Tips for Living With Dogs in Coyote Country

Posted on January 22nd, 2012 by FetchMasters in News

There have been a number of reports lately in and around Denver, Colorado, about coyote attacks. Most notable are some recent attacks on children in Broomfield, and several attacks over the past few years on dogs and people in Greenwood Village. All along the Front Range, there have been reports of close calls with coyotes in back yards and open space walking trails.

A number of tactics for dealing with coyotes have been tested over the years, the most significant being shooting, trapping and hazing. Despite much effort at controlling the coyote population, the Colorado Division of Wildlife believes there probably are more coyotes in Colorado today than when the first Europeans settled here.

Part of the reason for this could be Colorado’s open season on coyotes; they can be hunted year-round with no bag limit. Many coyote researchers believe when coyotes are hunted and pack leaders are killed, packs splinter and younger males are given opportunities to breed. Thus, the population actually increases instead of decreasing. More packs and more coyotes need more space and more food, so they are forced to expand into human-inhabited territory.

Once coyotes find their way into our territory, they are remarkably adaptable. Just as with domesticated dogs, the desire for food often overcomes coyotes’ natural fears. So coyotes quickly gain the courage to raid garbage cans and snatch cats from backyards or dogs from leashes. It is indeed tragic to loose a beloved pet to a wild animal, but we understandably become panicked when humans (especially children) are attacked.

But to put things in perspective, while there have been dozens of reports of attacks on humans by coyotes, there have only been (as best as I can find) two deaths in recorded history from coyote attacks in North America (one in Glendale, California, and one in Nova Scotia). So your chances of being attacked or killed by a coyote are, statistically, zero. Compare that to the number of humans attacked and/or killed by domesticated dogs in the United States — approximately 800,000 people receive some level of medical attention for dog bites annually, and there were 212 deaths between 2005 and 2011 caused by dog attacks.

Personally, I have a great appreciation and respect for coyotes, and I spend as much time with my dogs as I can in Colorado’s open space and mountains. Not only are coyotes beautiful creatures and skilled predators, but they also perform a valuable service for the ecosystems they inhabit: they hunt, kill and eat large quantities of rodents (particularly mice, rats and rabbits). But the fact is, we have always lived among coyotes, and we will be living among them for the foreseeable future. So understanding how to live alongside of them safely is very important.

Here are several tips to help you do that:

    • Do not feed coyotes. Just as with any wild animal, feeding them decreases their natural fear of humans and encourages them to approach us more closely.
    • Eliminate food sources. Do not leave food or garbage outside where coyotes can reach it. Preferably, garbage should be in dumpsters with closed lids. If garbage cans are used, the lids should be chained to the can so that it doesn’t fall off if a coyote knocks the can over. If coyotes find food, they will return to that location. If they do not find food, they will move on.
    • Manage your pets. Do not leave your pets alone in the yard. Coyotes can jump most residential fences and have been known to dig under them, and small dogs or cats are an extremely tempting food source.
    • Haze coyotes if you see them. Hazing has been one of the more successful methods of discouraging coyotes from coming too close to residential areas. A number of tactics have been used, ranging from throwing rocks and yelling to using paintball guns. Many cities actually offer training to teach volunteers how to patrol for coyotes and haze them safely. Please check your local city ordinances to determine legal ways to haze coyotes in your neighborhood.
    • Manage your children. If coyotes have been spotted within your neighborhood, it is a good idea to make sure your children (particularly your smaller children) are well supervised. Never let children play alone in open space areas around your neighborhood unsupervised if coyotes have been spotted there.
    • Protect yourself and your pets when walking them. In truth, you are not all that likely to be approached by a coyote when walking your pet … but it happens. And where there is one coyote, there is a good chance others are nearby. One way of protecting yourself (and it probably would have the same effect on coyotes as hazing) would be carrying pepper spray. Most pepper spray dispensers will shoot a tight stream up to fifteen or twenty feet, but be sure to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the dispenser so that you point it in the right direction. You also may need to be aware of wind direction to prevent particles of the spray from blowing back into your eyes.

Hopefully coyote researchers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will continue developing better methods of keeping coyote populations in check and discouraging them from coming too close to residential areas. (And maybe more people will train, socialize and manage their dogs correctly.) But in the meantime, educate yourself and your neighbors about how to safely live alongside of them.