My in-laws paid a quick visit to us this past weekend for the holidays, and it was their first opportunity to meet Bella. After watching Bella pounce on a bone and noting the distinctive stance, he said, “Gee, she almost looks like a coyote, doesn’t she?” That set us off on a fun afternoon of speculative research that has us more than half convinced that our Bella may in fact have some coyote mixed in to her lineage. Could Bella be a coydog?
We don’t know much about her parentage. Her mother was a pup herself, a German Shepherd mix who slipped away from her owner and came back pregnant. Bella’s mother’s owner lives on Manitoulin Island, where a Sudbury Star article mentions that as of 2010, “the coyote/brush wolf population is out of control.” (Bella came to Ottawa because the sister of her mother’s owner volunteered to bring some of the pups in the litter to a more populated area to improve their chances of adoption.) So there was plenty of opportunity for a coyote sire to enter the picture.
My father-in-law is an outdoorsman and knows a lot more about coyotes than I do. I did a google image search to refresh my memory about what coyotes look like and when I saw this photo I literally gasped – this pose is pure Bella! She rears up like this all the time before pouncing on a favourite toy. So I started to read about coydogs, and the more I read the more possible it seemed.
Here’s a good comparison. Look at the coydog pup in this link, and then look at this photo of Bella:
But of course, the similarities could come from the German Shepherd side, right? It’s when I started looking into the characteristics of coyotes and coydogs that I really started to be convinced. We’ve always remarked on Bella’s unusually small feet and her dainty legs – this is a dominant coyote feature. Coyotes also have very large ears in proportion for their heads, and we’ve often joked that even at a year of age, Bella has yet to grow into her Gremlin ears. Bella’s colours are exactly as described on a coyote or coydog – brindle with black tips and cream underfur, with a line of black down the back and a black tipped tail. She’s long and sleek in her body, with a flat forehead and a long, thin muzzle.
Some of Bella’s personality quirks align with a possible coyote mix: she loves to dig and then lay in the freshly unearthed soil. She could run to the ends of the earth and back, and she’s FAST. (We haven’t seen her chasing any roadrunners yet, though.) She loves to pounce, as I mentioned. And while she doesn’t howl, she has the most shrill bark – not the deep booming bark of a GSD but an ear-bleeding shrill bark that is not quite a yip but not far from it either. The size is about right, too – a mature coyote ranges from 20 to 50 lbs, and that’s exactly what she is – 50 lbs, very small for a Shepherd mix.
There are other things that don’t necessarily line up with a coydog – she definitely has doggy eyes, for example, and not the piercing eyes of a coyote. But to be totally honest, there’s always been *something* about her eyes that I could never quite put my finger on. Her tail sticks straight out when she runs, neither curling up like a shepherd nor pointing down like a coyote – although it does have the same shape of a coyote tail.
Coydogs in the wild are rare. The breeding cycles of dogs and coyotes don’t naturally align. Dogs can come into heat any time of the year, but if a coyote has a litter mid-winter, the pups are not likely to survive. That’s another little tick in our “maybe she is a coydog” spreadsheet – Bella was nine months when we had her spayed (we had to delay it because she caught a dose of kennel cough when she was six months) and she still hadn’t entered her first heat yet, which the spay clinic said was unusual but not unheard of.
I found a couple of posts and articles about how to tell a dog from a coyote, but she’s so borderline on the measures that I couldn’t make the call one way or the other. This blog post talks about how one distinguishing feature of coyotes versus dogs is the placement of the elbow – in coyotes it is noticeably lower than the line of the sternum. When I look at Bella, her elbow is exactly at the sternum – neither clearly above (in the manner of a dog) nor below (in the manner of a coyote.) What do you think? In this photo, the elbow is clearly well below the line of her chest, but in others it’s more like bang on the same line.
This link talks about the difference in dog tracks and coyote tracks. Apparently in dog feet, the pads are more spread out but in coyote feet the pads are more tightly clustered. Look at the photo of a coyote paw at the bottom of that post and then look at this.
What do you think? Can you see why we’re intrigued?
Conveniently, our vet is also a friend, and when I ran this by her on Twitter she said the photos are definitely compelling. I asked her opinion on those $80 kits that purport to analyze your dog’s breed based on DNA and she opined what I was already suspecting myself – that the results she’d seen so far were inconclusive and that it’s hard to imagine a test like that for that price that doesn’t involve snake oil. Besides, I’m not sure if I am $80 worth of curious.
I’m convinced enough to call it likely, if not a certainty, that she has some coyote blood in there somewhere. Maybe her sire was a coyote or maybe even a coydog himself? We’ll probably never know, but it is fun to speculate.
What do you think?