Compare a bear to a dog. 500 pounds vs. 55 pounds. 4 feet tall at the shoulder vs. 2 feet tall. Three-inch claws vs. paws.
What is one to do when they encounter a bear? You can get some help from Karelians. They are medium-sized black and white dogs that are being trained to herd grizzly and black bears away from campgrounds, ranches and other places in the northern Rockies where the bears may come into contact with people.
In Montana, grizzlies are a fact of life and they prey upon farms and ranches near their territory snatching a chicken or sheep here or there. Now this scenic area is attracting more families to move in the neighborhood and they are not prepared to deal with the bears.
Carrie Hunt, a bear biologist, is worried for the safety of the bears and began a program that aims to convince bears that people areas are not worth the aggravation. Last summer, a grizzly and a half-grown cub were in the Glacier National Park and they were not showing normal behavior by coming in close to people. Hunt called in her Karelians and whenever a bear got close, the dogs would bark in their faces, and Hunt and her assistants would yell at the bears to get away. When the bears went back into the bush, the dogs and people would stop. Hunt’s idea is to punish the bears when they get close and reward them when they go away.
The dogs never touch a bear and the purpose of their barking is to discourage the bears from getting close to people and their enticing food.
Hunt and others who work with bears view the trained dogs as just another tool for dealing with humans who stubbornly refuse to train themselves to use common sense in bear country.
“We’ve never had a dog injured, a bear injured, or a person injured in 12 years,” she said.