“Coydog” is an established word in the North Country vernacular, but are there really half-coyote, half-domestic dog hybrids roaming our forests and fields? Wildlife biologists say no…probably. While it is physically possible for coyotes and domestic dogs to mate, controlled experiments by Walter and Helenette Silver in the 1960s suggested that coydog hybrids would stand little or no chance of survival in the wild.
The strongest bit of evidence against wild coydogs stems from the fact that coyotes and dogs have non-synchronous breeding seasons. Female coyotes and wolves come into heat once a year; males can breed from January through March (give or take). Female domestic dogs, on the other hand, typically go into heat twice a year and the males – as anyone whose spent time around an un-neutered pooch can attest – can pretty much breed at the drop of a hat.
What the Silvers discovered was that the coydog hybrids in their experiments retained the coyote’s singular breeding cycle, but that the coydog breeding season fell three to four months earlier than did the wild coyote’s. Thus, the female coydogs gave birth in January or February, a time of year not at all conducive to birthing in places with aggressive winter climates like ours.
To compound matters, male coydogs born in captivity proved to be deadbeat dads. They showed no interest in sticking around to help the female raise their young, something wild canids are known for. Male coyotes are true partners in the birthing process: they bring a female food during late stages of pregnancy; they regurgitate solids to help wean puppies off mother’s milk; and some family units stay intact throughout the whole first year of a puppy’s life.
Finally, when considering the possibility of a race of wild coydogs roaming our northern hills, we must consider that a coydog would be, as its name suggests, half dog, as in loopy, spastic, tongue-wagging, ball-retrieving, human-loving dog. Domestic dogs have spent the last 10,000 years losing their wild edge and becoming the dependent domestic animals we know them as today. If you consider the laws of natural selection and the razor-thin margin of error allotted all wild creatures, it stands to reason that a coyote with 50 percent dog genes plunked down in some North Country wilderness wouldn’t stand much of a chance of survival.
For all of these reasons, it seems unlikely that coydogs could survive in any area with a severe northern climate. And even in more southern locales, where wild coydogs have been bred and documented, the deck is stacked against the propagation of such a species.
Also in Knots & Bolts:
Rebuilding a Trout Stream
The Nature Conservancy Buys In