What Should I Do Regarding Dogs and Coyotes?

I get occasional questions regarding coyotes. It isn’t unusual to have dog and coyote encounters in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Many of the urban coyotes in Phoenix are unafraid of dogs or humans, and it isn’t unusual to hear stories of coyotes killing or attempting to kill pets, including dogs and cats. They are definitely a danger to runaway or stray dogs. They will also hop over the typical block walls in suburban areas to snatch a dog, or to dig under a fence. It isn’t unusual to find coyote scat in your backyard if you have a seasonal home. I have heard that in north Scottsdale, there have been incidents where the coyotes have been bold enough to try and grab dogs that are being walked on a leash. Lastly, some coyotes act in ways that are abnormally threatening. The question becomes what to do. Unfortunately, the answers are often not what people want to hear.

People want a simple solution, which usually falls into these two categories: 1.) They would prefer someone else handle it: animal control, the game department, or hiring a private trapper or hunter to come and remove or kill the offending animal; or 2.) they start thinking of homegrown lethal solutions, such as weapons or poison. These simple solutions aren’t going to work. No one is going to come out and fix the problem for you.

Even if you relocate the animal, the territory will be filled by another coyote. You are wasting your time. It is not unusual for the animal to return; you will see stories of animals that traveled over 100 miles back to their original territory. Or more likely, the relocated coyote will probably be killed by another coyote who already “owns” the new territory where the animal was dropped off. Then a new coyote will come to your neighborhood and take up where the other one left off. Now we have a dead coyote, and a new one to deal with. Lethal solutions are probably going to be illegal, risking a fine or even jail time. As a general rule, you can’t shoot guns without your life being in danger, especially in an urban or suburban location. The police take this kind of thing very seriously, and you can be in some serious legal jeopardy. The only legal way to take a coyote for the average person is to get a hunting or trapping license. That still won’t prevent another coyote moving in. Something about where you are is good turf for coyotes, and unless you deal with the root causes, then you are on a silly merry-go-round.

What does that leave you? There are some general rules regarding wild predators: 1.) Avoid them; 2.) Don’t feed them; 3.) Don’t act fearful; 4.) Determine the behavioral cause for why this animal is doing what it is doing where it is doing it.

The first strategy is to avoid coyotes. For some reason, there are people that go looking for trouble. If they are on a hike, they don’t avoid the bear or buffalo, they go in and provoke it. Other people are too curious, such as children, who might try and befriend the animal… resulting in a bite and possible lethal disease. Others have this Disney view of animals, thinking they are doing them a favor by feeding them and increasing their instincts to hunt, take up territory, and breed. These people are all endangering themselves and others. In many communities, it is illegal to interact with wildlife. In the old days, people knew to leave animals alone. Now people need a law instead of common sense to force them to stay away. Another concern is whether the animal is medically well. An aggressive predator that is unafraid of humans always has to be considered unusual. I had a student who adopted a dog from animal control, a 5 month old pit bull puppy. She became increasingly aggressive over a months time, and eventually tried to attack the owner. I told them to take the dog to the vet. She had distemper, which had gone to her brain. There was no cure, and she had become dangerous. They were heartbroken, but had to put her down. There have also been a number of articles in the news about rabid mammals (foxes, coyotes, bats, skunks, etc.) near Apache Junction/ Lost Dutchman State Park, which is east of Phoenix. Wildlife officials have warned hikers and residents to be alert. Rabies cases have been on the rise in Maricopa County. Trust your “spidey sense”. If it comes across as dangerous, it probably is. Avoid it, because if it is rabid, your life is in danger.
The second strategy is to eliminate all the human generated food sources. Predators hang around because there is a food source. Feeding makes them increasingly aggressive. The unfortunate truth is that some people feed wildlife on purpose, or leave trash available. Urban wild animals learn to rely on such food. That has several effects, it makes them desensitized to being around humans and human communities. They lose their natural fear. It then causes them to guard their food sources, just like some dogs guard their food bowls. That leads to them guarding a territory, where they have food, and eventually, offspring. Coyotes see dogs as competitors, and will gang up to kill a dog in their territory. Educating the neighbors is key here. It is a problem everywhere, from here to Alaska. Some feed purposely, some are slobs. Either way, it makes the animals reside in the area and become dangerous. They say “a fed bear is a dead bear”, and that is true. Communities with bear end up having to kill them as they wander into town, unafraid of humans, breaking into cars and homes, killing livestock, and eventually attacking people. This is true of all large predators: bear, wolves, mountain lion, bobcat, and coyotes. Feed them, they become dangerous, they will eventually have to be killed. They will keep coming so long as there is available food.

The third strategy involves how you react. Any fearful attitudes or flight behavior can trigger a defensive aggressive attack by a predator. If you aren’t capable of being bold, yet not provocative, then go back to the first strategy… avoid them altogether.

The fourth strategy is to use deterrents, to use things to modify their behavior. Deterrents would be plans, techniques and equipment which are nonlethal and legal. Here are ideas.

Oftentimes, someone is enabling this coyote, or coyote family, to thrive in your neighborhood. Notify the neighbors about the animal. Educate them about coyote behavior and the risks if they are foolish enough to ignore what is going on. If the coyote appears to acting aggressively, that is a serious problem. Let them know the behavior is unusual and could be a risk. I get notifications all the time about a coyote in the neighborhood, and I blow it off, because we live in the desert. If I heard that one was acting unusual, that would put me on guard. I’d use social media, tell my HOA, and notify Fish and Game that the behavior seems unusual and aggressive. Record the behavior so you can show the behavior in a video to the authorities.

Lastly, you need other defenses when living, and walking in, Phoenix area cities, regardless of the type of loose animals you see. I know of many instances where people and animals have been attacked by stray dogs or coyotes.

Examine the following, but always make sure it is safe and legal to use these in your town: 1.) How you carry yourself. You must not act fearful or run away. Joggers often get bitten. Running can stimulate a defensive aggressive response. 2.) Carry a deterrent. I recommend trying cans of citronella spray. They sell it online, is non-toxic and won’t blind you or the coyote. Get an extra can and practice to see how it behaves, how far it sprays, how to open the can, how the spray works in a breeze. 3.) For wild animals in the wild, the typical advice is to make noise, something on you that makes sound. On the other hand, that sound could attract some animals. 4.) Keep pets inside, especially at night, and keep them on leash when on a walk; 5.) Pick up fallen fruit; 6.) Put away garbage in predator proof containers; 7.) Trim hedges to limit shelter; 8.) install motion lights; 9.) Carry a baton; 10.) Air horns can work, but they can also terrify your own dog on a walk, so they are not my first choice; 11.) Fill a supersoaker with vinegar solution, don’t use anything that looks like a real rifle … something black… which might look like you are open carrying a gun and threatening the neighborhood… I don’t want to hear that you ended up dead in a confrontation with a SWAT team; 12.) Carry “bean bags” that you could throw at the animal, but it must be something biodegradable and not filled with food and wouldn’t be considered litter… might have to get creative here, maybe stuff some natural husk with something; 13.) Children are at risk, and there have been cases of young children being killed, so let the neighbors know that, too; 14.) Blowing a whistle; 15.) Flashing lights might work… you can buy strobe flashlights, and get motion detecting lights for your yard; 15.) Install motion detecting sprinklers in the yard; 17.) Run an electric wire around your yard and along the top of your walls; you can find these types of devices at rural livestock feed stores; 18.) If people are feeding feral cats, let them know that coyotes eat cats and cat food; 19.) If you are being approached, act aggressively, shout, wave hands; make yourself big, get on top of something higher, stare. 20.) Make compost unavailable as a food source; 21.) Enclose poultry.

Lastly, prepare in advance if you are attacked. I personally don’t think a gun is a good answer for most people. The average person isn’t going to get the appropriate weapon or training… there are the risks of harming an innocent person if the bullet goes through the animal and ricochets. You have to get training and not just a gun. You have to assume a typical 9mm will go all the way through a coyote. Here is a better idea: you do like they do in India, they beat the predators with poles or sticks… your batons, you need to beat it to death. That’s what they do with bear and leopard attacks on humans, the community surrounds the attacking animal and beat them down with poles to try and save the victim. But, don’t use this as permission to go beat an innocent coyote, I’m only referring to a situation where the animal is in an active fight with a human and won’t stop.

This brings us to using a dog as a defense. Yes, some dogs can fight and beat a coyote in a fight. But many can’t, and is it worth it to have your dog all torn up after a fight? It is going to be a messy thing. You can’t assume your dog, regardless of the breed or size, is going to survive such a fight. You are here to protect your dog, not to endanger your dog. I know of a Rottweiler that was attacked by two racoons. He was beaten up pretty badly, he killed one but the other one survived. The owner was walking along a lakeside and didn’t realize there was a racoon family in the bushes. Racoons are dog killers. A group of coyotes can kill a dog. One on one is one thing, but a mobbing attack by multiple coyotes can overwhelm even the biggest and best dogs. The above advice, this entire article, also applies to most other large predators.

In closing, I should state that it might not be wise or legal to do any of the above. It is your responsibility to take these ideas and research them for your situation. I can’t be there to advise you in the moment, you are on your own. You will have to devise a reasonable approach. If you want a legal opinion, then obviously talk to a lawyer. I’m a dog behaviorist, so I’m writing this solely from that viewpoint. If you need a specific coyote expert to interpret what is actually happening with your situation, I’d start with the Fish and Game department(s) in your area. See what they recommend. Tell them your plan and see if they think it is wise, reasonable and legal. Don’t go off and do something stupid because you haven’t done your homework.

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