Karelian Bear Dog Breed Information; The Hunting Dog From Finland

Karelian Bear Dog

The Karelian Bear Dog – becoming more popular in the United States,

although not one of the common dog breeds. Up to-date information!

The Karelian Bear dog is a medium-size breed of dog that originated in Finland. As the name implies, it was bred to hunt large game animals such as bears and wild boar, and was used principally by Finnish and Russian peasants. The dog would NOT fight the bear directly, but chase and harry it until the bear finally climbed a tree to get away.

It has a dense coat to keep out the cold, and belongs to the spitz-type dog breed. It has a similarity in appearance to the non-spitz breeds like the Samoyed and the Siberian Husky, but is actually a completely different animal in every other respect. They have soulful eyes and a warm heart.

A Karelian Bear Dog standing in a field
Karelian Bear Dog

According to the Wind River Bear Institute, “The Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) was founded in 1996 by bear biologist, Carrie Hunt, to provide innovative, non-lethal solutions to complex human-wildlife conflict issues.

After testing and developing bear spray (perhaps the greatest contribution to the world of non-lethal bear deterrence of our time), Hunt began experimenting with other aversive conditioning tools to teach wild bears how to move around human occupied space, allowing these animals to remain on the landscape without having to be destroyed or relocated. This pursuit led her to the Karelian Bear Dog (KBD) for shepherding of problem wildlife with a focus on grizzly bear.

The KBD is a hardy hunting dog from Finland that is renowned for their ability to pursue and bay large game safely and effectively. Traditional knowledge of the breed indicates that select KBDs from good hunting lines are fearless even in the pursuit of bear.”

Also, according to the WDFW, “The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Rocky Spencer partnered with a young, black-and-white dog in 2003 with an ambitious mission in mind: To reduce conflicts between bears and humans in Washington state.

Over a decade later, more of these rare and remarkable dogs have joined the WDFW, helping investigate poaching cases, providing a deterrent to bears growing a little too comfortable with civilization, and even assisting police in a homicide investigation.

The Karelian bear dog has been bred and used for centuries by hunters and farmers in Finland and Russia, but today they fill a unique role with the department.” 

Karelian Bear Dog – Temperament

This a very independent and self-confident breed, with an excellent sense of smell and of direction. Bred for big-game hunting in north-west Europe, they are courageous and persistent, with unyielding bravery. They initially hunted smaller animals alone with a hunter, and 2 dogs would work together for bigger game. They would harry a bear until it climbed a tree, then wait for the hunter to arrive.

The Karelian is not aggressive with humans, but can be territorial with other male dogs, and the fighting instinct can surface quickly. They are ready to take on any other animals regardless of size, and can be difficult to control if not well-trained.

With its hunting background, this breed is fizzing with energy, and needs a large well-fenced yard to stay in, plenty of exercise, as well as being taken out for long runs. Sufficient exercise is very important if you want to take good care of your KBD. An exercise routine is a great idea. Due to possible aggression towards other dogs, it should not be let off the leash in urban environments.

The important thing to appreciate is that this breed is NOT a good choice for first-time dog owners, nor apartment dwellers, nor owners who are away from home for more than a few hours a day. Despite being independent and self-confident, the Karelian Bear Dog needs human company, and will make a great family member and best friend, but can become bored and destructive if left alone for long. They are better suited to experienced dog handlers.

This dog is not ideal if you have other animals in the house. The general consensus is that the Karelian has a tendency to be aggressive with other male dogs in particular, and just about every other animal in general, period. It takes a concerted effort with socialization as a puppy to improve the tolerance towards other animals, but it can be done.

A Karelian Bear Dog standing on grass
Karelian Bear Dog

Karelian Bear Dog – Breed History

This dog first appeared in the Karelia area, which straddles Finland and Russia. They were used originally by Finnish and Russian peasants for hunting small animals such as squirrels and martens for their fur.

Later, they were trained to work in pairs to hunt and bale up larger game like bears, wild boar, wolves, lynx and moose. They were also used as watchdogs. Conditions were harsh, cold, and dangerous, and only the toughest dogs survived, and were used for breeding.

Organized breeding started around 1936, with the aim of producing a formidable hunting dog for big game that would bark at the prey. Early dogs could have several colors, such as red, red/ grey, and black/white coats. In the end the black/white color became preferred, and the breed also received the name it has today.

During World War 2, breed numbers plummeted, and only 43 dogs remained by the end of the War. The first breed standard was established later in 1945, and the breed was recognized by the Finnish Kennel Club the following year. Although principally a hunting breed, the Karelian also does very well in Search and Rescue, Obedience trials, and as a sled dog in Finland. It is regularly in the 10 most popular dogs in Finland.

In modern times, the Karelian Bear Dog has been used to help with controlling bears in Yosemite and Glacier National Parks.

Vital Statistics;

Height; 19 inches to 23 inches

Weight; 44lbs to 50lbs.

kbd’s life span; Around 12 years for the life of your KBD

Colors;  Black with white markings.

A Karelian Bear Dog lying down on grass in a woodland
Karelian Bear Dog

Ease of Training

The Karelian is a very smart dog, but is used to working alone with just the hunter. This means he has an independent nature, and can be difficult to train unless the correct approach is used consistently.

The best results come from early socialization, introducing the puppy to new sights, smells, sounds, people and above all other dogs. It’s a good idea to enrol in puppy training classes as early as possible, and then in obedience training classes afterwards. While the dog may learn more with a one-on-one personal dog trainer, the classes will help with socializing the dog towards other dogs.

A Karelian Bear Dog standing outdoors on grass
Karelian Bear Dog


As a watchdog, the Karelian Bear Dog is excellent. This breed has excellent hearing, and is naturally wary of strangers. They are alert and vigilant, and will bark at the slightest indication of something being amiss.

They are also extremely loyal and protective of their family, and will put themselves between you and any perceived threat. They are extremely brave and confident, and will take on any intruder if they try to attack.

They do best as watchdogs, letting you know if something is up. As a guard dog there is no doubting their bravery and commitment, but they are not as effective as, say, a Belgian Malinois or a Dobermann when it comes to taking action.


This an easy dog to keep looking good. All they need is a thorough brushing once a week, and an occasional bath if the dog gets particularly muddy or starts to develop a strong “doggy” smell.

The dog’s ears should be checked weekly for any foreign objects such as twigs, grass or insects, and for signs of infection such as redness, swelling or a bad smell. The nails should be checked weekly and trimmed if required, to prevent painful splitting and cracking.

The dog’s teeth should be brushed each day with a small, soft toothbrush and a dog-specific toothpaste, not a human toothpaste. This will prevent dental disease caused by tartar build-up, and minimize infection of the gums, which can affect the roots of the teeth.

Karelian Bear Dog – Health Considerations

General Health Information and Health Conditions – Important genetic predispositions (Inherited disease)

Be aware of your pet’s unique medical needs.

This is a healthy breed with few significant health problems. A reputable breeder will have his stock dogs checked regularly by a vet, and make sure there are no problems with hind legs hip dysplasia nor elbow dysplasia, nor heart disease.

These are the common issues. Hip dysplasia can be detected with hip x-rays. A genetic test (dna testing) can help identify possible issues. Also, progressive retinal atrophy is the most common cause of blindness.

Famous Karelian Bear Dogs

I couldn’t find any famous Karelian Bear Dogs – please let me know if you are aware of one, using the Contact Me link. Thank you!

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