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Karelian Bear Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

Karelian Bear Dog

The Karelian Bear Dog is a breed from Finland, bred for hunting bear but also other large game like boar and moose. It is a medium sized dog with a life span of 10 to 12 years and is valued in Finland for its agility, speed and bravery. It has some Spitz like qualities about it such as its cute looks and is also known as a Karjalankarhukoira, Karelsk Bjornhund or Karelischer Barenhund. It needs good training and socialization and requires owners with experience ready to handle it.

The Karelian Bear Dog at a Glance
Name Karelian Bear Dog
Other names Karjalankarhukoira, Karelsk Bjornhund, Karelischer Barenhund
Nicknames KBD
Origin Finland
Average size Medium
Average weight 44 to 51 pounds
Average height 19 to 24 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Dense, medium length
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black with white markings
Popularity Not ranked as not yet a full member of the AKC
Intelligence Good
Tolerance to heat Moderate – will need some extra care
Tolerance to cold Excellent – even in extreme cold
Shedding Average – will be some hair around the home
Drooling Moderate – not especially prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Average – brush twice a week
Barking Occasional – will bark sometimes but it should not be constant
Exercise needs Active – needs owners who are too
Trainability Difficult – experience needed
Friendliness Good with socialization
Good first dog No – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Good with socialization
Good with children Good with socialization and if raised with them
Good with other dogs Low to moderate – not great with children, socialization is essential and supervision needed
Good with other pets Moderate to good – socialization is essential and has high prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate to good – socialization and training is essential – territorial and very wary
Good apartment dog Moderate – needs space and a yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Quite healthy but a few issues include hip dysplasia, eye problems and dental problems
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic medical care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and doggy treats
Miscellaneous expenses $225 a year for license, basic training, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $830 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,400
Rescue organizations Karelian Bear Dog Rescue – California Karelians, also check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 1 Maimings: 1 Child Victims: 0 Deaths: 0

The Karelian Bear Dog’s Beginnings

It is believed from archaeological records and findings that this dog or one like it has been around for thousands of years, its ancestors being as old as dating to Neolithic times. When early tribes of settlers came to an area of Finland then called Karelia in North Europe they brought with them dogs. These dogs had to be hardy, bold, tough and strong and were used to hunt big game like bear, moose, wolf, lynx and also small game too like the marten and squirrels. When hunting the Eurasian Brown Bear, after which it was named it would harry it, bark loudly as a distraction so the humans could kill it.

The KBD evolved in the part of Finland the USSR took and is close in appearance to the Russo-European Laika. While today you see them black and white, back then there were also shades of grey, black and tan and also red. The dog was not messed with for many years. It was first shown in 1936 in a dog show in Helsinki and was a popular dog but then came World War II, a time when all dog breeding came to a halt and some breeds came close to extinction.

New Lease on Life

The breed was saved by fanciers and breeders who were able to collect together about 40 dogs after the war and use them to revive and save the breed. All Karelian Bear Dogs today can trace back to these 40 dogs. Despite their work there was a period in the 1960s when the numbers declined again but since then its popularity has risen and as well as being found in Finland and Europe it is also in North America. Today in Finland (and Sweden and Norway) it is mostly used to hunt elk with and is the favorite dog of Finnish big game hunters. It is viewed as a national treasure there but its numbers outside the country make it rare elsewhere.

 Karelian Bear Dog

The Dog You See Today

The Karelian Bear Dog is a medium sized dog weighing 44 to 51 pounds and standing 19 to 24 inches tall. It is a sturdy dog that is a little longer than it is tall and is robust. It has a long and bushy tail that curls over its back or to one side. Some are born with a bob tail. It has small pricked ears that point outwards a little and have a lining of dense fur to protect them from the cold. Its jaws are strong and its eyes are small. Its head is triangular and shaped like a wedge that is blunt. The dog has a double coat, the inner is dense, soft and insulates and the outer is stiff, straight and short. The coat at the back of the legs and around the neck are a little longer. Usual coloring is black and white, the black is usually dull or has a brownish tint to it. The preferred ratio of black to white is 70% to 30%. In show dogs there should be no black speckles in the white sections.

The Inner Karelian Bear Dog


The Karelian Bear Dog as a hunting dog is tenacious, silent until they have the prey, then vocal and alert. It is bold, determined and patient too. It can be trained to hunt with people other than its master but it actually is a very social dog and can be prone to separation anxiety if left for too long. It is not people aggressive but it would defend itself and its home if there is a real threat and it is energetic. It barks occasionally in the home and needs space and a yard to play in. It is territorial and would alert you to any strange person or animal that gets too close.

The KBD is a dog sensitive dog so is best in homes without tension and yelling and often shows itself to have a good sense of humor. It is a fairly intelligent dog and can be independent minded which means it can be stubborn at times. In order to be a good companion dog it needs experienced and strong owners. It is very loyal but is not for new owners. It is affectionate in the right home to family but is more aloof with strangers. Its protective nature means socialization is very important and strangers need to be introduced to it properly.

Living with a Karelian Bear Dog

What will training look like?

When with an owner who is experienced and able to exert authority clearly over them to show they are the pack leader, the Karelian Bear Dog may be just moderately hard to train. It has a strong independent side and that can make it more stubborn. While having a firm and consistent approach though being a sensitive dog it needs a positive approach using reward and encouragement rather than scolding and punishment. Early socialization is important especially to help it learn how to react appropriately with strangers, other canines and then other animals, sounds, situations and places.

 Karelian Bear Dog

How active is the Karelian Bear Dog?

The KBD is an energetic and very active breed and needs space to live and play in so is not best suited to apartment living and does best with access to a yard. As well as daily physical exercise it should get enough mental stimulation too. Being a working dog it is used to having plenty to do and a clear role to play. It is best in a rural setting not an urban one. If not being hunted with it will need at least an hour a day of vigorous walking. For owners who have it well controlled it would be a great companion when you out on a bicycle or for a jog or hike. It should be kept on a leash as its high prey drive will mean it will try to chase after other animals.

Caring for the Karelian Bear Dog

Grooming needs

The coat on this dog is an all weather one so is able to protect it from the cold, wet, sun and so on. It is easy to look after and should be brushed and combed a couple of times a week to keep up with the loose hair and to remove debris and such. It sheds an average amount so expect some hair around the home to be cleaned up. It should only be given a bath when it actually needs one and only ever use a dog shampoo for cleaning it. Too frequent bathing and using the wrong products can be a cause of skin problems as it damages the natural oils in its skin.

The teeth should be brushed two to three times a week at least using toothbrush and toothpaste designed for dogs. Its ears should be checked for infection once a week, look for signs such as redness, irritation, bad odor and such, and then give them a wipe clean. Do not push anything down the ear to clean it, this could lead to damage and hurt it. Another thing you need to take care with is the nail clipping. Cutting too low can also cause pain as there is a lower part of the nail that has dog nerves and blood vessels in it. Use proper dog nail clippers or scissors and make sure you know how far down is safe to cut.

Feeding Time

The KBG will eat between 2¼ to 2¾ cups of a good quality dry dog food, split into at least two meals a day. The amount can change because it depends on the dog’s size, activity level, metabolism rate, health and age. Make sure there is water for it and it is changed when possible to keep it fresh.

How is the Karelian Bear Dog with other animals and children?

The Karelian Bear Dog can be moderately good with children but it needs good socialization and good leadership in its owner. In fact ideally it is best in a home that does not have children, other pets or other dogs! It can be dog aggressive and often tries to dominate them. It has a high prey drive and that makes it not the best dog to have around other non-canine pets. If it is raised with children along with the good socialization it can make a better family dog.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

This dog has a life span of 10 to 12 years and is fairly healthy though a few issues can include hip dysplasia, eye problems, dental problems and field injuries.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks causing bodily harm in Canada and the US over the last 35 years, there is mention of the KBD. It is reported to have been involved in 1 attack, which was classed as a maiming where the victim was left permanently disfigured, scarred or with loss of limb. There were no deaths or child victims. Make sure as a responsible dog owner you give it the training and socialization it needs, you also give it the attention and care it needs and that it gets enough mental stimulation and physical activity.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

This is not a common breed in North America so prices can be high and respectable breeders harder to find. A Karelian Bear Dog puppy will start at around $1400 from a decent breeder but can go higher if you want a top breeder. You will likely be placed on a waiting list but it is better to wait for experienced breeders than to turn to puppy mills, pet stores or back yard breeders. Shelters and rescues are another option, though it is unlikely to find purebreds in them. You might see and love a mixed breed though that needs a new home and can offer you great companionship. Rescues can be adopted for around $50 to $400.

When you have your new KBD puppy you should take it to a vet for a physical check up and some procedures such as blood tests, micro chipping, deworming, shots, spaying or neutering and this will likely cost around $270. Then there are initial costs for items at home for your dog. A crate, collar and leash, bowls and such. These will cost around $210.

There are also ongoing costs when you are a dog owner. The good quality dry dog food and dog treats will cost about $145 a year. Miscellaneous costs like items, license, toys and basic training will come to around $225 a year. Then basic health care like check ups, tick and flea prevention, vaccination updates and pet insurance will cost about $460 a year. This gives a yearly starting figure cost of $830.


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The Karelian Bear Dog is needs experienced and active owners who are prepared for the time and attention this breed needs. It will be loyal, affectionate, and protective in the right hands but should not be aggressive when it is not on a hunt. Its coat is easy to care for but there will be some shedding so is not for people who want a dog that is light to little shedding. Be sure to buy from a decent and experienced breeder and make sure you socialize and train it well. It is best in a home where it is the only pet and there are no children.

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.