Bears are afraid of dogs but may also be more inclined to attack people who are waking with dogs. The dog may antagonize the bear and escalate a confrontation.
A dog who barks at a bear who is not showing threatening behaviors may cause the bear to feel cornered and strike out of self-defense.
The major study into this topic, which took place between 2010 and 2014, found that 53% of all bear attacks involved dogs, three of which led to human fatalities. Bear encounters involving dogs are more likely to escalate to confrontation than bear encounters not involving dogs.
The authors concluded that many bear attacks are triggered by the presence of a dog.
Bear spray is statistically a better defence from bears than dogs.
Important: This is general information for education and entertainment purposes only. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.
The Facts: Dogs Cause Negative Bear Encounters
The above study found that dogs can trigger bear attacks by intimidating, cornering, and antagonizing bears. Their instinct is to bark out of self-defence and to defend the owner.
Encounters between dogs and bears are often seen by both creatures as competitions for dominance. When a dog barks at a bear, the bear has the choice to retreat and implicitly show submission, or defend itself against an animal perceived to be a competitor.
Bears may look at a dog and fancy its ability to stand its ground given that dogs are smaller than bears. By contrast, humans are taller than most bears, and have a scent that most bears associate with an apex predator.
Thus, when a dog is present, a bear encounter can escalate more rapidly than if it were not present.
Can Dogs Protect You?
While on balance it appears dogs do more harm than good during bear encounters, it is true that dogs have managed to get bears to back down during encounters.
Dogs add numbers to your ‘pack’, causing bears to think twice before fighting. This example shows that a group of four dogs, plus their dog walker, managed to fend-off a bear attack, and the dog walker credits the dogs for saving him.
In this instance, the fact there were four dogs may have been an important factor. Furthermore, the bear may not have approached if the dogs were not there in the first place.
Related: Are Bears Canines?
Dogs vs Bear Spray (Which is a Better Defence?)
Bear spray is far more effective at protecting you from a bear attack than dogs. Dogs may provide psychological reassurance, but bear spray statistically will lead to less negative encounters and deaths.
The above study shows encounters between bears and dogs have (a) escalated the situation, and (b) led to both dog and human deaths.
By contrast, studies of bear spray show that it is remarkably effective at preventing injury from bears and repelling bears.
The major study on bear spray efficacy is Smith et al (2010). This study looked at all reported instances where bear spray was deployed in Alaska between 1985 and 2006.
The study found zero instances where someone was killed after deploying bear spray over the 21-year period.
Furthermore, 98% of the time there was no injury, and in the 2% of the times when people were injured, no hospitalization was required.
We can conclude:
- Dogs often antagonize bears and make bears more likely to attack. Defensive use of bear spray does not make bears more likely to attack.
- Dogs and humans do die from bear attacks instigated by negative bear-dog encounters.
- Bear spray is statistically extremely effective at deterring bear attacks and preventing injury and death.
Will Bears Attack My Dog?
Bears don’t generally come looking to attack a dog. During an encounter, it’s generally the dog who is the aggressor.
Furthermore, most bears, especially black bears, are small and docile. They will go well out of their way to avoid a negative encounter.
However, large male bears or mother bears may stand their ground. This can lead to damage to both the bear and your pet.
When bears stand their ground, it may be because they see the dog as a competitor. The bear sees the dog as a threat to its dominance and will fight back to show the dog who is boss.
The bear may also stand its ground if it does not see a viable way to escape or if the dog continues to pursue the bear as it’s retreating.
In rare instances, bears may see your dog as an easy meal.
This example highlights an instance where a dog stalked a dachshund and attacked it at an opportune moment, supposedly in order to eat it.
Will My Dog Attack a Bear?
Yes, many dogs will go into an instinctive aggression mode when they see a bear. Even a seemingly tame and docile dog can have an instinct to see bears as threats and competitors.
Dogs by nature have a sense of smell that makes them great in tracking and warning their owners in advance of any nearing danger.
Dogs will see bears as a threat to not only themselves, but you. If your dog is protective of you, then it will likely bark at the bear and try to confront it.
While bears generally run away from a dog, the best encounter between a dog and a bear is to have no encounter at all.
It’s always best to keep your dog on a leash when they are accompanying you on a hike or a camping trip.
How To Handle A Bear Encounter With Your Dog
It’s important to take into consideration that, despite all positive or negative odds, an encounter can at times become unavoidable and it’s always best to be prepared for the worst.
The following are some points that will guide you through an encounter with a bear and your dog, considering that the situation has not escalated out of hand-
- If the bear hasn’t spotted you, it’s best to quickly vacate the area. Make sure you keep an eye on the bear and have control over your dog.
- In a situation where the bear has seen you, try to keep your dog calm as much as possible without making any sudden moves. Don’t try to approach the bear. Leave the area as quickly as possible without running.
- If you feel that the bear is not backing away and there is any change in its behavior, you should give the bear as much space as possible, maintaining a good amount of distance from you and your dog.
- If the bear is in close vicinity to you, focus on keeping your pet calm with a soothing voice and slowly back away from the bear to get yourself out of the encounter.
- In an encounter with a bear, always make sure that there is a clear escape route open for the bear to get away. Always give it the option to flee.
So, Should You Take Your Dog Hiking?
Many hiking trails are dog-free trails specifically to prevent negative encounters between dogs and wildlife.
However, if you’re allowed to take dogs on a trail, ensure your dog is well-trained and prepared:
- Train your dog not to charge at or bark at wildlife or other hikers.
- Be sure your dog is healthy and that it is fit enough to take on the hike safely.
- Carry necessary equipment including poop bags, a pet first aid kit, food and snacks for your dog, water supply, collar with ID tags, etc.
- Pack out everything you take into the wilderness, including dog poop.
To protect your dog against any harm from bears, consider the following steps:
- Remember that you are in charge of your own and your dog’s safety. The best way to protect yourself from a bear attack is giving bears a lot of warning that you are nearby, avoiding them, and having bear spray for a last resort.
- Make sure your dog is on a leash if you are in an area that is frequented by bears.
- Bears can be driven away by loud noises. Make some loud sounds when taking your pet out during the night.
- Make sure you feed your dog away from the campsite to avoid bringing back any odor.
- Store your dog’s food properly in order to avoid attracting any hungry bear.
- Don’t rely on your dog to protect you.
Bear attacks are very rare. Bears don’t exactly go looking to attack humans, they are just looking for food. While many people take dogs hiking with them for protection, the reality is that dogs will more likely instigate a confrontation than prevent one.
Therefore, taking a dog with you in bear country poses its own risks. Your dog needs to be obedient and well-trained. While sometimes a dog can protect you from bear attacks, it can also get you into trouble that you wouldn’t have encountered if your dog weren’t there to stir up trouble. Bear spray remains the most effect peaceful way to deter bears at close range.