyotes and dogs are naturally antagonistic towards each other. Remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories. Coyotes are also both curious and suspicious of dogs: they may feel compelled to come in closer to investigate. Always supervise your pets to prevent incidents: the minute you see a coyote, leash and go in the other direction. Most dogs have a tendency to go chasing after coyotes. Please don’t allow your dog to do this.

coyote messaging a dog -- the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

coyote messaging a dog — the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

Coyotes have approached dogs. If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog who the coyote considers a threat to its territory or its personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don’t let them. You can prevent an incident by keeping your dog away from coyotes in the first place, by leashing when you see one, and by walking away from it. It’s no different than when you encounter a skunk with its tail up: keep your dog off of it, and move away from it. 

coyote following

coyote following

 IF, inadvertently or by surprise, a coyote gets too close, that is when to scare it off, otherwise just walk away without running: see

Coyotes may follow dogs to find out what the dog is doing and where it is going (they do the same to non-family coyotes). If you and your dog are moving away from the coyote, and away from any denning site, the coyote soon will no longer follow. If you don’t want the coyote to follow at all, toss a small stone in its direction (not at it), and/or approach it (but don’t get too close) using your own blatantly angry body language and angry yelling. Noise alone, or waving flailing arms, is not always effective in making a coyote move — something has to move  towards the coyote. And it isn’t going to help if you are too far away. You’ve got to get within the coyote’s critical distance — at most 50 feet — and you have to be assertive about it. Walking towards the coyote while slapping a newspaper viciously on your thigh works, but tossing stones towards it is probably more effective. However — and this is a very important “however” — if the coyote doesn’t budge, it is probably protecting a nearby den site. In this case, turn around and leave. Do not provoke an incident. See the above link in Bay Nature.

It’s always best to be proactive in keeping a coyote away. The minute you see a coyote, leash up and move away from it, and know how to shoo it off effectively if it comes closer to you than 50 feet.

Note that practically all scratches or bites by coyotes to humans are due to feeding the coyote, or to an owner getting him/herself between a coyote and a pet, so don’t do these things. And, never run from a coyote: this activity actually initiates the chase response in a coyote who may also nip at your heels. They also sometimes nip at car tires when the car is in motion. The phenomena is called “motion reactivity”.


Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounters CAN be scary if you are unprepared and don’t know what to expect or what to do. Please learn what coyotes are like, not what you think they “should” be like — for instance, that they don’t “fear” humans but are “wary” of them, and not that “coyotes should be heard and not seen”. By knowing their true normal behaviors, and by knowing what to do *IF* they approach your dog, you will be informed and you will not be so fearful. For starters, watch the video, Coyotes As Neighbors:, which will spell out normal coyote behavior and what you can do to keep coyotes away from a pet.


The number one method of managing coyotes for coexistence is through human education and human behavior modification: that is what this posting is trying to help with. These have been shown to be extremely effective. The City of San Francisco has been lax in putting out signs or getting educational material to folks. Some of us have been filling the void, getting material, information and guidelines out to people, but as individuals or as small organizations, we have not been able to reach everyone. Please visit for specific information, and

Many cities have coexistence policies — they all work when folks abide by the guidelines. BUT, as with car driving laws, even if you know them and follow them, there will be some fender-benders that might be frightening. We have fewer than 100 coyotes in the City; the number of dogs is in the 250,000s. There is bound to be an incident now and then.

The number of real coyote incidents in the City is not many. There have been less than a handful of dog fatalities by coyotes — all were unleashed small dogs in known coyote areas — all were preventable. There have been many incidents of people being frightened and reporting “attacks” on their dogs. Few if any of these attacks were reported on a questionnaire which would tease out what actually occurred. Instead, these incidents have been spelled out on the social media with warnings of doom that is awaiting us all.

Most of the sightings of coyotes have been reported as charming. But there have been some fearful encounters, and recently groups of dog owners in some of the parks have turned decidedly against them. Social media tends to perpetuate, spread and amplify the fears, and encounters are inevitably worded as deliberate “aggressive attacks”. For instance, recently, there was a report of an attempted “attack” on a dog at 5:30 in the morning. However, a lone coyote, who weighs 35 pounds, is not going to “attack” a 130 pound Mastiff… Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety. These are not “attacks”, nor are they “attempted attacks”. Hopefully, by learning about coyotes, we can diminish the very real feeling of fear which comes from not knowing what is going on.

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

Our Animal Care and Control Department has had many people report “aggressive” coyotes: but when questioned further, the majority of these reports were of a coyote just standing, or doing nothing but looking at the purported victim.

Two years ago I watched a man, straight faced, tell me that he had been frightened “out-of-his-wits” by a monster 100-pound coyote just a few moments before seeing me. He was visibly shaken. He hadn’t seen me watching the whole incident a little way down the path. The incident involved his dog chasing a coyote. The coyote turned around to face the dog. When the dog ran back to its owner, the coyote proceeded on to where it had been going. But the owner was left frightened, and justified his fright by saying it was a “monster 100-pound coyote”. If the dog had been leashed, the incident would not have happened. It happened in a park where everyone knows there are coyotes.

If you have questions, or if you want help with specific issues, please contact me or anyone at

Coyote Splits, Lickety-split, Upon Seeing a Large Pack of Large Dogs Running Loose

Coyotes know that they don’t need to be afraid of everyone that comes to their parks — they simply keep their distance and continue whatever they were doing. If humans walk by in the distance with their leashed dogs, a coyote more often than not will continue its foraging, or may stop to observe as the dog and walker pass through. Distance is everyone’s friend, as is controlled calm.

However, danger is signaled to coyotes by individual or packs of unleashed dogs running about, as happened here. This coyote looked up from her peaceful foraging to see several large dogs running around wildly and exploring hither and thither, with no owner in sight initially. It was a signal for the coyote to head towards a safer area. Our coyotes are chased often by dogs. An individual dog which pursues them they can handle now and then even though they dislike it tremendously, but a large pack of large dogs is something they do not want to test.

The dogs did not see the coyote, but the walker did. He leashed up his seven charges as soon as he saw the coyote, and he walked on. The coyote sat, close to the bushes to where she could make a quick getaway if needed, but she didn’t need to. When the pack of dogs was out of sight, she simply lay down and took a nap!

leashing up the dog pack

leashing up the dog pack


2015-09-11 at 08-24-51

Click on either of these images to read the rest of this extremely short (200 words) and to-the-point piece on the importance of vigilance if you have a dog in a coyote area.

2015-09-11 at 08-18-14
Note: The article, in its shortness, or possibly because of a misunderstanding by its author, is missing some important points. Most important, coyotes avoid humans, so if you don’t have a dog with you, just keep your distance to help yourself and the coyote not feel crowded or threatened. And, even if you have a dog with you, you would never challenge a coyote as described in this article unless it had come very close or was coming directly at your dog. Otherwise, leash and walk away, and always keep your distance. The point is to avoid any interaction and a confrontation always.

Pupping: Coyote Parents Are Worried, Concerned, and Suspicious of Dogs

The Behavior

Dad coyotes are out for a while in the mornings to perform “sentry duty”. With so many dogs in the parks, you can be sure Dads are concerned and worried about the areas where youngsters have been stashed to stay safe.

Most of the time, a dad will just lie and watch, sometimes with one eye shut, from a location with a broad view. He is not only watching, he is also making himself visible. Making himself visible during this time frame is a communication device for letting others know that he is there — the territory is taken. This is about territorial behavior — about protecting one’s turf.

During the time that he’s lying there, he may become uneasy over a particular dog he’s spotted in the distance. If this happens, he’ll sit up or stand to watch more keenly. This may be all he does before lying down again. However, being the good caregiver and guardian that he is, he may hurry after the dog and follow to assure himself that the dog is headed away from, and not towards, a pupping area — sort of “escorting” the dog away.

If the dog owner is not vigilant, the coyote could get close and might even deliver a messaging nip to the dog’s behind — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to hurry along. All dog owners should be aware of the possibility of this behavior. Remember that coyotes don’t allow other coyotes into their territories: If YOU were not there with your dog, the coyotes would be trying harder to let the dog feel unwelcome. This does not happen frequently, but I’ve seen it a number of times.

What To Do

What should a dog owner do? I’ve posted this before, but it needs to be emphasized. Remember that coyotes are not interested in tangling with humans — rather, they want to message the dog. First and foremost, if you see a coyote, always leash and continue moving away from it. You should keep your dog in sight at all times. Don’t let your dog lag far behind you where he’s out of your line of vision.

If you see a coyote following and getting too close, you need to stop and shoo it away. Simply turn around and glare at the coyote. Eyeball him eye-to-eye to let him know you mean business and that you are targeting him.  You can add emphasis by lunging or stepping towards the coyote. You want to move in his direction without getting close. One walker recently told me that she pointed at the coyote by extending her arm out far and pointing her finger at the coyote in a commanding sort of way as she stamped her foot and lunged at a coyote. By eyeing the coyote and pointing at it, there will be no mistake about who your message is for. Picking up a small stone and tossing it in the coyote’s direction is always effective. Either way, you are moving in his direction, or moving something in his direction, which is what causes him to move. Then turn around and walk on, but continue looking back. If he continues to follow, you should repeat this more emphatically — it may take several attempts before the coyote gets the message. Never run from a coyote.

NOTE, that if a coyote is close enough to engage with your dog, you’ll need to be ferocious in your shooing it off. Please see the demonstration in the “Coyotes As Neighbors” YouTube video (you can google this). It’s best never to let a coyote get this close in the first place.

Distressed Barking By Mother Coyote Due to Presence of Dogs

Parent coyotes are especially edgy at this time of year — it’s pupping season.

As this mother coyote foraged behind some low bushes, dog owners with their mostly leashed dogs walked by on a path about 100 feet away: they stopped and looked at her, though it might have been better if they had just walked on. None of the dogs approached her, though they might have communicated some kind of negativity through their facial expressions and body language. The coyote apparently didn’t like them looking at her, or she didn’t like their negative communication. OR, the dogs may simply have been too close for comfort.  I was concentrating on her, so I couldn’t see what the issue was.

Note that she begins her complaining with little grunts and heaves: it’s an emotional and distressed reaction.  As she initially grunts and heaves, she hasn’t decided to go all out with her barking. But soon, she lets loose. All the dog walkers “got it” once I explained to them what was going on: that this was an edgy mother and coyotes don’t like dogs around them. The walkers and their dogs moved on, and she soon quit her howling and then retreated into the bushes.

Her own mother, too, engaged in this exact same type of barking: it is a distressful bark and only occurs when these coyotes feel harassed or intruded upon by dogs. This type of barking is both a complaining — letting everyone know how she feels — and a communication of standing up for herself, though you can be sure that if a dog went after her, she would skedaddle quickly. The barking session shown here lasted only about three minutes, but I’ve listened to one that lasted well over 20 minutes.

Leapin’ Latrans

2015-02-23 at 17-42-53 Here’s a coyote — Canis Latrans — leaping through a wild mustard field in an urban park. He’s flying high above the three-foot tall flowers which are not only impeding his progress, but are also impeding his view. And what’s he so interested in seeing? An unleashed dog running erratically through the field in the distance! Coyotes are extremely curious critters — curiosity is a measure of their intelligence. “What was the dog doing, and where was it going?”

Please keep dogs leashed if you are in a coyote area of your urban park, especially now during pupping season! As soon as I informed the owner about coyote behaviors, he leashed his pet and was on his way. Leashing a pet not only keeps the pet away from coyotes, it also keeps them calmer. Coyotes sometimes react to the hyperactivity of some dogs. The coyote sat a safe distance away and watched them depart.

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