Most coyotes that live in urban areas never go afoul of humans. They try to avoid us and don’t rely on direct anthropogenic sources of food (garbage, pet food, etc.). However, at times humans and coyotes come into conflict.
Sometimes that conflict is simply that a coyote is seen in a neighborhood and makes residents uncomfortable. It can be startling to see a coyote close by, but seeing a coyote – even during the daytime (coyotes are actually built to be active in the daytime, but often change their behavior to be more active at night in order to avoid humans) – shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm as most never cause problems for people. Coyotes are naturally curious, and will often watch people to see what they’re doing, perhaps especially if they are close to a den.
However, conflict can happen. It is impossible to reduce coyote populations in the long-term through lethal control (and in fact, lethal control can increase their populations; see this article for more on that), so modifying human behavior is key to reducing human-coyote conflict.
Luckily, there are specific steps we can take to prevent conflict from happening, or to reduce it if it’s already happened.
One of the aspects of living with coyotes that most concerns people is the danger they might pose to pets. Coyotes can see small dogs and cats as prey, so it’s important to take steps to protect them. Don’t let cats and small dogs roam alone in unsecured spaces and without human supervision (this also violates DC’s leash law), and increases the chances that pets can be hit by a car). If you leave them alone in a yard, especially at dawn, dusk, and at night, make sure you have a “coyote-proof” fence: the fence should be at least six feet tall, preferably with a “coyote roller” attached. The best way to protect your small pets is to keep them close to you when outside.
Larger dogs can be seen as threats to coyotes, especially during mating season (generally January and February, and sometimes into March) and when coyotes are protecting their pups, who are born in April or May. During the summer months (typically June, July, and August), pups are kept at “rendezvous” sites, where there is shelter in the form of underbrush but not a den. Coyotes can be particularly protective of their pups at this stage as they can be quite vulnerable without the security of a den, so it’s especially important to keep dogs on leash during those times when in parks, especially if coyotes have been spotted in the vicinity. This also keeps you in compliance with the law; remember, D.C. law and National Park Service regulations require dogs to be leashed when not on private property or in dog parks.
Conflict can occur when coyotes start to associate humans with an easy meal, through people feeding them either directly or indirectly through unsecured garbage, pet food that’s left outside, open compost bins, and so on. Taking the necessary measures to avoid indirectly feeding coyotes also means that you aren’t unintentionally feeding other animals such as rats.
what to do if you see a coyote
If you see a coyote, it’s important to not panic. Coyotes generally will shy away from close contact with people, and often just noticing them will be enough to drive them away. However, to be safe it’s a good idea to pick up any small dogs you’re walking with, keep larger dogs on a short leash, and to hold the hand of any child you might be with. Do not run away! Just like running away from your dog can make him or her chase you, running away from a coyote can trigger a prey response and he or she might chase you as well.
Although changing human behavior is the best way to reduce or prevent conflict, we can also try to change coyotes’ behavior so that they learn to avoid humans. If a coyote does not leave the area once you spot him or her, you might want to try hazing to help teach them this lesson. Hazing is particularly useful when trying to deter coyotes from spending time in particular places where they won’t be welcome, such as backyards and playgrounds. Click here for a great demonstration video.
Low-level hazing includes yelling at the coyote, waving your arms around, and walking towards him or her. Make sure to continue hazing until the coyote has left the area completely (in other words, don’t stop once the coyote has moved a little distance away but is still visible). You can also throw small objects towards the coyote (for example, sticks or small stones, or a “coyote rattler” – a soda can or other container with stones secured inside so that it makes noise when it hits the ground (be sure to throw it towards the coyote and not at the coyote! The goal is to scare, not hurt). You can also use whistles or other noisemakers.
It is very important to only haze coyotes when they're somewhere they shouldn't be (your backyard, a playground, etc.); don't haze them if you come across them in the woods in Rock Creek Park, for example, unless they approach you closely. Do not haze a coyote that is injured or appears to be sick, and do not haze coyotes when they might be near dens or their pups (especially during the summer months). If you do see an injured coyote, contact the Humane Rescue Alliance at 202-576-6664 (they're available 24 hours a day), which runs DC's animal control department. During the summer, coyotes will often "escort" people and dogs out of the vicinity of their pups in order to make sure that we won't hurt them. Hazing in this situation could put the coyote on the defensive and cause him or her to act to protect the pups. Here are some other tips from the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that has worked extensively with communities on coexisting with coyotes.