Using Dogs For Bear Management: Can It Work?

Non-lethal bear management remains a challenge in many places worldwide, but can using dogs work?

Karelian Bear Dog: Non-lethal bear management
An Adult Karelian Bear Dog Trained For Non-lethal Bear Management (Photo: Fraczek.marcin/WikiMedia Commons)

Dogs, for centuries, have been man’s best companion. Often associated with loyalty, dogs have been in use for centuries for hunting and protection.

But, increasing human activities means people are interfering with wildlife and their habitats more now than ever before: Bear habitat included. The result? More human-bear conflicts.

The conflicts have grown to an extent that’s now an urgent need for adequate measures to contain the rampant killing of bears. This need gave birth to an innovative idea; why not introduce dogs as deterrents in keeping bears away from human settlements?

Let’s take a closer look at this kind of bear management and how it works.

Problems with some traditional methods of bear management.

Traditionally, relocating bears to new environments, miles away from human settlements helped in keeping bears away. However, nowadays they always tend to find their way back.

Relocation would often lessen a bear’s chances of survival in a new setting in a number of ways.

  • In as much as they are wild, they need to familiarize themselves with the new settings.
  • They’ll have to discover fresh food havens.
  • Find new mates.
  • Create new habitats to live, breed, etc.

Readjusting is also not always a success in a new territory. For one thing, there are likely already other bears living there. Therefore for a bear to assert itself, it would call for a fight with the “locals,” eventually leading to injuries.

If however, they try to make their way back, they may as well get killed. Usually from a hit by a car or a hunters weapon.

Similarly, killing so-called troublesome bears just opens up an opportunity for new bears to take over the vacant position. The new bear would be killed eventually creating a cycle of killings. These repeated massacres create a lousy image that leads to regular public outrage.

What is the use of canines for bear management?

Use of dogs to avert bears has been in use in Finland for centuries. Natives would use them in deterring bears, elk, and cougars. The Karelian bear dog is an example of dogs being used for bear management. They are Finnish dogs just about the same size as a husky.

This bear dog is a naturally fearless dog breed that was introduced into the USA in the 1990s. Naturally born hunters, the Karelian is trained specifically to handle bears. The intention is to use them to deter bears, whether Brown bears or Black bears.

For effectiveness in keeping bears away, the Karelian is trained to;

  • be trustworthy in front of the public,
  • be comfortably fearless when facing a bear,
  • bark continuously and loudly till the bear departs, and
  • behave in a manner that leaves the handler in charge.

Dogs, appear to be a more cost-effective measure to ensuring bears remain in their natural setting peacefully. Their continuous barking irritates even the most stubborn bears causing the predators to get fed up and move along. This kind of repeated noise in a particular area over time teaches the bears to stay away for good.

 Initially, dogs would instinctively leap off in the face of a bear. However, with improved breeding and training, that can change.

Can the use of canines for bear management work?

Probably the number one thing that attracts bears to human dwellings is poor management of waste and food products. The combination of these two factors create a kind of quick buffet for the bears. Once they taste human food, they can’t stay away. They therefore move closer and closer to human settlements.

Consequently, one would often be forced to kill it to avoid human fatalities.

A bear dog, on spotting a bear, continuously barks notifying the handler of bear presence. As mentioned before, continuous barking annoys the bear and it will leave the vicinity.

Though not physically as powerfully built as bears, dogs have helped in reasserting keeping people safe for centuries now.

Combined with other activities as throwing stones, making loud noises, bear pepper spray and the use of rubber bullets, the use of dogs as an alternative to killing, and relocation of bears has proved vital in ensuring stability and peaceful coexistence of humans and bears.

People and bears can peacefully coexist. However, careless disposal of food can and will lure bears into human settlements. Bear presence is not always welcome as indicated by the thousands killed by state officials and hunters annually.

However, with the introduction of canines to better manage bears, the bear population could experience some stability in its natural environment while creating a safer environment for people.

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