Can dogs protect us against a fall season 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.

The dog that saved his human

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 a long sleep.

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 you would see all dogs will go beyond the call of duty to protect their humans against an attack by a bear, I suggest that long legged, large size guard dogs that are nimble and 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 taking risky adventures of outdoorsy type in bear country.

Central Asian Shepherd like this girl at Frauzon Zekria’s Chopan Guardians protecting her charges are a good bet against an aggressive bear

The internet is replete with websites publishing 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 dog story

The hero dog who stood up to a bear


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.

Dogs can go from play to work in a second

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.

Two Kuvaszok that warned Kelly of the presence of danger outside

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 guard dogs that are nimble, light-footed, and properly obedience trained can be a deterrent against an attack by a bear. In my opinion, not all dogs are capable of discouraging a determined bear. I will take the liberty of suggesting that to take on an aggressive black bear only and only through harassment, you need to have dogs who are “Protection Capable” in that they are adequate size, are quick and nimble, have longer legs for short sprints, have greater fight drive (not prey drive), and are obedience trained.

At the cost of repetition, I will categorically state that any dog breed or a cross may 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.

Turkish Boz like this one and Turkish Kangals can also be a good deterrent against an aggressive bear

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. However, a problem with a guard dog having high prey drive is that it may physically challenge a bear and get seriously injured or even die.

Why nimble and light footed dogs

Simply because these dogs are better able to harass an intruder and defend themselves and their charges, humans in this case, by playing smarter – mock attacking and retrieving for if a dog gets lazy, 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 to reach a safe spot.

Obedience training

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 a deterring defense mechanism.

If your dogs are ‘Obedience’ trained then you have won half the battle already. These dogs are going to remain close by you without being on the leash to face off any adversity.

These 3 sarplaninacs are surely going to confront a bear if the latter chooses to come near their human

A likely scene in case of a bear attack

A 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.

Conclusion

In view of the anecdotal evidence, I believe that medium to large size, dogs that are quick and nimble, and 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 one or more protection capable dogs.

Bosnian tornjacks can also act as deterrents

2 Comments

  1. What a great tribute you’ve written to a lot of very courageous dogs! But I agree with you that the best policy is to avoid bears (and other sources of danger) in the first place so your dog doesn’t have to be a hero. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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