Coyotes, especially for those in suburban and exurban areas, are an increasing presence that recreationalists need to take into account. Having had a serious mountain lion encounter recently, I can attest to the fact that big dogs and cats can engage in predation behavior more often than we would like to think.
Enjoying the trails and running or hiking them regularly will ultimately lead to a possible encounter. So, this begs the questions…
What to do if you see a coyote while running? Do not immediately run away. This is the worst strategy and will likely lead to pursuit from the coyote. You do not have to go after the threat – certainly don’t – but don’t let the barred teeth get to you. The key is to not react in a spastic manner. As easy as it is to say, stay calm.
No predator wants to get into a costly scrap, and if you can show them that you are not to be trifled with, they will back off. Encounters with coyotes are rarely matters of blood lust, but rather hunting.
Coyote behavior doesn’t mean we should live in a state of fear, but it does mean we should take some precautions. These sorts of encounters are highly avoidable, and coyotes, in the right context, are relatively benign.
Depending on where you live, and how you recreate, coyotes present themselves in different ways with different behaviors. Tricks that work for wild coyotes often do not work for habituated, urban coyotes and vice versa.
Urban vs Rural Coyote Encounters
Wild coyotes hunt during the day. They are, after all, big dogs. They also move in packs, much like other wild dogs (wolves). While they are not as ‘apex’ as wolves, they can be a little more in the open than mountain lions or other big cats. Really wild coyotes do not predate on anything as large as humans.
Unless you are encountering them during the spring (breeding season), it is rare that wild coyotes will be aggressive towards you. Coyotes eat small mammals, invertebrates, plants and the occasional deer. Does that sound much like your 20 pound schnauzer?
Urban coyotes are often a slightly different story. With an abundance of food, especially in residential areas, you may regularly be encroaching more aggressively on a coyote’s territory. Urban coyotes are also more nocturnal than wild coyotes, so the encounters with people are often different as well.
They are opportunists, so they will eat the food in your garbage, the decaying fruit off of your tree, and maybe even a small dog.
Coyote Stalking Behavior
Again, depending on the context, coyote behavior can look very different. Generally, however, they are most active during dawn and dusk, and, generally, coyotes do not stalk people. Wild coyotes do not eat anything near people-sized, and are generally afraid of people-sized creatures. I personally have only seen coyote tails in my outdoor experience, never heads.
Smaller creatures, like your small dog, are a slightly different story. A little dog wandering in the woods by itself in known coyote territory is a recipe for disaster. Just like with all other major predators, keep those dogs close by.
“Urban coyotes can behave more erratically. As any animal in a radically different environment, ‘typical’ behavior becomes a little less predictable. In urban environments, any animal gets a little squirrely, pardon the pun.”
When I was a kid, I went on vacation to lake country in Minnesota. Beautiful, sandy lake with cabins dotted around its shore. Burning hot dogs over a fire one night, a bald eagle swooped in, landed on my friend’s back (he still has the scars), reached over his shoulder and snatched the hot dog. As it turned out, the eagle had broken a talon and couldn’t effectively hunt, so it had turned to easier, less mobile prey: hot dogs.
I am always more wary of urban wildlife than the wild kind. Most truly wild animals, apart from the occasional territorial grizzly, don’t really want to have anything to do with people.
When they do decide to go after something, they often attempt to lure the target towards the pack, rather than pounce from nowhere. Another reason to keep your dog on a leash, to be sure. It is therefore rare that you will be ‘jumped’ by a pack while walking or running along your way.
How To Scare Off Coyotes
Coyotes, like most other dogs and predators, are confrontational. The more you turn to flee, the faster their predator instincts kick in. They’re smart animals, and they know when they are outmatched. If you stay strong and engage in the usual scare-off tactics (get big, don’t turn your back, make noise, don’t back down), coyotes shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
If you get too aggressive and charge them, especially if they are cornered, you’re asking for a fight, however. It is also worth noting that a pack of coyotes react a little less helpfully to the biggest of scare off tactics. With packs, just hold your ground.
Do Coyotes Attack Humans At Night?
As mentioned above, wild coyotes tend to be most active around dawn and dusk. This means that for most of us, we will run into coyotes on our commutes home, after-work runs and evening walks with pets.
For those in more rural and exurban contexts, this holds true. People are most likely to encounter coyotes in the prettiest parts of the evening, but that doesn’t mean that coyotes undergo some sort of werewolf transition into vicious monsters. They are out for food in the evening, but their targets are smaller than most things an average runner should worry about.
Urban coyotes tend to be more active at night, as evening activity in the city is frenetic enough to keep them hidden. While urban coyotes have a broader, more omnivorous diet, their evening meals still do not include people or Labradors. A small dog roaming a quiet backyard is definitely a different story, but human presence will often deter coyotes to the degree that people rarely see them.
How Do I Protect My Dog From Coyotes While Hiking and Trail Running?
While coyotes are not a considerable threat to human beings, caution should definitely be exercised with pets. Coyotes can, when pressed attack dogs up to 40 pounds when the dogs are left alone and secluded. Their luring tactics are also often very effective against unleashed, aggressive dogs.
- Take care with your pets at night. Coyotes may not be very brave in a fight with a person, but they are certainly wiley against smaller prey.
- If you know of a coyote problem in your area, keep an eye on your dog when it is out of doors at night. That means the backyard and on walks.
- Especially with a dog door, your pooch can be out roaming around without you even knowing they’re out of the house. I will often ‘lock’ the dog door after dinner so that I can keep an eye on my small dog when I let him out during prime time for an encounter.
- Having motion lights in the backyard can also help both keep an eye on Fido and deter coyote incursions.
- While on walks in the evening, I keep my dog on a leash. Many people prefer to keep their dogs off leash, and if the dogs are very well-trained, this isn’t an issue, but the situation can be very hard to control, should you encounter one or several coyotes.
If you keep your dog close, coyotes don’t have much of a way to get at your dog. It is a rare coyote that will go after a leashed dog next to a human. Especially on leash, my concern for a coyote attack on my dog at night is very, very low.
Coyotes can certainly be a threat. In the right circumstances, they are definitely to be respected. However, they are by and large not a nuisance. By keeping my garbage cans relatively free of the kinds of things coyotes eat, none linger near me, and, as long as I take adequate precautions with my dog, I do not have problems out at night.
One thing to keep in mind is that these creatures are often forced into urban landscapes by development and the destruction and crowding of their previous habitats. The best thing you can do for the coyotes (and yourself) to keep them from getting habituated to human presence.
Much like black and grizzly bears across the country, humans and wildlife coexist most smoothly when interactions are at a bare minimum. The more we scare coyotes off and prevent them from eating our garbage and pets, the less friction there will be between us.
What does keep me awake at night, however, are mountain lions. Those are scary.
Related content: Is Trail Running Harder Than Road Running?
Mountain/ski guide and instructor