Camping with Dogs in Bear Country: Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe

Immersing yourself in nature is the greatest part of camping with dogs in bear country. Playing in the woods, tackling epic hikes, and spotting some amazing wildlife together. While we all know that our pups particularly love some wildlife spotting, there are still a few animals you might hope you don’t bump into with your dog.


Depending on where you live, bear country can be difficult to avoid. Luckily, you don’t need to! Camping with dogs in bear country can be safe and easy, so long as you know how to keep your dog safe.


Planning A Camping Trip In Bear Country

The Safest Season To Camp In Bear Country

Spring’s warm weather makes it one of the best seasons for camping. Unfortunately, it also makes it one of the more dangerous times to find yourself in a bear country.


black bear cub laying on a logAfter their long hibernation through the winter, bears tend to be hungrier in the Spring as they emerge in search of food. Spring also means the arrival of cubs, with mother bears being especially aggressive this time of year.


Fall also means that bears will be active, trying to pack on those last few pounds before hibernation starts.


The safest time to camp in bear country is during the colder months, particularly peak winter. Most bears will be in hibernation during this time and the chances of an encounter drop dramatically.


However, it’s still strongly advised that winter campers follow basic bear deterrent practices. You never know!


Packing For Your Trip

Bear Bells For Dogs

Bear bells are highly debated pieces of outdoor equipment. The idea behind them is simple enough: you attach a bell to your backpack, and the noise of it ringing while you walk will warn any bears in the vicinity that you are nearby, sending them in the other direction. 


But do bear bells really work? And are bear bells for dogs a good idea?


dog on grass wearing bear bellBear bells, while popular, are not actually proven to deter bears. Their effectiveness relies on the bear both wanting to avoid humans (which is risky in an area where people may feed the wildlife) and having been exposed to a bell previously. 


There are both pros and cons to fitting your dog with a bear bell. It’s an added layer of protection that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. 


The negatives? Your dog won’t be able to rely on their hearing as much with a bell constantly ringing in their ear. This can actually put them at an increased risk of a bear or other predator sneaking up on them.


Avoid Scented Products

Your pooch might be disappointed, but this is one trip where it’s better to leave that beef and bacon-scented chew toy at home.


As you’ve probably pieced together by now, scented items are a big no-no while camping in bear country. Any scented items that do somehow end up in the gear bag (think perfumes, scented trash bags, cleaning wipes) should be reshuffled and stored securely with your food supplies.


How To Avoid Bears While Camping With Your Dog

brown bear walking on water


How to Store Dog Food Safely in Bear Country

The simplest way to keep your dog safe around bears is to store your food correctly. Generally, bears are very unlikely to enter a campsite without reason. The only thing that will really drive them to do so is the possibility of an easy snack.


To avoid tempting any bears, all food should be stored in airtight bear canisters. This includes dog food and bowls!


signage of bear country with "no dogs" signSome campsites may allow you to store food in your car, but this should be a last resort. Bears have strong noses and a car window won’t do much to deter them once they pick up a scent.


Set up your cooking and food storage areas at a significant distance from your tent. If any bears do wander over, they’ll head straight for that section of the campsite and will hopefully leave you alone.


Before heading off on your trip, check whether your campsite has any guidelines surrounding food storage. Many national parks have very specific rules to protect the safety of all campers.


Disposing Of Doggy Bags

As any dog owner knows, doggy bags have a particularly strong scent. When camping in bear company, avoid burying any dog poops near the campground. Not only does burying dog poop go against ‘leave no trace’ principles, but it can also attract bears.


Instead, pick up any poops with unscented garbage bags and seal them tightly. Depending on your campground, they can then either be thrown in the trash (if the disposal of scented items is permitted) or emptied out into a toilet. Do not dispose of the bag in the toilet unless it is biodegradable – it’s bad for the environment and the sewerage system.


What Should You Do If You Encounter A Bear With Your Dog?

grizzly bear sleeping on campsite ground


What To Do If A Bear Approaches Your Tent

You’re bunkered down ready for bed when your pooch alerts you to some movement just outside of your tent. You quickly realize it’s a bear… what do you do now?


It’s best to remain still and quiet while you assess the situation. This is why it’s crucial to only camp in bear country with a well-trained dog: you don’t want your pup barking their head off while you’re trying to remain silent.


Offer your pet some pats to reassure them. If you don’t have any food in your tent, it’s unlikely that a bear will bother you.


american brown bear in bear countryIf the bear still doesn’t move on, then it’s time to start making some noise. Begin speaking in a gentle voice and increase your volume if the bear does not retreat. Keep your dog quiet.


A barking dog can feel like a challenge to a bear and may irritate them. You can also use an air horn to startle the bear, or bang pots and pans together to make yourself sound more intimidating.


In a worst-case scenario, emerge from your tent so you have the opportunity to retreat. Try to back away calmly, holding your hands above your head to increase your size. For many black bears, this will be enough to scare them away.


Grizzly bears are more aggressive, unfortunately, and you will need to have your bear spray at the ready.


Under no circumstances should you have your dog approach the bear or engage with them. Speak to your dog in a calming voice. Make sure that your dog is on a leash and does not allow them to run.


Bears can run up to 35 miles an hour, much faster than the average dog, and running will only agitate them further.


While bears rarely approach campgrounds, it does happen enough that precautions must be taken. This is why it is so important to have your dog sleep inside the tent while camping in bear country.


Finding A Bear At Your Campsite

Returning from a long day of hiking to find a bear at your campsite is scary.


If you’ve approached the bear from behind and they haven’t sighted you, slowly back away with your dog. Don’t yell out to the bear or attempt to call them away from your items.


If you’ve followed food storage protocols correctly, the bear will most likely move away on their own. Your goal is to make sure that you and your dog aren’t in the vicinity when they do.


alaska brown bear lying on grass fieldUnlucky enough to have been spotted upon approach? Your retreat should be similar. Slowly, calmly, back away from the site.


Keep your dog tight to your side and act as if you are one entity. Avoiding any sudden jerky movements should show the bear that you are not a threat and many will simply let you go.


If the bear does approach you it’s time to try to gauge their behavior. If they seem curious, you can try throwing a non-food item off to the side for them to investigate.


This will often distract an inquisitive bear long enough for you to move away. A backpack, camera, or hat will do.


Meeting an aggressive bear calls for a different tactic. If you are being approached aggressively by a black bear, lift your arms above your head and yell. Again, a grizzly bear encounter at close range can only really be diffused by bear spray.


Reporting A Bear Encounter

If a bear has approached you or your campsite, this must be reported to local rangers.


Overconfident bears have likely been fed by humans before and can quickly become aggressive. While they may not have attacked you or your dog this time, it doesn’t mean they won’t become someone else’s problem in the near future.


Frequently Asked Questions: The Bear Necessities To Keep Your Dog Safe

Identifying Bear Country

What are the signs of bear activity?

Apart from signage, there are many natural clues that will point to being in a bear country.


If you suspect there may be an active bear nearby, keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Scratched trees or logs
  • Large paw tracks with five toe prints
  • Disturbed underbrush
  • Signs of digging
  • Droppings that may be green or contain berries and seeds


Can dogs sense bears?

Your dog’s behavior is another great indicator of whether or not a bear is approaching.


camping with dogs in bear countryWhile they can’t inherently sense bears, many dogs will be able to tell that another animal is nearby. Their heightened sense of smell, hearing abilities, and eyesight mean that they are likely to notice another animal approaching before you do.


Don’t rely on your dog as a foolproof method of detecting bears, however. Just keep an eye on them for early warning signs. Still, be sure to make lots of noise and follow bear-safe practices.


Different Types Of Bears You May Encounter

Will a black bear attack a dog?

Black bear attacks on humans are rare. They’re not overly aggressive, usually only striking out when they feel threatened or if they need to protect their cubs.


Unfortunately, dogs can trigger this aggression in black bears. Barking, running, and growling are all actions that may set off a black bear. It’s important to keep your dog on a leash in bear country and practice the ‘quiet’ command until you are comfortable that your pup will listen to you in an emergency situation.


In short: a black bear won’t attack a dog on sight for no reason. However, they are more easily provoked when a dog is present.


Will a grizzly bear attack a dog?

Grizzly bears are known for their defensive natures. They will not hesitate to protect themselves, their cubs, or their food sources from perceived threats. This may include your dog.


brown bear cub stepping on fallen tree branches

If your dog engages a grizzly bear by barking, they’ll more than likely come off second best. A grizzly bear will attack a dog.


For this reason, only extremely well-trained dogs should be taken into areas populated with grizzly bears. Even then, risk factors are still high. Many campers feel it is better to simply leave their dog at home while exploring grizzly bear country.


Understanding Basic Bear Behaviour

How can you tell if a bear is aggressive?

An aggressive bear is easy to detect. If you encounter a bear, remain calm and analyze its behavior.


Signs of aggression include:

  • Bluff charging
  • Lunging
  • Snorting
  • Huffing
  • Pawing at the ground
  • Jaw popping

These are clear warning signs that it is time to back off.


Are bears scared of loud noises?

Yes! Most bears are scared of loud noises, making them one of the best ways to deter an approaching animal.


Use loud voices while hiking and around your campsite. Music, clanging pots and pans, and car sounds are also effective ways to send any curious bears in the opposite direction.


As mentioned, however, it is best to avoid overly aggressive noises. Barking, growling, and screaming can all trigger a defensive response in bears. Be loud but calm.


What smells do bears hate?

Funnily enough, bears hate the smell of pine!


Using pine-scented cleaners in your kitchen area while camping can help to deter bears. Since they cannot stand the smell, it will help to neutralize any delicious cooking scents.


Do bears eat dogs?

brown grizzly bearBears do not actively hunt dogs, but they may eat a small dog that wanders into their territory unaccompanied. A starving bear may also consider eating a dog when given the opportunity.


Bears are far more likely to kill a dog in an aggressive encounter rather than hunt them for food, however.


Can a dog outrun a bear?

Most dogs are not able to outrun a bear. The average bear can run at a pace of approximately 35 miles per hour, much faster than the average dog.


For perspective, an active greyhound with good ground conditions can run approximately 45 miles per hour. This isn’t taking into account endurance or the fact that a dog is unlikely to abandon their owner in a confrontation with a bear.


Final Thoughts: Safely Camping With Dogs In Bear Country

Bear country covers some of the most beautiful parts of our continent. While bears do pose some dangers to our pets, this doesn’t mean that you and your four-legged friend need to miss out.


With sensible preparation and basic safety practices, camping with dogs in bear country doesn’t have to be intimidating at all!