Coyote Tracks Are Easy To Identify - Sometimes
There is a certain satisfaction in being able to identify various animal tracks, and coyote tracks are no exception. Coyote tracks are, on the one hand quite distinctive, if one knows what to look for, but are similar enough to other members of the canine family, such as domestic dogs, wolves, and foxes to often cause uncertainty.
Coyote tracks are different than domestic dog tracks, but if you don't have a dog with you, so you can make a comparison. It can be hard to tell if the tracks you see belong to a coyote or a Labrador Retriever which just happened by. Coyote tracks can even be mistaken as cat tracks, and vice versa, though the differences between the two are usually quite noticeable. If the paw print has been made in mud and has hardened, it's easy to make a distinction, but in soft, crumbly dirt, establishing the true identity of the track maker can sometimes be difficult.
Dogs Vs. Cats - Let's start with dogs vs. cats, and then take up the case of coyotes vs. dogs. One of the first things to look for is claw marks. Mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx rarely display claw marks in their tracks when walking though they often will when running. When running, the prints are likely to be quite far apart, but if a slow gait is obvious, and claw marks are visible, they tracks are most likely canine tracks. The most telling characteristic however is canine tracks are normally longer than they are wide, resulting in an oval outline, while a cat's tracks generally have more of a circular outline.
One can also examine the prints made by the five pads, the four toe pads and the heel pad. The front two toe pads for a dog or coyote are slightly oval shaped, while a cat's front toe pad prints are shaped more like a tear drop. The heel pad marks differ as well. For the dog or coyote the back portion of the heel pad usually is not evident, as both tend to walk more on their toes. The front of the heel pad juts forward, giving the heel pad the look of a somewhat rounded triangle.
The cat's heel pad is shaped more like a triangle whose top has been cut off, and the hind part of the pad is clearly visible. This isn't too surprising since the cat, when walking, tends to walk rather flatfooted, instead of on its toes. A final difference is, the toe pad prints of a dog or coyote are much closer together than are those of a cat.
As noticeable as the differences are, it can still be difficult to tell what one is looking at unless one has something to compare the track to. Of course after one has seen a number of tracks and identified them, it becomes much easier.
Coyotes Vs. Dogs - The differences between coyote tracks and dog tracks are somewhat more subtle than is the case when compared to cat tracks. Domestic dogs generally have a slightly rounder foot than does the coyote and the coyote's paw prints are generally more symmetrical in appearance than is the case with the dog. Looking at the paw print of a coyote, an X can be drawn by passing lines between the front and back paw on each side and continuing the lines through the space between the paws and the heel pad, the so-called negative space. A X cannot be drawn in this matter on a domestic dog print as the front of the heel pad will get in the way and an indentation will be present where the intersection of the X would be otherwise be located.
There are other subtle differences as well. If identifying wild animal tracks is your goal, or you just want to know if it was a coyote or a neighbor's dog that got into the chicken coop, the best approach is to get some pictures of each type of print, including cat prints, so comparisons can be made and positive identification can be made more easily.