Limone and I have lived in the suburbs of Toronto for just about three years now. Since moving to the city the only animals I’ve ever had to keep an eye on during our dog walks were fast-moving skunks and raccoons.
When it comes to urban wilderness, I have to admit I’m sadly very undereducated. You can imagine my surprise when just the other week, Limone and I watched a coyote cross the road 6ft away from us during an evening 5:00 PM stroll through our neighbourhood.
? This was quite literally my face as we froze in our tracks and silently watched the coyote slink away onto some train tracks.
A woman driving a car on the opposite side of the road rolled down her window and loudly urged me to “Keep moving away! That’s a coyote – it could kill your dog!”
Bless her soul because her urgings shook me from a frozen stupor and motivated me to move us along. At that point, I had NO experience interacting with coyotes let alone how to handle a coyote-dog interaction.
While we were left unscathed from this close encounter, the fact that I saw one in the early evening passing through our dense suburban neighbourhood of apartment buildings and neighbourhood homes was enough to get me researching whether this urban animal is truly a danger to myself and to dogs.
In today’s post, I’ll share my findings with you and give tips on how to protect yourself and your dog from coyotes.
What do Coyotes Look Like?
Adult coyotes grow to two feet tall and four feet long. Most weigh between 20 to 35 pounds. They typically have grey-ish brown fur and commonly have tinges of red fur around their eyes, nose and legs. They also find black guard hairs around their back and tails.
Compared to wolves, coyotes have slender snouts, large pointed ears, and bushier tails. They’re more commonly confused with dogs – however, you’ll notice that most coyotes carry their tails low, almost dragging them to the ground, whereas most dogs tend to have a more upright tail.
Another animal that may look similar to coyotes is the gray fox. Unless you live in the southwesternmost end of Ontario, you’re unlikely to see this threatened species. The gray fox is also grey in colour and also has black markings around its tails. However, the gray fox is much smaller than a coyote, and typically weighs 8-10 pounds.
Where are Coyotes Located in Ontario?
Coyotes thrive in Southern Ontario and have been seen and heard in cities but are most common in areas adjacent to:
- green spaces
- conservation areas and
Their dens are commonly found in ravines, or close to banks of streams and small rivers. However, coyotes only use dens during the mating season and most coyotes usually sleep above ground or in cover (i.e. in bushes, rock outcrops, or hollowed-out tree stumps).
In urban areas, coyotes will tend to stay along ravines, highways, roads, and hydro corridors.
Did you know? Coyotes can be beneficial to the cities. As omnivores, coyotes are our cities’ top predators, also known as “nature’s clean-up crew”. These animals help reduce the population of rodents and scavenge dead animals.
When are Coyotes Most Active in Ontario?
Coyotes in Ontario are most active before sunrise and after sunset.
However, coyotes are not strictly nocturnal so, like me, you may see one during the day.
Seasonally, coyotes are most active in:
- February – Mating Season
- Spring to Early Fall – Den selection and pup rearing. As pups get older, adult coyotes will venture further away to scavenge for more food and toys
Are Coyotes Dangerous to Humans?
In general, no coyotes are not dangerous to humans. In fact, most coyotes are scared of humans and will move away from you.
“Coyote attacks on people are very rare. More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.”The Humane Society of the United States
However, when a coyote does not run away from humans, it has likely become accustomed to or habituated to people. This occurs when a coyote has been fed (in the form of handouts, pet food left outside, or unsecured garbage) and has come to depend on these sources of food.
These coyotes may begin to approach humans and then exhibit aggressive behaviour and/or attack people.
If you encounter a coyote who does not immediately run away, use the tips below to help scare coyotes away humanely. DO NOT RUN AWAY and keep your eyes on the coyote at all times.
Do Coyotes Eat Dogs and Cats?
Coyotes are primarily omnivores. Their main diet consists of small rodents (such as rabbits, squirrels, or voles) as well as local vegetation (berries, fruits, nuts).
According to Coyote Watch Canada, cats have been mistaken for their preferred prey species, domesticated dogs are not a common food source for coyotes.
However, pets left outside, especially overnight, may be seen as potential prey so it’s not recommended to leave animals outside overnight – even if you have protective fencing as coyotes can dig under these fences to your pet.
Are Coyotes Dangerous to Dogs?
More often than not, dogs are seen as potential competition, predators, or even mates to coyotes. While it is unlikely that your dog will become a coyote’s next dinner, coyotes can attack dogs or be attracted to a dog in the following situations:
Off-Leash Dogs: Coyote parents are highly protective of their young and can and will respond defensively to off-leash dogs nearby.
Running/Chasing Dogs: While a coyote’s usual prey is a mouse, rabbit, or vole, coyotes may end up chasing something that runs away from them. As such, it’s always best to keep your dog on a leash and for the both of you to WALK, not run from a coyote.
In Heat: During the mating season (around February) coyotes can become attracted to unspayed or unneutered domesticated dogs. Coydogs do happen on the rare occasion when coyotes and dogs breed together.
Small Dogs: Coyotes are curious and intelligent animals and much like how we enjoy people-watching, coyotes often watch events happening around them too. Some juvenile coyotes may stop to watch young children and dogs with toys (like balls). Watching can sometimes lead a juvenile coyote into play behaviour.
How to Protect Your Dog From
In the event that you do happen to cross paths with a coyote that won’t leave on its own, here are 6 tips and tactics that can help protect you and your dog from a potential conflict with a coyote:
- Pick Up Your Dog (If You Can)
- Back Away and Go Indoors
- Make Yourself Appear BIG
- Shout and Be Assertive
- Throw Projectiles Towards (Not AT) the Coyote
- Get Coyote Protection Gear for Dogs
1. Pick Up Your Dog (If You Can)
Remember that coyotes have a prey instinct and may give chase and are more likely to attack if you or your dog runs.
If you can, pick up your dog to keep it still, or if it isn’t possible, keep your dog’s leash as short as possible to reduce movement.
2. Back Away and Go Indoors
If you encounter an overly bold coyote, back away slowly to increase distance and try to go indoors as soon as you can. While doing so, never turn your back towards the coyote and always maintain eye contact so you know where they are.
If the coyote refuses to walk away or continues to approach you, then follow steps 3 to 5. These steps are known as aversion conditioning techniques and are tactics used to scare coyotes away and avoid conflict with other wildlife:
3. Make Yourself Appear BIG
Stand tall, keep eye contact, and wave your arms to make yourself appear more intimidating and threatening.
4. Shout and Be Assertive
Continuous loud noises like shouting (try to avoid screaming) and other loud noises can scare and encourage the coyote to run away.
If it’s near your backyard, you can also use various noisemakers like:
- An air horn
- Banging pots and pans
- Snapping a large plastic bag
- Keys jingling
If the coyote has not yet left, proceed to step 5:
5. Throw Projectiles Towards (Not AT) the Coyote
You can find sticks, use clumps of dirt, small rocks, or a tennis ball to throw toward the coyote to distract and scare the coyotes away. By this point, most coyotes previously exposed to similar aversion conditioning techniques will likely run away.
In the summer months you can also use projectile liquids aimed toward the coyote to help keep them away like:
- Garden hoses
- Water guns
- Water balloons
Aversion condition techniques like the ones listed above have been used with great success to help prevent human-wildlife and pet-wildlife conflicts around the world. These techniques can restore a coyote’s natural avoidance of humans and minimize interactions.
Because coyotes pass food foraging techniques to their young, consistent aversion technique practices can help prevent future coyotes from engaging with humans in the future too.
6. Get Coyote Protection Gear for Dogs
If you happen to:
- Live in a more rural area where coyotes may not have been exposed to aversion techniques or
- Want something in case of an unexpected neighbourhood attack
- Want specific protection for your dog
Then consider looking into puncture-resistant neck and body protective gear for dogs.
CoyoteVest is the first of its kind pet body armour that protects your dog’s vital organs and neck from sustaining claw and puncture injuries. The company makes protective vests that fit up to 55-pound dogs.
Personally, I have not tried this product, nor am I being paid to advertise this product – but I did find the concept of a Kevlar-made puncture-resistant product intriguing. Also, their hedgehog-inspired spike accessories are a hoot to look at (again I can’t comment on their efficacy but it certainly makes your dog appear bigger from afar!)
Pet owners of larger dogs can look into hunting vests or tactical vests commonly used by police and military dogs for more peace of mind.
10 Ways to Prevent Coyotes
From Attacking Your Dog and Yourself
Ultimately, the best way to avoid conflicts with coyotes is to take steps to prevent a conflict. Here are 10 ways you cac prevent coyotes from attacking your dog and yourself.
- Do Not Give Food to Coyotes
- Avoid Off-Leash Walking in High-Risk Areas
- Keep Alert and Stay Present
- Walk Your Dog During the Day in High Traffic or Brightly Lit Areas
- Clean Overgrown Shrubs and Avoid Walking Near Shrubs or Areas with Fallen Branches
- Carry Noisemakers and Flashlights on Walks
- Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop
- Properly Dispose of Garbage and Food Wastes
- Avoid Overflowing Your Bird Feeder
- Report a Coyote Sighting
1. Do Not Give Food to Coyotes
Coyotes are highly flexible and highly intelligent creatures and are extraordinarily adaptable to changing foraging food conditions.
Feeding coyotes and other wildlife teach them that you and other humans are a reliable source of food. This learned behaviour can encourage various unwanted interactions and behaviours including:
- Nipping clothing of people
- Unwillingness to leave the property
- Aggressive behaviour
- May encourage coyotes to view dogs as a potential threat to their food source in the coyote territory
In Ontario, there are actually several municipalities that have specific by-laws that ban feeding wildlife and if caught, could result in a fine.
The thing that we have been really concerned and upset about for a long time is that this coyote, and others in the area, are being fed a lot – all the timeNathalie Karvonen, executive director at the Toronto Wildlife Centre for CityNews
If you’ve completely read the news article about a small dog and girl getting attacked by a coyote in Scarborough last year, we learned that the coyote’s attack was spurred on by the community feeding the animal with hopes of snapping its picture.
If you see someone feeding a coyote in Toronto, please call 311 to report it as it is against the City Bylaw (608-36).
Did You Know? In Hamilton, wildlife feeding fines are a hefty $10,000 to $25,000. Ouch!
2. Avoid Off-Leash Walking in High-Risk Areas
Unfortunately, most dog-coyote interactions happen when dogs are left off-leash.
Avoid taking your dog off-leash in large green spaces next to bushes, wooded areas, or streams. Even in cities, like Toronto, areas near these locations like the Humber Bay River, Don Valley, or Sunnybrook park are places where folks have seen coyotes.
Keeping your dog on a short leash (less than 6ft) during a walk might be less fun but can potentially save your dog’s life. The dogs are near enough to be picked up (if they’re small enough) and most coyotes are afraid of humans so being close to your dog will often be enough to prevent an attack.
In the very same study, it was also reported that larger dogs were most frequently attacked while chasing coyotes.
3. Keep Alert and Stay Present
Under exceptional circumstances, coyotes can attack dogs on a leash. Stay alert and if you must listen to music while walking your dog, keep it at a low volume so that you’re aware of your surroundings.
4. Walk Your Dog During the Day in High Traffic or Brightly Lit Areas
Coyotes avoid brightly lit areas so walking on busy, high-traffic roads, trails, or brightly lit areas will help reduce the chance of a coyote sighting.
5. Clean Overgrown Shrubs and Avoid Walking Near Shrubs or Areas with Fallen Branches
Shrubs and dense fallen branches in neighbourhoods can be potentially attractive areas for coyotes to hide, set up a den, and/or hunt for prey.
If you have a backyard, be sure to clean up your garden to reduce the chances of a coyote setting up in your yard.
6. Carry Noisemakers and Flashlights on Walks
7. Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop
The scent of dog poop is an attractive scent for coyotes so be sure to regularly clean the yard of your dog’s poop and to keep up the ole poop and scoop when you’re out on walks.
8. Properly Dispose of Garbage and Food Wastes
Trash and food waste are coyote attractants and should be contained in trash containers and green bins or if possible, stored indoors with a secured lid.
9. Avoid Overflowing Your Bird Feeder
Not only are birds attracted to these delicious bird feeders, but squirrels (coyote prey) and even coyotes will eat the birdseed too.
10. Report a Coyote Sighting
In cities like Toronto, reporting coyote sightings are immensely beneficial as there are ongoing studies studying urban wildlife behaviours. Your sighting reports can also help various animal services keep track and inform the rest of the community too – which in turn can help protect future community members too.
What To Do If Your Dog Gets Attacked by a Coyote
If despite your best efforts, your dog gets attacked by a coyote, the best thing you can do is take your dog to your vet or to an emergency vet immediately.
Your vet can treat any injuries and administer any vaccines and medication that may be needed.
Afterward, be sure to report this incident to your local municipality’s animal services.
How to Report a Coyote Sighting in Toronto
If you’re looking to report wildlife sightings on your private property or looking to remove a coyote in Ontario, then check out Preventing and Managing conflicts with Coyotes by the Government of Ontario to learn more.
More Reading Sources
If you’d like to learn more about coyotes, particularly the ones in Ontario and how we can learn how to interact with wildlife safely, I recommend visiting the following websites:
- Coyote Watch Canada – Coyote Watch Canada is a not-for-profit wildlife organization that advocates positive human-wildlife experiences with a focus on canids.
- Urban Coyote Research – The Cook County Coyote Project, also known as the Urban Coyote Research Program is an ongoing study about coyotes in Chicago metropolitan areas. The project aims to initiate the first step of urban coyote management by providing public education on these animals.
Overall, after learning a little more about coyotes in Ontario, I’ve learned that most coyotes are uninterested in investigating and interacting with myself and my dog.
While coyotes can be potentially dangerous to off-leash pets, and to us there are plenty of steps that we can take to help protect ourselves and our pets from coyotes.
It was a good learning experience and in retrospect, I’m relieved to know that standing still and staring (aka maintaining eye contact) was the right first step for us to do in my encounter.
Now, I’m really glad to have done this research in more detail and I hope that by sharing this with more people online we can better protect ourselves and the coyotes from future conflicts.