Karelian Bear Dog

Photo: 
Paula Heikkinen-Lehkonen

The Karelian Bear Dog is an old breed from the forested areas of Karelia. It is a traditional big-game hunting dog that is nowadays used by hunters to corner elk and bears.

The Karelian Bear Dog is a mid-sized, sturdily built, but not heavy, dog that is powerful and only a little longer than it is tall. It has a thick coat, which is black and white with clearly-defined markings. Its coat may, at times, have a slight shade of brown. Its eyes are relatively small, somewhat oval and dark-brown in colour. Its expression is alert and sharp. The ears are erect, mid-sized and only a little rounded at the tip.

The ideal height at the withers is 57 cm for males. The minimum height for males is 54 cm and the maximum is 60 cm. The corresponding figure for bitches is 52 cm (49 cm and 55 cm).

The Karelian Bear Dog enjoys its own company and may be slightly sullen. It is alert, unyielding, bold and gutsy. Some individuals are eager to defend their territory and have a strong ego. The Karelian Bear Dog is happy to stand guard and it has a very powerful hunting instinct.

Photo Paula Heikkinen-Lehkonen

The history of the Karelian Bear Dog

It is assumed that the Karelian Bear Dog came west from the Urals along with the migration of the Komi, or Zyrian, peoples around 900 AD. After the year 1100, the Komi people based along the Northern Dvina River traded with the Karelians and the breed spread to the area surrounding Lake Ladoga, especially Olonets. Over the years, it has also been encountered in a territory stretching from the Karelian Isthmus to White Karelia and as far north as Lake Kemi. According to knowledge passed down through generations, the breed was used to hunt all kinds of game, such as bears, lynx, elk, deer, hares, forest birds and water fowl.

The systematic breeding of a Karelian Spitz-type dog commenced in 1936. The goal was to produce a powerfully built dog that would bark at big game. The “premiere” of the Karelian Bear Dog took place at the first dog show of the just-established Suomen Kennelliitto, a precursor of today's Finnish Kennel Club, in May 1936. The breed name was approved that same year. The first breed definition was confirmed in 1945 and the first individuals were registered in 1946.

The outbreak of the Winter War in 1939 led to the almost complete destruction of the breed population. The damage was repaired during the Continuation War, however, with a substantial addition to the Karelian Bear Dog population being extracted from the war zone. In all, 60 dogs were brought back from Russian Karelia and 43 of them participated in the breeding effort.

The number of registered Karelian Bear Dogs exceeded a hundred (106) for the first time in 1951. The peak year was 1963, when 1,021 dogs were registered. After this, the number of registrations quickly fell to less than half and reached a low point at the beginning of the 1970s. The thousand-dog limit (1,051) was exceeded again in 1992. Over the last decade, some 700-1,000 Karelian Bear Dogs have been registered each year.

Finnish Spitz Club (Suomen Pystykorvajärjestö)
The standard of Karelian Bear Dog