The Chicago City Council recently voted to protect the urban coyote population by not targeting them for trapping or removal. The lead sponsor of the bill, Alderman Brian Hopkins, cited evidence that “… coyotes were rarely aggressive, while serving as predator for rats and geese.” Except in cases where an individual coyote is perceived as posing a threat, Chicago Animal Care and Control will leave them alone.
We have all heard stories about coyotes known to attack, or being suspected of attacks on, family pets. I have heard a number of people express a growing concern about their own safety when coyotes are around. It seems that coyotes have made a rather bad impression on a lot of people.
As a dog trainer, my first two concerns are people and their pet dogs and cats. To that end, I have summarized current urban coyote research and provided a few tips that will help reduce risks for you and your pets where coyotes are concerned.
I am an experienced dog trainer, and I study and specialize in dog behavior. I am not going to hold myself out as a coyote expert for the purpose of this blog, or attempt to address issues that might involve coyote populations in other urban areas. Instead, I will rely on the expertise of the people who have been tracking coyotes in Cook County, Illinois for the past 15 years: the Urban Coyote Research Project, led by Ohio State University biologist Stanley Gehrt.
In a 2015 interview, Gehrt made some points which are pertinent to the safety of our pets and us:
- Coyotes have adapted well to the Cook County urban environment.
- Their numbers range from 2,000 to possibly as many as 4,000 individuals.
- They are having larger litters than they typically have in rural areas.
- They are living longer (some can live to 12 years of age).
- The diet of coyotes is primarily mice and voles.
- The risk to us is low.
- While across North America there is an average of 3-5 minor bites to humans, there have been no reported bites to humans in Cook County during the period of this study. Coyotes tend to avoid humans.
- Coyotes are territorial, and their territories do not overlap. Coyotes instinctively seek to eliminate competitors; however, for some reason, coyotes are avoiding dogs.
My advice to you to reduce the risk to you and your pets:
- Do not feed the coyotes! Feeding coyotes increases the risk of a bite. Not only does this practice attract coyotes, they can become habituated to humans, meaning they are less afraid, and so are more willing to come in closer for that food. Coyotes are doing well on their own. Clearly, they do not need us to feed them.
- Do not leave your pets unattended outside. This is never a good idea. Besides increasing the risk of a coyote attack, there are numerous other reasons why I would tell you it is unwise to leave pets unattended in the yard.
- Go about your business. Gehrt advises us to always act dominant to a coyote during an encounter, because that ensures they remain afraid of us. I have had numerous encounters with coyotes, and we both just went on about our business without harm to either side. I would rely on their tendency to avoid us, and not encourage people to threaten or try to run off a coyote. (On the other hand, you don’t want to scream and run away.) In most cases your safest strategy is to remain calm, try to keep your distance, and go on about your business. If you feel you are being threatened, call the police.
Lynn Brezina, CPDT-KA, is the owner of CompanionAbility LLC, a Chicago-based dog training company. In addition to being an instructor at FetchFind Academy, she is also a behavior consultant at AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior and a Canine Good Citizen evaluator. She currently shares her home with border collie Fayette, cats Taz and Topaz, guinea pig Cannoli, husband Dave, and daughter Caroline.