People may feel safer having their dogs with them in Wyoming’s wild country, but when it comes to run-ins with grizzlies, a pooch can greatly increase the odds of getting mauled.
“In many cases, a dog (in grizzly country) can be a bad idea as they tend to think they are pretty invincible until the bear decides otherwise and comes after them,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.
When that happens, the terrified pup can draw an irritated grizzly bear right back to its owner, he added.
“These cases of the ‘bark bigger than bite’ type of dog tucking tail and running back between the owner’s legs — or the horse they are on — is less than desirable,” Thompson said.
Tragedy In Canada
That type of scenario might have led to the recent deaths of a couple and their dog in a Canada national park.
At about 8 a.m. Friday, Parks Canada dispatch received a GPS distress signal indicating a bear attack in a remote section of Banff National Park, according to agency reports.
Weather was too poor for a helicopter flight, so a rescue team traveled cross-country and arrived at the scene at about 1 a.m. Saturday. They found the couple, whose names weren’t released, already dead.
They also encountered and killed a “grizzly bear that displayed aggressive behavior,” according to Parks Canada.
Family members of the couple later reported that their dog was also found dead at the scene, and the couple were experienced backcountry hikers who always followed grizzly country safety protocols.
Thompson said the details of that grizzly mauling might never be clear.
“I read about the situation in Banff. It was very tragic situation and no one will ever know the full details,” he said. “But again, this was atypical dangerous behavior for a bear and my heart goes out to those people's family and friends.”
Woman Hurt In Montana
Another couple with a dog fared better Sunday during a bear attack in northern Montana, although the woman was hospitalized.
The 73-year-old woman, her husband and their dog were on the bank of Trail Creek near the U.S.-Canada border north of Polebridge in Flathead County, Montana when a bear emerged from thick brush and attacked her, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Her husband used bear spray, and the bear retreated, according to FWP. The couple’s names were not released. And as of Tuesday, it hadn’t been determined whether it was a black bear or a grizzly that had attacked the woman. She was taken by air ambulance to Logan Health Medical Center in Kalispell, Montana.
Certain Breed Can Deal With Bears
There are certain dog breeds that specialize in dealing with bears, some dog trainers recently told Cowboy State Daily.
Karelian bear dogs, when properly trained, can keep grizzlies away from their owners and even drive the bears off, said Carrie Hunt of Florence, Montana. She’s raised and trained Karelian bear dogs for nearly 30 years.
Dogs that specialize in bear management must be hand-picked as puppies for their characteristics and properly trained, she said. In turn, they can “train” grizzlies to steer clear of humans.
“We’re trying to teach the bear, ‘This is ours, you can’t be here,’” she told Cowboy State Daily.
Northwest Montana rancher Lauren Stoddard recently told Cowboy State Daily that dogs of another stalwart breed, Anatolian shepherds, have proven effective in protecting her property and livestock from grizzlies.
"Our oldest dog (Cyprus) handled a grizzly bear by herself when she was eight months old," Stoddard said. "The bear had come in, looking at our goats as an easy meal. She ran that bear right off of our place."
Some Dogs ‘Better At Home On The Couch’
Thompson agreed that the right dog can be good to have in bear territory.
“Well-trained dogs that heed their owners' direction can be viewed as a beneficial tool to alert backcountry users of a bear's, or bears', presence around camp,” he said. “We have had instances of aggressive/defensive bears being distracted by well-trained dogs to divert the bear's attention to them versus their benefactor and further injury thwarted.”
But it’s best for people to know their dog and its capabilities well before taking Fido out among grizzlies, he added.
“A well-trained and protective dog can be an additional tool for bear awareness, but one that is just going to agitate a bear or bring it back to you is obviously better at home on the couch,” Thompson said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.