Is aversive conditioning enough to keep coyotes away from our pets?
In this quiet neighborhood of condominiums in Fishers Indiana, those eerie, near-human coyote howls are hard to ignore. However, when we report them to the wildlife people, or the Fishers Fire Department, we are encouraged to ignore them, and told “Don’t bother the coyotes, they won’t bother you.” Not true. One early morning last week a condo owner saw a coyote grab a neighbor’s cat (who was not supposed to be out). In daylight.To keep coyotes away from my dog, Sir Pooch, I do hazing and aversive conditioning, meaning I make noise and flash lights. But is it enough?
PETA says we serve coyotes a buffet of pet dogs and cats.
Referring to a September 2010 controversy over coyote aggression in Arcadia, California, Lisa Lange of PETA says “These animals don’t want to be in our neighborhoods anymore than we want them here,” said Lange. “They are here because we are definitely feeding them our domestic animals.” Lange maintains that by leaving our pets outside we are drawing coyotes and serving up a buffet of pet dogs and cats, and it’s our responsibility to bring our animals in. In other words, stay holed up in your house with Bentley the black lab, and let the coyotes go free.
Animal rights groups oppose trapping or harming the coyotes who eat our pets.
Wild life and animal rights groups maintain that euthanizing or shooting coyotes actually increases the coyote population, because as the older, non-mating adults are killed, there is more food available for the pups; hence more of them live and soon begin mating and multiplying.
Coyote control management experts disagree with PETA.
Other coyote control management experts believe that coyote aggression happens in progressive stages as the population grows, and as the coyotes overcome their fear of humans. Studies done in California in 2004 show that coyote aggression typically happens in these stages:
Stage 1. An increase in observing coyotes on streets and in yards at night
Stage 2. An increase in coyotes approaching adults and/or taking pets at night.
Stage 3. Early morning and late afternoon daylight observance of coyotes on streets and in parks and yards
Stage 4. Daylight observance of coyotes chasing or taking pets.
(So we are in stage 4, here in Fishers, Indiana. In Arcadia, they’re beyond that. Here is what the study suggests will happen next.
Stage 5. Coyotes attacking and taking pets on leash or in close proximity to their owners; coyotes chasing joggers, bicyclists, and other adults.
Stage 6. Coyotes seen in and around children’s play areas, school grounds, and parks in mid-day.
Stage 7: Coyotes acting aggressively toward adults during mid-day.
Hazing and Aversive Conditioning to Reduce Coyote Population and Protect Pets
These human behaviors can be very effective in deterring coyote aggression in the early stages. Also, these actions are easy to implement and inexpensive.
Yell, wave arms, act threatening toward coyotes. Never corner a coyote, never approach a coyote with young.
Make noise. Whistles, air horns, starter pistols being fired, firecrackers, loud radios playing with humans talking.
Use motion activated spotlights, strobes, even motion activated water sprinklers. They all are more effective when accompanied by noise.
Throw things like rocks, golf balls, marbles.
Use non-lethal firearms if legal.
Capture with leg-hold traps. If you then release the coyote, you may at least be re-instilling its fear of man. Or you may just be teaching it to be wary of traps. Padded leg-hold traps also make it possible to release non-target animals unharmed.
These aversive conditioning tactics are effective up to a certain stage of coyote aggression. “Once coyotes have begun acting boldly or aggressively around humans, it is unlikely that any attempts at hazing can be applied with sufficient consistency or intensity to reverse the coyote habituation. In these circumstances, removal of the offending animals is probably the only effective strategy” (Timm et al. 2004).
Yes, successful urban coyote population control programs do include trapping, shooting and euthanizing coyotes.
The first such successful program was launched in Glendale California in 1981 after the tragic death of a 3 year old girl. It involved public awareness campaigns; monitoring coyote behavior to pinpoint target areas and problems; trapping and shooting. Monitoring behavior continued as trapping only one or two coyotes may re-instill fear of man into the target coyote group. More educational messages informed the public to eliminate coyote-friendly habitats such as sheltering landscaping, available food and water. The program eliminated coyote aggression beyond stages 1 and 2 and there were no more coyote attacks for 20 years in Glendale.
In its “Nuisance Wildlife” section, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recommends:
- Feed pets indoors preferably; pick up leftovers if feeding outdoors and store pet and livestock feed where it’s inaccessible to wildlife
- Eliminate water bowls and other artificial water sources (if possible)
- Position bird feeders in a location that is less likely to attract small animals or bring the feeders in at night (to keep coyotes from feeding on the bird food or the other animals)
- Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it. Secure garbage containers
- Trim and clean shrubbery near ground level to reduce hiding cover for coyotes or their prey
- Do not allow pets to run free; provide secure nighttime housing for them
- If you start seeing coyotes around your home, discourage them by shouting, making loud noises or throwing rocks but NEVER corner a coyote – always give the coyote a free escape route
Protecting Sir Pooch from condo coyotes in Fishers, Indiana
This is not exactly the wild, wild west. It’s a settled, older neighborhood of condos and retail operations. Yet, because there is a small patch of woods on the far side of our pond, it’s an ideal coyote habitat: Woods and brush (shelter) near water (pond) and food (pet dogs, cats, geese, chipmunks, squirrels). Gone are the days when I could throw the dog’s ball for him on the bank of the pond. Or take him for a walk without carrying a whistle. Or let him out on his leash without shouting first, and raising and lowering the garage door a few times to make noise. Somehow is just doesn’t seem right to have to watch out for predatory coyotes right smack across the street from a CVS!
A REVIEW OF SUCCESSFUL URBAN COYOTE MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
IMPLEMENTED TO PREVENT OR REDUCE ATTACKS ON HUMANS AND PETS IN
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. LITERATURE CITED:
BAKER, R.O., AND R.M. TIMM. 1998.
Management of conflicts between urban coyotes and humans in southern California. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest Conference 18:103-111.
HOWELL, R.G. 1982. The urban coyote problem in Los Angeles County. Proceedings of the Vertebrate Pest
LEHNER, P.N. 1976. Coyote behavior: implications for management. Wildlife Society Bulletin 4:120-126.
SHARGO, E.S. 1988. Home range, movement, and activity patterns of coyotes (Canis latrans) in Los Angeles suburbs. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, CA. 76 pp.
SWEGLES, F. 2005. Coyote shot in aftermath of bite incident. Orange County Register, San Clemente, CA, August 30, 2005.
TIMM, R.M., R.O. BAKER, J.R. BENNETT, AND C.C. COOLAHAN. 2004. Coyote attacks: an increasing suburban problem.Transactions ot the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 69:67-88.392
WIRTZ, W.O., M.A. KELLER, AND W.G. MEIKLE. 1982. Urban coyotes in southern California: a progress report.
62nd Annual Meeting, American Society Mammalogy. Snowbird, UT. 13 pp.