Of each particular thing, ask:
What is it in itself?
What is its nature?
What does it do?”
  .....Marcus Aurelius.

The Finns have a word – ‘sisu’ – that encompasses many character traits. Strength, honour, courage, confidence, perseverance in the face of adversity, no matter how overwhelming – these are common to the Finnish people on the whole. Like their countrymen, Bear Dogs are the ‘immovable object’, as opposed to the ‘unstoppable force.’ 

The typical Bear Dog is a one-owner canine, willing and able to stand by his owner’s side in any situation. He can be disdainful, even challenging to those he does not know or trust, but should be accepting of strangers touching him if accompanied by his human partner. 

However much the Karelian demonstrates self-control in his dealings with people, he can be a handful around other dogs. His “great fighting spirit” often manifests itself in flat-out aggression; the breed loves to fight and will take on any challenger with relish. 

Not so many years ago one writer referred to them as the ‘terrors of the Finnish woodlands’, and until very recently, this belligerence was demanded in show rings by breed specialists. 

While most exhibits nowadays will not ‘fire until fired upon’, it would do judges well to understand this is NOT a dog to be crowded, pushed or intimidated. 



If one would have to describe the Carelian Bear Dog in one word, it would be “GRAND”…Its black and white colour, the fiery look of dark eyes and the stateliness and strength of its essence capture the eyes of a hunter. He is like a piece of untamed wilderness.” ..... Breeder judge Erkki Tuominen

Though the karjalankarhukoira is a member of the spitz-type group of dogs, he cannot and should not be compared to any of them. Perhaps the closest in standards are those of the Siberian Husky and Samoyed, but there the similarities end. The Bear Dog is a solo hunter of large, aggressive game, and his build and carriage should reflect this.

In overall proportions he is slightly (2-2.5 cms) longer than tall, with a depth of body that is about half the height of the withers. Height is as follows: for the dog, 54-60 cms/ 21¼ - 23 ½ ins inclusive, with an ideal of 57 cms/22 ½ ins. Bitches range between 49-55 cms/ 19 ¼ - 21 ½ ins, with an ideal of 52 cms/20 ½ ins.

Proportions are essential, and it cannot be stressed enough that all standard limits be observed for correct breed type.

Oversized dogs lack agility and grace; undersized animals lack ‘presence’.


The head is one of the most defining points in the breed.

Viewed from the top the head forms a blunt, equilateral triangle, with little hollowing between muzzle and skull. The ratio between muzzle and skull is approximately 2:3; the length of the skull is the same as its breadth, giving it a squarish shape. From the front, the line running from the cheek up the outside rim of the ear should be as straight as possible. Ideally, a square will be formed from the measurements taken between the tips of the ears, down the sides of the face and across under the chin.

The ears are triangular in shape, with straight outer edges. They are somewhat thinner than those of other Nordic breeds, and are not always as well-furred. 

The Bear Dog should display a full complement of strong teeth in a powerful jaw.

A tight scissor bite is preferred. However, a level bite, while not desirable, should not eliminate an otherwise excellent specimen.


These give the Karelian his “alert and fiery” expression.

They are rather small and slightly oval, with tight lids. Colour varies: dark as possible is the most desirable, but brown of varying shades is more realistically encountered. Yellow is highly objectionable, and blue should disqualify. 



The Karelian Bear Dog is an athlete. He should ALWAYS be presented in fit, hard condition. His chest is ample, but not overly wide; his ribs are well-sprung, but not barrel-shaped. His hindquarters are broad and powerful. The withers on a male Bear Dog will be pronounced, and *may* show a ‘dip’ behind them. Please use your hands to check this; it is NOT a hollowing, or weakness in his dorsal structure.


Tails are tails – or are they? Contrary to what is dictated by most spitz fanciers, to the Karelian Bear Dog the tail is something that can be taken – or left.

Loose curls, curves, ‘stumpies’ (töpöhäntä) – all are correct. Specimens with natural tails should have them set high, curving over the back, with the tip touching the body on either side (kiekkohäntä).

A circular ring with the tip touching the back is also fine. However, a tight curl such as that found on the Norwegian Elkhound is a fault; old-time judges would look for enough space to pass a chicken egg through the curl.

Once only tolerated, bobtails are again being accepted as equally correct.

Carriage should reflect the attitude of the dog, and should always be carried over the back when moving. Bitches may drop theirs if standing. 

The white tip most commonly found is just that – common. It is not essential. 


Light, ground-covering and effortless. Changes easily from a trot to a gallop, which is the most natural style of movement.”.... Finnish/FCI breed standard

The Karelian is disarmingly agile. He can spin on a dime and twist back on himself in an eyeblink – in the air, if need be.

His ‘sense of self’ is keen, and he knows exactly what, and where things are in his personal space.

Movement should be light, easy and fluid, and convey stamina as opposed to brute strength. Even at speed, the dog should give the impression of having an ‘extra gear’ on hand. 

Old-school Bear Dog judges will not tolerate extended trots and T.R.A.D. If a dog exhibits what they perceive to be artificial movement, it is often penalised for moving too quickly. 


For the want of a shoe…” 

The majority of Bear Dogs will display good, sound legs and feet. The foot should be thickly padded, roundish in shape, and tight. Bones are straight and strong. Angulation is not extreme – think Norwegian Elkhound or Finnish Spitz.

Remember, he is by nature a galloping breed. On the hunt he must be able to carry that gait for up to several hours at a time, often subsisting solely on what he can catch. Hocks are well let down; pasterns are only slightly bent. 


Few Bear Dogs are a true ‘blue’, jet or obsidian black; good, clear daylight should show a maroon or wine-hued tint in the coat of even the most protected kennel dog.

A reddish, sunburned cast is held quite desirable, and is often indicative of older, historically established bloodlines. 

Coat texture should give a solid ‘hand’, is relatively harsh, and always straight. Woolly, cotton-like or silky coats are to be severely faulted, as is an absence of undercoat. The sole exception to this is during the summer coat ‘blow’. 

Mature males may carry extra length on the neck and rear of thighs, but never so much as to appear long or feathered. 

On markings: the “Irish” pattern is attractive, but not required. A half-collar or mis-matched set of legs are a very small part of the overall picture. Finnish judges go by percentages. 

On colour: Though other shades appeared on early specimens, today's Karelian is black and white. 

If chalk, dye, mousse, spray, scissoring, sculpting and trimming make a good hunting dog, then by all means allow it.

Since honourable scarring is not to be faulted, most Bear Dog fanciers would rather their dog be missing an ear!

Encourage handlers to leave their “artistry” in the tack box. Artificial enhancement should be severely penalized.

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30 May 2011