Karelian Bear Dogs
Information, Behavior and Training

Karelian Bear Dogs are a rare breed known mostly for their hunting abilities. But this breed has many other unique qualities.

However, if you are looking for a puppy of this breed, you will need to take into consideration this ancient breed's needs.

Despite being domesticated, this breed still retains a piece of wolfish, untamed wilderness in their blood.

Whether you are thinking about buying a puppy or adopting an adult dog and want to know if this is the right breed for you or just want to learn more about this breed, I hope this article will help you find the answers to your questions.

Karelian Bear Dog History

Also known as "Karjalankarhukoira" and KBD, the Karelian Bear Dog breed originated several thousand years ago in Northern Europe in an area called Karelia, now divided between Russia and Finland.

As the name implies, Karelian Bear Dog was used to hunt bears. But bears weren't the only animals hunted down by these dogs. Moose, elk, lynx, wolf and wild boar didn't have much of a chance of surviving with these dogs. Their loud barks were used to block these large animals until the hunters arrived. Still as of today, this breed is used to keep bears away from human settlements.

Karelian Bear Dogs were first shown at a dog show in Helsinki in 1936. Afterwards, following World War II, the breed was almost on the brink of extinction. Thankfully, despite the post-war devastation, a few specimens survived and the Finnish Kennel Club worked on restoring the breed.

The Karelian Bear dog breed was recognized by FCI in 1945 and by the United Kennel Club in 1996. While this breed is not registered with the American Kennel Club, it's recorded in the AKC Foundation Stock Service. This breed is considered a national treasure in its native country.

Physical Characteristics

This medium-sized dog boasts a sturdy body meant to survive in harsh conditions. Despite being somewhat similar to the Russo-European Laika, the Karelian Bear Dog is a distinct breed. Its black and white coat, focused expression and curled tail make this breed easy to distinguish among other breeds.

The body of a Karelian dog is slightly longer than tall. Its muscular neck is arched and covered with a thick layer of hair. The back is muscular and strong. The moderately deep chest has medium-sprung ribs and an evident tuck-up. The furry tail is carried over the back in a loose curl. A stub tail or a natural bob is also acceptable.

The muscular forelegs are straight, with flexible pasterns. The rear legs have strong, muscular thighs ready to spring into action. The feet in this breed are round and feature thick pads.

Karelian Bear Dogs have large heads. The oval eyes are small compared to the head and, preferably, dark brown in color. The overall expression is of an alert dog. The nose is solid black. The ears are erect, triangular and ready to capture the slightest sounds.

The coat is double with medium-length hair. The thick, soft undercoat is meant to prevent this breed from developing frostbite. The outer coat boasts coarse, straight guard hairs. The only accepted coat color in this breed is black and white.

    Height Weight
  Male 21 to 24 inches 55 to 62 pounds
  Female 19 to 22 inches 38 to 45 pounds

Behavior and Temperament

Karelian Bear Dogs do best in a household with an experienced owner. Still, this is not one of the easiest breeds to own, especially if you have other pets.

For starters, the breed has a tendency to be aggressive towards other dogs. Early socialization during puppyhood is crucial. Ongoing training and socialization is a must, not an option with this breed. Also, this breed requires loads of exercise and mental stimulation in order to be happy.

The Karelian Dog is a hunter with a strong prey drive. Small animals and other pets are at risk for being part of this hunting dog's menu. On the plus side, Karelian Bear Dogs are fearless (how else would you describe a 60 pound dog willing to attack a bear weighting 10 times his weight?), and willing to sacrifice their life to protect their master.

The breed is generally good with humans but can be cold towards those he doesn't know well. As far as children are concerned, this dog is not recommended for families with small children.

If you are looking for a good watch dog, you will be pleased to learn that Karelian Bear Dogs are very territorial and will sound the alarm should a stranger or other animal approach the property.

Karelian Bear Dog training requires loads of patience. This is an independent breed that was used to work alone and away from the owner. Make sure you dedicate loads of time to training your dog using positive reinforcement. The "come" command may be challenging to train with this breed, but this command is important and can be a life saver.

Despite being used to work independently from their human handlers, some specimens may be prone to separation anxiety.

Best Owner and Living Conditions

As mentioned, an experienced owner is a must with this breed. An outdoorsy person who does not mind taking his dog along will make it extremely happy.

Forget about putting this dog in an apartment; this breed needs loads of space to romp around and hates being confined. A home with some acreage and a sturdy fence is recommended.

Activity and Exercise

Karelian Bear Dogs were bred to work by keeping a large animal at bay for a very long time. Because they used to spend a lot of time hunting and working, they have a great need for space to run free. Exercise and loads of mental stimulation are very important with this breed.

If you think you have what it takes to own this energetic breed, get ready to spend a lot of your time outdoors. A brisk one-hour walk is just an appetizer with this breed. If you have a bike or love to jog, this breed can get rid of pent-up energy by jogging along.

Regardless of what exercise regimen you choose, just make sure you meet your Karelian Bear Dog's exercise needs; otherwise, this dog tends to become quite destructive when bored.


Despite the double coat, this breed has minimal grooming requirements. An occasional brushing will keep the coat in good shape. This breed is an average shedder.

Also, similar to other Arctic breeds, these dogs lack that typical "doggie odor" so they don't require frequent bathing as in other breeds.

Health Concerns

This is a relatively healthy and hardy breed. However, it's still important that you purchase Karelian Bear Dog puppies from reputable Karelian Bear Dog breeders.

Even healthy dogs get sick. While many health problems will require an immediate attention from your Vet, there are many others that you may handle on your own. Learn how to save time and money (and how to prevent small problems from becoming big problems) by diagnosing and treating dog health problems that don't require your Vet's attention.

Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for healthy Karelian Bear dogs is between 10 and 13 years.

Final Thoughts...

Still interested in Karelian Bear Dogs? Just keep in mind that this is not a breed for the casual dog owner. However, if you seriously believe you have what it takes to own this breed, you will need to be extra-patient as Karelian Bear Dog puppies are not easy to find. With only about 300 specimens in the USA, finding Karelian Bear Dogs may be challenging and you may need to be put on a long waiting list.

Did you ever consider adopting your next pet?

If this is the breed you are interested in, and adoption appeals to you, consider contacting your local Karelian Bear Dog rescue and adoption center. There are thousands of pets waiting for a loving home and, yes, it's possible to adopt a purebred dog.

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