The Story of the Karelian Bear Dog

bear-dogsIn 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 Rooster

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.

Dazzle is 3.5 months old and she’s the daughter of Rooster, granddaughter to Stryker. She was born at the Wind River Bear Institute in Florence, Montana. She went on her first bear release on July 2, 2014. You can see photos on the NDOW Bear Team Facebook page.
Orca Sputnik

Orca is sister to Sputnik. She is Rooster’s daughter and Dazzle’s half-sister. Orca was the pick of her litter and is great at her job. At 7 months of age she met her first grizzly bear and spent the next few years of her life working grizzlies and black bears in Montana. She helped the state of Utah with some black bears as well and assisted her brother with hazing deer off of Utah farm fields. She wasn’t quite as into this as her brother, but made sure the ground squirrels were behaving themselves! She is fast, agile and is at her best when on the heels of a running bear. She is also very adaptable to new situations. At home, though, she turns into a girly-girl who loves to snuggle and must find the softest place on the couch to be comfortable.

Sputnik is Orca’s brother. He is Rooster’s son and half-brother to Dazzle. He met his first bear alongside Orca at 7 months of age when he met a grizzly bear. From then on his work ethic showed through as he takes his job very seriously, although adds an air of pure enjoyment to it. He worked grizzly and black bears in Montana, helped the state of Utah with some black bears and did an amazing job at hazing deer off of farm fields in Utah. Sputnik loves working and is constantly at the ready when he’s in the work truck. He loves kissing ears and toes and especially loves little children! At home he is a bit the introvert, keeping to himself unless you feel sick, then he’ll lay with you all day long. Heather calls him, “An angel in Karelian clothing.”

Make a Donation to the NDOW Bear Dog Team

Since its inception in 2001 Nevada’s Karelian Bear Dog (KBD) program has been paid for by Department employees with personal funds as there has been no state generated funding for the KBD program. We would like to expand the program to include two more dogs that would be used for bear conflicts/bear education & outreach, cougar conflicts and evidence searches. In addition, we would like to have pet insurance on these dogs as well as a fund to assist in their care and maintenance.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to our KBD program and help our Karelian Bear Dogs protect wildlife please mail a check or money order to:

Nevada Department of Wildlife
1100 Valley Road
Reno, NV 89512
Attn – Karelian Bear Dogs

Rooster and Dazzle thank you!

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.