Dogs and coyotes are close relatives who encounter one another regularly in urban, suburban and rural areas, but how they behave around each other has not been well studied. It is hard to observe interactions between dogs and coyotes, but the modern world provides opportunities that were not available in the past. Researchers interested in the nature of dog-coyote interactions used YouTube videos to explore how these two canids behave around one another. After extensive searching for videos, they evaluated 35 clips of free ranging coyotes and dogs in spontaneous, unplanned interactions.
There were 4 videos that captured coyotes behaving in a predatory way towards dogs, 11 videos that showed dogs and coyotes participating in social play and 9 videos of the two species in agonistic interactions. Agonistic behavior is social behavior that relates to fighting but it is much broader than aggression as it also includes threats, retreats, displays, conciliatory behavior and appeasement. Videos that did not show any of these categories of behavior were classified as other/undetermined.
Researchers found that members of both species directed playful behavior to members of the other species, leading to play bouts. The play behavior between the two species generally involved chasing behavior with reversals being common. Play bows were performed frequently in the play, sometimes by the dog and sometimes by the coyote and in some cases by both species during a play bout.
There were also videos in which dogs bit coyotes and one in which a coyote bit a dog. Additionally, in 3 videos, coyotes attacked and shook small dogs, all of whom escaped. In one case, the coyote dropped the dog and ran away when a larger dog ran towards and lunged at the coyote. There were no instances of dogs behaving in a predatory way to coyotes.
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The videos with behavior that was not classified included several instances of potential predatory interest in dogs by coyotes. In those videos, coyotes were watching small dogs from a distance but without engaging in any actual stalking or other hunting behavior. One video showed potential sexual interest by a coyote in a dog. The male coyote followed a female dog slowly and to within 5 meters, stopping multiple times to sniff the ground and to urinate.
As one might expect size is likely to be a factor in the types of interactions that dogs have with coyotes. In the videos evaluated for this study, dogs were classified as small, medium or large. Dogs were larger than the coyotes in all but 1 agonistic interaction. Only 1 small dog had a playful interaction with a coyote, and coyotes only engaged in predatory shaking behavior with small dogs.
The materials for this study—opportunistically acquired videos that people were motivated to post—do have a sampling bias. With the exception of a few surveillance videos, they were taken when people were with their pets, generally during the day, and mainly in well-populated areas. Even with those concerns, the valuable take-away from this study is that there are a number of ways in which dogs and coyotes interact. Future studies could be even more comprehensive if people are encouraged to videotape and submit footage of these species interacting together.
Have you observed an interaction between your dog and coyotes? Remember coyotes are dangerous (wild) animals, please do not encourage interactions. It's simply not safe.