This post was written in response to recent postings on social media — see the posting below. It addresses fears that there has been an “escalation of aggressive or dangerous coyote behavior” if a coyote approaches a leashed or larger dog, hisses, uses frequently-used paths, or nips a dog in the haunches during pupping season. This is not so — these are not indications of progressively dangerous coyote behavior. They are normal coyote behaviors during pupping season which have to do with parental protectiveness, not with coyotes “becoming more aggressive”.
A friendly reminder . . . Leashes in-and-of-themselves do not keep coyotes away from dogs. Coyotes do not know what leashes are and probably are unaware of them. No one ever said leashes would keep coyotes away. What leashing does is to keep the dog close to you and under your control. A leashed dog is also a calmer dog. You can control a dog which is leashed; you cannot control an unleashed dog. Most effective is a short leash, not a long retracting leash which allows your pet to wander 20 feet away from you: 20 feet away is not very close. Keeping your dog close to you, leashed and under control, discourages but does not prevent coyotes from approaching.
In the unlikely event that a coyote does approach a dog, he’ll usually do so from behind if possible. They are smart and want to avoid the dog’s teeth. They also want to remain undetected as long as possible — coming up from behind accomplishes this. This is why it is important for a dog walker to always remain vigilant — keep an eye open in all directions around you. You can stop the coyote from approaching your dog, often simply by facing the coyote, or if this isn’t enough, try scaring it off vehemently. Then walk slowly away from the coyote. If the coyote is already next to your dog, you’ll need to quickly pull your dog firmly away from the coyote while you quickly distance yourself and leave without running. It’s important to prevent further engagement by leaving — leaving is the important point.
So, please don’t let the coyote get close to your dog in the first place: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coyotes have nipped the rump or tail of dogs to message them if they feel their areas are threatened, usually when the dog has come into a sensitive area. This is normal, standard coyote behavior, especially during pupping season — it is how a coyote would communicate to another coyote. It has nothing to do with “escalating or progressive aggression” of a coyote. It doesn’t matter if your dog is docile or more assertive — the coyote will want to message any dog he considers a threat — it has less to do with the dog than with the space and the season. Please pay attention to your surroundings — being zeroed in on an iPhone precludes vigilance. Always, always, keep looking around. The better we understand coyote behavior, the less likely we will be surprised by an unexpected behavior, and the better we will be able to deal with such contingencies.
To put this in perspective, coyote nipping behavior is not something which occurs at all frequently, but it has occurred, which is why I’m trying to make everyone aware of it. It is exceptional coyote behavior which all dog owners should be aware of, and, just in case, be prepared for, during pupping season. Your dog is much more likely to be bitten badly by another dog than a coyote.
Also, I want to point out the incident I saw today, and which I see all too frequently: a dog ferociously pursuing a coyote. It’s fun for the dog — it’s terrifying for the coyote. The coyote ran for his life and remained as hidden as he could under a bush from the harassing dog. The owner was not even aware of what was going on until she was yelled at to leash her dog. Whereas a coyote will normally nip a dog’s rump as a message, dogs can actually maul coyotes, compromising their ability to survive: no one will help them with their wounds.
Please keep your dog away from coyotes — it’s best for both dogs and coyotes.
Please note that “hissing” is not hunting behavior. It is “warning” behavior: a “message”. Move away from the coyote as you would from a skunk with its tail up.
Coyotes take trails all the time: it is very normal for coyotes to take frequently used paths when there are not a lot of people on them. This, again, is normal coyote behavior and is not a sign of “escalating aggression.”
By the way, a nip to the tail area isn’t always a *warning* message. Here’s a video of a coyote delivering a playful/not unfriendly “please notice me” message. In this case it’s more the *semblance* of a nip — there’s no real nip here as you will see. This video is one of the first videos I took of a coyote in 2007 — well before I knew a whole lot about them:
This, below, was posted on various neighborhood internet groups under the title: “Aggressive coyote incident on 65 lb. ON LEASH dog” . It shows lots of concern and fear for what the author thinks might be “escalating dangerous coyote activity” — this is not what is going on. I hope I’ve helped explain the activity as normal coyote behavior above.
Given the increasing frequency of coyote/canine/people interactions, I thought it would be useful for all of you – especially pet owners – to be aware of what happened tonight. Our dog Roxy is a five year old, 65 pound female golden retriever. The most docile and passive dog that you’ll ever meet. We were out for an evening on-leash walk around 730 on the path that follows the south side of Washington Blvd between Compton and Park. About halfway to Park, Roxy suddenly turned her head back and I did the same to see a coyote trying to bite her tail and hind legs. I immediately stood between Roxy and the coyote making a lot of noise. The coyote slowly backed away hissing the entire time. It took a few minutes for the coyote to back off and it finally turned its back to us when it was 15-20 yards away.We continued east on Washington to Park. At that point, I decided to return home to more thoroughly inspect Roxy to make sure she had not been bitten. However, the coyote was laying in the grass along the south side of Washington making that path unusable for getting back home. We started to walk home using the bike lane on the north side of Washington. A motorist helped screen us such that their minivan was between us and the coyote. As we walked past the coyote, it began to hiss at us again. However, there was no further incident and, as best we can tell, Roxy is uninjured.Considering the size of our dog, that she was on-leash, and that we were on a highly traveled path next to a main road, this seems like an escalation of potentially dangerous coyote/canine/people interactions that have taken place across San Francisco.”