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The other day, I took the dogs for a walk after work. I was in a hurry because we were losing light fast, but they didn’t mind. Apollo would prefer to run and Zoey was just happy to be out and about. It was a short walk where I was juggling two dogs, keeping an eye out for “my dog is friendly” dog walkers, and coyotes. I crossed the street several times, we got great exercise on our short walk, and at one point I thought I saw coyotes. Two.
It turns out that they were someone’s dogs being walked off-leash. It was getting darker and the human was wearing dark clothing and blended into the trees. The dogs had lighter coats (white or grey), which made them stand out and made me think “damn, coyotes are out already.”
Are There Coyotes in Marysville?
Absolutely! We see coyotes all the time. They watch us from a distance and never approach us (by “us” I mean me and my dogs). My dogs don’t have a solid recall, so I don’t take them to the woods for off-leash walks. The last thing I need is for them to catch the scent or see a coyote, deer, skunk or rabbit and take off. Rodrigo took off after a coyote once and the memory still shakes me up.
In September 2012, I made a huge mistake and Rodrigo paid the price. I woke up early in the morning and let Rodrigo out in the yard (not the fenced dog yard) to pee. He caught a scent and took off and I took off after him. Rodrigo is a lot faster than I am and as I was running towards the wooded area that surrounds our property, I heard growling and then fighting and I knew he found a coyote.
A few seconds later, Rodrigo was running towards me, covered in blood due to a bite on the nose.
What About Rabies?
At the time of Rodrigo’s run-in with the coyote, he as protected by a rabies vaccination. Rodrigo was two years old and I was still doing annual vaccinations. However, this experience taught me that in Washington, our coyote population doesn’t carry rabies. I’ve confirmed this with several local veterinarians. But, side note, there is a population that does carry rabies – bats. I learned recently that bats can transmit rabies without biting – they just express it into the air or something. That freaked me out although we have screens on our windows and have never had a bat flying around our home. So, I did a little research to learn that “bats contract rabies far less than other animals. Less than 1/2 of 1% of all bats may contract the disease.” Source: BatWorld.org
What I Learned About Coyotes
Anyway, Rodrigo’s run-in with coyotes was a reminder that coyotes are predators and although I have big dogs, they aren’t 100% safe from an attack.
Coyotes look like small dogs: I had been living in Marysville for a couple of years before I could accurately identify a coyote because I rarely saw them. When we would see then on our property, I thought it was a neighbor’s dog (I’m nearsighted). In our area, they're about 35-40 pounds, with a greyish-brown coat, and they run with their tail tucked between their legs.
Coyotes are naturally afraid of humans: Just because they have a natural fear of us doesn't mean that we're safe from them, so I don't approach them, I don't feed them, and I don't allow our dogs approach them. I was told that when I see a coyote on our property, that I should reinforce their fear by making loud noises, waving my arms. That being said, I’ve seen many posts on social media about coyotes snatching a small dog from their yard or while on a walk, so I don't think coyotes are afraid of humans everywhere.
Coyotes go for small animals: Whenever I see signs in our community for lost dogs and cats, I wonder if these are victims of our local coyote packs. Coyotes will attack animals that are smaller than they are; small dogs, cats, as well as local wildlife (bunnies, squirrels, rodents, etc) and chickens (our neighbors used to have free-roaming chickens – a hit with the coyotes).
Local coyotes hunt in packs for bigger prey: When I read that coyotes hunt for small animals; that made sense. When I read that coyotes can't tell the difference between their natural prey and pets; that made sense to me as well. Then I remembered the hunt on our property for deer which are not small animals. I heard noise outside one night and ventured out to investigate. Two or three deer raced by me with a few coyotes hot on their tail – this all happened within 25’ of where I was standing and it went so fast that were it not for Johan, who was yelling at me to get inside, I would think I imagined it. Ahhhh, nature. It only takes one or two coyotes to go after smaller prey, while a pack will work together to take down something larger. We live in an area with lots of bunnies and deer, so the coyotes aren’t too far away.
Larger dogs aren't necessarily safe: Coyotes don't often go after larger dogs unless they feel threatened. I've read that they view dogs as competition, not prey. But Rodrigo’s experience taught me not to get comfortable. What’s even scarier is that a couple of years ago, we had juvenile coyotes (three of them) coming up to the dogs’ yard daily when we were at work (our neighbor warned us). We think they were trying to pretend like they were friendly so they could lure one or more of our dogs away.
Coyotes run in packs and pairs: Coyotes may run in a large pack, their family, but they tend to hunt in pairs. I've read that they have the ability to make noise as if they're a large pack through their vocal cords. If you've never heard a pair on a hunt, imagine the sounds of high pitched barks, yelps, and yips. At first, the sound of coyotes creeped me out. Now I love the sound (as long as my dogs are in the house).
Mating season: Coyotes are most protective of their packs, den and territory during mating season, which is January through March, and when they have pups, which is May and June. If you walk your dog in an off-leash area during these months, take care. I used to think that a well-populated, off-leash dog park wouldn't have coyotes nearby because of the dog traffic and activity. However, I’ve seen coyotes in all three of the places that I walk my dogs (on leash). The coyotes don’t approach, but they are around so it’s important that I’m aware.
Dogs may give chase without warning: We've never seen two coyotes at once, but it's safe to say that a second isn't far behind and there's no telling how close the pack is; so keep I keep our dogs close – they're either in their fenced yard or they're on leash when we walk. They are free to roam our property under supervision, but we limit their roaming to one area so that we can keep them close. The coyotes have one come on our property when we're outside once.
A dog's instinct may be to give chase and there's no telling what he'll meet at the end of that chase. I mostly see coyotes in the spring, summer, and fall – during these times, I make sure that my dogs’ harnesses are secure and I only walk as many dogs as I can handle (usually two or three). This way, if they see a coyote, they won’t slip their harness to give chase. So far, when my dogs see coyotes, they stay close by my side.
No outdoor food and water: Having dog food, raw bones, and/or water outside and accessible to wildlife rewards coyotes and other animals for coming on your property. Other food sources are fruit falling from trees, compost piles, and open trash containers. If we provide a food source, then coyotes may become a risk to our dogs, therefore, we don't keep food and water outside.
We’re raw feeders and while our dogs are fed inside primarily, in the summer, the dogs get raw meaty bones outside. A few years ago, a coyote came within 20’ of Rodrigo while he was eating a beef knuckle bone. I looked up and stared in shock and awe because a coyote had never come that close to us before. It took a beat before (1) I recognized that it was a coyote and (2) I took action. Thankfully, my dogs do listen well and God was on my side because they didn’t smell or hear the coyote. I called them in the house where they stayed for the day. That was the year when the juvenile coyotes began trying to lure our dogs away.
Other reasons for a coyote attack: Other reasons (besides food) that a coyote may attack a dog is because it's sick and rabid, it's protecting its territory, it's driving your dog away from its pack, and they don't like strangers (I don't know you, so I'm going to scare you away). Pretty much sounds like an unsocialized dog (except the rabid part).
Protecting My Dogs from Coyotes
We’ve lived in our home for close to 10 years and we’ve had dogs for the same amount of time (or a little longer). I’ve learned that to keep my dogs safe, I need to pay attention to our surroundings and work with my dogs regularly (training never ends). Even something as minute as noticing scat (coyote poop) on the property and how close it is to the house and dog yard helps me protect our dogs.
Today, we have five big dogs that weigh between 55 lbs and 75 lbs. I would like to think that the reason we rarely see coyotes on our property is that we have an established pack (our dogs) and this is their territory. One thing that I’ve noticed is that our male dogs will mark the perimeter of our property and I wonder if they’re marking their territory. Sydney, our senior female, will pee over coyote scat. I’m sure there is a detailed scientific explanation for that behavior, but I think it’s her way of covering up other scents with her own.
And, finally, all of my dogs are covered by pet insurance. I know it's tempting to think that this will never happen, but our experiences with coyotes were terrifying for me. I was already stressed and worried about my dogs, I didn’t want to be worried about vet bills too.
There's a lot of information online about coyotes and if you plan to do some research, I suggest avoiding forums or question/answer sites. When you're working on little sleep and coming down from an adrenaline rush after rinsing blood off of your dog and treating their bite wounds, the forum/question/answer sites will scare the bejeebus out of you.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve only had a few negative experiences with coyotes and, thankfully, none of my dogs were seriously injured. The experiences did teach me to take coyote sightings seriously. While I love animals, I will love wild animals from a distance.