People’s interactions with urbanized coyotes have given birth to several myths over the years. These stories start from subjective interpretations of observations people make of coyote behavior by projecting human-like intentions on coyotes colored by personal beliefs, biases and the deep-seated evolutionary fear of predators, and have no basis in reality or scientific fact. Which brings to mind a quote by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
One of my all-time favorites is the story that has been repeated over and over again about how a single coyote intentionally lures unsuspecting dogs away from their homes to become a meal for a hungry pack of coyotes that are waiting to devour it. Another popular version of the myth is that it’s a female coyote in heat that intentionally targets and lures male dogs away to be eaten. I can understand the mechanism by which these myths get started: through lack of knowledge of animal behavior, specifically, how dogs and coyotes interact.
Animal behaviors can have straight forward, uncomplicated explanations and it is important to objectively evaluate that natural behavior, if we are to gain an understanding of how to peacefully and safely coexist with wildlife that are sharing the environment with us.
So, what appears to be “sinister” motivations on part of the coyote is simply this:
- A coyote investigates another canid (dog) in the neighborhood. Younger coyotes are more curious about new “dogs” in their environment. Alpha coyotes will also investigate if there is another canid (dog) in the area to determine whether it is a threat. Close encounters and direct eye contact are made.
- Dogs are also curious about other canids such as coyotes, and the dog will also investigate and sometimes follow the coyote as it returns back into the woods/hills. Some smaller breeds have been known to chase coyotes.
- The dog at that point may encounter other coyote family members because coyotes sometimes travel with their parents, mate or siblings – a natural behavior of social canids.
- The dog entering the coyote’s domain could be interpreted as an “intruder:” Either as a competitor over resources, or as a threat to their offspring if there are pups around. Many times, the dog is the aggressor.
- An altercation may ensue with the dog being injured or killed (smaller dogs are at greater risk). Severity of the attack is determined by the perceived value of the resource the coyotes are trying to protect. During such altercations, coyotes are injured as well.
- ….and most times, nothing happens, and the dog returns “home.”
It is important to not attribute negative human characteristics on other animals in place of factual information because it can lead to the unjust treatment of those animals and create an inaccurate understanding of natural behavioral processes. Coyotes and dogs interact in similar ways that dogs interact with other dogs.
Practically every myth, fable and urban legend has a moral. The moral to this urban legend is:
If you do not want your dog(s) interacting with, and harmed by coyotes: 1) build the proper fence to keep your dog confined to your yard, 2) do not let your dog roam unsupervised around the neighborhood, and 3) keep your dog leashed when walking them in areas known to have coyotes.
There are many instances where people have had their larger dogs run off and intermingle with coyotes without incidence, as well as times where large dogs have chased down and seriously injured or killed coyotes.
Mary Paglieri is a Behavioral Ecologist and Conservation Behaviorist with www.littlebluesociety.org who works with wildlife and people to resolve high-profile conflicts in rural and urban areas. She has observed, studied coyote behavior and worked hands-on with coyotes for 20+ years. © All Rights Reserved 2019