Can dogs protect us against a fall season predatory bear attack?
"I was yelling hard and waving my hands as I was backing up. I never wanted to 'turtle' and knew I had to fight. I'm not sure how I ended up on the ground … but I remember [the bear] swatting at me. I just started kicking at her while I was on my back”, said Roberts who was attacked by an angry mama bear while he was running, along with his dog, a border collie named Pacer, on a trail in Forest of the World Provincial Park in British Columbia.
Roberts says Pacer managed to momentarily distract the bear by barking and biting it. That gave him just enough time to scramble behind some bushes.
But then the bear charged for a second time.
"I remember thinking, 'Really? She's coming again? This is not good.'"
So the bear was on Roberts, but Pacer returned and was now on the bear again, this time managing to lead it down the trail away from Roberts, who was bleeding badly.
After attempting to climb a tree, Roberts phoned 911 and staggered back to the parking lot.
Pacer also managed to escape unharmed. He turned up two kilometres away at a friend's house later that day.
"Pacer is my hero," said Roberts, who plans to return to trail-running as soon as possible. "He'll put a chase on a bear or a moose to allow me to continue to run safely. He's a great running partner."
Don't be careless in bear country
Fall season in the bear country can be life threatening. Both black bears and grizzlies are reported to initiate predatory attacks during this season and especially during early to mid-fall when they want to accumulate body fat before going into hibernation to sustain through it.
During my hiking trips in regions of Ontario where black bears flourish, I have observed young couples, young families with children, and even groups, hiking, camping and picnicking without any regards for dangers lurking around. I believe those who choose to be outdoorsy, where an unfriendly encounter with a bear is likely, need to take extra precautionary measures to protect themselves in case of a predatory attack.
Although as you would see all dogs will go beyond the call of duty to protect their humans against an attack by a bear, in this article, I am suggesting that fast running and agile guard dogs that are properly obedience trained can offer better protection. And if you decide on having a dog, two or more dogs are always better guards than one, because they tend to pick courage from the presence of others. Keeping two or even three dogs is not a bad bargain for risky interest of outdoors in bear territory.
The net is replete with comments from hikers who have experienced heroism from their dogs during an encounter with a bear. However, I am drawing conclusion from the following anecdotal evidence:
Another hero dog story
A man who came face-to-face with a protective mother bear and her two cubs said his dog is the reason he's still alive.
Steve Kirchbaum and his lab mix Henry found themselves in the midst of a family of bears while hiking in Washington National Forest of West Virginia.
"I hear this crack over to the left and I look over there and I see these two small cubs, maybe 30 pounds a piece," Kirchbaum said.
Henry wasn't on a leash, and the 250-pound mama bear attacked Kirchbaum.
"She bit my thigh and knocked me to the ground, and so I am on my back and she is biting my legs," said Kirchbaum.
That's when Henry sprang into the action, coming to his rescue and attacking the bear. That gave Kirchbaum just enough time to pick up a rock and fight the angry mama bear off.
"I hit her in the head with the rock kinda right here in this region (hitting his head)," said Kirchbaum. "I didn't want to hurt her, just wanted her to stop biting me."
The mama bear did stop, and Kirchbaum and his dog then hiked three quarters of a mile to the car and drove to a nearby market for help.
A similarity with a childhood incident
I was in my early teens when my parents let us siblings have our first dog – a Welsh corgi/spits cross, probably 20 inches at its withers, but lithe and agile. A friend of mine, who had a mid-size mutt of his own, and I got into the healthy activity of walking our dogs in the nearby wilderness of our small town early evening.
One day when we were negotiating the wild trails as we would do daily, a feral bull appeared from nowhere and charged us. My friend and I tried to outrun him, but to no avail. In all the chaos we decided to let our dogs go free. Lo and behold, they saved us by yapping and attacking the bull from sideways and behind. As soon as the bull would send them off and turn towards us, they would be back on his heels. And when he turned toward the dogs, we would start throwing small pebbles at him from a safer distance. The confrontation lasted for what seemed to be ages. However, the bull finally realized that 4 of us were being too much for him. He lost interest and walked off, our dogs still barking at him.
Recent experience with K2, the Great White Kuvasz
More recently, I have noticed K2 coming to my aid during my lonely hikes when he thought I needed a troubling hiker to show the door.
On the flip side, during a long hike through a farm area in October 2013, fate took a reverse gear on us when two Maremmas livestock guardian dogs came to confront K2 and me suspecting that we would be trespassing their land even though those dogs were nowhere to be seen just prior to our arrival there.
From play to work
My friend's experience
Dogs’ vision is roughly as good as ours, but they have better night vision, peripheral vision and motion detection that can be helpful while hiking in the dark. Their smelling and hearing senses are much better than ours. Their olfactory sense, especially, provides a window to recent past, present and therefore, near future. They can smell presence of a danger much before humans can.
Your dog(s) behaving nervously when outside may well indicate presence of danger lurking nearby.
This happened to my friend Kelly Murray of Barriere, British Columbia. Her kuvaszok incessantly barked and acted extra protective when Kelly was out in her fields and continued barking from inside the home throughout the night. Kelly discovered the next morning that a cougar had spent a major time of the previous day and the whole night hidden in the bushes nearby.
Protection Capable Dogs
I believe medium to large-size agile guard dogs that are properly obedience trained can be a deterrent against an attack by a bear.
Let me remind the readers that not all dogs are capable of discouraging a determined bear. I will take the liberty of suggesting that to take on a predatory black bear via harassing mode, you need to have dogs who are “Protection Capable” in that they are adequate size, are agile, have longer legs for adequate running speed, have greater fight drive, and are obedience trained.
At the cost of repetition, I will categorically state that any dog breed or a cross will come to help its human.
However, if you are living in an area where encounters with bears are high then some of the dog breeds and their crosses that come to my mind are those belonging to the group called livestock guardian dogs or LGDs. Turkish Kangal, Akbash, and Anatolian shepherd dog, Central Asian Ovcharka, Caucasian Ovcharka, Bulgarian Karakachan, Serbian Sarplaninac, Bosnian/Croatian Tornjak, Great Pyrenees, Italian Maremma, Polish Tatra, Hungarian Komondor and Kuvasz, etc. and their cross breeds are the examples. I am listing these breeds only because these are active on guard duties in the USA, Canada, and Europe.
Retrievers/hounds with some guardian instinct are a good bet. So are well known protective breeds or their crosses - German Shepherd, boxers, giant Schnauzers, Boviers, Doberman, Dogo Argentino, Karelian bear dog, Russian laika, etc. and similar dogs.
Why agile dogs?
It should be noted that agile and faster dogs are better able to harass an intruder and defend themselves and their charges, humans in this case, by playing smarter, although if a dog gets stupid, it can get gutted with a swipe of bear’s paw.
Please see the video of how wolves harass a bear. Dogs acting similarly can buy valuable time for their humans.
Another attribute of "Protection Capable" dogs is that they are obedience trained.
It is very important that the dogs know to stand by their humans no matter what. The dogs should be trained for not unnecessarily chasing after critters. Presence of well-trained dogs by their humans can be an advanced warning system for presence of a bear nearby, as well as a formidable defense mechanism.
If your dogs are 'Obedience' trained then you have won half the battle already. These dogs are going to remain close by their humans without being on the leash to face off any adversity.
A likely scene in case of a predatory bear attack in fall season
A predatory bear attacks someone within your entourage or yourself when you are at the outer rim of where the main group and the dogs are. The victim is carrying a bear spray and/or a hiking stick. However, the attack is so sudden that the victim doesn't get any time to pull the spray out. The advantage of having protection capable dogs in the group comes forth in that they are the first ones to get to the scene of the attack, harass the attacking bear without actually getting into a physical combat, and divert its attention to buy enough time for the victim and other helpers to put up a better defense.
Having dogs in your entourage just got you that narrow window of time to, say, deploy bear spray.
In view of the anecdotal evidence, I believe that medium to large size, agile, and fast running, dogs that are properly obedience trained can be a deterrent against an attack by a bear. Although a predatory grizzly bear is more than a match for humans and dogs combined, still, one has a better chance with 2-3 protection capable dogs.
What is your opinion? Do you agree with this argument or not? Please share your experience and leave comments in the comments section below.