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The Karelian Bear Dog: an Unlikely Friend to Bears

Updated on January 23, 2015

One of the Smartest Dogs

Have you ever heard of the Karelian Bear Dog or KBD? If you have not, it is not too surprising as this breed has only been in The U.S. since the mid 1980s. This breed is originally from, you guessed it, Karelia; an area in Northern Europe which is currently divided between Finland and Russia.

Historically, these dogs have been used to hunt aggressive game such as bear, moose and wolves. In their home land, the use of these dogs goes back thousands of years and is so much part of the culture that the Karelian Bear Dog is considered a national treasure.

Although not large (the KBD adult is 35-50 lbs,) the Karelians are a smart, fearless breed that will fight to the death to protect their master. It is this tenacity that first got the attention of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks who are responsible for managing bear/ human conflict in Montana.

Karelian Bear Dog Puppy

Karelian Bear Dogs
Karelian Bear Dogs

The Problem with Bears

Here in Montana, we love and are proud of our wildlife which includes moose, elk, eagles, wolves and bears (both Black and Grizzly.) But troubles arise when people and wildlife, especially bears, get too close. Bears are naturally fearful of humans and generally keep their distance but they can be taught otherwise by folks who feed them, intentionally or not.

Both locals and tourists contribute to the issue by leaving out garbage or food (this could be dog food, bird food or even just a grill that is covered in fragrant leftovers.) Or worse, some people actually bait the bears, usually because they want that trophy photograph. The people are totally unaware that after they leave, the bear will keep coming back to the spot where it found food for years! This will almost always result in the bear being killed because it is considered a real danger to the people around, especially children. We have a saying here in Big Sky Country: "a fed bear is a dead bear" and it is sadly true.

The Solution: Trained Dogs

Aside from educating us people, there is another hope for these "problem bears" and her name is Carrie Hunt. Carrie (whom I met about 11 years ago) has worked with bears for more than 20 years and founded the Wind River Bear Institute. Wind River Bear Institute, located in Florence, Montana, developed a program called "Partners-in-Life." Together with government agencies such as Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Partners-in-Life has developed a way to "retrain" these bears who have learned to seek food from humans.

Why don't they just relocate them, you ask? They do, but bears have a stubborn way of just coming back. Even rubber bullets or pepper spray (bear strength of course) only discourages a hungry bear temporarily. But Carrie's program has specially trained Karelian Bear dogs to effectively discourage these bears from returning to human populated areas, thus saving them from being destroyed.

Should You get a Karelian Bear Dog?

Karelian Bear Dogs are beautiful, proud, smart, and fiercely protective dogs. They are not too big, not too small, they are not prone to any health problems, they are gentle with kids and love their humans. So now KBDs are sounding like the perfect dog, right? I mean, what's not to love? KBDs are wonderful dogs; I own one myself. But this is not the dog for tying up in the backyard or keeping inside all day.

KBDs are VERY active and athletic dogs that love to hunt, hike or do any kind of outdoor activity. They will become destructive if not exercised regularly and they do not like to be cooped up inside the house for long periods of time. That said, they also don't like being left outside and isolated from their people. They like to be with you and part of the action.

Another thing to be aware of is that KBDs, especially the males, can be aggressive toward other dogs. If you own one, you need to take total responsibility and control over this behavior. If you are looking for your first dog, I would strongly recommend choosing a breed that is a little easier.


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