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 Shepherd 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 Shepherd-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 Sheperd-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 Shepherd Dog has the weight advantage, coyotes with their experience and situational intelligence have a considerable advantage over a German Shepherd 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.]

Stealthy behavior in the dark: Coyote behavior

Today I was up way before dawn, so I headed out to see what kind of day it would turn into. It was dark and clear when I left home in the car. As I reached the top of a ridge it was both dark and foggy. Not too foggy, but foggy enough to create a glow around the street lights in the distance. The San Francisco area has wonderful diverse microclimates which can all be found at the same point in time within half a mile of each other. On one of the exposed roads it was windy, lower down it was totally windless. In a swampy area it was ten degrees colder than elsewhere.

I reached my intended park where I encountered a fellow walker and his dog — the only other pre-dawn walker I have come across — and we began to talk. We stood still, remaining in the same spot as we conversed. It was still dark. We then moved on, and as we did so, a form materialized out of the shadows about 40 feet away. The coyote was barely discernible at first and not initially easy to identify because of its stance and the way it was moving. After seeing the coyote for a moment, my first thought was that something was wrong, that maybe the coyote was sick or had been injured. The stance is one I’ve seen coyotes assume, but not maintain for any length of time. This coyote maintained it for this entire encounter. It had its hackles up, its back was curved up high while it kept its head down — it was a strong U-shape, and it was walking on tip toes very slowly and deliberately. It approached the dog that was with us within about 15 feet, but never got closer. Occasionally it pulled its lips back to show its teeth in a menacing sort of way: the coyote was messaging the dog, but the dog wasn’t picking up on the message. The dog ignored the coyote and continued walking on the path in front of us. The coyote backed up along the path, keeping its distance, keeping its eyes on the dog, and remaining in its hunched over position. It did not run off, but remained about 40 feet ahead. Then as we kept walking away from the coyote, the coyote disappeared off to the side somewhere after which we did not see it. It did not follow the dog.

This coyote must have been observing us the entire time we had been conversing in the one spot. It obviously did not like the dog lingering there. I actually had a totally different feeling from this coyote encounter than what I have experienced in the past — maybe because of the darkness, but also maybe because of the stealthy nature of the animal. I remained in the park, but the coyote did not approach anyone else — in fact, it is unlikely that anyone else even saw it while I was there. Later on I noticed it in the distance, just for a moment, where it looked perfectly fine and normal. It had been much too dark to take photos. Over the next little while I was able to tell that this was a coyote messaging the dog to get away. It’s so simple to respect the message. When we walk in the parks, we are invading the only place they have to live.

Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote

There are all sorts of dog reactions to a coyote. Some dogs never see a coyote which is right there in the open, some stop and look, some go after the smell without even seeing the coyote, some chase, some bark and chase, and some dogs ignore it.

Dogs seem to be calmer and more in control when they are leashed. If a dog is on a leash, obviously it will be the owner who is calling the shots, whether it is a mild dog or an active one. An owner can easily drag his pet away from a coyote if it is leashed, rather than having to call a distraught dog to him/herself first. Yesterday, someone told me of a bizarre incident which happened a year ago: that they were jogging early in the morning with their dog, when a coyote came in at them from the side, making a running leap to land on the dog. This itself is very unusual coyote behavior and the only instance that I’ve heard of it. The dog owner was able to yank the leashed dog, and the coyote missed its target! This happened last April, which is the prime pupping season — coyotes are much more territorial and protective of their areas during this time.

If a dog is not leashed, there are several ways the dog may react to a coyote. If the dog is more timid and obedient, it may look to the owner for what to do: the dog will either stay beside the owner or come when called. Some dogs have been told in the past to stay off of the coyote, and they do so. One of my friends has an obedient dog, which has been told to stay off of the coyotes, and it always does so. On one occasion, this dog hugged its owner’s leg as it walked. The owner sensed that there might have been a coyote around, even though he never saw it — the owner told me this was very unusual behavior for this dog. In this case, the dog was trying to communicate unease to the owner.

The majority of dogs are somewhat curious about coyotes — they know the coyote is something “different” from other dogs. But different dogs have different degrees of apprehension or fearlessness or sense of fun and adventure regarding the coyote, and they act accordingly.

If a dog is not leashed, and the dog is an active type out for its free run, the dog will often chase the coyote, thinking this is great fun. It may end up barking incessantly at the coyote once it gets within about 15 feet if the coyote does not flee. The coyote will easily outdo the dog in length and intensity of barking — this becomes boring or tires out the dog. However, it is only when the coyote turns to chase or nip at the dog that the dog really starts to think.

Please see my entry on Coyote Safety” of 11/3, as well as the three entries on how coyotes react to dogs: “ANOTHER reaction to dogs” on 11/17, and “Some reactions to dogs” on 11/04. “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge” on 12/1. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase:oneupmanship verging on play” of 2/4/10.