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.]

Pups

I literally stumbled upon a family greeting/meeting during my evening walk a couple of days ago. I had been photographing a 1 to 2 year old female who was mozeying along a trail, minding her own business, pouncing for gophers of which she caught several which she wolfed down, and then she diverted into a pathless forested area.

I remained on the path but peeked over a hedge in her direction, only to find an adult who may have been Mom (or possibly a babysitter yearling), and a pup — pups here in San Francisco are about 6 weeks old now — who had emerged to greet the approaching yearling female. The female approaching did so in a crouched position, which messaged a non-threatening subordinate status. I took a couple of quick photos (which revealed the pup to be a male), and immediately began retracing my steps out of the area. These coyotes withdrew into the bushes due to my presence in order not to reveal any of their additional *secrets*.

As I was distancing myself, Dad appeared, and he wasn’t too happy about what he knew to be the discovery of his family’s hiding place. Dads spend much of their time protecting their den areas and scaring off trespassers. They hope that their mere presence will serve as a deterrent, and indeed, that should be enough. I continued distancing myself, keeping my eye on Dad. Dad messaged me his concern with a few grunts, in addition to his presence, as he watched me leave.

The gophers caught by the yearling might have been for the pup. Yearlings are older siblings to the new pups — they are from the previous, and even previous to that, year’s litter, so they are either one or two years old. They are the “aunties” and help provide for the new litter. Only one or two yearlings, if any, normally stick around like this, the rest of the youngsters from those previous litters “disperse” out of the area to make their own way in the world. A number of San Francisco’s dispersed youngsters last year were tracked as far south as Los Gatos — that’s 60 miles south — all of these were eventually killed by cars. Cars are the primary killers of dispersing coyotes: these coyotes are young and have had very little experience with the extreme dangers of automobiles.


Now might be a good time to review etiquette for coyote encounters, especially during pupping season:

The Golden Standard, and the safest and most effective option, especially when walking your dog, is simple and complete avoidance. Whether you see a coyote in the distance, at mid-distance, approaching you, or if you are surprised by the sudden appearance of one at close-range, shorten your leash and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement — and continue walking away. IF you make a personal decision to shoo it away, please follow the guidelines in the video, How to Shoo Off A Coyote”, but know that this is engagement. What’s safest is simple and complete avoidance.

Coyotes are territorial. Coyotes are possessive. This is no different from you in your home: you don’t allow outsiders to come wandering through, and if you see someone suspicious in the neighborhood you may follow that someone to make sure he/she leaves. This is what coyotes do in the only effective way they can: they repulse with their scary “Halloween cat like stance”, they may follow an intruder out of their area, or or they may nip the haunches of the dog they want to move on and away. They want you to leave, so why not do it?! For more information, see How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

This is how pint-size coyote pups look right now, mid-May, at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

An Eye-Opening Revelation

It’s true that coyotes have chased dogs, but almost always this occurs after the coyote was chased first. To most people, a dog chasing a coyote looks much like a dog chasing another dog, or a dog chasing a squirrel. It looks like a game.

Focused-in closer, it looks like a terrorized coyote running away from danger more often than a game. Wild-animals instinctively know that any injury could compromise their ability to hunt and fend for themselves, and therefore their survival: fleeing from possible harm for them could be a matter of life or death.

Fortunately, coyotes are smart, and they are quick: most can get away. Nevertheless, energy expenditure during an attempted escape is enormous, and not something any animal wants to put up with.

In the case I’m depicting here, the owner had been playing tennis, with his dog sitting there calmly on the court with him. When the owner noticed a coyote beyond the court on a hill, he went over to take a photo, which attracted the dog’s attention to the coyote. In a flash, the dog was after that coyote.

They ran zig-zag all over the steep incline, through uneven piles of brush and wood-piles. It was not an easy chase for either of them. One false move — a misplaced step in a hole or on a sharp stick — and the threatening dog could tear into the wild animal, whereas the dog probably didn’t comprehend the chase as anything more than a game. The dog could stop whenever he wanted. Coyotes being very light-boned, sinewy, stream-lined and lithe can handle steep inclines and debris better than dogs who are more muscle-bound and heavier, and lead a more indoor life. The heavier dog wore out first, and it is at that point that the owner was able to finally grab his evasive and excited dog.

Notice that the coyote’s tail is tucked deep under and his hackles are up, his ears are back and he’s carrying himself low: he’s running scared.

I spoke to the owner after the event. He told me he had feared for the life of his dog as he tried to recall his dog, a 70 pound solid-looking dog. I told him that, in fact, his dog could have killed that little 25 pound coyote. The surprised owner opened his eyes wide: “Oh!” He hadn’t thought of that: it made immense sense to him and he wanted to know more. It was not the answer he was expecting — in fact, it was indeed an eye-opening revelation to him.

He had heard only that coyotes attack dogs. I gave the owner the link to the video, Coyotes As Neighbors, and when I next saw him he told me that his view of coyotes had changed. Now we have someone else onboard to help us spread information about coexistence: Yes, you must keep your pets away from coyotes for TWO reasons: to protect your pet, and to protect the coyote. Leashing the dog when coyotes are around is the best way to accomplish this.

“Messaging” May Include Growling

Coyotes live in all of our parks, and they can be seen on the streets sometimes. So always remain vigilant when out walking your dog. If you see a coyote, keep away from it. Most of the time coyotes will flee as they see you coming, but sometimes they may not, and I want to address this potentiality here. The safest protocol always is to shorten your leash and walk the other way, no matter how far or near a coyote is. This sends a signal to the coyote that you and your dog are not there to challenge the coyote’s personal or territorial space.

If you see a coyote while walking your dog, shorten your leash and go the other way.

Coyotes are territorial animals. They don’t allow coyotes other than family members into their territories unless they’re maybe just passing through. The good news about this is that territoriality keeps the coyote population down naturally in any particular area. You and your leashed dog should just keep walking on and away from the coyote — just passing through.

Coyotes and dogs know how to read each other on a level that we humans are not very tuned into: the same thing occurs between dogs: one twitched facial muscle reveals their position to other dogs.  So, when walking your dog, please don’t stop and allow this communication to take place or be acted upon — just keep walking away, dragging your dog after you if you must, showing the coyote that you have no interest in her/him.

If for some reason you find yourself closer to a coyote than you should be and the coyote growls at your dog — know that this is a warning message meant to keep your dog from coming closer: “please stay away from me”, “please don’t come closer”, “please go away”.  It may be set off by the dog being in, or heading for, the coyote’s personal or territorial space, and/or may involve negative communication between the animals. It is not necessarily an indication that it’s “an aggressive coyote”, rather,  it’s more likely to be “defensive” behavior aimed at making the dog keep its distance or leave. Please heed the message!  Coyotes and dogs generally do not like each other. Every coyote I know has been chased multiple times by dogs, and they remember this and are ready for the next time, or the next dog. You can prevent this message from escalating by shortening your leash and walking away — this shows the coyote you aren’t a threat, and the coyote will learn this.

If you have a dog, always walk away from a coyote, dragging your dog if you have to.

This also holds true for when you are in your car with a dog. If close enough, the coyote might growl if he/she perceives your dog — who is usually hanging out the window and staring or even barking — as a territorial or personal threat. It’s best to drive on rather than allow visual communication between your dog and a coyote.

A coyote who is walking towards you, again is messaging you more than anything else: making sure you are aware of its presence so that you and your dog will know he/she is there, i.e., that the territory is taken, and possibly even assessing if the dog will come after it. There’s an aspect of curiosity here, but it’s more investigative. Again, just walk away, and keep walking away with your short-leashed dog in-tow, even if the coyote follows you for a little bit.

Prevention is always the best policy, and that involves keeping your distance. Once your dog and a coyote have engaged, you’ll have to try your best to pull your dog away and then 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. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the video at the top of this blog: Coyotes As Neighbors: what to know and do, but know that it’s best to practice utter prevention proactively than to reactively have to scare off a coyote who comes too close.

Here is a concise flyer on  How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

[These guidelines are the most effective, and the safest I have seen, based on my daily observations of interactions between coyotes, dogs and people in our parks over the past 11 years]

Shy Mom – Brave Mom, by Charles Wood

Janet’s post from May 4th reminded me of my Mom coyote from about 7 years ago. Janet noted that it took courage for her coyote to message a dog that in the past had chased that coyote. I agree.

My mom coyote was shy when I first ran into her. She had shown herself to me and my dog Holtz as we wandered around in her territory. I didn’t know how to communicate with Mom coyote and had some vague hope that we would become friends. She showed herself and so I decided to sit down. I did sit down and so did Mom. She seemed pleased that I had sat. However, being friends wasn’t in the cards.

Shy Mom


The Shy Mom photo is her at what turned out to be an easy entrance to her den area. She chose to stand her ground where pictured, barring Holtz and my progress into the brush. We moved toward her. She went back into the brush. I couldn’t see where she was so I went forward. She came out as soon as we stepped forward. That was a message that was clear and I left.

Mom – Braver


Later I thought I had such a good picture. I was close up to her and there was a lot of detail in it. I carefully edited it as it appears in this post. What I edited out of the photo was something it took me a couple years to notice. I had edited out her full breasts and swollen nipples. I hadn’t looked carefully. Once I did look, it fully explained to me the reason she had barred the path to her den area. Yet she had been so polite. She wouldn’t make eye contact, instead averted her eyes. Previously she would shadow us and occasionally stand out nervously in the open for a while. I decided she was terminally shy.

Brave Mom

A few months later Mom became brave. With Holtz by my side and separated from Mom by a chain link fence, Mom came up to us and did a number. Then she showed us how fit and brave she was. After that day, going just by my percepts, she was no longer shy with Holtz and me. After that day Mom gave us more of the same and then some. I couldn’t help but interpret her change in behavior as her change in mind and spirit when around us. Being friends, of course, was not in the cards that Nature dealt us.

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.

Coyote Uses Her Wits To Escape From A Dog

In this video, a coyote who begins her evening trekking routine, is spotted by a dog and harassed. After sprinting to escape him, she uses her wits to avoid a face-to-face confrontation. Although the dog may look as though he’s close to the coyote’s size, the dog easily outweighs her in heft by about double.

I have read where, to escape from pursuing wolves (which weigh two to three times as much as a coyote), coyotes will run up and down hills. A coyote is light, so running up a hill doesn’t take nearly as much effort for them as for a wolf. The wolf, who needs to expend much more energy going up the hill, wears out quickly and soon gives up the chase. Coyotes are able to figure this out and use hills strategically for their advantage.

Please also note that, although the coyote was able to wear out the dog totally, it also was exhausting for the coyote. She collapsed in the grass for a long time in order to recover. This amounts to harassment of wildlife and is actually illegal. Please don’t allow your dogs to chase our urban coyotes!.

An “Object of Interest”: Territorial Behavior

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Coyotes ignore most dogs passing through their territories if the passing-through is done calmly, without getting too close to the coyote, and without paying the coyotes any heed. I spoke about “motion-reactivity” in my last posting. In this posting I’d like to address a dog’s zeroing-in on a coyote — making the coyote “an object of interest”.

A coyote may respond to this by assuming that, “If I’m an object of interest to you, that spells possible danger to me — a threat”. The perceived threat is particularly true in coyotes’ regular-use areas. In the wild it would occur if the onlooker were “after” the coyote in some way, either a predator or a competitor for the resources in the area. “I therefore need to keep an eye on you, and maybe let you know that I won’t allow you to carry through.” So the dog now becomes an object of interest for the coyote. The coyote may just watch, or he/she may follow, or even try to message the dog to leave or stay away.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

The best way to keep your dog from focusing intently on a coyote is to keep moving when a coyote is out there, be it nearby or far away. Moving AWAY from the coyote communicates to the coyote that you are not interested in the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will reflect back this lack of interest.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow -- their interest has been piqued by the dog's interest in them.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow — their interest has been piqued by the dog’s interest in them.

A prototypical example occurred today with a dog named Lily. Lily usually ignores coyotes and actually runs towards her owner whenever she senses or sees one. Owner and dog then leave the area together. But today, something about two coyotes caught Lily’s interest. She stood there, mesmerized by them, and they, in-turn, looked back at her. I think the owner was oblivious to the situation at first — this is why it’s important to always be aware of your dog when out.  I probably should have interfered, but the distance was great, and the coyotes were below a bluff, which added another layer of separation.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt -- it's a message to leave them alone.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt — it’s a message to leave them alone.

Lily’s interest was intense. She stared and watched them for several minutes, and began flinching in anticipation of something exciting. Her owner then noticed her and felt this would lead to no good. Dog and owner left, with Lily leashed at first, but then unleashed and lagging some distance behind.

As they distanced themselves, with Lily lingering behind, both coyotes — when there are two, they often act as a team — headed in Lily’s direction, excited and at a fast clip — they now were on a mission. I yelled out for the owner to call his dog which he did. Seeing that the dog and owner were together and both moving away, the approaching coyotes stopped.

But it did not stop there — coyote activity never stops where you think it might. They had sensed that they had become objects of interest and now they needed to do something to keep it from going further. One coyote watched to make sure the duo left. The other now sniffed, peed, and kicked-up-dirt where Lily had stopped on her exit path at the edge of their field — a sign of their displeasure. Then they hurried over to the bluff where she had watched them intently for so long. There they again sniffed the area thoroughly. They were trying to find out as much as possible about Lily through any scents she might have left. They did this for some time, covering every inch of the area.

I don’t know what they found out — maybe they were trying to find out Lily’s dominance status or whether she was a male or female — but they left their own scents there — as messages. When they were done they headed back into their field again.

Both dogs and coyotes remember these interactions. The dog may now start looking for coyotes every time she comes to that park — I’ve seen this new sense of purpose occur in many dogs once they become aware of coyotes. But also the coyotes may keep a lookout for this dog, or others, who show such a keen interest in them: an interest, from their point of view, that could only lead to no good in their eyes.

My advice to dog-owners is that, when you see a coyote, leash and continue on and away from the coyote, showing as little interest in the coyote as possible. Please read the How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

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