Karelian Bear Dog

Karelian bear dog is an ancient breed that was believed to have existed during the Viking era. This medium sized dog is very similar to a Nordic Spitz with its wedge shaped head, pricked ears, and a plumed tail that curls over the dog’s back. Karelian Bear dog that originates from Karelia, a province in Finland is also known as Karelsk Bjornhund, Karjalankarhukoira and Karelischer Barenhund. This breed is considered as a national treasure in Finland.

The Karelian Bear Dog has a Group 5 Spitz FCI classification. This medium sized breed has an impressive coat with black as the predominant color and white markings on the neck, on the head, abdomen, chest and legs. The dog has a double coat, the outer layer is straight and stiff, the under coat is very thick and soft. Karelian Bear Dogs has an unaccountable liking for the snow. The thick coat keeps the dog dry and warm in winter. The natural lanolin of the coat repels water and dirt thus moisture is not absorbed and the coat is kept relatively clean.

Ruthless, unfailingly brave, unyielding, tenacious, independent… these are the distinct characteristic traits that make a Karelian Bear Dog an excellent hunter. The fierce look of the dark eyes, the impressive strength, the magnificence of the stance all points to the dog’s extraordinary hunting prowess. In Finland, a Karelian Bear Dog is used to hunt big game. These dogs are most popular and useful in hunting big game like elk, moose, bear, wolves and wild boar. These dogs were also developed to hunt smaller animals such as squirrels, minks and wild fowl. Because they have an excellent sense of direction and heightened sense of smell these dogs can trail old scents, would tenaciously follow a prey until it is cornered or treed. These dogs are silent trailers but once the prey is treed the dog would bark unremittingly. The dog would nip at the cornered prey to hold it at bay until the master is within shooting range.

Karelian Bear Dogs are devoted to their human family. These dogs are known to risk their life to protect their masters from predators. Presently, Karelian Bear Dogs are used in National Parks as predator protection dogs to manage and to keep bears and other big game out of restricted areas. Karelian Bear Dog owners who lives in an area heavily populated with cougars, bears and other big game have found the dog to be most useful. These dogs protect their children from the wildlife in their area.

These dogs are most suitable companions for people who love the outdoors, for people who frequent the wilderness for nature derived recreation. A Karelian Bear Dog would be an excellent companion in fishing, hiking and camping as these dogs have the instinct and the stamina to survive the harsh and rigorous environment of the wilderness. Aside from the companionship they offer, these dogs that are known for their intelligence, courage and ferociousness will protect their masters from the attack of wild animals.

In Finland the Karelian Bear Dog has not been mixed and interbred with other dogs thus KBD is considered to be a primitive breed. The Karelian Bear Dog is listed as a primitive breed in the American Rare Breed Association and in the Primitive Aboriginal Dogs Society. This is due to the fact that although the KBD is domesticated and was developed and used in other capacities aside from that of a hunting dog it still retains the appearance, the personality or temperament as well as the hunting abilities of the aboriginal dogs that existed centuries ago.


Although medium sized the Karelian Bear Dog are prized for their exceptional ability to hunt game much bigger that their size. The dog is strong with a well developed back, a body that is slightly longer than the height measured at the clearly defined withers, a muscular though rather short loin and a broad slightly slopping croup. Height of dog measured at the withers is from 19 to 24 inches. Average weight is from 44 to 50 pounds. The dog is well built but not massive. A hunting dog would need to be agile and fast. The Karelian Bear Dog’s moderate size is an advantage over large prey.

KBD has smallish oval eyes with a watchful fiery expression. Eye colors can be any shades of brown. The set on high ears are rounded at the tip and slightly angled outward. The ears are densely furred to lessen the risk of frost bite. Finland has long winters thus the dog has a double layer coat. The outer coat is composed of stiff straight hair and the undercoat is very thick and soft. The thighs, the back and backsides as well as the neck are profusely covered with harsh straight hair. Color of coat is predominantly black with white markings on the dog’s head, chest, neck, belly and feet.


One of the reasons why people would opt for a certain breed of dog is for the usefulness they can derive from the dog. The Karelian Bear Dog is most prized by hunters and by people who love the great outdoors. KBD’s are most useful to hunters because of the dog’s excellent hunting ability. But most importantly, these dogs would also stake their life to protect the master. Stories have been told about KBDs who protected and saved the hunter’s life. These dogs are fearless by nature and are known to defend the master from attacks of ferocious wild animals even if it would mean sacrificing their lives.

A Karelian Bear Dog is intelligent, sensitive and known to have a good sense of humor. This dog is very loyal to his human family but is known to have favorites. A KBD is affectionate and loving but the dog would be more demonstrative in showing its affection to a particular member of the family. These dogs are gentle with children and would love to play with kids. However, these are independent dogs and once they are tired of human company they are known to look for a place where they can be alone.

KBDs are not for inexperienced owners. These are forceful canines and owners need to have natural authority to be able to show the dog who is the master. Training should be consistent and the master should be both firm and affectionate. These are intelligent and proud dogs, they certainly know their worth. If the master is not the leader the dog will definitely be. Socialization and obedience training is therefore a must.

These dogs may be well tempered with the family and the friends of the family but they would be wary of strangers. KBDs make excellent guard dogs given that they are alert and would defend and protect the family. These dogs are extremely territorial, aggressive with other animals. They can only tolerate other pets if they are well socialized.

KBDs are high energy dogs. They are used to roaming the great outdoors and as such they would feel confined in an apartment or in a house in urban areas. The most suitable dwelling place for this dog is in the rural areas or in a farm where they can run freely. Take care though not to let two KBDs run together in an unfenced area as they may go hunting.


KBDs are fairly healthy dogs. They are expected to live for 10 to 12 years. Karelian Bear Dogs have an all weather coat that is protected with natural lanolin. Very minimum maintenance is necessary as the coat repels dirt. These dogs however shed heavily twice a year. During these times the coat needs to be brushed daily with a metal brush to remove dead hair and also to avoid matting. Clean and check ears to avoid infection. Nails should be trimmed regularly. These dogs like any other Arctic dogs do not have a doggie smell thus bathing should be on a necessary basis only.


Karelian Bear Dogs are believed to be introduced by the Viking in Karelia around 1000 AD. Vikings kept hunting dogs similar to the Spitz type. These dogs were specifically bred for hunting for herding and for pulling sleds. Bones of these dogs were found alongside the graves of their Viking masters.

Large and ferocious hunting dogs from Karelia and from the proximity of the Russian and Finland borders gained popularity and recognition all over the European Russia and Finland. The dog that was developed and nurtured by the Finns was given the name Karelian Bear Dogs and the hunting dogs on the Russian side were called Karelian Bear Laika. Both dogs have the same appearance and hunting style although the Laika is a bit bigger and more ferocious.

The Winter Wars between Finland and Russia coupled with indiscriminate breeding of the Finns caused the KBDs to be decimated. Thanks to the efforts made by meticulous and conscientious breeders the Karelian Bear Dog still exists today, increasing in numbers and gaining recognition and popularity.

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