Coyotes are very common animals in Illinois and some will find them right in their backyards.
“People always think they come from the forest preserves, come into the suburbs, through the neighborhoods, and then go back to the forest preserves,” said Dan Thompson, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County ecologist. “There are some that never even step foot in the forest preserve. Their home is your neighborhood.”
Small Dogs are Targets
This can cause fear for some, especially if a coyote is close to their home. And worrying about a pet dog can be another issue.
“Smaller breeds are typically the target, obviously because it is easier for coyotes to take them and have the upper hand in that situation. I think what’s overlooked frequently is the fact that a lot of the smaller breeds have that napoleon complex where they’re really barky, they’ll bark at all other dogs and people. They just seem to have this attitude ‘I’m the tough one here,'” said Thompson. “You have to watch for those encounters because those are more likely to happen where a coyote will kill a small dog like that just for territorial dispute. A lot of these encounters are over territorial disputes, not even for food. If you have a small dog, particularly one that has that tendency to bark at anything and anyone, those are going to be more problematic. It’s just about knowing coyote behavior.”
Thompson said that doesn’t mean a coyote won’t attack larger dogs, but it is less common.
Safety Tips for Your Dog
Thompson said the best way to keep your dog safe is to keep them on a leash, whether you’re walking or even in the backyard if you’re outside with them. That way you have control over your dog if they begin to bark and can pick it up.
Dogs also shouldn’t be left unattended. Thompson said many incidents happened when owners let their pets out in the middle of the night.
While a six-foot fence is recommended to keep coyotes out, Thompson said it’s “not always fail safe.” He also reminds people to make sure there aren’t any big holes under your fence since coyotes can easily burrow under them.
Another common mistake is placing bird feeders too low. If squirrels access them frequently and a coyote realizes this, then it becomes an easy hunting ground. Thompson said to make sure bird feeders are high enough where only birds can access them to avoid frequent visits from squirrels and other small animals.
Don’t Be Scared
If you do encounter a coyote, Thompson recommends looking them in the eye and making loud noises to make them feel uncomfortable. While they can sometimes see dogs as threats, most coyotes don’t feel the same about humans. While it’s instinct for many people to run away, Thompson said it’s not a good idea, because the coyote may chase after you – not necessarily to attack, but because they may see it as a game like a dog would.
Thompson said they’ve also received some reports from people that a coyote was “shadowing” them.
“It’s normal. This is coyotes protecting their territory. If you’re near or in their territory especially during pup season, they do become a little more defensive,” said Thompson. “They’re just kind of escorting you through. They don’t want an aggressive encounter, they’re just keeping an eye on you.”
Breeding season is coming up in February, where you might see coyotes become a bit more territorial and patrol the boundaries more.
Thompson said overall there really hasn’t been an increase in the number of coyotes that are around.
“Just because you’re seeing them more that doesn’t mean there are more, but people always equate it that way,” said Thompson. “In the winter they are out more frequently because they have to work harder to find food.”
Learning About Coyote Behavior
Thompson hopes learning more about coyote behavior will help people feel less scared because he believes we need to learn to coexist.
“Coyotes are a natural animal of the ecosystem and they are important. We do want them around, we do need them around because they do help with rodent control and others” said Thompson. “They help to maintain environmental health and ecological balance.”
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
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