image Coydogs. Are they real creatures, or just the stuff of urban legend? As the name implies, a coydog would be a cross between a coyote and a dog. But according to Chrissie Henner, a biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, they're an urban legend. She says that "there has never been any physical evidence of a half-dog, half-coyote animal." Not that it would be impossible for the two species to mate and produce an offspring, just very unlikely. Though Henner also points out that the mating cycles of the two species differ: "Coyotes go in to heat between January and March and have pups in May or June, while dogs have their pups in winter." So if animal experts such as Henner are correct that there's no physical evidence of the existence of coydogs, then what exactly is the Sundance Coydogs site selling? Are these coyotes, or dogs that look coyote-like, or real coydogs?


Posted on Tue Dec 21, 2004


The coydog website says that "though rare," some coydogs have been bred in capitivity. If it's possible then...someone's probably doing it.

However, most of the pictures on their site look quite a bit like dogs I've seen that are definitely not related to coyotes.

Though it is confusing, because sometimes they refer to them as "wolfdogs"...and I'm pretty sure wolves and coyotes are two different things. Call me crazy.
Posted by James D  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  01:14 AM
So my grandparents have one. Chiquita's a german shepard/ coyote mix; coyote size, thick fur, black tipped tail with mostly german coloring and a true coyote face. She yips regularly and is very shy around strangers. She was rescued from an animal shelter about 7 or 8 years ago. She's a sweet dog (?) and has always been very aimiable if not very social. After reading these articles I have to say that the discriptions on the sundance site of personality and living arrangements are dead on, though my coydog looks much more like a coyote than the husky mixes. The debunking article seems logical but falls short in the instance that strange things can happen; you have two canines who may not have particular reason to crossbreed but may do so anyways. They're cousin's, is it such a hard thing to believe? I could get a picture of her if anyone is at all interested. I assure you, coydogs are no hoax.
Posted by Heidi  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  02:14 AM
Chiquita's a german shepard/ coyote mix; coyote size, thick fur, black tipped tail with mostly german coloring and a true coyote face. I am glad for Heidi and her grandparents that their coydog is good natured, but often these mixes are bad news. They can be as hard to handle as exotic animals.
Posted by artemys  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  06:24 AM
Perhaps Ms. Henner meant to say that dogs and coyotes rarely breed successfully in the wild. As a student back in the eighties, I worked in the bio-behavioral labs at our state university, caring for a small pack of wolves, a pair of coyotes, and several coydogs. If coydogs don't exist, I have to question the reality of my entire collegiate experience (not that I haven't done that on occasion anyhow, mind you).
Posted by S. A.  in  Northeast  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  07:23 AM
My wife had a dog very similar to Heidi's description, whom we swore must have been part coyote. In addition to the look, she was very much a loner, and had a coyote-like gait. I have zero evidence she was a coydog, but the article linked above does nothing to dissuade me.
Posted by Matt  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  09:59 AM
So now I'm wondering what Chrissie Henner was on about, since it seems that not only are coydogs real, but they're pretty common. I guess that she must have meant there's no evidence for coydogs in the wild.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  10:14 AM

In the genus Canis (Dogs, wolves, jackals, and coyotes) the number of chromosomes is 78 in all known species, so no physical barrier to interbreeding exists in terms of chromosome segregation. Nonetheless, some rather extreme physical barriers due to size (wolves vs foxes) and behavior (pack vs. solitary) exist, which maintain the separation of species in the wild. As for sequence divergence, the gray wolf (the putative ancestor of domestic dogs) is about 1.8% divergent from dogs, while coyotes are about
4% different [...]
canine stats come from Vila et al, J Hered 1999:90(1)p71-77
Posted by John.  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  10:21 AM
"Coyotes are often seen individually, in pairs or in small groups." She could just have said, "Coyotes are seen."
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  11:14 AM
John, foxes are not of the genus Canis. They're in several genera, in fact, most prominently Vulpes.

People saying "I had a coydog" don't prove such animals exist, unless they've done genetic analyses (or watched the parents mate, then isolated them). All it proves is that they had coyote-like animals that someone told them were coydogs.

Contrariwise, the breeding season bit is just silly. Domestic dogs breed in any season.
Posted by Carl Fink  in  Long Island NY  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  01:08 PM
I wasn't too confident in that web page myself, because I thought that foxes had 36 chromosomes, not 78. I should have added my reservations to my post, rather than just quote the article.
Here is another article, and it seems to be much more accurate and useful.

Posted by John.  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  01:17 PM
My friends just told me that dogs "in to heat" time schedule is very individual. Sometime it is every 7 months or even twice per year. It means that biologist doesn't know anything about dogs I guess.
Posted by Loxx  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  02:58 PM
Half-coyote pups are not an oddity here in Texas ranch country. I've seen several litters. Also, females come into heat about every 5-6 weeks, not once a year. Litters can be born at any time of year.
Posted by Brad  in  Lubboc, TX  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  03:46 PM
As an odd update/ side note I wrote the author of the "debunking" article to mention that his findings weren't all case closed. He wrote back an email to say that his company would pay for any tests to confirm her genetics and queried what animal shelter she'd come from. Not exactly the response I expected and, not being my dog but my grandparents' baby, such testing would be basically out of the question. Now I can commiserate with all those dead end stories you hear about where the original facts cannot be scientifically confirmed because of real-life conflicts of interest. Dear me, I'm part of the hoax problem!!!
Posted by Heidi  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  07:12 PM
Coyote-dog hybrids are definitely possible, since a coyote is essentially a variety of wolf, and wolf-dog crosses are not uncommon (I've even seen half-wolf puppied advertised for sale). Anyway, you'd have to be an expert to tell some pure wolves from some German shepherd dogs at a glance.
However, saying it's possible doesn't mean you should try to get a coy-dog (cog? doyote?). The aforementioned wolf hybrids generally make pretty poor domestic animals. There's a good reason to pick pets (e.g. dogs or cats) that have already been selectively bred for several thousand years for the ability to live harmoniously with human families.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  07:13 PM
Gary C., coyotes are not a variety of wolf (although this was believed by some biologists until quite recently). In fact, they're farther (cladistically) from wolves than domestic dogs are -- and dogs split off tens of thousands of years ago, minimum.
Posted by Carl Fink  in  Long Island, NY  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  08:30 PM
This is interesting. Scientifically, the concept of 'species' is defined by whether interbreeding is possible. If two animals can mate and have offspring, then they technically aren't two different species; they are two subspecies of the same species. Basically, that's the bottom line of how to tell if two similar animals are of different species or not--if they can't mate and produce offspring, they're two different species.

Humans and chimpanzees, for instance, can't and never will produce offspring from a mating, no matter how many times they try. Lions and tigers, on the other hand, can produce offspring (it's called a Liger or a Litigon)--which means that taxonomically speaking, the two 'species' are a lot more closely related than was originally thought.

It's an established fact that wolves and dogs can interbreed, because dogs basically ARE wolves for all intents and purposes. Originally, the only reason wolves and dogs were classified as different species was due to the hubris of scientists a few hundred years ago--it was unthinkable that the 'evil monster wolves' of European stereotype could possible be closely related to faithful Shep the family guardian.

Basically, the coydog question boils down to this: how closely related to wolves are coyotes? Keep in mind: the steppenwolf and the chihuahua are members of the same species, separated by ten or fewer centuries of extensive controlled breeding. Coyotes and wolves are a lot more similar to each other (but then that in itself proves nothing).

Me, I'm an empiricist. The best way to settle the question for good, in my thinking, is to put a coyote with a dog and keep them in isolation until they produce a litter. Document the whole experiment with video and sell it to the Discovery channel.

That's a much more sound scientific process than simply taking the word of a researcher in a lab based on taxonomy that is questionable. (Who can't even get her info on dogs correct, incidentally.)
Posted by Barghest  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  09:34 PM
That "Selena" "coydog" looks more like a cross between a coyote and a chihuahua. Damned frightening if you ask me.
Posted by BugbearSloth  in  earth  on  Tue Dec 21, 2004  at  11:52 PM
I would point out to Barghest that by his definition, horses and donkeys are the same species, since they can interbreed (giving birth to mules or hinnies, some of which are fertile), when in fact they are clearly different species.
Also, if lions and tigers, horses and mules, horses and zebras, zebras and donkeys, and many others can interbreed, why not humans and chimps? While I've never heard of such a pairing, that might be because of human (or perhaps chimp) "morality" prevents it, rather than genetics. After all, humans and chimps are much more closely related than dogs and coyotes, so it wouldn't seem to be the genes that are in the way. After all, horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys only 62, so that's a huge difference. Humans and chimps differ in only a few hundred genes.

When I first read this entry I was very skeptical that dogs could cross with coyotes (because of genetic differences) but now that I've researched further, it seems quite possible.
Posted by John.  on  Wed Dec 22, 2004  at  01:03 PM
Nobody knows if human/chimp crosses are possible. (One Russian claimed to have done a test-tube insemination and gotten an embryo, but most biologists don't believe him.) Chromosomal differences almost guarantee that any offspring would be sterile, though.

In fact, we've been separated from the chimps much longer than wolves from dogs -- millions of years vs. at most hundreds of thousands of separation.

Jaguars and leopards can cross, though, and they've been separate even longer than we apes.

The definition of species actually says that no gene flow takes place between the populations, not that the production of offspring is actually impossible. For instance, the common aquarium fishes, swordtails and platies, cross regularly in tanks -- most commercial swordtails apparently have platy ancestors. However, they don't seem to ever cross in the wild, so they're considered valid species.

Similarly, wolves and dogs never cross in the wild (and there are plenty of wild dogs), so they're separate species. According to DNA evidence they've been separate for tens of thousands of years, since dogs branched off the ancestral wolf lineage as specialized scavengers around human settlements. (They weren't "adopted" as pets until quite a bit later.)
Posted by Carl Fink  on  Wed Dec 22, 2004  at  08:07 PM
If I remember my biology, to be considered a species, they must produce *fertile* offspring.
The Sundance coydogs look like they could also be wolf hybrids, though they appear smaller than average than the wolfdogs I've seen (and the site reports their weight as being smaller). Wolf hybrids are popular where I live (north Idaho), and seem to go for around $300 or so. I don't see why dogs and coyotes wouldn't mate in captivity, especially if they were raised together (or they could have used artificial insemination, which seems like a lot of trouble to me grin ) BTW, most wolfdogs I've worked with are fairly nice, but they usually object to being handled or restrained.
Posted by hippievet  on  Wed Dec 22, 2004  at  11:42 PM
"...most wolfdogs I've worked with are fairly nice, but they usually object to being handled or restrained."
As I was saying, they make pretty poor domestic animals.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Dec 23, 2004  at  08:47 AM
I have one of those wolfdogs. 75 percent grey wolf, 25 percent malamute, 100 percent dopey furball. Though mine is of the sort Gary C mentions, I've known others that were quite well-behaved, and didn't mind handling, or being restrained. My dog is part arctic breed, so she wants to pull, pull, pull. She is now 10 and doesn't seem to go into heat anymore, but it was an annual thing, though regular dogs go into heat at any old time, sometimes several times a year. And size would have no bearing, i.e. wolf vs. fox...have you ever seen a dachshund try to mate with a blue heeler? She gets bored and stands up, he's still 'attached', going at it while she wanders to the food dish. The resulting puppies were cute, but oddly proportioned. Short, long, blue heelers with long noses.
Dog and coyote cross? Why not?
Posted by catlady  on  Thu Dec 23, 2004  at  10:59 AM
I could apply my comment about being difficult to handle to several dog breeds (cocker spaniels come to mind, along with labradors)...but the northern breeds do seem to be more melodramatic about it.
Posted by hippievet  on  Sun Dec 26, 2004  at  04:42 PM
I know people who have coydogs, once their female dog goes into heat they attracht all sorts of animals. My dad told me he once had one when he was a teenager, said it was the best dog he ever had.
Posted by Wes Rains  on  Tue Dec 28, 2004  at  12:40 AM
You might want to look at for a discussion of coydogs (coyote father, dog mother), dogotes (dog father, coyote mother) and other mammal hybrids. It seems that when a coyote can't find a mate of its own species, the urge to breed is strong enough that it will mate with an available dog or wolf. This is more likely to happen in captivity when humans control the choice of mate, but occasionally happens in the wild.
Posted by Sarah  in  UK  on  Sat Jan 01, 2005  at  01:34 PM
Sure, but there's a tendency for hybrids to be disfavored as mates in the F1 and F2 generations, so actual gene transfer between the species is apparently nil.
Posted by Carl Fink  on  Sat Jan 01, 2005  at  05:10 PM
About twenty years ago my parents has a small dog that they got from the shelter. The back legs were shaped exactly like a coyotes, something I have never seen on another dog. I have presumed that such inter-breeding is possible. And the definition of species requires fertile offspring under NATURAL conditions. Offspring from matings in zoos or other artificial conditions do not count. Wolves can recognize dogs as mates and have produced fertile offspring as a result. There does not seem to have been enough time to split the two into seperate species, although it probably will happen.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Sat Jan 01, 2005  at  09:51 PM
Gahhh. They ARE separate species! DNA tests show the split happened tens of thousands of years ago and there has been no significant gene flow since!
Posted by Carl Fink  on  Sat Jan 01, 2005  at  10:43 PM
If anyone has a subscription to New Scientist magazine they had a very good scientific article on speciation last year (it's available online, but subscription only). The concept of species is largely a human one and nature is very good at borrowing genes in order to create new forms that can utilise a habitat more successfully than either parent. Nature also manages to cause confusion with "ring species" as found in some gulls.

Human taxonomists like to define inflexible species (these days based on DNA rather than appearance) but nature is happy to cock a snook at human definitions and upsetting human taxonomists by producing hybrids in the wild.

A lot of hybrids are unsuccessful (unviable or infertile or easy prey), but plenty of others are turning out to be viable and fertile (females only, have to backcross the F1 to one or other parent species but the F2 generation are often fully fertile).
Posted by Sarah  in  UK  on  Mon Jan 03, 2005  at  04:27 AM
I had a wonderful "friend", for nearly 19 years, who was a wolf/husky/collie/shepard mix. Never went into heat, and presume she was infertile, but her personality blended some of the best traits of all four species. Highly intellegent, and very good around small children also, so she did not mind being "handled" in the slightest.

She did love to "pull,pull,pull" and also to run - she could range for miles given the opportunity.
Two different vets agreeed, independently, as to her ancestry. I believe the was the result of a breeding experiment, since she came from a family that raised "domesticated" wolves, and had a number of wolf-dog crosses at various times. Consequently, I am convinced that at least some wolf/dog crosses are possible. It seems logical to me that crossing
a cyote with a dog would also be possible, but I
agree that it might be quite unlikely between a
wild dog and a wild coyote.
Posted by Harrison Stone  in  Vero Beach, FL  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  07:44 PM
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