If you’re a pet-owner, you may have already heard about the small dog that was attacked by a coyote near Stern Grove last week. Turns out, it’s pup-season for coyotes. This is the time of year when — just like us! — stressed-out mama coyotes are introducing their progeny to life in San Francisco.
Coyotes roam in many San Francisco’s parks and open spaces, although the coyotes in Bernal Heights are exceptionally creative and stylish. Of course, we Bernalese are world-famous for our fondness for dogs, and lots of those pets also roam free here. So during pup season, Janet Kessler, creator of Coyote Yipps, a blog about San Francisco coyotes, shares this wisdom about coyote-canine interactions:
It is coyote pupping season again! During pupping season there is more potential for dog/coyote encounters and possible confrontations. By following simple guidelines we can prevent most encounters and we can be prepared for any inadvertent encounter that does pop up.
San Francisco has several dozen coyotes living in the city, mostly in nuclear families. They’re in all of our major parks. Because most folks in San Francisco have dogs or cats, and because there are pups in some of the parks — pups would be about 4 months old now — it is a good time to brush up on coyote behavior and the guidelines necessary for peacefully coexisting. The information applies in any park where there are coyotes, whether or not there are pups.
Coyotes are out most often when it’s dark and when we humans aren’t around. However, most folks now realize that it’s not uncommon to see coyotes out during the day — they are not nocturnal animals.
Coyotes live in family units, not packs of unrelated individuals. We have a number of coyote families living in the city of San Francisco. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young and watch out for their safety — we’re talking about real family life here. It’s hard not to admire a species that puts so much effort into maintaining their own monogamous relationship and into the care and safety of their youngsters. Parents play with, bring food to, groom, defend, lead family outings, teach, tease and discipline their youngsters, not so differently from the way humans do: coyote life is about family life. Each family claims a territory from which other coyotes are kept out. This insures that there will be enough resources for the family unit.
How to get along with coyotes? Treat them as you would any other wild animal, such as a skunk or raccoon, by moving away from them and keeping your dogs away from them, which can only be done by leashing up! Leashing will keep your dog from chasing a coyote, and it will keep your dog close to you, thus discouraging a coyote from coming in closer to your dog. Coyotes will do their utmost to avoid humans and human encounters, so the issue isn’t about you. However, although they’ll shy away from people, they may give territorial messages to dogs who come too close, the same as they do to any other non-family coyote who might potentially threaten their territorial claims: this could result in a nip to your dog’s haunches — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to leave the area. And small pets may look like any other prey to them: so please leash your pets in known coyote areas and don’t allow them to roam free. Coyotes have been spotted wandering through virtually every park in San Francisco.
Everyone with a dog should know how to shoo off a coyote who has come too close — it’s know-how that’s needed just in case there’s an unexpected encounter. Simply harassing a coyote with screams, flailing arms and making yourself look big is often not effective. Coyotes get used to this and eventually ignore it as meaningless and quirky human behavior. It’s best actually to, 1) approach or charge towards the coyote, and to, 2) do so menacingly as though you’re out to get them, by eyeballing them with eye-to-eye contact and yelling “SCRAM, get out of here!” Often, your piercing gaze into their eyes alone is enough to get them to move on.
However — and this is an all-important caveat — if they absolutely do not move, it will be because pups are close by. In this case, it’s best to keep the peace by respecting their need to keep you out of the area they won’t move from: just back away rather than provoke an incident, without running. If one follows you, turn and face the coyote — he’s unlikely to come closer with your eyes glaring at him. However, if he just stands there, again, try charging in his direction as described above to get him off of your tail. As always, prevention is the best medicine — always keep your distance in the first place.
“Coyotes As Neighbors” is a YouTube video presentation which explains relevant coyote behavior — including their intense family lives and territoriality towards other canines, be they dogs or other coyotes — plus guidelines for keeping us all, humans, pets AND coyotes, safe and worry-free. The video includes two demos on how to effectively shoo off a coyote who has come too close. [There’s also a Spanish version and a Mandarin version.]
Here’s what to look for: Janet also shares this video of a female coyote in San Francisco acting distressed because of the presence of dogs:
PHOTO: Top, Janet Kessler