Vet Blog

Keeping Your Dog Safe in Bear Country

May 30, 2019

Reports of bear sightings are common in Western North Carolina.

As humans develop more land, they find themselves sharing more living space with bears. This raises the question, How can I keep my dog safe around bears?

The black bears of WNC are, for the most part, shy and reserved but when provoked can be a danger to humans and pets alike. They are stronger, faster, and better at climbing than we are. So the best defense against bears is to avoid them altogether.

If bears are commonplace in your neighborhood, always survey your yard before letting your pet outside. When not in a fenced yard, your dog should be on a leash. Even a well-trained dog may not respond to your commands in the presence of a bear.

Avoid keeping any food in your yard. This means keeping trash and compost in sealed, airtight containers and waiting to bring your garbage to the curb until collection day, if possible. Make sure you never leave pet food unattended outdoors. And always clean up your grill and outdoor food prep areas. In bear territory, it is best to eliminate bird feeders.

If you notice bears coming into your yard on a frequent basis, try making a lot of noise to scare them away. From a safe distance, blow an air horn or bang pots and pans together.

When camping or hiking, make your presence known by talking loudly or singing. Bears don't like to be startled, so making noise alerts them without spooking them. You can also keep bear bells on your backpack and on your dog's collar. Avoid listening to headphones or talking on the phone so you can better listen to your surroundings. If you hear or see signs of a bear, turn around and quietly and calmly leave the area. Never leave your pet unattended at a campground, and keep your pet on a leash as much as possible. Dogs have been known to run off towards a bear and come running back to your campsite with an angry bear in tow. Keep human food and dog food in airtight canisters. Avoid recreational running in bear country. A person running can trigger the predator instinct in bears, and you may unintentionally become prey.

If you come in contact with a bear, stay calm. Keep a safe distance and make sure you are not blocking the bear's only escape route. Speak in a normal tone of voice and move your arms so the bear sees you are human and not prey. Walk away slowly and calmly. Do not run. If you are face to face with the bear, make yourself as big as possible by waving your arms around. Do not make eye contact. Throw an object in the bear's direction; this may create a distraction for the bear to investigate. Do NOT toss food toward a bear. And never try to feed a bear. Carry EPA-approved bear spray. If all else fails, spray it in the direction of the bear's face. This can stun a bear and may get it to retreat. It is important that you use spray specifically intended for bears and not pepper spray for humans, which would not be fully effective on a bear. A barking dog can scare the bear away, but it may also anger the bear. It is up to you to assess the situation and move yourself and your pet away in the best manner.

Remember: bears don't want to harm you or your dog. They will most often keep to themselves unless provoked. The most common reasons a bear may get defensive involve protecting food and cubs. Avoiding bears altogether is your best recourse. If you have any questions about bear safety or if you have a problematic bear in your neighborhood, contact the local Wildlife Resource Commission at 919-707-0010.