Dogs - good or bad in bear country?

11:32 p.m. on April 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Having recently moved to Montana I anticipate a lot of backpacking in the Beartooths and Yellowstone, both of which have some population of grizzlies.I also have a gorgeous chocolate lab and a feisty husky/shepherd cross. Both great hiking companions. so do I take the dogs with me?

I hear two completely opposite opinions... 1) Dogs will be great at putting bears off coming too near and/or discouraging any attack.... 2) Dog will run off exploring, find bear, panic and run back to master (me..) with grizzly in hot pursuit.

WHO IS RIGHT??!!!can we get beyond folklore?

12:10 a.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Train your dogs well to not run off and you won't have a problem.

 

A definite benefit of having a dog with you is a bit more warning when a bear is on its way to your camp.

12:33 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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There is no sure answer to that question, it is the wonderful ways of animals, they are not predictable. Well trained dogs should not run off, that is good but they have a natural tendency to protect their owners and that could be a problem against large angry critters. I agree they can warn if a bear is near but I don't think if a bear really wants something or is really upset that a dog will change its mind. I have heard of stories about dogs actually getting the bear more upset and aggressive. For me I wouldn't chance my dogs welfare in grizzly country, it would not be a fair fight should one happen between dog and bear. The dog would most definitely lose and that loss along with the feelings of guilt for bringing the dog along would be too much for me. Just my thoughts.

1:48 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Sorry to say this but i've never seen a dog stand up or deter a bear, more like the opposite. We have dogs on the planting blocks sometimes and let me tell you, when there's a bear they run for cover as fast as they can or do absolutely nothing! I've seen dogs bark at marmots and elk but never at a bear.

This poses a huge problem: they might go after a bear out of curiosity, get scared and then run back straight at you like you said. This resulted in a few attacks if i remember correctly. Nothing beats seing your dog coming back at you with a grizzly in tow.

They might also scare other hikers that think your dog is a bear. I've heard of dogs getting pepper spraid. A piece of pink flagging tape around the neck is a good precaution.

I also understand dogs are forbidden in a lot of national parks because they can disturb the wildlife.

So i guess it's up to you to make your own choices, but i doubt there's any benefice having a dog with you in bear country. Put yourself in the dog's shoes: would you bark at something 10 times your size or lay low? Keep in mind my experience is limited to 5-6 dogs and maybe 12 encounters. I'm sure throuthunter knows more about this than me.

I can imagine they make awesome hiking companions though!

2:10 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm with you, Tim. Though I don't share the same burden regarding taking my dog along. (She's a very game little cairn terrier, but just not suited to long treks through the woods unless I'm willing to go where she wants to go, even though she's pretty well-trained.)

In Yellowstone, however, you'll find that the debate is of no matter, since pets of whatever sort aren't allowed in the backcountry. This is true of all the Nat. Parks. In other settings, such as Nat. Forests, there are often requirements (often ignored, it seems) that dogs be leashed.

Having been back in grizzly country both with and without dogs, I gotta admit I like having a well-trained, good-sized dog around. Yeah, the dog's gonna lose any to-the-death match against a grizzly, but I would, too. And while I would be extremely saddened should that happen, esp. if it were my dog, I'd hope I'd be able to find some consolation in the likely fact that it allowed for someone else (maybe me) to escape the bear.

[Brief interlude while I and my dog chase off a great blue heron that's seeking to make a buffet of our koi pond.]

Dogs are wonderful creatures. In fact, based on my experience, most dogs are better companions than some people.

4:29 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks guys - This may not be to popular, but while I truly love my dogs, I sort of come out in the same self-centered place when it comes to choosing between my life and the dog's.... Guit wouldn't really come into it.

Now - The idea of a dog bringing a bear "home to play" isn't good, but it sounds like if I keep the dog close, that isn't going to happen.

Conclusion: I can hike with the ever-loyal lab, I will NEVER hike with the uncontrollable husky. The only reason she doesn't give me the finger is that she has paws.

6:49 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm with you, Tim. Though I don't share the same burden regarding taking my dog along. (She's a very game little cairn terrier, but just not suited to long treks through the woods unless I'm willing to go where she wants to go, even though she's pretty well-trained.)

In Yellowstone, however, you'll find that the debate is of no matter, since pets of whatever sort aren't allowed in the backcountry. This is true of all the Nat. Parks. In other settings, such as Nat. Forests, there are often requirements (often ignored, it seems) that dogs be leashed.

Having been back in grizzly country both with and without dogs, I gotta admit I like having a well-trained, good-sized dog around. Yeah, the dog's gonna lose any to-the-death match against a grizzly, but I would, too. And while I would be extremely saddened should that happen, esp. if it were my dog, I'd hope I'd be able to find some consolation in the likely fact that it allowed for someone else (maybe me) to escape the bear.

[Brief interlude while I and my dog chase off a great blue heron that's seeking to make a buffet of our koi pond.]

Dogs are wonderful creatures. In fact, based on my experience, most dogs are better companions than some people.

I just wanted the last part of this post, I agree totally. I am trying the quote thing for the first time and screwing it up of course. LOL Good point though Perry. Dogs are wonderful intelligent creatures, part of a family and that is why I wouldn't put mine in harms way unless absolutely unavoidable and the backwoods with grizzlies is not necessary for me. I think if I were to need protection I would fair out much better with a firearm of some sort.

11:08 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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I have no experience with grizzlies, only experience in areas with lots of black bears, mostly small to medium size, just to be upfront about it.

My own experience has taught me this:

Depends on the Dog owner, the dog, the breed, how much training & what kind, the circumstances, and so on.

I have had several dogs that I hiked and camped with.

My current dog is an Akita, very well trained specifically as a pack dog to go with me on solo backpacks. My dog carries a pack and hauls his own gear and some of mine. This is my third pack dog, and here are a few things I have learned, some the hard way. I am no expert, but had expert help with training the dog.

Untrained, off leash dogs are quite frankly a public nuisance in the back country, running around chasing critters, running past people on the trail, barking, making other hikers nervous, etc.

Dogs on leash, with some training, are a little better, but if not accustomed to the outdoors the training usually goes out the window quickly once on the trail.

A well trained dog of suitable breed, accustomed to hiking or backpacking, and of the right temperament can be a great companion for someone who is willing to put forth the effort required. Dogs are almost always cheerful, alert,ready to go, loyal, don't complain, don't repeat stories, etc.

However dogs are governed partially by a set of instincts that causes them to do things that at times may not be in your best interest, if you understand that and have control of the dog, and can manage the dog from a distance by voice command (not yelling and screaming) then you shouldn't have any problems. I say "from a distance" because this should be the standard by which your dog is trained, on leash dogs are easy to control, but if your dog is off leash, even accidentally, you should still be in complete control. If this is not the case, more training is needed before your dog is ready, or you don't have the right dog for the application.

As far as protection from bears, dogs are not a match for bears physically. Your dog may not understand that! The same can be true for some of the larger critters like skunks, marmots, raccoons, & snakes if your dog corners them. This is where their instincts can cause a lot of unnecessary trouble for both you and others around you. Your dog should be trained to stay by your side even off leash, alert, but restrained in terms of temperament. This is where picking the right breed, and the right conditioning early on is so important. Certain breeds can stand their ground to a point, and can add a significant deterrent to any further advance by a bear. Any aggressive advance by the dog, or the dog giving chase to the bear will only agravate the situation. I would point out that this is my opinion, others hold a different view. Lots of people in more remote areas do use dogs as a deterrent, but not just any dog you happen to have is suited to this. I would also point out that I do not consider this to be my dogs role, although his size and temperament is suitable for that application.

If the breed you choose loves to give chase to other animals you may have nothing but trouble. I would not consider any dog from the Hound, Terrier, or Herding groups. I have had best results with dogs from the Working group, and specifically those breeds that are sturdily built.

Dogs do posses abilities and instincts that surpass our human capabilities in certain areas. While the dog is a good companion, they are capable of being so much more, this aspect of having a dog with you can be quite rewarding.

You dog can play a very significant role if well trained, and, you are in tune with the dogs behavior, abilities, and body language. Dogs can of course, see, hear, smell, and sense things that we can't, or much sooner than we can. You should consider using the dogs abilities as trail tools to stay safe, rather than using the dog to defend you from Grizzlies or Woolly Mammoths in my opinion.

The dog can serve as sentry, their hearing and eyesight in the dark, coupled by their ability to detect motion should be used to inform you of what is going on around you, so that YOU can make intelligent, safety based decisions. Not so you can send your dog out as your first line of defense, and against what? Most times a Raccoon or other small critter just going about their daily or nightly routine. Or maybe a fellow hiker who is just passing close by.

Properly trained, and again the right breed, your dog should raise it's head and look intently in the direction of a sound, but NEVER bark, or go running off. The dog is to stay by your side, the dog is your tool. If you were hunting it might be different.

Entirely too many people think of a dog the way many people think of a knife. You know, must have the Rambo or large survival knife capable of felling trees, or skinning buffalo.

The well trained dog, like the right kind of knife, is a tool that, used properly, and with experience, can make life easier, safer, and more rewarding on the trail.

I would add that I take my dog mostly in more remote areas, and not on heavily used trails, I do whatever it takes to be considerate of other hikers. We yield the trail if we do encounter others, the dog is trained to sit quietly by my side as I greet the other party, seeing that your dog is well trained puts most people at ease.

8:31 p.m. on April 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Trout,

Did you actually train your dog yourself or some type of obedience school or a combo of both? Just curious.

10:07 p.m. on April 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Trouthunter is a fount of truth on this front. The Park Service and Forest Service areas I frequent are off-limits to dogs, but I see them almost every trip anyway. I personally wouldn't care if they were leashed or obviously well trained/not aggressive, but that has not been the case even once thus far.

Last trip, I saw a party at the bottom of a waterfall... a waterfall I had bushwhacked all day to get to. I was on the bluff above the falls and had intended to hike down. The dogs were pit bulls, and noticed me almost immediately even though the owners had not. They were off leash and immediatly charged to the spot below me, attempting to jump the bluff. They were snarling, growling, and barking aggressively.

Because of this, I had to turn around and hike back out without having the chance to enjoy the waterfall I spent all day pushing through crap to get to. Lucky for me the dogs were too stupid to figure out how to get to me.

On the hike back out, while picking my way around a big tangle of brush and trees that had fallen into the trail, I was approached by three more dogs, also coming at me and growling menacingly. They were a good 30 feet in front of their owner, who I did not even see.

This is not something I would normally share, especially not in an open forum, but when I hike in these areas, I do so armed. I don't do it because I'm afraid of bears. I arm because people do stupid things, and I can't seem to get far enough into the backcountry to get away from them.

It would have really ruined my day had I been forced to defend myself against someone's pet. Please don't take your dog with you unless you KNOW it will not act like this. I missed a big part of the scenery and came closer than I wanted to shooting someone's pet.

10:59 p.m. on April 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Tim,

As you can see it's a sensitive issue!

Stingray..I hear ya!

I used to love dogs unconditionally until i went to central america. When you meet a pack of stray dogs at night you feel very tiny in your shoes. I wouldn't shoot a dog (i don't own a gun) but a good rock works everytime. Usually just picking it up is enough, and is somewhat less radical than killing it. It also works for bears. The size of the rock depends on the threat.

I know it's unthinkable for a dog lover; I've lost friends over this and been judged as an evil dude, but you get bitten one time and you learn. Statistically, 99% of the dogs I've met are ok! I just feel no sympaty at all for the remaining 1%, in the backcountry or not.

The way i see it, it looks harder to keep control of your dog in the backcountry. Maybe keeping it on a leash is a good way to avoid getting your dog pepper sprayed or worst!

11:19 p.m. on April 7, 2009 (EDT)
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I'd love to have a pair of well trained Karelians with me if I were in bear country. They have both the intelligence and instinct to be a useful "tool," and can save your life if the next corner you round takes you face to face with a mother and cubs.

12:32 a.m. on April 8, 2009 (EDT)
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I've suffered more physical injury from ill-intended humans than from dogs. That said, yes, dogs can on occasion be poorly mannered, evil-tempered, vicious, or worse. And I've got no problem with whacking those dogs, either with a stick or rock or in the style more associated with swarthy gentlemen wearing pinky rings and going by the streetname "Vinny the Bull". Just like I've got no problem dishing out the same medicine to comparably undisciplined humans.

I suspect that both dogs and humans are trained and educated, on top of genetic dispositions, to become what they grow up to be, whether it be a wonderful family companion or a rabid Cujo on meth. But self-defense is an inalienable right, in my book.

1:51 a.m. on April 8, 2009 (EDT)
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One of my neighbors was hiking up the ridge behind where we live with his black lab. The lab went off into the brush and woods barking. He came running back with a black bear on his heels.

My neighbor shot his pistol in the air since the bear was going straight at him following the dog. The bear stopped, then charged him again. He shot in the air again and the bear left for good.

I guess that is one answer to your question.

12:18 p.m. on April 8, 2009 (EDT)
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For franc:

I consider myself a dog lover. I love my Shepherd, Max to death, but I don't trust him to behave on the trail, so I don't take him with me. He likes to chase things, and there are lots of things to chase out there.

2:18 p.m. on April 8, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, if you're my hiking buddy Bill, who decided to bring his two chocolate labs on their first backpacking trip this weekend, you might have some doubts. There's no way he could've foreseen one of them running off from our campsite for a bit, only to roll around in some bear sh!t he found, requiring Bill to take him waaaay downstream and wash him off with camp soap.

5:36 p.m. on April 8, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, if you're my hiking buddy Bill, who decided to bring his two chocolate labs on their first backpacking trip this weekend, you might have some doubts. There's no way he could've foreseen one of them running off from our campsite for a bit, only to roll around in some bear sh!t he found, requiring Bill to take him waaaay downstream and wash him off with camp soap.

Better to bring that back than the bear - I think!

11:52 p.m. on April 12, 2009 (EDT)
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wow-there's some serious knowledge and experience on this thread. I end up with a good sense of the right answer here, but with enough caveats to keep an army of attorneys busy. Like someone siad - there's no simple answer because living things don't behave predictably.

5:23 p.m. on April 16, 2009 (EDT)
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I posted this a while back, so I'l give the short version.

1st and only time I was ever rushed by a bear was during a SAR mission. The ONLY reason the bear was interested in us is because we had an air scent dog with us.

5:48 p.m. on April 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Trout,

Did you actually train your dog yourself or some type of obedience school or a combo of both? Just curious.

Sorry jmcwatty, I missed your post as I was leaving to go out of town.

My dog has been privately trained by Edward B. of TN, and by Jason L. of NH. These guys can accomplish in a few days what would take me weeks to do. The dog is trained both verbally and with hand signals.

Money well spent.

5:55 p.m. on April 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Trouthunter, would that money be in the order of $1000/ month, or more/less? Just trying to get a figure for that level of training, as I'm looking into a pair of Karelians. Hopefully a pair of brothers with that "bright twinkle of intelligence" as they say, and one pup displaying a normal dominance.

7:33 p.m. on April 16, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, all told I spent around 900.00 but that includes both basic obedience & private specialty training. The initial classes were done in a group setting and the specialty training was private tutoring, some with me present and some without me present.

Training spanned 12 months, and some reinforcement training was necessary on the trail which I learned to do from the trainer. It's amazing to watch these guys / gals work with the dog, they are so in tune with how the dog learns, not trying to force the dog to be "human", but rather letting the dog learn in a way natural to the dog, I think this is why the dog seems to cooperate with them so well.

I started to go with a Bernese Mountain Dog, but I was told by several people (vets/breeders) that the larger herding/draft dogs are prone to hip problems. I finally settled on the Akita even though they are not easy to train, and are a bit standoffish, or stoic.

That has however turned out to be a good thing for me, my dog seems to be quite content to hang around me and not inclined to go running off bothering other people even though that issue was addressed in his training. My dog is a great companion, and makes friends quickly but not at first sight. I decided to pick several breeds suitable for the task, and then one suitable as a companion for me. I think that is going to be a different dog for different people.

Karelians are certainly worthy of consideration, and most certainly up to the task from what I know. I'm sure you have already done your homework though.

8:25 p.m. on April 18, 2009 (EDT)
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I only have experience with black bears, and my own Viszlas, Redbones, Mixed breeds, and Samoyeds.

I've watched or listened to dogs run bears up trees quickly or into the next county but have also seen bears completly ignore a dog that certainly wasn't ignoring it. I've also lost a dog in a fight with a bear.

I will take most any dog with me into black bear territory if I care too but I sure don't find it a necessity.

8:52 p.m. on April 18, 2009 (EDT)
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I would agree, having a dog most certainly is not a necessity for me either. But I won't take one that is not trained and well behaved, that is too much of a liability I think. Then again the same can be said of some human companions too. HaHa

10:15 p.m. on April 18, 2009 (EDT)
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TroutHunter-that mentioned liability is why many areas limit dogs to leashes. Where I go none is needed thank God.

And your mention of the human companion liability is why I seldom hike with others anymore[to many drunks, knuckleheads or bosses] but I do [often enough now] take two teen brothers with me to teach them some of what I've learned and since I mostly do off trail hiking, they do learn. Unfortunately they are now much quicker than I and I feel like I am chasing the hounds at times but, thats ok, like good hounds they check up on me or allow me to catch up:)

The biggest problem I have ever had with a dog running loose in the woods is procupines-a dog usually only needs to get quilled once or twice to learn not to mess with porky but even a few quills embedded in your dog's nose will probably stop your trip and some dogs NEVER learn.

BACK TO BEARS, to all,-Something most people don't realize is; if a bear takes it in it's mind to want something, it most likely will get it and like a sow bear protecting it's cubs can be very dangerous REAL QUICK...they're normally the dominant beast out there and regardless of what you do to prevent problems, if they seek food, the ground you stand on or anything else, they will do whatever they care to achieve their goal-AND remembering that might save a life.

And a bear can be as gentle as a pup and lick millet out of a bird feeder and never leave a mark or bend and break a twelve inch spike with a corn cob on it. I had one in a lean-to with me that sniffed around and left as I laid in my sleeping bag. It sniffed me and I scould smell its breath but it never touched me. I've watched them bat dogs around, flee or ignore them. I've seen them just about laugh [if a bear ever could] at humans banging on pots and pans and yelling to scare them away or, again, flee at the first sight, sound or smell of a human. Skinned out, they are far more muscle then one might believe, far more-keep it all in mind.

Often in bear county I carry a few firecrackers for around camp. They don't like them at all but I wouldn't guarantee they'll work everytime or at least I wouldn't bet my life on it.

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