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Home > Dogs > Do Coyotes Bark Like Dogs? Vet Approved Guide (With Video)

Do Coyotes Bark Like Dogs? Vet Approved Guide (With Video)

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve ever heard barking and howling near your house, don’t be so quick to blame your dog. Coyotes and wolves can both bark and howl like dogs, and the former may cause your noise-related woes. Wolves rarely bark. So, it’s unlikely that they’re the culprits, but if you’re hearing a lot of barking and yipping and your dog isn’t the culprit, coyotes are likely to suspect as they’re one of the most vocal wild mammals in North America.

leaves divider leafCoyotes: The Song Dog

Coyotes are colloquially referred to as the “Song Dog” because of their exceptionally vocal behavior. Coyotes often use vocalization to communicate everything from territory to moods, and wolves rely on body language. Likewise, coyotes rely on body language when communicating with non-coyotes or close coyote companions like mates or rivals. However, vocal communication takes a front seat when outside of these situations.

Coyote in the woods
Image By: Free-Fotos, Pixabay

Why Do Coyotes Bark?

In terms of why they bark, coyotes do so to communicate with other coyotes. They generally travel in packs of five to six adult coyotes, and the communication between the coyotes in any given pack primarily occurs through barking and yipping.

The answer to why coyotes bark like dogs is relatively simple: they’re related species that fall under the same scientific classification family, Canidae, which includes wolves, jackals, foxes, coyotes, and domestic dogs.

What Do Coyote Barks Mean?

It’s hard to know exactly what coyotes are trying to say when they bark, seeing as we don’t have any method of asking them what their barks mean. We can only measure their barks on objective metrics like sound quality and pitch. However, there are some notable advancements that we’ve seen in the study of coyote behavior that provides illuminating results as to the purpose of coyote barks.

In one study, researchers measured the quality of coyote howls and how that quality degrades over distance by comparison to coyote barking. Coyote howls could be heard clearly and contained identifiable characteristics even miles away, while the quality and consistency of barks degraded drastically as the sound got further away.

This relationship indicates that coyotes probably use their barks for short-distance communication, as they wouldn’t be audible or distinct in long-term communication. Of course, we can’t say exactly what coyotes use their howls for without observing their behavior more closely. Still, we can theorize that their function is to aid long-distance communication, to transmit data to pack-mates over a long distance.

coyote close up

Do Coyotes Howl After a Kill?

It’s a common myth that if you hear a coyote howling, it means they’ve just executed a successful hunt and felled their prey, but this is just that, a myth. Howling is a loud, long-distance communication tool that would attract other coyotes to their location, which is the last thing any hungry coyote wants when enjoying their meal. Conversely, you’re probably more likely to hear a coyote barking to defend their kill rather than howling.

Do I Need to Be Concerned if I Hear Coyotes?

You don’t need to be concerned if you hear coyotes as long as you don’t see them. Although, as we’ve covered, coyote howls retain their pitch and consistency over great distances, there’s no telling where the coyotes you’re hearing are unless you can see them.

The key to feeling safe and sharing the world peacefully with coyotes is to understand the cycle and sound of their barks and howls. It’s also important to remember how many coyotes you think you hear. There are probably fewer of them than that.

coyote in the wild
Image By: rauschenberger, Pixabay

The Cycle and Sound of Coyote Howls

Coyotes follow a designated cycle of behavior each year leading up to, through, and after the breeding season. Coyote breeding season is in spring, and when you reach September and November, the pups born in the spring are now striking out on their own and begin establishing their social groups. A lot of the howling you hear in these months results from coyotes trying to establish social hierarchy and territory.

Coyotes will generally stay in the same area as their family but may travel long distances if it suits them or they need to. Coyotes have an extremely organized pack system even though the individuals will generally have their own territories.

Group howling can start with a parent and pup group but grows to include coyotes outside the leading group. All coyotes are saying the same thing: “Hey, how are you? No, no, stay where you are. Just checking in!”

If you hear howling and barking simultaneously, this is usually a sign of disagreements between coyotes. Agonistic communication includes barking, bark-howling, yelping, and even whining, to establish dominance and submission relationships.

Why Do People Overestimate the Number of Coyotes They Hear?

The reason people overestimate the number of coyotes they hear is due to a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the Beau-Geste hypothesis. This hypothesis states that animals, particularly avian animals, often have elaborate songs to protect their territories better. By launching into these elaborate sound repertoires, the animals increase the perceived size of their groups and keep themselves safe.

This is posited as the reason for coyotes’ elaborate song-like howls. By barking and howling at different frequencies, they create a perception of their group size that is larger than reality. When tested in the lab, people consistently assumed there were at least double the number of coyotes in a recording when researchers played recordings of coyote communication for them.

This behavior makes predators and prey thieves think twice before entering a coyote’s territory. Even if an animal could take one coyote in a fight, they’re less likely to invade if they estimate double the number of coyotes.

leaves divider leafConclusion

Think twice before scolding your dog for barking. You may well be hearing a coyote! But don’t be too afraid; the coyotes are probably just posturing or establishing territory. Even though coyotes have primarily learned to live alongside humans peacefully, we may still brush up against each other from time to time, and this is just one of the ways we’ll always be at odds with these beautiful creatures.

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Featured Image Credit: MoniCh647, Pixabay

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