At 9:15 AM one recent morning, two coyotes followed me and my two small dogs down the Southern California street we live on. Fortunately, one of my dogs alerted me as they stalked us from behind bushes. Later that afternoon, I spotted a coyote happily (hungrily?) trotting up the street. A neighbor spotted another nearby at 3:50 PM a few days later.
Nighttime coyote sightings are not uncommon in my suburban hillside neighborhood, but two coyotes tracking me and my dogs on a bright, sunny morning was something new. Afraid for my dogs’ lives, and not knowing exactly what to do, I called my husband to come pick us up and walked swiftly to a nearby house. We were safe … this time. I decided to research the subject and see how I could better protect my sweet dogs from injury or death.
Thankfully, no pet attacks have been reported in our community yet, but daytime aggression, coupled with more and more coyote droppings (scats) on our sidewalks and in a neighbor’s backyard, suggest that our coyotes are losing their fear of humans. Experts say now is the time for us start “retraining” our coyotes – for our sake and even theirs.
HOW COYOTE AGGRESSION INCREASES This is the typical pattern according to SanDiegoCounty.gov):
1.) Increase in coyotes on streets and in yards at night.
2.) Increase in coyotes approaching adults and/or taking pets at night.
3.) Coyotes on streets, and in parks and yards, in early morning/late afternoon.
4.) Coyotes chasing or taking pets in daytime.
5.) Coyotes attacking and taking pets on leash or near owners; chasing joggers, bicyclists and other adults.
6.) Coyotes seen in and around children’s play areas, school grounds, and parks in midday.
7.) Coyotes acting aggressively toward adults in midday.
Underestimating coyotes can prove fatal to your dog or cat and can even be dangerous to toddlers and adults. These predators can scale a six-foot fence with a wiggling dog in their jaws. Coyotes stalk their prey, skulking in bushes. They wait. They dig under fences. They offer a “play bow” to dogs, and then pounce. An adult German shepherd was brought down by a pack. Coyotes even snatched a friend’s adult Dachshund during an outdoor barbecue.
Emboldened coyotes snatch dogs off leashes. Cats go missing. Our local paper reported that four adult dogs were attacked in their own yard at 11 AM while their human made a quick trip to the store. All four dogs were injured. One died.
A nearby community reports the loss of seven pets since September this year alone. I used to walk there with a friend and her Standard Poodle. I stopped when I spotted coyotes stalking us and eyeing my little Maltese.
UC Davis vet school reports that attacks on people and pets “are becoming more frequent, particularly in suburban areas of Southern California. While only one [on a 3-year-old girl in 1981] has been fatal, a number of attacks have resulted in serious injuries.” But So Cal is not the only area having problems. Coyotes are becoming a problem across the U.S.
Why the increase in aggression? We have encroached on their territories and we offer food, water and shelter. In California and elsewhere, drought has coyotes scavenging in more and more communities. The more food and water we provide them, and the more timid our behavior, the more their fear of us diminishes.
DISCOURAGING COYOTE AGGRESSION
Experts advise that aggressive coyote behavior can likely be modified if corrective action is implemented before coyote attacks on pets become common. They say the best way to discourage coyotes is to remove attractants and to discourage aggression by harassing them. Coyotes are timid creatures by nature but sometimes need reminding. So:
- Please DO NOT feed coyotes or allow them access to pet food, garbage, dropped fruit or nuts, compost, birdseed, fresh water – or small pets. Feeding wild animals, even unintentionally, puts whole communities at risk.
- Coyote hazing, if instigated soon enough, is the best way to safely co-exist with coyotes. Oddly, hazing is even good for the coyotes. Otherwise, they may become such a danger to residents and their pets that they may have to be shot or trapped and relocated (which is often deadly for them).
How to haze a coyote
Here’s a good video on how to haze coyotes from the coyote hazing:
San Diego’s CBS.com has another good video on hazing here.
Steps for hazing
- The Humane Society, The Fund for Wildlife and San Diego County officials all advise running toward the coyote. DO NOT turn your back or run away; the coyote may mistake you for prey. Yell and wave your arms, throw objects at the animal and look it directly in the eyes. Stand up if you are seated. Flap clothing. Retreat by walking slowly backward. Show coyotes they aren’t welcome.
- If the coyote retreats then stops or advances, continue to harass it. If the coyote refuses to leave, call for help and alert animal control. We have to show them that humans are not their protectors or providers of food.
- Use noisemakers like an air horn or pennies in a can to shake (or throw) at coyotes. Amazon.com and some pet stores carry air horns and spray animal deterrents. Consider carrying a walking stick or golf club, especially when walking at night. Or check out a powerful water pistol.
- Arm yourself with a cell phone and neighbors’ numbers so you can summon help.
- Pick up small pets and bring children close.
- Note: If a coyote appears sick or injured or is accompanied by pups, do not approach. Call Animal Control.
Check out home security, especially if you have pets or toddlers.
- Most yards offer coyotes easy access. A six-foot fence isn’t tall enough. An apparatus called a coyote roller can be attached to the top of the fence to help keep coyotes out.
- Check for gaps in, and holes under, fences.
- Never send pets outside alone. Coyotes know where neighborhood dogs live.
- Keep cats indoors.
- Rethink entrances. Local news reported a coyote taking a Chihuahua through an open door and another attacking through a large doggy door.
- Note: Many community rules and city laws do not allow you to shoot coyotes. Leaving out poison endangers other wildlife and pets.
Precautions when walking dogs
- Look around, and especially behind you, when you walk. Be especially alert on streets bordering canyons and vacant areas.
- Keep leashes attached and short. Keep moving. A dog on a long leash or running free is a tempting target.
- Small dogs are safer with harnesses that can be used for an emergency lift.
- Make sure harnesses and collars fit so your dog can’t wiggle out.
- Consider a hands-free leash system secured to your body (unless your dog when agitated is likely to injure you).
- Avoid dawn, dusk and nighttime constitutionals, and walk in pairs whenever possible. Walk at different times of day so coyotes won’t learn your schedule.
- Protect large dogs, as well as small dogs, especially if they are aging or infirm. Two neighbors have reported increased coyote presence when their dogs were ill.
- Be especially vigilant from March to April, pup-rearing season.
- Report any coyote aggression to local animal control and your state’s Department of Fish & Game. Warn neighbors.
Coyotevest.com makes vests to protect dogs from coyotes. Check this out! (Thanks to Rebecca McMahon for sharing her photo of her dogs Frankie and Lola wearing the vests.)
Health concerns Coyotes (and their droppings) carry diseases that can infect dogs. A form of rabies fatal to both dogs and humans can be contracted from a bite from a rabid coyote. Fortunately, in California, only one case of coyote rabies (in 2010) has been reported by the Department of Public Health. If you or your dog gets bitten, take a photo of the coyote (if possible), contact Fish and Wildlife and immediately seek medical help.
Learn more about how to vaccinate your dog against rabies more safely.
Learn if your dog needs further vaccination against diseases carried by coyotes.