Dogs in Montana are Being Trained to Keep Bears Away from Humans

Bear biologist Carrie Hunt, of the Wind River Bear Institute in Montana, is training what are known as “bear conflict dogs” in order to scare bears off from entering human settlements. The reason? To save their lives and that of humans who might accidentally encounter them.

As human beings continue to encroach on previously-wild areas of North America, encounters between them and bears are becoming increasingly common. A game biologist by the name of Heather Reich told The Guardian that in the late 1980s, the Nevada Department of Wildlife was getting about 14 calls concerning bear problems each year. Fast forward to 2022, and the number was 1,450 — more than 100 times as many as before.

Karelian bear dog puppy
Photo: Pixabay/Dlearn

Bears in the Wild

Bear living in the wilderness and maintaining their space between human beings isn’t a problem. It’s the ones that lose their fear of humans that are the growing threat. When they enter settlements looking for food supplies it becomes dangerous for them and people. They can cause injuries, damage to property, and even death, so they are often euthanized to protect us.

black bear
Photo: Pixabay/27707

Human/Wildlife Encounters

Biologist Hunt sought a more practical and less violent outcome. So, in 1996, she founded the Wind River Bear Institute, a training facility to teach canines to confront bears before they enter inhabited areas and basically scare them off before human/bear encounters happen.

“The dogs have a body language, an animal-to-animal conversation that speaks much stronger to the bear than I can,” Reich explained. But what does that belief stem from?

Karelian Bear dog
Photo: Pixabay/272651

Karelian Bear Dogs

The thought process is that bears are more afraid of dogs than humans because wolves and coyotes are a regular threat to bear cubs in the wild. Referencing an encounter with a dog, Reich stated, “For the bear, it is a really bad experience.” While no one wants to traumatize bears, the alternative could be their death.

With that in mind, Hunt trains Karelian bear dogs. They’re a Finnish breed that were originally bred to hunt large animals. Her dogs, however, aren’t trained for the sport. Rather, their purpose is to alert people to the presence of carnivoran mammals of the Ursidae family, and chase them out of the area without physical conflict.

Brown bear and people
Photo: Pixabay/Natalia_Kollegova

Bears & Humans

As to our own conduct and lessening the chance of face-to-face encounters, humans need to routinely secure their food stuffs and trash cans, whether at home or while camping, thus removing some of the temptation dangling in front of their noses.
“It is about teaching bears and people the correct behaviors so they can live in the same area,” Hunt concluded. If we’re going to coexist, then we need to get with the program and not lay all of the blame at the bears’ feet.

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