On the surface, bears and dogs may not seem to have much in common. After all, bears are large, furry creatures that spend most of their time in the wild, while dogs are small, domesticated animals that live in our homes.
However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that bears are related to dogs in some ways. How are they similar, and how are they different? Let’s dive in.
Are Bears Related to Dogs
To quickly answer this question: no, bears aren’t directly related to canines, despite their many similarities. Whether or not certain breeds of animals are connected can be determined by looking at their scientific classification as well as historical evidence.
Taxonomic classification is the scientific way of grouping animals with specific characteristics. This system was created by Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century and is used to this day to help us understand the relationships between different species of animals.
According to this system, specific animals are classified into more general categories, all the way up to the broadest grouping, known as a kingdom. Physical traits, diet, habitat, and behavior are all considered when determining an animal’s classification.
Dogs, in particular, belong to the Canidae family, which is a group of animals that includes wolves, coyotes, and foxes. They have pointed ears, long jaws, less-specialized teeth, and non-retractable claws.
But are bears in the dog family as well? Given the distinctions in ear shape, thick coats, sturdy claws, and other features, it’s clear that bears are not canines.
So, what family are bears in, then? They belong to the Ursidae family, which includes animals like pandas, raccoons, and weasels. Members of this family all have short snouts, round ears, and plantigrade feet (which means they walk on the entire bottom of their feet rather than just their toes).
While bears and dogs don’t share a direct family lineage, they do both belong to what’s known as facultative carnivores. This is a subgroup of animals within the Carnivora Order that includes any creature that can survive on a diet that’s mostly, but not exclusively, meat.
As you might expect, Carnivora Order includes most of the major obligate carnivores like lions, tigers, and hyenas. But it also encompasses several other omnivores—animals that eat meat and plants. This includes bears, dogs, raccoons, and badgers.
The broad-spectrum Carnivora Order was eventually subdivided into two biological families—the Feliformia and the Caniformia. The former includes all cat-like animals, such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Their faces are short and wide, and their claws are semi-retractile.
Meanwhile, the Caniformia family is made up of all of the dog-like animals. In addition to dogs, wolves, and foxes, this grouping includes bears, weasels, and sea lions. Given their grouping, it’s not surprising that they share a number of similarities in terms of their physical appearance and behavior.
However, it’s important to remember that this is simply a coincidence of evolution. While they may be grouped together, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re closely related.
The closest thing that points to the concept of dogs being related to bears is that they both share a common ancestor—Miacids. These small, carnivorous creatures lived between 30 and 60 million years ago.
From there, the Feliformia and the Caniformia families eventually split. Despite their shared ancestry, they have evolved independently of one another to become the distinct creatures we know today.
Dogs That Look Like a Bear
Even though dogs and bears are not closely related, there are certain canine breeds whose appearance bears a striking resemblance to that of a bear. You might even say they bear-ly look different from one another!
Some of the most notable examples of dogs that resemble bears are:
- Tibetan Mastiff
- Chow Chow
- Great Pyrenees
- Caucasian Shepherd Dog
- Bush Dog
Perhaps the most menacing and bear-like of them all, the Tibetan Mastiff is a large and muscular animal originally bred for guarding and hunting. These dogs can weigh between 100 and 160 pounds and are known for fierce loyalty to their owners.
Their heavy fur coats make them look even more bear-like, especially in the wild. It’s slightly thicker around the ears and neck, giving them a bit of a mane. Tibetan Mastiffs also have a tail tufted with fur, which is another similarity to their ursine cousins. Their calm disposition closely resembles hibernating bears as well.
Originating from Northern China, the Chow Chow is another bear-like dog breed. Their most distinctive feature is their blue tongues, which came about due to a genetic mutation. They also have a thick coat of fur that helps to keep them warm in cold climates.
Their build is stocky and muscular, but they typically weigh 60 to 70 pounds, even as full-grown adults—much smaller than other canines. They’re also known to be very independent and aloof, which might make them seem more bear-like than dog-like to some people.
The ever-so-fluffy Samoyed is a cheerful and active breed, originally used for herding reindeer and hunting in the Arctic tundra. Their thick white coats make them look like they’re perpetually wearing a cloud. They also have a tail that curls over their backs.
Their uncanny resemblance to polar bears has made them quite popular, especially in recent years. They typically weigh anywhere between 35 and 65 pounds and tend to be very friendly with both people and other animals. Grooming their coats can be quite a labor-intensive task, but it’s well worth it for dog lovers who want the bear experience without the actual bear.
The Newfoundland is a large and lovable breed used to retrieve fish from the water. Their dark brown fur is thick and oily, which helps them repel water and maintain body heat. They also have webbing between their toes, giving them extra traction when swimming.
Their size is their most bear-like quality, as they can weigh anywhere between 100 and 150 pounds. Despite their imposing build, they’re known for being extremely calm and gentle, which makes them great companions for families with small children.
Another breed of dogs that look like polar bears is the Great Pyrenees. These beautiful animals were mostly found in the Pyrenees Mountains, hence their name. They were bred for guarding livestock but are now more commonly seen as family pets.
Their thick white fur coats make them look like they stepped out of a snow globe and have a tail hanging down low. This breed is also relatively large and typically weighs between 100 and 130 pounds. Their strength and loyalty make them great protectors, but they’re also known for being very calm and gentle with those they love.
This gentle giant surely looks like a bear, doesn’t it? The lush double coats make these dogs look extra cuddly, and their furry tails add to their ursine appearance. Their origins can be traced back to Germany, where they were used for hunting, herding, and cart-pulling.
Nowadays, they’ve infiltrated homes worldwide as loyal and loving family pets. They typically weigh between 130 and 170 pounds, which definitely sets them apart from other breeds. Their great size, combined with their calm demeanor, creates an animal that’s the perfect mix of bear and dog.
The Akita is a large and powerful canine that hails from Japan. Their brown-and-white fur coats have a brindle pattern unique to the breed. They also have a tail that curls over their backs, which is another bear-like quality. They typically weigh around 86 pounds.
These dogs are known for being very independent and courageous, which might make them seem more like bears than dogs to some people. They can also be prone to aggression if they’re not properly socialized, something that’s undoubtedly akin to their wild cousins. Since bear attacks are becoming more and more common, people find this kind of hostility something to consider before bringing an Akita into your home.
This hybrid breed is a mix of the Golden Retriever and the Standard Poodle, two dogs that are about as far from bears as you can get. However, their teddy bear-like appearance has helped them gain popularity in recent years.
Their thick, curly coats can be white, cream, brown, or black, depending on the parentage. They also have the propensity to shed, so they might not be the best choice for those with allergies. They typically weigh between 55 and 75 pounds, which means they’re the perfect size for cuddling.
Caucasian Shepherd Dog
This giant breed is relatively rare, but its size and appearance have a remarkable impact. Coming from the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, where they took on safeguarding livestock, they were intended to be large, intimidating, and extremely brave.
And they deliver on those qualities, as they’re some of the biggest canines in the world. Their bear-like weight of up to 220 pounds and towering height of 34 inches are definitely impressive. Caucasian shepherds also have a dense double coat that can be white, gray, or tan. These features give them a distinct appearance that seems more bear-like than dog-like.
The final argument in the bears vs. dogs debate might just be the Bush dog. These canines are native to Central and South America, where they inhabit dense rainforests and swamps. Their short, coarse fur is usually reddish-brown or gray and can be found in a few different patterns.
They also have a long snout similar to that of a bear, and their ears are set far back on their heads. They typically weigh between 11 and 20 pounds, but they sure pack a lot of personality into their small frames. They are known for being very curious and active, which is likely why they’ve gained a reputation as being one of the most playful breeds around.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are bears closer to cats or dogs?
Nope, bears are more closely related to dogs than they are to cats. In fact, they’re in the same family called Caniformia. All of them—cats, dogs, bears—share a common ancestor, though.
Can a bear and a dog mate?
Their DNA is too different for them to reproduce successfully, so that process would be impossible.
While the animal kingdom is filled with a wide variety of creatures, few are as popular (or cute!) as bears and dogs. One is a giant that lives in the wilderness, while the other is a friendly family pet, but the truth is that they’re more similar than you might think.
They’re connected in many ways, from taxonomic classification to shared ancestry. But are bears related to dogs directly? While science and facts point to a resounding no, there’s no denying that the two groups have several qualities in common.