Can Dogs Smell Bears?

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Introduction

Fully domesticated dogs have no place running wild in the wilderness, except when closely supervised by their human. Statistics show that unleashed dogs are responsible for many avoidable encounters with bears, and are known for provoking confrontations out of curiosity. However, no dog is a sufficient match for a bear. If you hike, live, or run in bear country, keep your pup leashed and never travel without bear spray.

It's true that many dogs can smell bears and will react accordingly. From barking to whimpering, or simply sniffing around, there are numerous tell-tale signs that your dog is aware of a bear in the area. 

Bears will likely view dogs as potential prey, which is why it is imperative you remain vigilant and aware when walking or hiking with your pup in an area known for bears. While your pup may tell you there is a bear nearby, it is important to educate yourself about how dogs react when they sense a bear.

Signs Your Dog Smells a Bear

Dogs tend to have strong senses of smell and are very observant of their surroundings, especially when their hoomans are around. Different breeds of dogs will react in their different ways, but many will become alert and uneasy as they become intensely aware of their surroundings. 

Your pooch may start sniffing the area and looking around for clues like tracks or other signs that alert your pup that a bear is in the area. If your dog eventually finds a bear, they may either give chase or become defensive at your side. It's hard to prepare and understand exactly how your dog will react when they smell a bear, but any "on edge" behaviors should be your first hint.

Body Language

Here are some signs that your pooch smells a bear:
  • Raise ears
  • Sniffing
  • Back hair on edge
  • Listening
  • Guarding
  • Whining
  • Barking
  • Alert
  • Growling

Other Signs

Here are some other tell-tale signs that your dog can sense a bear hanging around:
  • Whimpering
  • Aggression
  • Heightened awareness
  • Searching surroundings
  • Trying to get your attention

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Bears

Dogs have a truly uncanny ability to smell specific scents, including those scents of other animals. Dogs have 200 to 300 million smell receptors in their noses, while humans just have around 6 million!  Throughout the years, our pups have learned to associate different smells with different situations. This has helped them understand human wants and needs. 

Both humans and dogs have a specific part of the brain that processes smell as well. Although we both (dogs and humans) have this section, the smell portion in dog brains is 40 times bigger than ours!

It is also important to understand that canine noses function very differently than ours. This goes back to the different paths a dog separates air into. Even further, dogs actually have a secondary olfactory capability that humans do not have. This extra organ - known as the vomeronasal organ - is located at the bottom of the nasal passage.  All this goes to show that a dog's smelling skills are far beyond what we can begin to imagine.

This explains why our pups are able to sense when an intruder - such as a bear or other predatory animal - is in surrounding vicinity  They can smell much further distances than we can as well, so the bear may not necessarily be an imminent threat, but it's lurking in the distance.

Training Your Dog to Smell Bears

Most dogs carry in their natural toolkit the ability to smell other animals and certain scents. However, you can also teach your pup to track animals or even identify scented objects.

If you want to teach your dog to track bears or other animals, you should start by finding an open, grassy area. Training will take time and patience, but with positive reinforcement (aka a handful of treats) and an intriguing scent, your pup will be on alert for bears just in time for your next adventure.

How to React if Your Dog Senses a Bear:

  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Do not turn your back and run.
  • Make eye contact with the bear and yell at it to leave if it charges.
  • Back away slowly, and remain tall and assertive.
  • Get loud and defensive.
  • Keep your dog away.

Safety Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe From Bears:

  • Carry bear spray when hiking.
  • Keep your pup on a leash.
  • Stay on marked trails.
  • Avoid areas known for bears.