Dogs Chase Bears Away

Doing so saves bears’ lives
By Karen B. London PhD, April 2019

The abilities of dogs have allowed them to help other species of animals in a variety of ways. Dogs can sniff out endangered species or use their noses to find invasive ones. They can track lost or injured animals and they can protect them from potential predators. They can even deter other animals from visiting areas in which their lives would be at risk.

Scaring bears away from areas where they are not welcome may seem unkind but the dogs who do so have saved the lives of many of those bears. Bears that are scared away are safer than bears who keep visiting certain areas.

It has long been common practice to physically remove bears from areas where they regularly encounter humans, such as campgrounds and garbage dumps. One of the reasons it is so important not to feed bears is that if they become comfortable around humans and cease to shy away from areas with a lot of human activity, their lives may be at risk. Sadly, the bears are often killed if they keep coming to such places. That is hardly fair to the bears, but wildlife managers are often pressured to make sure that people, especially children, are not at risk of the injuries (sometimes fatal) that can happen when people and bears are in close proximity.

There are now dogs who have been specially trained to scare bears away by barking at them and chasing them. This is an effective and non-lethal way to avoid conflicts between humans and bears. The Karelian Bear Dog is the breed that is most often used in this kind of work.

Bears are naturally afraid of dogs, and being chased by them often changes the bears’ behavior. They are far more likely to avoid an area after a dog has charged after them, even if it happened in a spot that they had visited many times. In extreme cases, if a bear has become quite accustomed to visiting a specific area, wildlife managers will trap the bear and let the dog bark at it for some time before releasing it. When the bear is released, the dog will chase it, and the people may even hit it with rubber bullets.

It sounds cruel, but the point is to keep the bears away from high risk areas without resorting to killing them. Though bears sometimes return even after such negative experiences, the rate at which they return is far lower than when they are just trapped and then physically removed.

Wildlife biologist Rich Beausoleil has worked with bear dogs for 20 years and has yet to see a dog injured in the line of duty. He says that their efforts have prevented thousands of bears from being shot. The bears have been scared, but that seems well worth it in order for them to remain alive.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.