A Complete Guide to the Karelian Bear Dog Breed

Karelian Bear Dog in sunny field

Karelian Bear Dog Breed Info

If you're looking for a dog to hunt some large game, the Karelian Bear Dog is the best dog breed choice. This breed is native to Finland, called Karjalankarhukoira (yeah, try saying that 5 times fast).

The Karelian Bear Dog, considered a national treasure, is the 10th most common breed in Finland. Although this breed is purebred, the American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn't fully recognize this breed. They're in the AKC's stock service to record the breed's lineage, allowing them to compete in some dog competitions. They're excellent at training, and although they may partake in a dog competition, they're best at hunting or wildlife control.

This breed isn't good for first-time owners or apartment life. They can get along well with children, but their rough play might be too much for young children. Sometimes they spell this breed's name as Carelian Bear Dog with a C, although it refers to the same breed. This complete guide will help you decide if the Karelian Bear Dog is the right fit for you.

closeup of a black Karelian Bear dog

Karelian Bear Dog History

You can trace these working dogs to Neolithic times (a.k.a. the final period of the Stone Age, 4,500 B.C.) because archaeological findings have evidence of this breed in Europe and Scandinavia.

The breed is part of the Spitz-type breed, and they existed in Northeastern Europe. They have used this Finnish breed hunting dog for bear control in North America, specifically Yosemite National Park and Glacier National Park. The Karelian Bear Dog puppy has found a home in the Wind River Bear Institute in the United States, where their breed profile makes them perfect fits for controlling wildlife. They're still used today to control some wildlife species in national parks. This hunting dog breed controls the likes of wild boar, bear, moose, and other big game animals.

They still use this hunting dog in Scandinavia today. They've earned the nickname Russian Karelian Bear dogs because of their bear hunting skills. In Scandinavia, although they're referred to as a Russian Bear Dog, they hunt other large animals like elk and moose, too.

The Karelian Bear Dog puppy almost went extinct after World War II, and you can trace all the Karelian Bear Dogs to the 40 dogs saved during World War II.


Karelian Bear Dogs are 19 to 24 inches tall and weigh between 44 to 50 pounds. Male Karelian Bear Dogs are usually larger, standing between 21 to 24 inches tall, and female Karelian Bear Dogs are between 19 to 22 inches tall. These dogs are big and strong enough to have a history of hunting aggressive animals like bears, wild boars, moose, wolves, and lynxes.


Like the Karelian Bear Dog, a purebred dog is strong, alert, and fearless. They trained this breed to hunt big game. Because of this history, they can take a lot of socialization training to keep them as household pets. Their confidence and bravery make them excellent watchdogs, but they can become aggressive to other animals or people because of their hunting skills.

A solid and energetic dog like the Karelian Bear Dog needs a large yard to stay happy. They need space to dig, run, and make a mess. If they don't meet this need, they're likely to destroy homes by chewing or digging inside. This breed needs a lot of companionships to stay happy, and it's important to slowly introduce them to new people to make new friends.

Closeup of a reddish-brown Karelian Bear dog with snow on its snout


The Karelian Bear Dog breed is not the best match for first-time owners because these pets need a lot of training to be on their best behavior. To avoid unwanted behaviors, dog owners must be very patient and consistent when providing training sessions to these dogs.

These pets have great intelligence and can be exceptional watchdogs. Many big game hunters love this breed because they're so intelligent and great at their jobs, making beautiful pets. They need a log of human companionship to stay happy, but as long as they get plenty of attention and verbal praise, a Karelian Bear Dog can be a wonderfully trained pet.


The Karelian Bear Dog has primarily black fur with white markings. These dogs often have brown highlights on their black fur, but they also have wolf gray, black and tan, or red-colored fur.

They're average shedders and will have two considerable shedding periods during a year. When there are significant changes in the season, these dogs will have a big coat blowout and need more grooming.

Karelian Bear Dog Health Overview

The Karelian Bear Dog is overall a very healthy breed. Even though these dogs are pretty healthy, they have some minor physical health concerns. Many dogs in this breed will live long lives without ever experiencing any physical health concerns. The average Karelian Bear Dog will have a life expectancy of 10 to 13 years.

Although some dogs might experience physical ailments, all dogs will experience psychological issues like stress and anxiety at some point. Owners can easily help their dogs overcome these symptoms by understanding their cause of them, the signs your dog shows, and the best steps to take to help relieve them of their stress and anxiety.

Black and white Karelian Bear dog on a bench in the autum woods. Low angle view looking up.

Common Psychological Health Conditions


Many dogs struggle with stress, and the most common causes of stress are poor socialization skills and noise-induced stress. Dogs have significantly better hearing than humans, so many dogs hate fireworks, sirens, or thunderstorms. These things commonly cause stress in dogs. If you haven't properly socialized your Karelian Bear Dog, they're much more likely to experience stress in new environments, around other animals, or near large groups of people.

Your Karelian Bear Dog might show some common signs of stress when experiencing this psychological response. They may tuck their tail between their legs or tuck their ears back. Some dogs hide behind their owners or sit as close as possible to their owners as they continually push themselves to their owner's sides to feel safe. Some animals will nip at their owner's hands or try to push their owners in the thing's direction, causing them stress.

If your dog is suffering from signs of stress, the best thing you can do is remove them from the stressful environment. If that isn't an option, make sure you have calming supplements on hand if your pet needs them in times of stress. Purchasing calming dog treats and supplements will help to calm down your dog.


Almost all dogs face anxiety in their lives. Even though Karelian Bear dogs have fought bears, they still love cuddle time with their humans. Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety when they're left alone for too long, and the Karelian Bear Dog might also struggle with this. These dogs have a ton of energy, and if they don't get enough exercise or mental stimulation, they're likely to suffer from anxiety as they have no healthy way to release their pent-up energy.

Commons signs your Karelian Bear Dog might show when they have anxiety are shivering, pacing, whining, or shaking. These dogs might also try to hide behind their owners or tuck their tails between their legs. Many dogs with separation anxiety trash their owner's houses when they're left alone for too long. Although it may seem spiteful, dogs often trash the house because they suffer from a panic attacks. It's just an outlet for their excess energy, but it's hard to remember when the bottom of your door gets chewed off.

There are plenty of ways Karelian Bear Dog owners can help their pups overcome these symptoms. It's best to treat anxiety naturally before using medications. If you aren't sure your Karelian Bear Dog is getting enough physical or mental stimulation, provide more to curb their anxiety symptoms. You can also try providing your pet with a safe space or calming dog CBD.

Calming Dog Products

Many pet owners have created safe spaces for their dogs. They make these spaces with many objects that help relax an anxious and stressed-out dog. Karelian Bear Dog owners should know they can easily make one of these spaces in their homes. They must first find a place that is quiet and away from a lot of foot traffic and then set it up in a way that optimizes your dog's comfort.

Pet owners commonly put calming dog beds in their pet's safe space. Along with the dog bed, they include a water bowl, some blankets, and some toys. They might also include Zen treats, aromatherapy, or music therapy. The sky's the limit when making these spaces for your pet, and you can include anything you think would help keep them calm.

Young reddish-brown Karelian Bear dog in the woods

Common Physical Health Conditions

Eye Problems

Although it sounds terrifying, many dog breeds suffer from some common eye problems. Issues like entropion, ectropion and distichiasis are common in many breeds, including the Karelian Bear dog breed. When these conditions affect dogs, they're usually mild cases that can irritate.

Different eye conditions have different symptoms, and they can see them by examining your dog's eye. Don't touch your pet's eye if you're trying to figure out if they have these conditions. Instead, support their chin with one hand while giving them a treat while you look at their eyes without touching them. If your pet has entropion, part of their eyelid will roll inwards towards the eye. Ectropion will cause your dog's eyelid to roll outwards, and this condition is common in Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and many other breeds. A great example of ectropion is the stereotypical saggy eyelid some dog breeds have. Distichiasis occurs when dogs have excess eyelashes growing inside their eyelid, and they often point toward your dog's eyeball.

These conditions can cause irritation to your dog's eyes, and while severe cases require surgery, most conditions are mild and managed at home. The best way to treat mild eye problems is to buy canine-specific eye drops and eye ointment you can apply to help their eyes stay clean and prevent them from being scratched by debris or eyelashes that may otherwise stab them in the eye. You should be able to find these eye drops and ointments in your local pet store.

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Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a prevalent physical health condition that many breeds tend to develop. This condition occurs when the hip joint gets misaligned. The hip joint is supposed to slide smoothly as it works as a ball-in-socket joint, but when dogs have hip dysplasia, it prevents the joint from sliding and results in arthritis.

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Many dogs don't experience symptoms of this condition until much later in life, and most dogs only experience mild symptoms at worse. Typically, if your dog has signs of pain when you touch their hip joint, it might show hip dysplasia symptoms. Dogs with this condition may also jump less, avoid stairs, and yelp when pet around their hips.

Thankfully, because most conditions of hip dysplasia are mild, owners can treat their Karelian Bear Dogs at home by providing joint supplements. These supplements aim to help lubricate your dog's joint to prevent further inflammation and aid their pain symptoms.

Elbow Dysplasia

Joint issues are common in many dog breeds, and the Karelian Bear Dog breed is no different. This breed is prone to elbow dysplasia. A dog's elbow joint comprises three bones that have to fit together perfectly to not develop elbow dysplasia. This joint issue is common in many dog types, and owners can usually see symptoms of this when their dog is in its later years of life.

When dogs have elbow dysplasia, they might show signs of limping or avoiding stairs. Some dogs will avoid running on one of their front legs for a moment before returning to their normal run right after.

It's pretty simple to treat a dog with mild elbow dysplasia symptoms. You can provide them with anti-inflammatory supplements or dog CBD, which has anti-inflammatory and pain management properties. We can find both things in local pet stores.

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Oral Health

A dog's oral health can play a huge role in its overall health. If a pet has poor oral health, they can develop other issues like respiratory or heart disease in severe situations. Most dogs have stage one periodontal disease, and their owners aren't even aware their pet is suffering from this condition. Often, if your dog has signs of red, inflamed gums, this is a telltale sign they have the beginning stages of dental disease.

Pet owners can take care of their Karelian Bear Dog's oral health by giving them teeth brushings once a week. In between brushing sessions, provide daily oral health treats to take care of any plaque or tartar buildup accumulated in between dental cleanings. Two suggested dental treats are OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews and Proden Dental Bites.

Black and white Karelian Bear dog running in a field

Karelian Bear Dog Breed's Needs


This high-energy dog needs a ton of exercise. The Karelian Bear Dog breed is famous in its home country for its strength and stamina in fighting large game animals. This breed developed a lot of muscle and energy to complete these tasks, and they kept these factors throughout their breed standards.

An average Karelian Bear Dog will need between one and two and a half hours of exercise, depending on the specific dog's energy levels. Suppose your dog seems anxious at home or extra playful. In that case, it's always a good idea to incorporate some more exercise to ensure they don't develop anxiety from a lack of exercise.

Don't forget that hunting dogs are very mentally active and will require plenty of mental stimulation. There are tons of enrichment activities all over the internet that provide great ways to give your pet mental and physical stimulation at the same time.

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The Karelian Bear Dog breed needs a special diet formulated for mid-sized to large-sized breeds. They have above-average energy and exercise levels, so owners need to ensure their pup gets the right amount of daily calories to keep up with their dog's energy levels.

A dog's diet changes throughout its life naturally, and its calorie intake needs can change based on age, sex, weight, activity levels, and health conditions. If you're ever concerned you're giving your Karelian dog the wrong amount of calories, talk to your vet to discuss what you can do to provide proper nutrition.

Grooming a Karelian Bear Dog

These dogs have lots of hair and will need weekly brushing sessions to take care of excess dead fur. A bonus to adopting a Karelian Bear puppy is that this breed rarely develops that trademark doggy odor that most other breeds do. You'll only need to bathe them about every eight weeks to care for their skin and fur.

They have fast-growing nails, so any owner will have to trim this breed's nails once a month to ensure their pet doesn't accidentally harm themselves. It's good to check their ears weekly and provide a proper ear cleaning session once a month.

Remember only to buy canine-specific ear cleaners and shampoos to ensure you don't use too harsh products for your pup's skin.

Reddish-brown Karelian Bear dog standing at attention

Top Product Picks for the Karelian Bear Dog Breed

Many dog owners get so excited when bringing home a new pet they forget how stressful this tremendous change can be for their dog. When dogs move homes, they experience a lot of stress and anxiety, and although they will be super happy in their new home, getting to that happy place might take a while.

Thankfully, there are many things dog owners can do to better prepare their home for their new Karelian Bear Dog puppy. Owners can make sure they have a bowl of dog food and some water ready for their pet before they even walk their paws through the front door. Having food ready for your new puppy as soon as they arrive is great for showing them that this is a place they will be provided with everything they need. Make sure you get the right food for your dog's age. Puppies will need specific puppy food made for their little teeth.

Ensure you purchase necessary items for your dog. Most adoption centers require owners to bring their own leashes, but it's a good idea to buy two leashes just in case and purchase a collar for your pet. You'll need to get a dog crate because you might not be able to leave your pet out by themselves until after you've trained them.

Some owners want to purchase harnesses ahead of time too, and while this is a great idea, it's hard to estimate your dog's harness size if you haven't taken exact measurements of them, so it might be best to wait to purchase one until after you have your pet.

More experienced dog owners know that a few other items can come in handy when bringing a new dog home. For example, purchase a food storage container to keep their food fresh. If you plan on taking your dog for long walks or hikes, you'll want portable water and food bowls, and doggy poop bags. If you want to take your new Karelian Bear Dog on car rides, you'll need to make sure they're safe by purchasing a dog seat belt. This protects them in the case of an accident.

You can buy other luxuries for your Karelian Bear Dog puppy, including a dog bed and some treats. Having doggy treats ready when you pick them up can be a great incentive to show them they're in a safe space while simultaneously building a bond with your pet as quickly as possible. You don't want to go overboard when buying treats because you don't know if your pet is picky or not, so it's a good idea to buy one kind of common dog treat until you have time to experiment with other treats as well.

You can also purchase some toys for your new puppy and some clothes. If you live in a warmer climate, you can buy special handkerchiefs that are made to help keep your dog cool in hot weather. Many pet owners stand by these products and feel that they can help their dogs in the bright sunshine.

No matter what extra materials you choose to purchase, you should know that your dog will feel comfortable at home with time. Give them plenty of space when they arrive home, and let them explore and come to you on their own. If you don't want them to have free rein in the house, buy a baby gate and set it up in areas you don't want them to have access.

Other Resources

  1. Wind River Bear Institute

  2. Karelian Bear Dog Club of America

  3. American Karelian Bear Dog Alliance

  4. United Kennel Club Karelian Bear Dog

  5. American Kennel Club Karelian Bear Dog

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