Coyote facing the camera

(Picture Credit: Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Image)

In Massachusetts, wildlife officials are asking people to watch their dogs as coyote mating season comes to a head. 

A Community’s Growing Coyote Issue

WCVB Boston reports that coyotes, who will attack small dogs year-round, are more likely to attack large dogs during mating season.  “They’re territorial and in the mating season,” said Dave Wattles from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “They highly defend their territory against interloping coyotes, and they interpret those large dogs as the same thing.”. Fascinatingly, Wattles said that, during the season, coyotes see other dogs as threats to their future litters.

Although coyotes are a regular issue in plenty of rural communities, this area of Massachusetts is dealing with a growing population of habituated coyotes. About two months ago, In Nahant, officials voted to hire federal snipers to kill habituated coyotes. Alarmingly, residents reported “ being stalked or surrounded by coyotes while walking their pets.”

What Does ‘Habituated’ Mean?

Ironically, for domestic dogs, habituation is actually an essential developmental step. Specifically, it’s the process of developing a catalog of good experiences for your dog. Importantly, this should happen with puppies so they become properly socialized around humans. Eventually, they’ll have a codex of memories to draw on in new and startling situations.

However, for wild animals, becoming habituated means diminishing the fear of humans.  Notably, in wild animals, habituation results from being fed by humans or otherwise accessing trash.  In Massachusetts, overly-confident packs have reportedly taken other dogs right off their leashes. Across the state, coyote attacks are increasing.

Still, some community members felt that the coyote issue demanded a better solution. Although killing wild animals is ineffective, Nahant officials stood by their decision and signed a deal with the US Dept. of Agriculture Wildlife Services. Selectman Josh Antrim said, “…when coyotes become habituated and present a major significant public safety risk, we have to consider all legal means to eliminate that risk.”

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