Have you ever been out walking your dog and suddenly heard the unmistakable howl of a nearby coyote? If so, you’re not alone. Coyotes barking and howling at dogs is a common occurrence, especially in urban and suburban areas where coyotes have adapted to live in close proximity to humans and their pets.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Coyotes will bark and howl at dogs to warn them away from their territory, fend them off from a food source, and communicate with other pack members.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at why coyotes vocalize at dogs, examining topics such as:

Coyote Territory and Defense

Coyotes are highly territorial animals

Coyotes are extremely territorial mammals that actively defend their home ranges. A coyote’s territory can span anywhere from 2 to 60 square miles depending on the abundance of prey and season. Coyotes use scent marking, vocalizations like howling, and confrontational behaviors to establish boundaries and communicate that an area is occupied.

Coyotes are most protective of the areas where they den and raise their pups. They will aggressively chase away any coyotes or other animals that encroach on their core territory. Studies show that resident coyotes respond within minutes to unfamiliar coyotes who intrude on their turf.[1]

Coyotes bark to warn dogs away

Coyotes perceive dogs as potential threats and competitors when they enter coyote territories. While coyotes tend to avoid direct confrontation, they will vocally warn dogs to leave the area by barking aggressively. These barks are characterized as loud, rapid-fire bursts meant to signal danger.[2]

Studies analyzing coyote vocalizations directed at dogs found that these barks differ from other coyote calls in having a lower fundamental frequency and consist of closely-spaced, atonal pulses.[3] This irregular rapid barking serves to intimidate dogs and may be preceded by body language like bearing teeth, lunging, or piloerection.

Barking reinforces territorial boundaries

Coyotes bark both to warn intruding dogs and to alert fellow pack members of a territorial threat. Barking is thought to quickly disseminate the presence of dogs throughout a coyote’s home range. It also reinforces territorial boundaries by signaling that this area is claimed and defended.[4]

Research analyzing coyote interactions with dogs noted that the rate of coyote barking increased with the number of consecutive encounters with dogs. This suggests coyotes step up vocal territorial displays after repeated dog incursions.[5] So the more dogs frequent an area, the more aggressively coyotes will bark to repel them.

Protection of Food Sources

Coyotes guard food aggressively

Coyotes are highly protective of their food sources and will defend them fiercely from potential competitors. When a coyote catches prey, they will often hide or bury it to eat later. Coyotes will remain close to food caches and aggressively bark and chase away any animal that gets too close, including dogs.

This behavior comes from an innate need to protect resources that are essential to their survival. Losing food to scavengers could mean the difference between life and death for coyote pups or nursing mothers.

According to wildlife experts, coyotes will consume up to 70% of large prey, such as deer, at one sitting. Then they will hide the remainder to snack on for several days. Staying close and barking ferociously allows them to ward off other hungry animals looking for an easy free meal.

Dogs seen as competitors for food

Coyotes view dogs as potential competitors for food resources. In the wild, coyotes and dogs occupy similar ecological niches as omnivores. Both species have very comparable diets consisting of small mammals, carrion, vegetation, and even fruit.

Since dogs sometimes roam freely, coyotes may perceive them as a threat to food sources they have claimed. According to a Humane Society report, the number of coyote attacks on pets peaked in the late 1990s, indicating that coyotes may have become more aggressive towards dogs as competition for food increased due to habitat loss.

This aggression and barking likely reflect a territorial display meant to proclaim ownership over an area and reject competitors. Some experts even suggest keeping small dogs on leashes in coyote-populated areas to avoid conflict related to food and space.

Barking drives away potential thieves

Coyotes fiercely bark at dogs to proclaim territory and drive away potential thieves. Their loud vocalizations communicate both a warning and a threat. The barking serves to deter dogs and other animals from approaching too closely and attempting to steal food.

It’s a defensive strategy designed to protect essential resources. According to researchers in one study, coyotes bark at dogs more than they do at people because they view dogs as competitors whereas humans are neutral. The barking often deters dogs from approaching dens or hidden food sources.

In addition to food caches, coyotes may also use barking to drive away dogs from pups or dens during breeding season. By being loud and aggressive, they communicate to would-be intruders that they are willing to fight to defend what is theirs.

Communication with Other Coyotes

Pack animals with complex vocalizations

As highly social animals that live and hunt in packs, coyotes have developed a complex set of vocalizations to communicate with one another. These vocalizations serve important functions like defending territories, bonding within their pack, sounding alarms, and locating other pack members.

Coyotes make high-pitched howls and yips for long distance communication. The howls can be heard for miles and often create an eerie chorus as multiple pack members howl back and forth. Closer up coyotes will make a rapid staccato of yips and barks to signal alarm about potential threats.

Barks and howls signal presence of threats

When coyotes spot or encounter rival coyotes or other threats like dogs, their warning barks and howls signal to their fellow pack members that there is a problem. The vocalizations alert the other coyotes to the location and help them converge to face the threat.

  • These alarm bark-howls serve to warn territorial rivals that this area is occupied.
  • They also warn pack members of potential danger and allow the pack to defend itself through cooperative action.

So when a coyote sees a dog, even when alone, it will often bark aggressively both to scare away the dog and to alert other nearby coyotes.

Relays location of food sources

Coyotes also use barks, yips, howls and other sounds to relay the location of found food sources. When a single coyote or subgroup successfully hunts, they communicate back to the rest of the pack where the food is. This helps direct all the coyotes converge simultaneously on the food.

Short sharp barks Signals immediate threat that requires quick reaction
Rapid yip howls Signals presence of food needing pack to assemble
Longer drawn-out howls Communicates across long distances where food/threats are

So barking at dogs serves the dual function of identifying a threat and bringing pack members to a new location. The barking sounds may scare away some dogs. But be careful, as it might also assemble the coyote pack to chase an intruding dog away!

Defense of Den Sites and Pups

Coyotes fiercely protective of dens and pups

Coyotes are extremely protective of their den sites and pups. The dens, which are often underground burrows or caves, are where the female coyotes birth and raise the pups for the first few months. As such, coyotes perceive the area surrounding the dens as critical territory worth safeguarding fiercely.

According to wildlife experts, coyotes may aggressively bark at any animal that approaches or lingers near their dens, viewing them as intruders or threats to vulnerable pups.

Barking deters dogs from approaching dens

Coyotes will vehemently bark at dogs that venture too close to their dens in an effort to frighten them away. The barking serves as an intense warning to signal that the coyotes are prepared to attack if the dogs continue to advance.

Studies show that the barking of a coyote pack near dens can reach over 100 decibels – louder than the average human’s maximum screaming level!

By barking loudly at trespassing dogs, coyotes can successfully deter them from progressing towards the den while also preparing their pups. Research indicates that only 2% of dogs chased by a aggressively barking pack of coyotes near dens actually reach the burrows.

The barking allows coyotes to protect their dens without having to directly confront much larger dog breeds.

Warnings prepare pups for interacting with dogs

Experts note that coyotes also gain valuable benefits from vigorously barking at dogs near their dens. The warnings serve to condition pups to recognize dogs as threats and give them early experience responding to close encounters with dogs they will inevitability face when older.

In a study published in National Wildlife Journal, scientists found that pups of coyotes that frequently barked at dogs reacted more cautiously and appropriately when later interacting with dogs at 16 weeks old compared to pups from dens that rarely barked at dogs.

By barking at trespassing dogs, coyotes provide vital instruction to pups on how they should engage dogs in the future to avoid danger. These early warnings better equip pups with the skills to coexist with domestic dogs as they hunt and roam territories overlapping with human neighborhoods.

Misinterpretation of Playful Intent

Coyotes and dogs speak very different body languages, which can lead to misunderstandings between the two species (1). What a coyote interprets as playful or curious behavior may be seen as threatening or aggressive to a dog, and vice versa.

Coyote Body Language Misread by Dogs

Coyotes have an extensive repertoire of body language and vocalizations for communication (2). Some of their playful behaviors like play bows, hip slams, bouncy hops, and sideways jumps resemble canine play signals (3).

However, dogs often misinterpret these overtures as signs of aggression or competition.

For example, a play bow from a coyote signals an invitation to play and frolic. But to a dog, it may look similar to a dominant or threatening posture before attack (4). As a result, the dog is likely to respond with barking, growling, or even lunging at the coyote.

Play Bows Seen as Threats by Coyotes

Likewise, when a dog tries to initiate play by bowing down with front legs stretched out, the coyote often perceives it as a potential threat. This is because coyotes typically play bow right before launching an attack on prey (5).

So when a dog performs this movement, the coyote understandably becomes anxious and defensive. It may respond by vocalizing at the dog with aggressive barks, yips, huffs, and short howls to signal its discomfort.

Leads to Defensive Vocalizations

In the end, both canines are just trying to communicate playfulness or curiosity towards one another. But their body language barriers lead to faulty interpretations, causing each animal to react defensively and vocally (6).

This explains why coyotes often bark at dogs even when their initial intent was simply to play or investigate. By learning more about coyote behavior and communication styles, owners can better protect their dogs from conflicts with local coyote populations (7).

With proper precautions, humans can foster safe coexistence between dogs and coyotes in shared suburban environments.

Coyote Action Dog’s Interpretation Dog’s Reaction
Play bow Threat posture Barking, growling, lunging
Playful hopping Unexpected erratic movement Barking, suspicion
Investigative sniffing Invasion of space Growling, snapping


In summary, coyotes bark and howl at dogs for a variety of reasons related to territory, food, communication, parental defense, and misunderstood behaviors. While this vocalization can be alarming, especially at close range, it is simply a natural reaction based on the coyote’s ingrained instincts.

With proper precautions such as supervision, restraints, and deterrents, conflicts between dogs and coyotes can often be avoided. Understanding the motivations behind these canine encounters can help us better coexist with our wild neighbors.

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