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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Ask A Bear: Camping With Dogs In Bear Country?

Got a burning ursine question? Ask our resident bruin expert in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

Q: I like to take my dog with me camping and backpacking (where it is legal to do so).  What is the best way to keep them and you safe and separate? Will having a dog in the tent attract you, or will dogs keep you away?. —Sean McQuade, via email

A: While I'm actually very distantly related to dogs, we generally don't get along. They're all yappy little dogs to me.

A dog in bear country can be both a deterrent and an attractant. There are records of aggressive dogs who take off into the woods, find me, get me angry, and then actually lead me back to the owner, on who I then refocus my attack. Bad dog!

But a dog can be helpful in my backyard, too. They share the same heightened senses I do, and will probably detect me before you do. This can alert you to my presence ahead of time, so you can avoid an encounter or get prepared for a marauding bear entering your camp. Barking dogs often make me nervous, and can deter me from checking your camp at all. Be warned, though: Plenty of dogs sleep through the sound of a bear entering camp.

In emergency situations, a well-trained dog can even serve as last-ditch protection, chasing, barking, and keeping me away until you can get away, climb a tree, or find a weapon. But it's imperative you have a dog trained for this purpose; otherwise, he may give chase, retreat, and lead me to intensify my attack on you instead.

Regarding camping with dogs, there are a few good general rules to follow. Keep Fido on a leash: You don't want him/her running off following his nose, stirring up a bear, and bringing me back to you. Plus, any early detection potential is wasted if he cruises off beyond your detection. In camp, treat my food just like yours—clean up after any messes and keep it in a canister at night.

Ultimately, even the best-trained dogs can get unpredictable around bears, and the lines of communication between master and pet aren't perfect, so the absolute safest thing to do is leave your dog at home. I certainly won't miss him.


Got a question for the bear? Send it to


Donald Wright
Jan 15, 2011

Some of us humans don't care for loose dogs either, however, here in Texas we have a different problem. Wild hogs weighing in at over 200#. Lunch for you, but a problem for us!

the buckaroo
Jan 14, 2011

...have never & wouldn't even think of leaving the hound at home...the wildness is theirs & we are just there to enjoy the enthusiasm.

Jan 14, 2011

I have spent countless days and nights hunting, tracking and treeing bears, mountain lion, and wild pig with a pair of hounds. There is nothing on this plane, man or beast that i would not venture after with a pair of good dogs. I will take my chances with the dogs.

Jan 13, 2011

Nice try bear, but it aint gonna work. Folks who work and make a living in our (it aint "your" it is ours) already know the value of having us stock dogs in camp and on the trail. We are keen on let folks know when you are prowling about, often far in advance of what their meager senses would. A quick stock dogs, note plural because we love team working your ass, can put your poop in a group with our ability to adroitly attach your fat fuzzy ass end...Shoo on out of here! Stock dogs that have a job, i.e. watch the stock and running off bears, typically have NO interest other game because it isn't our job. My master counts on me to let him know what is going on when we are bushwacking across some of the most bear infested territories in the lower US, it his job and ours too. And when the day is over and master is snoozing sweet dreams he knows that he can count on us to keep watch. Guess we are just another part of nature, yep!

Jan 13, 2011

It would be very nice if Backpacker would put a sign on the hikes it writes up indicating whether dogs are permitted or not!

Jan 13, 2011

I was backpacking in SNP and cooking dinner about 50 yards from my campsite as the sun was setting. Mind you I had taken a few swigs off the old flask at this point, but my 2 husky/shepherd dogs caught wind of a bear about 30 yards away walking towards us and stood up growling. They are both very well trained and stood their ground upon command.

As it has been mentioned, what I think is most important is whether or not your dog is trained. What was a pretty uneventful scenario in my case could have been disastrous had the dogs decided to provoke or chase down the bear. Yes, growling could be perceived is a sign of aggression, but after realizing the situation, the big guy decided to split for the evening and return about 1am to try and free my bear canister from a tree no no avail - far away from my campsite.

Jan 13, 2011

My 55lb airedale bit a bear in the ass once when it was trying to get at my bear bag. He then chased it off and treed it. Good dog.
As far as a cougars go, they are calculating animals. I have heard of them snatching little dogs from backyards without a sound but I have never heard of them taking a large dog that will show aggression. Hope to never find out.

Jan 13, 2011

Regarding the comment on Service Dogs--there is no registration for service dogs. The ADA is very clear on what you can ask a person who is handling the dog. You may ask if the dog is a service dog and what duties it performs. Anything else, including asking the handler to have the dog perform a task or show identification, is not legal. This is because not only is asking the dog to do a task infringing upon the owner's rights (and the dog's task may be seizure alerting, PTSD assistance, autism assistance, none of which are simple tasks to demonstrates), but it distracts the dog and keeps it from doing its job. Many handlers train their own dogs and there is no certifying body to give ID to the dog. There are various groups that will offer a test so that someone with a self-trained dog can know if their dog would be okay in a typical public setting, but that's not the same thing as a certification.

I know this because I work in the public sector with individuals with various disabilities, some of whom have service dogs, and because I'm in the process of training my own service dog.

Dogs Best Friend
Nov 25, 2010

"alarming to see a Fido's head sideways in a cougar's jaws"
I wanna see the cougar that could get it's jaws around the neck of my 120lb Belgian Rott... If you're hiking with a pocket dog, he's just an alarm system, and possibly and hors d'oeuvre if things go wrong, I hit the woods with a Gladiator by my side. And they are only "unpredictable" when they don't respect you as the Alpha. I've run into bears many times with my dog and he stands at my side and looks to me to tell him what I want of him, as a "properly trained" subordinate should.

Jul 15, 2010

Mar 25, 2010

Hey Yogi, I think you've raided one too many picnic baskets. Suggesting that in an emergency situation to climb a tree or to find a weapon, is comical. Did you miss tree climbing class at the Bear Academy. And how many .44 magnums have you tripped over in the forest? Also, it would take an awful mad bear to catch a scared dog! And I am totally opposed to sacrificing mans' best friend. Be proactive and keep your dog leashed. The best protection is prevention. Place a small bell on your pack or dog's collar to alert a bear of your presence. A can of bear mace also comes in handy. Happy Trails!

Will Mackinnon
Feb 10, 2010

I have heard both sides of this debate for many many years. For me a well trained dog is an essential on a wilderness hike not just as an early warning for the presence of wildlife but as a companion and as a reassuring presence. By well trained I mean one that responds to you calls or whistles or commands, but an unruly dog can be a liability. An experienced outdoor dog is the best teacher for a inquisitive and energetic pup new to the great outdoors; each generation passes on its knowledge to the next.
There is no reason why a bear or moose would automatically respond to the presence of a dog as a threat, it depends upon the particular circumstances of each encounter. If you are travelling through the known territory of a wolf-pack then keep the dog on a leash.
From personal experience I know, on one occasion in the Rockies, how relieved some back-country campers were when I and my Collie arrived in camp. Before hitting the sack for the night we walked around the perimeter of camp a few times to scent mark the boundary in case of the inevitable night visitors. An uninterrupted and peaceful night's sleep followed!
Remember, observing how a dog explores, reacts and understands the great outdoors with the senses that it has simply enhances the whole experience for yourself. It brings a whole new meaning to "Walkies!"

Feb 05, 2010

I've spent my career working in very large Wildernesses (Bob, Great Bear, Scapegoat, Absaroka-Beartooth, and the Teton Wilderness). Every one of these wilderness had more than it's share of bears of the big brown variety. From my perspective dogs can be one of the best assets you can have in the back country...if it is the right kind of dog. Stock dogs are invaluable in bear country. That is plural, as in dog(s). More than one is better for obvious reasons when it comes to driving off a bear. In the bear country I worked most of the outfitter's who make a living there have stock dogs. Not only are they great around stock, but they help keep camp clean, and are very effective on putting the run on bears. Personally, I have two border collies that are my constant back country companions. I often work alone. Not only are they great around the horses and mules, but they let me know when bears or even moose are around. For one example of many, in 2008 a biologist and I encounter 5 bears in a 15 minute span. It was my border collies that let us know a sow and two cubs were coming up a snowfield straight toward us and were within 50 yards over the crest of the hill. If my dogs hadn't clued us in, that sow and cubs would have been right on top of us before were were aware of each other...not good. Besides, they are my partners and friends, the dogs that is. In addition, most stock dogs have a job, e.g. the horses and mules. They can easily be taught that game is not part of their job and will leave game well enough alone.

Feb 05, 2010

I'm not packing out my dog's waste or my own. Shit belongs in the ground. I have no problem burrying it. I'm NOT carrying shit in my pack. Period!

Feb 05, 2010

If you really want to know whether or not a dog is allowed in a particular national park, visit the PARK's webpage to find the regulations. In Yellowstone's case it would be: Then go: PLAN YOUR VISIT -> (scroll down) -> RULES AND REGS -> PETS. And yes, indeed, at YELL, pets are allowed only in the front country (with restrictions), on a 6' leash or less, and please clean up after them.

Molly Mc
Feb 04, 2010

What about wolves? I know here in northern Wisconsin, our wolves kill a few dogs a year.

Feb 04, 2010

My GSD alerted me to a mother bear and two cubs who were about 40 yards ahead of us, approaching the trail. The wind was in our favor. I told him to sit and be quiet and he did, this time. We watched them for a couple minutes and gave them about 10 minutes to clear the area. Without him, I would have probably made enough noise to run them off and never seen them. However, if he were not on a leash, I'm sure he would have taken off after them, which would have been a very bad scene. He has a "strong herding instinct", a characteristic common in his breed.

I'll vote for taking the dog and keeping him on a leash. Assuming he has decent protective instincts, he will let you know of either man or beast approaching. I've hiked with GSDs for over 30 years, without a problem. If dogs are not permitted, as in the Smokies NP, I simply avoid the park. Nearby NFs offer similar opportunities, are no where near as crowded, and have fewer rules.

Dogs are still used to hunt black bear in VA, WV and other states.

Feb 04, 2010

To Anonymous - Dogs are allowed in Yellowstone. They are not allowed on trails but they are allowed on roads and in campgrounds and parking lots. I know because we just took our GSD last summer. Even in parking lots things can get dicey. We stopped to view a bison - at a distance and from the safety of our truck - and as we were focused in his direction, our dog spotted another bison crossing the road and started barking uncontrollably and clawing at the windows. She is well-trained but would not heed our commands to stop. The bison came within a few feet of our truck before we could get out of the way. I love my dog and take her camping all the time. But faced with a wild animal at close range she behaved unpredictably. That makes her dangerous and we will not take her into Yellowstone again.

Feb 04, 2010

Dogs are allowed in Yellowstone. They must be on a leash at all times and be no fiurther than 100 feet from a road or pavement. However...ADA Registred Service Dogs can in fact be with their owner anywhere by Federal Law.

Feb 04, 2010

Sierra Nevada, John Muir trail. I hung my food "way up" on a tree (did not have a canister) and went to sleep on my tent with my "fierce" beagle next to me. We both slept through the night while Teddy the cinnamon black bear came to visit and ate our provisions (I know, that was so stupid of me to make it so easy for Teddy). We saw Teddy the next evening, when he came back for more food. While we got a pan and started making noses, Xana the Beagle howled and my friend's labrador Brea barked too, without getting too close. Teddy seemed to be, if any, a bit annoyed with our noises and yapping and once he saw now food available calmly walked away. I know it was the same bear because he was waring my missing hat. Now I travel without the dog and with a canister.

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