Alberta’s dog program barking up the right tree
A dog is man’s best friend, goes the old saying. That familiar phrase rings true for those Albertans who know about Justice and Solicitor General’s Karelian Bear Dog program. The dogs use shepherding techniques to teach bears to recognize and avoid inhabited areas, helping to keep Alberta’s communities safe and secure. Watch a video of the dogs in action here.
During a wildlife encounter, a well-trained Karelian will force a bear to leave the area by standing its ground and barking. “We are really grateful to have these fantastic dogs in Alberta,” said fish and wildlife officer John Clarke. “The initiative helps Albertans and bears share the land. And it often means that problem bears do not need to be relocated or destroyed because the dogs teach them not to approach people.”
Further, Karelians in Alberta also help to:
• Assist with public education
• Detect wildlife carcasses
• Improve public and officer safety at response sites
• Respond to conflicts involving moose, sheep, elk, wolf and cougar
“It’s also reassuring to know the dog has your back,” said fish and wildlife officer John Clarke. “When I go out with the dogs, they will stand guard and smell for any approaching bear. If the bear comes into sight, the dogs will alert me, and go after the bear, forcing the bear to leave the area.”
Although Karelians are aggressive in challenging situations, they are also trained to be highly disciplined and effective trackers. They will:
• Track bears or cougars coming into residential areas
• Prevent human-bear conflicts by tracking and locating tranquilized bears for fish and wildlife officers
• Stop human-bear conflicts by standing guard while officers set bear snares
The Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) breeds the Karelian Bear Dogs used in Alberta. Through a number of intensive assessments of the dog’s personality and behavioural traits, the WRBI matches a puppy with a fish and wildlife officer. The puppy then works and lives with the officer.
“On average, it costs about $5,000-$6,000 per year in food, boarding and vet care to maintain JSG’s three Karelians; Kuma, Koda and Atlas. That is great value for money – they do a fantastic job.”
As well as keeping officers safe, Karelians help promote the BearSmart program, which focuses on human safety, helping bears survive and reducing property damage associated with bear problems. They also play an important role in bear aversion programs, bear tracking and monitoring, poaching investigations and wildlife management.
For the Karelians to continue to be a successful bear management tool, we need local residents and landowners to be our partners in preventing conflicts with bears. Albertans can support the Karelians’ efforts by learning how to be BearSmart and reporting bear sightings immediately.