Why Do Coyotes, Foxes And Wolves Attack Dogs?
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Why do wild canines attack dogs? Pretty much for the same reasons a dog attacks another animal or person:
Sick: It is a well known fact that rabid canines will attack. This is why we vaccinate our dogs against rabies. Every year there are news stories of rabid canines attacking people and animals. There isn’t really anything that can be done to prevent it. Rabies is in the environment and it would be impossible to eradicate it.
Territoriality: Some animals are territorial year round, some are territorial just during mating and breeding season. Wolves are territorial year round. Foxes and coyotes will be territorial during mating and breeding season. Wild canines will stake out a geographic area, and then they defend it from intruders. Intruders include predators and competitors. That includes your dog. If your dog is trapped in a back yard, then your dog can’t get out of the wild canine’s territory, and it will be attacked and possibly killed. If you are walking your dog too near where these animals have puppies, then your dog could also be attacked.
Pack Oriented: Some canines are pack oriented year round, and some are pack oriented just during mating and breeding season. Wolves are pack oriented year round, living and working together to survive as a group. Coyotes pair bond with a mate for several years. Foxes create mini-packs with their mating partners and pups, but then they disperse as the pups get older and go back to living as nomads in a home range. When animals form packs, they are wary of and repel strangers. If your dog is too near a pack, then the pack is going to be motivated to drive your dog away. In addition, since coyotes and wolves can cross breed with a dog, it happens, though rarely, that they will be attracted by a female dog in heat. Wild canines will then be more likely to attack male competitors, such as your dog, to get to her.
Predatory Behavior: Wild canines will attack domestic dogs for food. In areas where there are wild canines, you’ll see lots of Lost Dog signs posted, especially of little fluffy dogs that were left outside unattended. I have met people who saw their dogs snatched by coyotes in their back yards and carried away, never to be seen again, or what is found is too gross to describe here. The young, weak, old and sickly are vulnerable to being attacked and eaten. Even attacks on children have been reported for coyotes and foxes. Most attacks will happen at night, though you’ll see coyotes and foxes active during the day in most communities. And the smaller the dog, the more likely it is to be attacked.
Social Aggression: Unlike dogs, wild canines don’t like strange canines. They don’t trust them and don’t want them near. They don’t want to play. In addition, canines use aggression to maintain order in their packs, and to repel those that they don’t want in their packs. Dogs don’t play by the same rules as wild canines. We socialize our dogs, breeding them to want to get to know and play with other canines. Our dogs are blindsided when meeting a wild canine, because that other canine doesn’t have the same intentions.
What About Using Guard Dogs: Dogs are sometimes used to find, repel and/or kill wild canines. A number of dog breeds have been developed for this purpose. Not all dogs are capable of defending themselves against an attack by a wild canine. Here are some of the breeds that were used to hunt, repel or kill wild canines. Some are still being used for their original purpose.
Foxhounds – Scent hounds used to trail, find and corner foxes for the human hunter to kill
Wolfhounds – Sight hounds used to chase a wolf found by a hunter. These are being crossbred with other sight hounds, for American ranchers
Great Pyrenees – Flock guard, protects sheep and a territory
Kuvasz – Flock guard protects sheep and a territory
Anatolian Shepherd – Flock guard protects sheep and a territory
Akbash – Flock guard protects sheep and a territory
Tibetian Mastiff – Flock guard protects sheep and a territory
Komondor – Flock guard protects sheep and a territory
There are other dogs that are capable of fighting off a wild canine, such as a properly bred American Bulldog (they were used in the South to fight and kill roaming packs of feral dogs), and a game bred pit bull terrier. But, most other dogs are going to be vulnerable to an attack and won’t survive. Your 100 lb Golden Retriever looks like it might be able to defend itself, but most likely it won’t or can’t. Or by the time it realizes it is under attack, it has been dealt life threatening wounds, and is surrounded by more than one attacker. Your dog’s best defense against a wild canine is to not be where they are. Bring them inside, don’t let them roam the neighborhood, and don’t leave them in back yards alone. A coyote, for example, can easily scale an 8 foot fence, and they are super smart and can foil your attempts to keep them out. Even if your dog repels such an attack, it is still possible for your dog to die of injuries. And it is still possible that the wild canines come back again and again until they are successful at killing your dog.
When ranchers use dogs to repel wild canines, they always have packs of dogs, not individual dogs. In Texas and other parts of the West, specially crossbred sighthounds (wolfhound, greyhound, etc. mixes) are released in packs to chase, attack and kill coyotes. In ranching areas, such as in Montana, groups of large flock guarding dogs are used to protect sheep and cattle. In Wyoming, sheep herders use Great Pyrenees / Akbash crosses to guard against predators. Your pack must be big enough to fight off the wild pack. In arid, desert climates, there haven’t been specially bred dogs to repel wild canines. You would have to cross breed some of the flock guarding breeds with dogs that can take the heat and not need to drink a lot of water. Such an experiment would include cross breeding in dogs such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Australian Cattle Dog, Kelpie, etc. I’m sure it could be done, but I don’t know of anyone who has tried. Flock guarding, Anatolian Shepherds have been used successfully in Africa to repel Cheetah. So, instead of ranchers killing Cheetah, they are using dogs to scare them away from their cattle.
The Solution: Since you aren’t probably going to raise specially bred packs of dogs to repel wild canines, it is best to protect your dog, not expose your dog to these kinds of risks. It is also wise not to leave out things that wild canines want, such as your cat, food, water, bones, and so forth. It is also important to keep your yard such that there isn’t food available, such as fruit falling from trees, rotting food compost piles which can be scavanged, open garbage containers, road kill out in the street, use animal proof garbage cans like the parks use, and so forth. You also should be aware that coyotes and foxes, especially, have been sighted more and more in urban environments. It is also a good idea to scare them off if you see them, such as yelling, making loud noises, and being seen. Wild animals are generally afraid of humans if they aren’t fed by humans. And sometimes they need to be trapped and relocated. Just because you don’t live next to a forest doesn’t mean your dog can’t be attacked and killed. And I’m sure the same principles that apply to making pets safe from coyotes, foxes and wolves also applies in Australia with the Dingo. Dingos are very similar to coyotes in their behavior, so the same precautions need to be taken there, too. It is also important to manage the populations of wild canines. Rabid canines need to be trapped and killed. If there is an overpopulation of wild canines, then some hunting is justified. Yes, I know that makes some of you squeamish, but a lot of people just don’t want to do the dirty work that has to be done sometimes in life. That’s what Foxhounds are for, and there is a role to play in managing populations of wildlife. It has to be done. It is also important to keep your dogs well and vaccinated. If your dog is attacked by a sick predator, then your dog can become sick and die. And remember, sick dogs are more likely to be attacked by wild canines, too.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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