Rock Creek Park is a delightful swath of 1,700 acres of dense forest, hiking trails, wildlife and bubbling creeks just a 10-minute drive from the White House. There is an abundance of wildlife for such an urban environment. The park has foxes, deer, birds, the occasional beaver -- and the more-than-occasional coyote.
Yes, there are coyotes in the nation’s capital. And in Manhattan, and in many big cities across the country.
Coyotes are not just rural residents any more. And that can be a problem for pet owners unaccustomed to this predator.
So here a few things to understand, especially if you have smaller dogs, dogs with health or mobility issues, or outside cats.
Coyotes are most active in the evening and at night, but can also be seen during the day. They are not as large as wolves, but definitely larger than a fox. They eat anything from garbage to, um, pets. A very few instances have involved attacks on children, too. Coyotes are extremely smart and adaptable. They adjust well to human environments.
If you happen to see a coyote, especially if you are out walking with a smaller dog, make yourself BIG. They need to be frightened of you. Make noise, wave your arms, yell or scream. If you have a jacket – wave it – or open your umbrella.
Keep your dog close to you and if the coyote doesn’t run away, walk backwards, slowly, until you’re in a safer place (think in your car, across a busy street, in a building). Experts say you should NOT turn your back on them, bend down (which makes you look smaller) or run. In other words, do not look like prey.
Keeping your Sighthound on a leash at all times is extremely important. But, really, all dogs should be on a leash. Many municipalities require it. Having your dog on a six-foot (not retractable) leash also protects them from running unexpectedly into a coyote in the brush – particularly parents with small pups. If your off-leash dog finds a coyote, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to move quickly enough to intervene.
Weirdly enough, some coyotes might appear to want to play with your dog. It looks cute. Don’t fall for it. Get out of there, walk backwards, make noise. It’s not cute. It’s proven to be a trick to lure a dog into a pack where it can be killed.
What to do when you’re at home? Obviously, don’t feed coyotes. They lose their fear of people and you WANT them to be afraid of people. Other things that can be attractive to coyotes include compost piles in your back yard, garbage cans, fountains and fish ponds, fruit trees and bird feeders. Be very careful with pet doors (we don’t recommend them in any event). Having a coyote encountering your dog in the back yard when you’re not around is yet another good reason not to have one. And the smaller the pet, the bigger the risk. Larger dogs might also be seen as a threat and attacked, so even your big dog isn’t completely safe.
If you definitely live in big-time coyote territory (as opposed to the occasional urban version), you need to consider some serious coyote-proofing steps. There’s more information here.