The Story of the Karelian Bear Dog
In 1982, after becoming interested in using dogs to deter and repel bears, Carrie Hunt found a breed that seemed perfect for the task—the Karelian Bear Dog (KBD). Unknown in most parts of the world, the KBD has been bred and used by grizzly bear and moose hunters and farmers in Finland and western Russia for centuries. Just as a Border Collie has an instinct for moving sheep, out of each litter some KBDs enter the world with an instinct for handling bears safely. KBDs weigh about 40-65 pounds when grown and are black and white with a raccoon-like black mask around their eyes. Their body is similar in shape to that of a Husky. The Karelian is highly intelligent, sensitive, independent, and purposeful, with an innate love for people and children. Since KBDs are intense, independent hunters, they do not make good pets, as in Russia and Finland they have been culled if they did NOT go off and leave their owners to hunt! Under Hunt’s direction, Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) raises, selects and specially trains KBDs to serve as partners for bear-management specialists and people that live in bear country. Hunt has successfully trained and used KBDs for Bear Shepherding since 1990. For the purposes of Bear Shepherding, WRBI uses KBDs for deterrence, aversive conditioning, monitoring, tracking, patrolling, investigation of conflict scenarios, finding food attractants, capture, early warning, providing a safety net during conditioning of bears, added "volunteer man-power" and public education.
NDOW, along with only a handful of other agencies, uses Karelian Bear Dogs to assist bear managers in resolving human-bear conflicts and thereby reducing the number of bears that have to be killed for becoming too bold around humans. They accomplish this goal through the use of on-site releases and aversive conditioning. During this process bold and/or human habituated bears are captured at a conflict site and then processed. This involves tagging the bear, taking blood and hair samples for research and recording lots of information about each individual bear. The bear is then released on-site, (where it was captured) and shot with non-lethal rubber bullets. At this point it is time for the KBDs to go to work. Their job is to chase the bear, bark in its face and making it run away or climb a tree. NDOW has had more success with this procedure than relocating conflict bears, which just return within days or weeks to the capture site.
KBDs are also used to help managers locate bears inside homes or under buildings. During the winter the dogs help biologists locate winter dens so they can complete research projects. NDOW has been using KBDs since 2001 when biologist Carl Lackey bought his first dog Stryker from Montana. Rooster is Stryker’s son and started working alongside his dad in 2005.
Meet NDOWs Bear Team
Stryker started helping Carl with bear work in 2001 as a young puppy. He quickly learned his job and specialized in going under homes to help scare bears away. He has helped with over 400 bears! Many of these bears owe their life to Stryker as he helped "educate" them to stay away from humans.
Rooster started working alongside Stryker in 2005 and quickly became the leader of the team. His tenacity, quickness and fearless personality kept him from getting injured during over 300 bear encounters! Rooster’s legacy will be long-lived in the puppies he has sired. Some of his offspring are now working bear dogs in places like Montana, Washington and California.
Two of Roosters sons are now working for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in their Karelian Bear Dog Program.
Rooster and Stryker were featured in a 11-part National Geographic series called Animal Extractors. You can also see them in action on The Wildlife Portal.
See more photos of Stryker and Rooster on their Facebook page.