Could Bella be a coydog?

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?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

10 thoughts on “Could Bella be a coydog?”

  1. Curious if you ever got her tested, but your pup sounds just like the dog I recently adopted she’s not quite like the other gsd’s I’ve had in the past. And since I’ve brought her home there’s always been something about her that just seems different. Like her eyes are piercing, and are so much more reflective in any light than my other dog, his eyes reflect a greenish blue while her’s are very much yellow. I had left the back half of my acre rather tall and I loved watching the two of them play in it because she did the same pounce/ bounce through the grass. She looks like a small sable shepherd but if you didn’t know better and seen her at a distance you’d probably think she was a coyote. She’s so lovable way more friendly at first than my male hound mix rescue he’s a bit on the nippy side till you pet him a few times. She knows nothing about space awareness, and pretty much has to be by my side anytime I’m home.

  2. She sounds like our Bella for sure, Liz, especially the lack of space awareness. She loves to sprawl on the boys, even now. We never did any more research on it, but I’ve just settled on assuming there’s coyote blood in there somewhere. I’ve been a dog person my whole life, and like you describe, there’s just *something* when you look into her eyes that’s a little different.

  3. hi. i came upon your site while looking at coydogs. we, too, have a Bella that we are more than convinced is one. she came from a rural amish farm near ithaca ny…her mother was a norwegian elkhound, which is the breed of the other 2 male dogs that we have. while she has a few elkhound markings, she has more coyote features: she pounces, has long, thin legs, tight paws, the huge ears, flat face, long, thin body, fur color with black-tipped tail. she doesn’t howl, either, but does have a sharp bark. she weighs 45 lbs, which is very small–even for a female elkhound. we have a friend in the DEC who came to the house but had not met bella yet. she came bounding around the house and his 1st words were that where did the coyote come from? our vet even said that her face, muzzle & ears were very typical coyote. we take her with us to walmart, lowes, joanns…people always stop to pet her and tell us how pretty she is. interestingly, you dog is part shepherd and most people think our bella is a shepherd puppy. very much enjoyed your blog…you have a nice readable style. take care.

  4. I have a dog of questionable parentage that we got while living in the coyote infested Appalachian mountains. Looks almost identical to Bella. Everyone has always said there’s something “different” about her. After she snapped at a camp counselor, we sent her to police dog training. The 20year dog training vet said there’s something off about her because all of the other dogs in the kennel wanted to kill her, and only her. She’s pretty chill now, but still a little different. My mother will be watching her while my wife is in labor and she made the comment that she NEVER comes across other dogs that she’d say “reminds her of Osbourne”. So I got back on line and started the search for similar dogs, and several coydog look like they are her siblings. I am positive that she is at least 1/4 coydog. Like, maybe her father was a shepherd coyote mix. We know her mother is a collie, but she looks nothing like that.

  5. We adopted a dog from an animal shelter that I just assumed was a German Shepherd. Of course they didn’t know anything about her and said she was found in a field. She (Zelda) was roughly a year old when I adopted her in December. She has a very striking appearance. She is very beautiful and very friendly with people, but a lunatic around any other type of animal. It’s a problem. I have not been able to find any pictures of any German shepherds or even Belgian malinois online that look like her, but I’ve definitely coyote dog mixes that look like her. I would love to send you a picture so you can speculate with me!

  6. My shepherd mix looks a lot like your Bella and we are also thinking she might be a coydog. Very big years and a piercing bark- but totally lovable and sweet, not aggressive at all. In fact, she was bullied into hiding by a visiting 10 week old kitten.

  7. Our Bella is quite cowed by one of our cats. She will charge and pounce at the older one, but she doesn’t mess with the feisty younger one!

  8. I have a shep-yote. I have a lot of rescues but my Ginger is amazing. I would get your pup tested if you really need to know but they aren’t too hard to tell that they’re unique 🙂

  9. We adopted a pup from a church member 2 months ago. The mother is nothing like our Titus. She is a mutt, but looks very similar to an Australian shepherd without the fluffy, soft fur. Titus on the other hand has been mistaken for a gsd multiple times. But has the large pointed ears of a coyote. He does yip, doesn’t ever run out of energy, the pads on his feet are very compact, and he does in fact howl. He likes to sing along when my wife plays her saxophone. He and his litter mates all have the white area on the underside of the neck that many coyotes have. He pounces constantly on our pit, Lydia, and our cat, Raven. We have begun to call him “little coyote” because he just looks like one. I was wondering if Bella has ever been been food aggressive. He doesn’t allow anyone but myself around him while he eats and definitely not the other animals.

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