Bear Dogs on Patrol for Problem Grizzlies

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"Next morning, we've tagged the bear, and we're banging and yelling at him when he wakes up in the trap. Dogs are barking at him too, so he's just hating that—being in the trap. He wants to get out of there," said Clarke, adding that officers with noisemakers and guns that fire tiny bean bags ensure the bear is even less comfortable upon its release.

"Just before the bear hits the woods, we let our dogs go," he added. "The bear sees these two dogs coming after him. They're barking, the barking is getting closer. And then, just when the bear reaches a predefined human boundary, we call them off."

The use of aversive conditioning to show bears how to avoid people is, said Hunt, truly unique, something that has changed how bear managers and scientists look at handling problem bears.

"Nobody thought this could be done," she said. Yet it has been done—so far, without serious injury to any of the dogs. "And Montana credits us with saving 18 grizzlies in the last three years."

Putting People in the Equation

Hunt feels strongly that the education program must be a two-way street; people as well as bears need to learn their place.

"We work with whole communities, and ask the communities to clean up their (bear) attractants. We go door-to-door. We do 300 to 600 homes a year," she said.

With the help of Kuma and Mica, the human part of the program seems to be going quite well in Alberta.

"The PR it creates is incredible," said Clarke. "The people in the community of Crowsnest Pass have accepted these dogs as theirs. We do several talks at schools, so the kids go home and say 'Dad, smarten up; don't leave your garbage out. Put your birdfeeders away in the summertime.' We also tell people to yell and let their dogs bark if they see a resident bear. Hopefully the bear will remember his last encounter with Kuma and Mica."

The dogs are three-quarters of the way through a two-year training program. Their education is going so well that they are being used to work with other species, such as cougars, moose, and bighorn sheep.

Once the dogs' training is complete, the Alberta government plans to evaluate their effectiveness over a three-year period, then decide whether or not to continue the program, said Bergman.

Dogs With Jobs

Viewers of the National Geographic Channel outside the United States can watch the television series Dogs With Jobs.

Now in its third season, Dogs With Jobs explores new and unusual jobs and sheds more light on the powerful bonds between working dogs and their human partners. Every episode stars amazing dogs.

This season of Dogs with Jobs sniffs out a truffle hound in Italy and goes to Florida to track down a bat dog and a termite buster. Fourteen breeds never before seen on the show make an appearance, including Japanese Shiba Inu, Gos d'Atura Catala (Catalan sheepdogs), Spanish water dogs, the Hungarian Pumi, and Karelian bear dogs.

National Geographic Animals and Nature Guide: Go >>

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