Can Dogs Sense Bears?

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Introduction

If you live in a vast wilderness filled with trees, land, and endless places to explore, it's likely that you and your pup are going to want to venture around together. That being said, if you live in a vast wilderness, it's likely that the wildlife is going to run rampant. With wildlife can come danger - for both you and your dog - especially in the form of big, scary predators like bears. 

While you might be well-versed in bear knowledge and know what behaviors to avoid and how to deal with bear encounters, your dog, due to his or her heightened sense of smell and amazing ears, is going to sense a bear far before you even know you're upon one.

How can dogs do this, and how can you read your dog's body cues to stay alert when approaching wildlife? We thought you'd never ask. We've laid out the most common ways that dogs will let you know they're sensing wildlife - especially bears - and why they're set up to do this better than we are. Read on for more info! 

Signs Your Dog Can Sense a Bear

When it comes to being in the wild, you may have tons of experience. You probably know what to do if you run into a bear, and you also probably know how to avoid them, but when it comes to sensing a bear's presence, your doggo is going to be much more alert than you are. Dogs, with their incredible sense of smell and their amazing hearing, are much more in tune with the sights, sounds, and smells of nature than you! So, if your dog is acting funny, it's important to know what they're doing and why they're doing it -- they could be alerting you to a bear. For example, if your dog senses a bear, you can expect lots of sniffing around and stiff tails, meaning, your pup will likely be alert and uneasy. Your dog might whimper, whine, and stop in their tracks, howling at you progressively as they become aware of their surroundings. Some dogs might sniff for clues and tracks, while others will likely revert to a general uneasy and anxious type of behavior.

Body Language

Here are a few signs that your doggo might sense a bear nearby:
  • Whining
  • Guarding
  • Listening
  • Sniffing
  • Back hair on edge
  • Stiff tail

Other Signs

There are plenty of other signs your dog might sense a bear, including:
  • Uneasy or anxious behavior
  • Aggression
  • Howling or barking
  • Running away
  • Growling

The History of Dogs Hunting Bears

Dogs have been part of the hunting game for centuries, and using pups to hunt down bears specifically is not a special case. It's been said that pups have been a part of hunting since the pre-historic times, partnering up with humans in murals, cave paintings, and other archaeological pieces that suggest humans organized themselves with canines to get the hunting job done. 

In fact, Egyptians used Molossian type dogs that were extremely large in order to hunt a diverse selection of animals that included large game like wolves and bears. Romans and Greeks, known for having lots of time on their hands due to their lifestyle, devoted a ton of attention to breeding dogs to hunt with. 

However, hunting dogs became a widespread phenomenon through the era of the middle ages, when specialized dogs were trained and bred with extremely strong bloodlines, such as sight hounds, retrievers, scent hounds, and pointers. 

The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Bears

When it comes to sensing bears, it really comes down to the sight and smelling abilities that dogs have. Truly, pups have the most uncanny abilities when it comes to sensing big game. Part of this is due to their noses - dogs have an olfactory cortex that's at least 40 times larger than humans, in addition to about 300 million receptors in their noses (compared to the measly 6 million that humans have)! 

They also have an extra organ known as the vomeronasal organ that's located at the bottom of their nasal passage, allowing dogs to smell far more than we can. 

Pups can also hear much better than people. With about 18 muscles in each ear, they're able to modify and rotate their ears like antennae to hear better.  

Training Your Dog to be in Bear Country

While dogs are perfectly capable of sniffing out bears and hunting down a bear scent, it's not always the best idea to train your pooch to do so. If you want to teach your pup to identify bears and other animals, though, you can start with taking your pup to an open, grassy area and bring bear-scented items for your dog to learn to smell. 

That being said, however, it's not always a bright idea to train your pup to hunt down bears, as it can be a dangerous practice. If you'd rather train your dog to avoid bears (which we recommend), we suggest keeping your dog leashed while you hike, always remaining alert, and staying on marked trails. Typically, bears can sense dogs, too, so staying on a marked trail is going to be the safest. We suggest avoiding areas known for bears and carrying bear spray while hiking. 

How to Keep Your Dog Safe from Bears:

  • Keep your dog leashed.
  • Carry bear spray.
  • Avoid areas known for bears.
  • Stay on trails.