How to Protect Your Dogs from Coyotes

We talk to Justin Brown of the National Park Service for tips on what to do about coyotes.
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We live north of Los Angeles. There are thousands of acres of protected parks and open space, which means lots of wildlife. Since we are active with our dogs, running in the parks or hiking through the Santa Monica Mountains, we encounter wildlife often. None of the critters bother us much except the coyotes. Like in the Road Runner cartoons, coyotes can be wily. That means they can be a danger to your dog. Let me tell you about one incident we had with a pack of coyotes.

I was running with our dog Tino several years ago up a long trail behind our house, which climbed into the hills above Thousand Oaks. The trail crossed a valley and then circled back around to our neighborhood. It was a trail we ran regularly and I usually let Tino off-leash once we reached the valley as he always stayed close by. This day, he was running out ahead of me, maybe 10 yards, right at the crest of the hill as it enters the high valley. All of a sudden, he took off. I knew immediately he had seen a coyote. His whole demeanor changed -– it’s a totally different type of pursuit than a rabbit chase.

I reached the crest of the hill and looked down into the small valley and saw Tino in hot pursuit of a coyote. Then I saw a second coyote, and then another and another –- five in all with the first one leading Tino directly into an ambush. Tino, oblivious to the others, was headed right for it.

I grabbed the first big stick I could find and started running towards them, yelling and screaming and waving the stick over my head to frighten the coyotes. I was certain Tino would be attacked and ran as fast as I could. Suddenly, when the circle of coyotes was only about 10 to 15 yards from Tino, he sensed the trap and he turned and hightailed it back to me, running faster than I’ve ever seen him run. The coyotes chased after him, nipping at his tail.

By this time, they were almost to me, and then they decided not to take their chances with this crazy lady wielding a big stick and screaming her head off. They took off in the opposite direction. Luckily, the nip on Tino’s tail was just that, a nip that barely drew blood, but when I think of what could have happened … well, I don’t want to think about that.

This is a true story of how coyotes work together in a pack to lure dogs, and it’s not the only incident we’ve had over the years. Most dogs LOVE to chase coyotes, it must be in their DNA, and many dogs are lost in this manner. Tino was not a small dog –- he was a big, strong 70 pounds then, almost twice the size of a coyote, but he wouldn’t have had a chance against five of them. It certainly taught me a lesson about keeping Tino on leash in areas of potential danger.

To learn more about coyote behavior and the most effective ways to safeguard myself and my pets, I contacted the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and spoke with Justin Brown, a biological technician with the park service.

Dogster: What activities or behaviors attract coyotes to urban areas?

Justin: Coyotes persist in urban areas primarily off natural food sources, small mammals, rabbits and vegetation and fruits. However, they regularly take advantage of human garbage and other human-related food sources such as pet food and fruiting ornamental vegetation. If coyotes are regularly being sighted around your neighborhood, keep an eye out for what they may be eating. Are there trees fruiting, is someone feeding pets outdoors, are garbage cans overflowing or getting knocked over, are people leaving other food items where coyotes can get to it? If so, make sure those get removed and the coyote issue will likely go away. Animals that are being fed by people are more likely to become accustomed to people and show less fear which may lead to human coyote conflicts.

Is there a peak season when coyotes are more prevalent?

Justin: There is a slight peak in human-coyote conflicts during pup rearing, which occurs in April, May, June, and July. However conflicts can occur during any time of year. For coyote sightings it varies. In cold areas that lose their vegetative cover, they are typically seen more during the winter, but here in southern California we typically get more visuals during July and August as the pups start getting older and moving around.

Are there any available statistics for coyote-dog attacks or injuries?

Justin: I don’t have any stats on dog attacks, however I know they are most common on smaller dogs or cats. Medium and large dogs have been attacked, but are rarely killed. There have been instances of coyotes and domestic dogs playing as well, so the interactions are not always aggressive. Most dog attacks occur when people either let their little dogs out at night without supervision or are walking them off-leash in areas with coyotes.

How can dog owners protect their pets?

Justin: I recommend whenever you are dealing with pets to always behave as if coyotes are around, as they probably are. Coyotes are very adaptive and are using urban areas. It makes it important if you want to keep your animals safe to monitor your animals when they are outside, even inside fenced yards.

For dogs, we recommend keeping them on leash when you are walking them. For cats, we recommend keeping cats indoors, or if you need to let them out to keep them on leash or at least within your yard. To minimize the potential for an attack, ensure you keep items that coyotes view as food out of your yard. To not attract them to your neighborhood, ensure that you secure your garbage, pet food, bird feeders, compost piles, vegetable gardens, or any other place you may unintentionally be feeding coyotes.

If coyotes approach while walking a pet, it is best to yell at the coyote and pick your pet up prior to the coyote getting close, if possible. Be sure to act aggressive and let the coyote know you are the larger animal. Slowly back away with your pet while continuing to watch the coyote.

I’ve never had a coyote come after me, but they have followed me and the dogs many times. I realized that I was too close to their den and their pups were just old enough to be venturing out. They wanted me AWAY — so I left, and quickly. I think that’s the best advice: avoid, avoid, avoid.

How about you? Have you had any close calls with coyotes or other wildlife? Any avoidance tips? Let us know in the comments.

Read more by Kate O’Brien:

14 thoughts on “How to Protect Your Dogs from Coyotes”

  1. I live in Virginia, a few short miles as the crow flies from the Blue Ridge mountains. I hear coyotes once in a while in the distance, but twice in the last three nights they have started calling right in my backyard – the first time when our large English Springer Spaniel (70+ pounds) was lying in the yard eating a deer leg he had found in the woods, and the next time (last night, Oct. 2, 2018) when our dog was inside – both times between 10 and 11pm. As an aside – or maybe importantly – last year I heard a single coyote calling from our backyard; Maybe it was alerting others that it had found a nice place with tons of deer?

    My question is why coyotes would be howling and yipping from right in my back yard, when there is so much open space around us? Is it to mark our yard and surrounding area as “theirs” (I heard others returning the calls from far away when the ones close to us started up)? I’m naturally concerned for the safety of our dog who we have always, until now, let out at night for a pre-bedtime pee or just to enjoy the night air in good weather.

    My human instincts have been to try and scare them off the way I do black bears who occasionally help themselves to our garbage (we’ll get two or three bear visits a year, usually in May) by yelling and most recently throwing little “contact firecrackers” – the kind that explode on impact – to hopefully frighten and discourage further visits (obviously didn’t work on the coyotes!).

    Would love some insight on this, if any exists. I’m guessing they are marking the edge of their (new?) territory and/or a very good hunting spot for young deer, as we are by a pond and along a private road with some fairly large lawns that many deer enjoy, and from where fields and woods with scattered homes and farms stretch beyond us to the edge of the mountains.

    Any thoughts or ideas?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Bob,
      Sorry to hear you’re experiencing this issue! We suggest contacting your local wildlife agency for specific insight and help. Best of luck!

  2. That coyote was not working in a group to lure your dog. Your dog initiated an attack by chasing the coyote. The coyotes were working in a group to defend the one being chased by YOUR dog. Please keep your animal leased in coyote areas.

    Coyotes don’t lure dogs. That’s a myth.

    1. I don’t think either claim is provable, and even experts who study them can’t corroborate either claim with any certainty. Like people, dogs – both wild and domestic – have personalities and are as playful as they are curious and cunning. But one thing separates wild ones form our domestic friends: Wild dogs hunt and eat other animals.

      Dogs of all kinds are also extremely social… And they love to chase just about anything that moves. Who knows what motives (if any) a single coyote has when approaching and running from, with, or away from a domesticated dog, or what the group has in mind if a dog is chasing or running with one of their own? I strongly disagree any dog chase is perceived as an attack, but I do believe the coyotes are curious and cautious – as they should be.

      My dog is so happy-go-lucky, he probably plays with coyotes out in the dark and we don’t even know it. Last time coyotes were in my yard howling, he didn’t make a peep – once he was outside near them and once he was inside. He barks at anything “that goes bump in the night”, but not at coyotes. Either he is afraid, curious, or maybe even knows the coyotes as pals who visit from the woods.

    2. You certainly don’t have much experience with coyotes, as they most certainly will travel in packs and a dominate one will come into yards and will either catch a small animal or will lure a larger dog away then retreat to where the pack is waiting. Whether is is protection of the pack or a tactic to catch larger prey, it really doesn’t matter. A cunning as coyotes are, I suspect the latter.

    3. That’s exactly my thought as well! Every coyote I’ve ever seen has been more afraid of me than I of them! Quit feeding the wildlife and let nature take care of things!

  3. A coyote took my dog at my front yard 9 years ago. After y yeld like crazy he drop her and run to get her back. He chased me and sit infrint of my house waiting for his breakfast.
    4 years after another attaked my dog on leash He try to catch her from her back legs He ripped her muscle but that’s all.
    We have coyotes most of the year and now with pups they lu e on the hills behind a school. They are no agraid of noise and the walk around any time of the day. They are very inteligentes and they work in groups. You can see them at 11 am 4 pm of course more early morning and night. Any suggestions ? It’s a big challenge to walk the dogs. I always walk them on leash. Thank you . My last defense is an automatic umbrella may be that help They dint care about stones, they go forward to smell them !

  4. Last week, the mailman and I were talking at the end of my driveway, on a street where I have lived all my life (for 58 years). I don’t live in the hills, but in the flat land of the San Fernando Valley. There is an old abandoned farm and empty vacant lot, that has been there for about 50 years, all this time vacant. At any rate, all of a sudden, a coyote came sauntering down the middle of the street at noon, and it is now the beginning of February, so not in the “peak” season, as your article by Justin states. I had been leaving my dogs (I have 3 small ones) outside, when I have been gone, as it is warm and beautiful However, now, I have to confine them to a room in the house, and my 1 year old puppy in her crate inside. I am very alarmed and worried about walking them now in the neighborhood. It used to be such a nice pleasant experience. One of my friends suggested carrying pepper spray in my pocket in case a coyote were to get near. I have read Justin’s article about shouting and moving backwards slowly, and picking up the dogs, but sometimes this is not possible, especially as I have a recent rotator cuff injury. Do you have any other suggestions? What about securing the backyard area? I have wooden fences all around, and the backyard is not accessible due to having houses behind my house. Also, the front yard, however, just is in front of a street (but not a busy one). I am not on major streets therefore. Thanks for replying. I appreciate any help you could give me. Other neighbors do leave food out for stray cats, and also squirrels in the area. How do I get them to stop doing this? Heather Sells

    1. i bought a home in the outskirts of town, Show Low, a few yrs ago. The neighbors across the way had 5 chicken killed and eaten. I have two maltepoos and let them out to go potty in a fenced enclosure, not a sturdy fence, a lattice type that isn’t too firm in the rocky ground. My neighbor was able to shoot the coyote that got the chickens but i saw a large one sauntering in my backyard by the empty horse corral. Then i heard a gunshot and my other neighbor got that one. I did research on how to protect little dogs. I wound up buying 6 “predator eyes” . They are solar and flash all night long. So far so good. I am very watchful and have a bright lantern to flash around when i let them out and my revolver close in case. Of course, that is a hard target, a jumping coyote. I simply won’t walk the dogs in my neighborhood. When i go to put them in my truck i always carry a pepper spray. Since i have lived in Alaska i have made it a habit on long walks to always take a large can of bear spray and put it into my fanny pack that opens in front. I have watched videos of coyotes in Phx jumping a 6 ft concrete wall as if it was nothing. Maybe an 8ft would do the trick?.

    2. Coyotes can jump fences – DO NOT let your dogs in the back yard without being there. Bear spray is better than pepper spray- it sprays farther.

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