What is it that makes a good bear-dog? A healthy mix of foolish bravery, agility and loyalty. Everyone knows that dogs are loyal, and to a fault, turning on their masters only as a last resort, and most dogs are agile and full of fun-loving life. The foolish bravery part comes only to a few. During our stay in the wilderness of Alaska, we have been blessed with two such dogs. The first was an Airedale named Lavender. She moved out here with us, a Shelty Colly and my two cats. She learned the ways of our new wilderness life just like the rest of us were doing. There was a lot of snow our first winter out here and very little trouble to be gotten into.
The following summer was also a learning experience. Lavender had learn, without really being taught, to hang rather close to any of us who might be doing something interesting and to come when called without delay. In her eyes, the kids were to be watched over and played with but not minded so much - they were still pups.
Since we didn't live at the lodge that summer, I didn't see what happened, but Don was carrying fish to the freezer in back of the lodge and had his hands full. Yes, he had a pistol on his hip, but the bear (a grizzly) was already charging and there was no time to drop the fish and pull his gun. Lavender was there and suddenly she was in the bear's face. Never before had she been fierce - not with anything, but no one was going to pick on her master.
The bear stopped its charge and swatted at the dog, never touching her as she danced out of reach but didn't go away and was right back in there again. By now, the fish was on the ground and the pistol in hand but Don had a different problem - shooting the bear without hitting the dog.
I'm sure the whole thing happened in mere seconds but as far as Lavender was concerned, a big loud noise issued from her master and suddenly the bear was down and dead. Don said it was interesting to watch her think about this and quickly put it all together. She now knew what a gun was and it was the only thing she feared. For her, 'big-loud-noise' equaled 'dead', and she knew what had issued that big loud noise.
For her, that was the only bear attack and the only thing we shot with her around, but she never forgot. Every time guns came into hands she would find somewhere to be out of sight, to come if called, but she'd much rather not.
The dog we have now, Gizmo, did much the same thing. Endlessly playful and loving people, she knew who would throw a stick for her and would happily bring any of several she'd collected if you'd only throw it a few thousand times. She was a mutt mix of 1/4 black lab, 1/4 golden retriever, 1/4 husky and 1/4 shepherd. She looks like a shepherd though chunkier, and the bit of white around her nose and the tip of her tail tells of the husky. I guess her love of bringing back the exact stick you throw is the retriever part and her love of water is the lab part, but nowhere in there is the foolish brave part, not that we knew anyway.
One day, while I was at work, my husband was out using the weed-eater and unable to hear anything much else. This time the gun is in the house. Over the weed-eater, Don hears something out of the ordinary and looks around to see a bear charging across our little pond and the dog charging to interfere. Don drops the weed-eater and runs for the house, hoping to get there before the dog gets killed, but by the time he gets back out, the bear is no longer in sight - neither is the dog. He calls a few times and she comes back, the hair along her spine all standing up like a mohawk, the bear stayed gone.
Since then, Gizmo has kept the yard clear of bear and moose. Over the years, she's had to watch over the various critters that have shared our lives for a time. Now she just has to watch over Don and me. Most times, bears are not a problem here. We are not on a beaten trail for them. Summer time fishing is not all that great anywhere near here, though that doesn't mean they don't pass through. For the most part, I prefer to allow them to pass undisturbed, sending the dog after them only as a last resort. So, over the years, she's only chased them if we're already outside when a bear comes to call. Though she's come away with a mouthful of hair, she's never been touched in return. But she's getting old now so I worry about her. She's ten years old this spring.