Here at Canine Weekly, we love to find out the answers to the most random of questions regarding our 4 legged friends, and today we’re going to look into: are bears related to dogs?
Dogs can resemble many other animals, for example, certain dogs can look like lions and other breeds have a strong likeness to wolves. When we consider some breeds, such as the Chow Chow, Tibetan Mastiff, and the Akita it doesn’t seem a far jump to wonder if they’re related to bears.
Today’s pet dog is unlikely to make it in the wild for a long period. Despite the various sizes and shapes, from Great Danes to Jack Russels, all dogs belong to one species – Canis Familiaris. Domestic dogs have domestic temperaments but they are related to wild animals who still live wild today – and would be unlikely to ever be domesticated.
Dog Similarities to Their Wild Relatives
Domestic dogs today still share a number of behaviors with their wild relatives. Both will adhere to pack leadership, mark and guard their territories, fight to the death (in the majority) to protect their master/leader, and communicate in the same ways – through facial expressions, body movement, and position as well as through vocalizing ie growls, whines, barks.
So, Are Dogs Related to Bears?
To give a short answer, no, dogs are not related to bears. They are entirely different species that evolved from very distinct biological families.
Dogs are part of the Canis Familiaris, which does include other animals that may come as a surprise, such as; coyotes, dingoes, and foxes. Bears are part of the Ursidae family with relatives that are only bears; Panda Bears, Polar Bears, Sun Bears, and other distinctly bear-like creatures.
Although some dog breeds can look very similar to bears, there isn’t a direct relationship between the two animals. There is a common myth that the two could breed to result in a new hybrid animal, but as they don’t even share the same number of chromosomes this would be impossible to achieve.
However, there is an evolutionary connection between dogs and bears and for us to understand how this doesn’t make them related, we need to go back several millennia – before the two even existed.
The Carnivora Order
The Carnivora Order includes dogs and bears. It is a very broad classification of species throughout evolutionary history, so it does not mean that animals under this umbrella are relatives.
The Carnivora Order included species that had a primary meat diet. As we know, dogs thrive on a diet that is Protein Rich and the same can be said for other animals who fall under the Carnivora Order. Within this, there is an even deeper distinction.
Not every animal of the order relied solely on meat to survive. Some species would choose to seek out any food source that could provide sustenance. As well as meat, they would also consume things like fruit and berries.
Known as Facultative Carnivores, animals in this group have meat as a preference but will also scavenge for other things if meat is not available. This is different to obligate carnivores who will only eat meat.
So, which two animals are part of the much smaller Facultative Subgroup? You got it, Dogs and Bears.
This explains many of their similarities. Because bears and dogs evolved to do more than just kill for food, they both went through major changes to help with their lifestyles. Changes were needed to ensure the animals could adapt to their environments and survive.
Bears and dogs both developed keen senses of smell, required for hunting and scavenging. There were also some meat-specific traits obtained by the two which included the ability to run fast to chase their prey and sharp teeth to tear through flesh.
The bigger Carnivore Order was eventually split into two suborders. The first of which was called the Feliformia and these animals took on cat-like features, with them eventually evolving into the felines we know today. Tigers, Lions, Leopards, and domesticated cats all belonged to this subgroup.
The second subgroup was called the Caniformia and these animals evolved to become dog-like. So, now we know how cats and dogs came to be, you may be wondering where bears fit into this.
Well, bears were grouped with the Caniformia. Animals in this group developed characteristics such as non-retracting claws and long snouts – both of which are still evident today. Bears aren’t alone in this grouping and animals such as skunks, raccoons and seals have very similar traits.
A Shared Ancestor
Way before the strange grouping of dogs and bears in the evolutionary chain, it is widely believed that there was a shared ancestor of the two who lived more than 42 million years ago.
Before all other orders were the Miacidae Family. Animals within this group did not physically look like dogs, or like bears. They were more like monkeys and even lived in trees. They were small creatures with long tails who had carnassial teeth and had a meat-only diet.
Fossils have been discovered and examined for DNA of animals within the Miacide family and what scientists discovered was that those animals were ancestors to; lions, tigers, bears, and dogs.
4 Dogs That Look Like Bears
Cute and cuddly or giant and grizzly, bears have features that we just find adorable. However, it isn’t feasible to adopt a bear to reside in your living room and there is no such thing as a pet bear. There are, however, several breeds of dogs who do look very much like bears.
Here we look into 5 dog breeds that resemble bears:
The Eurasier is a hybrid dog, bred from the Chow Chow and the Samoyed. They’re intelligent dogs who are known to be generally calm and even-tempered, but often aloof towards strangers.
Eurasiers were the creation of German dog enthusiast Julius Wipfel, who adored the independence and intelligence of his Samoyed dog and attempted to create a new bear-like breed.
Typically a Eurasier will stand at 24 inches tall, they usually weigh between 40 and 70 pounds – to put this in comparison, an adult male brown bear can weigh up to 1200 pounds. However, facially there are similarities, especially within Eurasier puppies.
2. Caucasian Shepherd Dog
The Caucasian Shepherd Dog is an extra-large dog breed that is close to the size of a small bear! They date back as far as the first century BC where they were the guardians of homes and herds, even in the harshest of conditions. They’re known for being fearless, loyal guardians to this day.
Standing at up to 30 inches (to the shoulder) and weighing up to 170 lbs, they’re even heavier than some species of bear including the Andean Bear and the Sloth Bear.
Caucasian Shepherd dogs are fiercely loyal to their families and fearlessly confident towards any potential threats. They’re big, they’re tough and they’re not the best fit for first-time dog owners or those living in apartments.
More like a teddy bear than an actual bear, the Keeshond holds the nickname as ‘the people’s dog’, acting as a companion dog and a guard dog from as early as the 18th century. They were a symbol of the Dutch Patriots Party and often accompanied Captains onboard Dutch vessels.
Today’s Keeshond is much happier relaxing on comfortable beds than defending ships but they’re still an energetic and intelligent breed. Keeshonds are friendly dogs who are easy to train. They fit in the medium dog group and weigh up to 45 pounds, standing up to 18 inches tall.
Their small ears and expressive faces make them look similar to bears and their unique ‘spectacles’ markings around the eyes are one of their most noticeable characteristics.
4. Great Pyrenees
A true gentle giant, the Great Pyrenees can weigh over 100 lbs and stand at 32 inches tall, they also can look very much like a mighty polar bear at first glance. But these family-friendly, calm, and clever dogs make patient and loyal companions.
Originally bred as herding dogs the breed stretches back as far as the Bronze age. They’re capable of defending a flock from bears, thieves, and wolves with legendary patience that would see them standing guard on top of a frigid mountain for days at a time.
Although they’re extremely fluffy and have an undercoat, they’re not particularly prone to shedding. You can prevent matts by brushing the fur once a week and using dog shampoo occasionally can help to keep them free from skin irritants such as dandruff.
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.