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Avoid Your Dog Encountering a Bear at Home and While Recreating

By Stephanie Simek, DWR Black Bear Project Leader

Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

Avoid Bear Encounters With Your Dog at Home

Leaving your dog unleashed in an area frequented by bears — which could include your back yard — is one of the primary causes of bear encounters. If you live in an area where a bear could cross your yard, then you should take precautions to avoid encounters with bears. Bears will travel through developed areas where you may not expect to see them, particularly if areas of natural cover exist (woods, creek or river corridors) and food resources are available. When natural foods are scarce, and when human-related foods are available, bears may venture closer to homes or recreation sites to access garbage, bird food, pet food, and grills.

Accessible food resources (bird feeders, pet food, barbeque grills, compost piles, etc.) will attract bears and other wildlife to your yard. If a dog senses a bear in “their” yard, they will often attempt to defend the property. Unfortunately, an unleashed dog may end up interacting with the bear in your yard.

Bears are curious by nature and may appear to “stand their ground,” especially if food is present. Bears typically respond by fleeing; however, bears may also fight with a barking dog that runs towards them.

A few tips to avoid an encounter between your dog and a bear in your yard or neighborhood:

  • Make sure to remove or secure attractants that may bring a bear to your yard.
  • Take a few extra minutes to check your yard and make noise before letting your dog out. At night, turn on a security or porch light before letting your dog out. These actions will alert the bear and encourage it to move on.
  • Feed your dog or other pets inside, if possible. If you must feed your dog outside, be sure to put only enough food for that feeding and keep an eye on your dog as they eat their meal. Remove the empty bowl so the food smell is gone and no longer a potential attractant.
  • If you know that a bear has been in the area, be alert and keep your dog on a leash so that you can prevent them from confronting a bear.
  • If you see a bear in your yard make noise (yell, bang pots/pans, use an air horn) to frighten the bear away.
  • If you encounter a bear, do not run. Call your dog and leave the area.
  • Always have your dog on leash while walking and be aware of your surroundings.
  • If your dog becomes entangled with a bear, DO NOT try to separate them. DO NOT place yourself in between the dog and bear. Use loud noises, pepper spray, paintball gun, or water hose directed at the bear to chase it off.

The best encounter to have with your dog and a bear is no encounter!

To find more information regarding bears in Virginia, visit:

https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/ and https://bearwise.org/

Avoid Bear Encounters When Recreating With Your Dog

Many people enjoy recreating outdoors with their dogs, especially during the fall. Dog owners need to be aware of the possibility of encountering bears if they live in or visit bear habitat anywhere in Virginia. Bears do not like dogs and view them as competitors.

During the fall, bears are actively seeking food resources and increasing their caloric intake. Areas of concentrated bear activity are often associated with feeding and resting locations. In Virginia, bears are active, any time throughout the day, between April – November. Bears typically den from late November into March. However, warm temperatures and good food resources may cause bears to enter dens later, exit dens for a daily walk-about during winter, exit dens early, or not den at all. A dog running through an area occupied by a bear can be perceived as a threat to the bear.

To reduce the potential for interactions between a bear and your dog, observe the following:

  • Keep your dogs leashed.
  • Never leave your dog unattended.
  • Do not allow dogs to chase wildlife.
  • If camping, store all food in wildlife resistant containers and clean up any spilled food.
  • Avoid areas with concentrated bear sign (tracks and scat).
  • Do not search for den, rendezvous or foraging sites.
  • Never approach a bear.
  • Hike or walk in groups of 2 or more.
  • If hiking or walking alone, make noise periodically (clap, whistle) particularly when approaching blind spots in trails or very thick, brushy areas.
  • Carry pepper spray and know how to properly use it.
  • If you encounter a bear, do not run. You should back away from a bear, leave immediately, and walk back in the direction from which you came. The bear may follow you for a short distance.

Having no encounter with your dog and a bear is the best scenario!

To find more information regarding bears in Virginia, visit:

https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/ and https://bearwise.org/

  • October 2, 2020