Karelian Bear Dog

Interested in the bear hunting dog of Finland? We explain their history, personality, and a whole lot more in today’s breed guide!

The portrait of Karelian Bear Dog

Height: 19-23.5 inches
Weight: 20-22 kilos
Lifespan: 11-13 years
Pedigree? (registered with the KC?): No, this breed is not registered with the Kennel Club.

Positives and Negatives

These are the basic pros and cons of the Karelian Bear Dog.

Pros:

  • Excellent watchdogs
  • Tolerant to cold weather climates
  • Intelligent and easy to train
  • Protective of their family, great guard dog

Cons:

  • Not ideal for first-time owners
  • Doesn’t like being left alone, prone to separation anxiety
  • Isn’t suitable for an apartment lifestyle
  • Aggressive towards other dogs and animals

Overview

The Karelian Bear Dog is a Finnish breed with an extra special job! They have developed into fearless hunters brave enough to face off with bears. Wildlife agencies in Canada, Japan, and the USA have noticed the dog’s ability to protect humans from dangerous wildlife and vice versa.

These dogs are protective of their families, guarding those within their household. They aren’t sociable with other animals and are known to display signs of aggression. If this dog isn’t being used for working purposes, intense socialization from an early age will be required.

A cute Karelian bear dog standing in the field

Thanks to their thick coat, this breed can tolerate the cold temperatures whilst working in the Scandinavian regions. They are moderate shedders so won’t be ideal for allergy sufferers. Overall the breed is fairly easy to groom despite their size.

The bear hunting dog won’t be ideal for first-time owners. Although they are deeply loyal to their master, they still require firm leadership to guide them down the straight and narrow! Training this dog for working purposes won’t be easy and isn’t for the faint-hearted. A nervous or anxious owner will find their position of dominance challenged.

History

Karelian Bear Dogs originate from Northwestern Europe. They’re native to Finland and are listed as one of the countries top ten dog breeds. Whilst these canines were bred to be courageous hunters, many noticed their skills at managing wildlife.

Since the early 2000s, countries have begun using bear dogs to prevent human contact with dangerous wildlife. Yet this wasn’t their initial purpose. Finnish and Russian peasants would use them for hunting, watching, and guarding. They were trained to bark at large game allowing the hunters a shot but could also hunt independently.

Moose, Lynx, Bears, Elk, and Wild Boars were just some of the game the bear hunting dogs would target. They are a member of the Spitz family and are descendants of the now-extinct Komi Dog. Their ancestors were found alongside the Komi people who originated from North East European Russia.

Originally, this canine had grey, red/grey, and black/white coats. In 1936 it was decided that only dogs with the black and white coat would be bred. At the same time, they were handed their name the Karelian Bear Dog. Not long after in 1946, the Finnish Kennel Club registered the first dogs of the breed.

Today, in some parts of Scandinavia, the Karelian Bear Dog is still an avid hunter. They are deeply treasured in their native land, although the Finnish Spitz did take the title of National Dog of Finland! Here, the breed is known by its Finnish name Kajalankarhukoira.

Related: Check out this guide for help choosing between Show Cocker Spaniels and Working Cocker Spaniels.

Personality

Dogs that hunt bears won’t be particularly friendly. They have been trained to be fearless, courageous, aggressive, and brave. To their owners, they will offer their complete loyalty and protection. With the right master, this pooch can be an excellent working dog.

These canines are energetic, loyal, and hold natural hunting instincts. They’re mostly found as working dogs with a minority used for companionship. Although they are prone to separation anxiety they do have a streak of independence. The breed may wander off on an exploration which could result in them becoming lost.

Are Karelian Bear Dogs Good With Strangers?

No, these dogs don’t do well with strangers. As guard and watchdogs, this breed will naturally be cautious and suspicious towards those they don’t know. If a stranger enters their territory, the dog will bark to alert its owners. Human friends they’ve met before will be happily welcomed into the home.

Karelian Bear Dog walking with owner

Are Karelian Bear Dogs Good With Children?

Yes, Karelian Bear Dogs get along well with children and will protect them as they would any other member of the household. Their playful, energetic nature makes them an excellent companion to have by a child’s side. Due to their size, smaller children could be knocked down during play.

Are Karelian Bear Dogs Ok With Other Dogs?

No, these canines don’t tolerate other dogs very well and could become aggressive. This breed holds a natural tendency to attack and chase other animals. Whilst they can live with other dogs and cats, they prefer being the only pet in the household. If you are thinking of introducing other pets it must be done during the puppy stage.

Exercise

High in energy, this breed will need a number of walks each day spending a minimum of one hour outdoors. Due to their prey drive and aggressive tendencies towards other animals, they should never be allowed off-leash. Karelian Bear Dogs will need access to a garden that is completely escape-proof. Apartments aren’t suitable.

Karelian Bear Dog standing on the grass

Mental stimulation is incredibly important if this breed isn’t being used as a working dog. They can quickly become bored which could result in behaviors such as excessive chewing and barking. Hiking, swimming, jogging, and other strenuous exercise is needed for 30 minutes each day.

Related: Learn all about emotional support dogs in our comprehensive guide.

Health

Check out the breed-related health issues of the Karelian Bear Dog below:

  • Hip Dysplasia- Poor development of the hip joint will cause the ball of the femur and socket of the hip to grind and rub against one another. This can cause pain, inflammation, swelling, and lameness and will lead to arthritis.
  • Cataracts- A dog could lose its vision if abnormal cloudiness appears within the eye. This malformation occurs after a change in lens condition. If large, vision will become obstructed, blocking light from the retina and resulting in blindness.
  • Obesity- Unless caused by a health condition, obesity is preventable. Excess body fat can cause further health complications. It is important that exercise is maintained and food is managed.

Intelligence & Training

Karelian Bear Dogs need an experienced owner that knows how to handle and train bear hunting dogs. These canines can be lethal if left in the wrong hands. Their tendency of aggression towards other animals can be calmed with the correct amount of socialization. Time, training, and love can turn these dogs into good family pets.

Firstly, this breed needs to understand who is boss. Confidence is key here. If a dog can see you acting timid or nervous, or if you lack consistency, they will walk all over you! A dog of this size must acknowledge their house rules and your ownership. Once you’ve developed that bond, the Karelian Bear Dog will start to show their loyalty.

Maturity should be expected around the two-year mark. Until then expect signs of puppy behavior. This breed will be a challenge and even experienced trainers often source help from those with knowledge of the Karelian! These dogs will ignore you as and when they please. When they disregard a command they must be shown the behavior is wrong.

It is important to know the balance between firm training and harsh training. In a worst-case scenario, the Karelian Bear Dog could become aggressive towards their handler out of fear. Be gentle, consistent, and always reward them with praise. Rewards of affection are loved by this loyal pooch. Avoid handing out too many food treats.

Related: Read our guide to the Curly Coated Retriever next.

Grooming

Karelian Bear Dogs are average shedders and will need to be brushed once a week. During the Spring and Autumn shedding seasons, brushing will be needed more frequently. It is during this period that the dog will ‘blow out’ their coats. Grooming rakes, metal combs, and bristle brushes are suitable for this Karelian Bear Dog’s coat.

These canines aren’t known to smell of doggy odor. Baths won’t be needed frequently, only on the odd occasion. Karelian Bear Dogs can be left to air dry, but if they live in colder temperatures it is best to dry them quicker with a blow dryer.

Karelian Bear Dog running

Grooming is a fantastic way to build a bond with the Karelian Bear Dog. Techniques should be introduced during the puppy stage, so they are used to being handled. Consistent brushing will reduce the need for baths as their natural oils will look after the coat.

Nails grow quickly on the Karelian Bear Dog and will need filing down every 14 days to prevent them from splitting. The ear canal will collect debris which must be cleaned every week. Failure to do so can result in ear infections. Dental hygiene is incredibly important and often forgotten. Vets recommend teeth are brushed daily.

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