Hiking in bear country with a dog

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Home Forums General Forums General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion Hiking in bear country with a dog

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    Pablo 2000
    BPL Member


    My girl Tara has been on countless multi day back country hikes, been above 10000′ a dozen times an various training hikes of the past. I’m hiking the Rae Lakes loop this summer and want to bring her along, since she’s a service dog she is allowed in National Parks. However I have never hiked in Bear country with my dog, anyone have any experience? Is putting her food in her pack a bad idea, obviously I will have my Bearikade to store her and mine at night…

    Erik G
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Coast

    I would keep her on a leash/lead of some sort at all times – It would be terrible if she bolted after something (especially a bear!) and hurt herself or someone else as a result. Also, as you said, keep her food in the Bearikade at night.

    I’d bring a copy of whatever paperwork you have that states she is a service dog to avoid any hassle with rangers or random folk who want to give you their 2 cents.

    Obviously this question will spark some ethical debate as to bringing the dog, how she’s certified as a service dog, why you need a service dog, etc., both on the forum and on the trail. As long as you are prepared and polite with whatever skeptics you find on your trip, I think it will not be an issue.

    I have to admit that I’m curious about your position – What need for a service dog could you have if you’re capable of backpacking the Rae Lakes Loop? If you want to PM the answer, no worries. If you don’t want to answer at all, no problemo. But I am genuinely curious, so I had to ask :)

    What kind of dog is Tara? Without knowing what type of dog she is or her size, I’ll just say don’t load her up too much! I’d recommend carrying a good portion of her gear/food weight in your pack.

    Oh…LNT applies to your dog too IMO – bury her poop!

    Hope you have a great hike. That area is truly spectacular.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    No grizzlies in California.  No polar bears, either.  So the stakes are rather lower than when I hike with my dog.  Something that happens in Alaska a few times a year is that an off-leash dog follows an interesting scent, finds a bear and runs scared back to their owner, sometimes with the bear in pursuit.  That issue goes away if you’ve got your dog on a leash.  You need it on a leash anyway if it’s a legitimate working service dog like a seeing-eye dog or one that alerts you to an impending seizure, etc, right?  If the dog is someplace else, it can’t help you with your disability, whatever it may be.

    If it’s not a service dog whose services you require, please don’t think you are entitled to bring your dog where dogs are prohibited just because you paid $75 and got a certificate and a vest for the dog off the internet.

    Some people put bells on their dogs and themselves to warn bears.  IME, where the bear-human interactions happen are around water and wind noise, in dense cover, and around food sources of berries or fish, you need more than bells.  Banging rocks carries further.  Shouting carries even further and weighs nothing, but you have to keep doing it when the conditions get higher risk.   Still, the bells are helpful to keep track of a dog (a non-service dog, where allowed) that’s off-leash AND it helps alert other hikers that a domestic animal is coming down the trail towards them.  That first flash of fur can be alarming to people who haven’t calmed down about hiking in grizzly country.

    I wouldn’t fret about the dog food in the dog pack.  But double-bag it, maybe even in a vacuum pack because after a few afternoon thunderstorms and stream crossings, it will be a soggy mess.  If your dog gets hung up between rocks and trees while wearing the dog pack, then skip it.  And, yes, hang the dog food with the people food.

    Pablo 2000
    BPL Member



    Thanks for the reply she’s a Dutch Shepard, and yes I’m painfully aware of how contentious the Service Dog topic can be… Unfortunately there are plenty that take advantage of the designation. Hopefully we can keep this on topic, my hope is to make this as safe as possible for Tara and as respectful as possible to others on the trail.

    Brian B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    Dog food gets the same treatment as your food — you keep your food in your pack during day, yeah? All the rest should be informed by the national park service rules. Ask them when you get your permit.

    Also, be aware that there are plenty of people who don’t like dogs — not your dog, not any dog. A dog leashed, not bounding on kids, the allergic, through water sources or scaring stock animals is your responsibility.


    [ Drew ]
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Valley CA

    I most definitely would not take a dog on the Rae Lakes Loop, aka bearadise valley.  I would also not take a dog on on trail in a National Park if it’s not a legitimate service dog, ‘designation’ or not.

    If you want to take a dog backpacking, there are plenty of beautiful places to do it – National Forest area, BLM land, some National Monuments.  I take mine all the time in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness area, which is basically in between Kings Canyon and Sequoia Nat’l parks.

    Lori P
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Valley

    No one is stating the fact that dogs are illegal on all national park trails. You’ll get walked right back out of the wilderness and handed a fine. I see it happen a LOT in Yosemite.

    If you want to take the dog out, check the national forest wilderness areas.

    Jennifer Mitol
    BPL Member


    Locale: In my dreams....

    Lori he said it was a service dog.  Those are legal…and the OP is wisely avoiding the discussion about whether Tara is a “real” service dog or not.


    Lori P
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Valley

    Wise or not wise, we aren’t the ones to worry about. EVERY dog on a Yosemite trail is a service dog, but the rangers want the proof, i.e. That piece of paper that says so.

    I think if I had a service dog I would have a shabruck made that stated so, and laminate the paperwork for trail use.

    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    “No one is stating the fact that dogs are illegal on all national park trails.”

    This is not a fact.

    Every National Park has it’s own specific dog policy, and it is prudent to always check. While I suspect parks out west might have more stringent policies, I believe most of the NP’s in the Eastern US allow dogs in the backcountry, with a few exceptions, of course.

    But not to drift the thread: in general,  I am personally always more “concerned” about a pack of coyote surprising me & our pup up in the middle of the night, than a random bear encounter. I remember many times having to quiet our old Jack Russel when the coyotes would do a midnight drive by. I suspect she would have been quite the hors d’oeuvre for them. If anything, I’d think the average bear would want to have nothing to do with a little yapping four-legged furry alarm system.


    Larry De La Briandais
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    Service dogs would be allowed in Yosemite’s wilderness as only pets are prohibited and service dogs are not pets.  However, the rangers are not required to allow the service dog if it doesn’t not provide a service to the disabled person while on the trip.  Also, they would be within their rights to require its removal if it became a problem.  Additionally, its food must be handled exactly the same as human food.  I’m pretty sure bears would be quite fond of dog food.  ;)

    And you do NOT have to provide the license etc.  It would probably be a good idea to have it to make things easier, however.



    Pablo 2000
    BPL Member




    Thanks for the info, my question on the dog food was more if having it in her pack while hiking would make her scent more prominent and provoke the bear. I will of course have all scented items in my Bearikade 100′ downwind from our campsites at night.

    Larry De La Briandais
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    Since “you” are allowed to hike with food in your pack your dog can too.  It needs to be in the bear can when the food is not within your immediate reach and control.  That kind of assumes that the dog will be on a leash.  There is some belief that barking dogs can irritate and antagonize black bears causing encounters that would otherwise never happen.  So, a leash is even more important.  But, I see no problem with having the dog’s food in their pack (in a zip lock or other plastic bag).


    Kate Anthony


    Locale: NorCal

    Hi Pablo,

    I have two Queensland heelers that I’ve taken running, hiking, and backpacking in the Sierras and Sierra foothills (where dogs are allowed). I keep them leashed and their food double is bagged in their packs and stored in a bear can at night. I’ve only had one bear sighting when the dogs were with me (near Echo Lake) and the bear left the area very quickly after he spotted/smelled us. It seems like the wildlife avoids me when I have the dogs.

    I also carry some vet tape and a couple of booties in case of paw issues. The granite can be tough on paws if they aren’t used to it. Have a great hike!

    David Sugeno
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Texas

    I have taken my dog into bear country on numerous occasions, though in fairness, never anywhere with the kind of bear density you will find there.  I keep my dog’s food in a food storage bag inside of a bear can at all times, the dry food I feed my dog has such a pungent aroma, I figure I’d rather keep that smell off his pack.  That means I carry his food and mine, but he carries his bed, water, a blanket in colder weather, and a few other odds and ends.  Sounds like you’ve had plenty of experience backpacking with your dog, and I’m sure this will be another great trip.  Keep her close, as others have suggested, and you shouldn’t have to worry about bears.

    Hiking Malto
    BPL Member


    Couple of thoughts:
    1) there are probably more bears on that loop than anywhere else that I have hiked in the Sierra and I have hiked all over the Sierra.
    2) I would keep Fido on a leash for multiple reasons but the biggest being to have control over him/her in the event of a bear sighting.
    3) other mentioned the food storage requirement but since dog food is rather smelly I would be rather careful including during feeding time. I would also not feed where you camp.

    One final thought for everyone talking about an potential inquisition from the Rangers. I don’t believe they can question beyond asking for the certification which is part of the problem that we have on many of the trails with mail order certifications.

    James holden
    BPL Member


    keep the dog on leash … and think very hard about bringing a dog if its heavy bear country

    Another study published in International Bear News in 2014 suggest dogs may actually trigger bear attacks. The study revealed 49 of 92 reported black bear attacks in Canada and the United States from 2010-2015 involved dogs, many of which were off-leash.

    Of those 49 incidents, dogs were injured half the time and in seven instances the bear killed the dog.


    Arian Spiteri, provincial conservation officer with Kananaskis Country, said there have been many other situations that have led to serious consequences for wildlife – and for dogs too.

    “There’s been instances where dogs have injured wildlife and also numerous incidents where dogs have been injured, whether trampled by a moose or bitten by a cougar and the list goes on,” she said.

    There have been occasions when conservation officers have been forced to destroy wildlife.

    Spiteri recalls there was a stand-off between a dog and cougar several years ago and, following a series of other dangerous encounters, the cougar ended up being destroyed for public safety reasons

    She said wildlife with repeat exposure to off-leash dogs can also become aggressive toward any dog, regardless of whether it’s on a leash or not.

    <div>more at link ….</div>

    to be blunt the dog might end up dead, the bear as well … or both

    bring bear spray … it might save you and the dog …


    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    Are there any cases of dogs triggering bear attacks in the Sierra Nevada mountains? There are a lot of people hiking with dogs up there, I’ve never heard of it being an issue. Pepper spray is illegal in Kings Canyon as well as Yosemite.

    James holden
    BPL Member


    justin …

    there referred study abstract …

    Since 2010, primarily through Google News Alerts, we were able to find 92 reports of black bear attacks on humans across

    North America – 49 instances involved dog(s) (53%), 20 of 32 in 2013 alone (63%).  Because media accounts of events can

    be incomplete, it would be difficult to accurately identify how many dogs were on leash vs. off leash.  What the data does

    suggest is that in the vast majority of cases, it seemed as though the dog(s) had been running loose at the time of the attack

    and drew the bear to their owners.  It also appears that many of the bears weren’t focused on the dogs, but came right after

    the owner.  In the three fatal attacks reported during the same period, one involved an individual who had let their dog out

    for a walk.

    Additionally, a myth continues to be perpetuated in the media – that female black bear with offspring will attack people

    to protect their cubs.  Herrero (1985, 2002) and Herrero and Higgins (1999, 2003) reported that female black bear, even with

    offspring, seldom attack people although they can be provoked into attacking if harassed by people or dogs.  Of the 92 total

    attacks mentioned above, 23 involved a female with offspring (25%) – 21 instances involved a dog(s).  The data suggests that

    these defensive attacks could have been triggered by the presence of the dog(s) (91%) rather than the presence of a person

    unaccompanied by a dog (9%).  Of the 66 recorded fatal black bear attacks between 1900 and 2013, only 3 (5%) involved a

    female with young (Herrero et al. 2011)

    you can probably contact the author for more clarification on geographical areas


    Nick B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kalifornia

    I hike the Sierra with my mutts all the time, though never in a National Park. I always try to hang their packs at night, as much to keep squirrels and marmots at bay as bears.

    In bear central I would double bag their food, first in a ziplock freezer bag then a turkey bag (aka: oven bag). The turkey bags are quite a bit better at containing smells.

    I also would not feed them in camp, just like I wouldn’t cook in camp.

    Sean B
    BPL Member


    I have never been backpacking in your area so take this with a grain of salt. I have however backpacked quite a bit with my dog in Shenandoah National Park which has a pretty high concentration of Black bears and I have never had an issue taking normal bear precautions. I hang (cannister not required) both my food and the dogs food, I do not feed him right beside my tent, and I keep him on his leash while hiking.

    I personally do not worry about whether his pack will smell if he carries his own food (although I carry his food now due to old age) as I am sure your hands, clothes, and pack also have a hint (enough for a bear to smell) of food odor as well.

    MIchael MacCormac
    BPL Member


    1)”bagging” food will not hide the scent after a short period of time- both dogs & probably bears can smell food even in “bear” bags after an hour or two. There are videos documenting that dogs can smell food in “bear proof” bags after a couple of hours.

    2)I doubt dogs trigger bear attacks- bears are more likely to avoid dogs than go after them, Bears in my area often raid bird feeders- but they never go on my deck to attack my bird feeder-probably b/c of the heavy dog scent in the area. While I find scat in the yard, i never have then attack the feeder. Perhaps there is some relationship to the size of the dog & bear behavior- i.e. small dogs may not instill any fear in the bear.



    Locale: Upstate NY

    I hike with my dog all the time in the Adirondacks.  Although a world away from where you will be our bears can be pretty bad we are required to bring bear cans in some areas.  My dog is with me just about every trip.  I portion her food in individual zip locks then but them all in a larger one and put that in her pack.  I hang her pack with my food when I hang or in a can when mine is.  I also treat her bowl as food.  Its the same as your food, in your pack when your moving and hung or canned at night.  Have a great trip you and your dog friend.

    jared h
    BPL Member


    treat your dog like you would anyone else who might tag along; if they cannot behave themselves, leave them home. goes for pets, friends, children, etc… this means that your dog needs to be obedient–not take off after something they see, not bark at people/animals/whatever, and listen to your commands.

    a leash may not be enough if you come across a bear (or other animal), and you have to manage them, possibly pulling in whatever direction, while trying to stand your ground/back away/pull out bear spray/fight off an animal. and barking dogs may or may not trigger bear attacks, but a barking dog certainly limits your ability to back away slowly and speak in a calm voice like many tell us to do.


    Nick Otis
    BPL Member


    Locale: CA

    I’ll echo what other folks have said about storage, leash, etc. For example, when hiking with Hazel, I [only?] single bag her food, store it in my canister at night (as you said), but keep her bag in the tent. I figure that her bag is like mine in that it has ‘food smells’ too. I’ve hiked in the Sierras, but never in as popular an area for bears as the Rae Lakes area, so I can’t comment specifically on that. I do carry bear mace.

    May I add that service dogs usually have better training and temperaments than other dogs…We are all judging your dog without knowing her! You know your dog best :)

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