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.