- Bears are not directly related to dogs, but they are both in the same suborder called Caniformia. Raccoons and foxes are also in this suborder.
- The most recent common ancestor between bears and dogs was miacids, which lived as recently as 32 million years ago.
- Some dogs today have a cute bear-like appearance with a furry face, round ears, and long snouts.
Dogs and bears diverged from a common ancestor that lived between 65 and 35 million years ago. Even so, bears and dogs do have some features in common. They both have non-retractible claws, long pointed snouts, sharp teeth, and furry coats. Even so, there are some dog breeds that resemble bears more than others. Some people see a bear’s cute round ears, furry face, and dog-like nose and wonder, “if friend shaped, why not a friend?” But bears should never be approached in the wild. The National Park Service recommends you stay at least 100 yards away from any predatory animal, including bears.
Samoyed dogs are often compared to polar bears because of their white coats and furry look. Their cute ears also give them a bear-like appearance. This friendly dog is also often called “smiley” because of its happy and social disposition. They are also sometimes called sammies.
They get their name from the Samoyede people of Siberia, who originally bred them for hunting, herding reindeer, and hauling sleds. These people revered their dogs and considered them a member of the family. They would cuddle these furry warm dogs at night to stay warm. This behavior explains the sammie’s love of people and typically easygoing personality.
Samoyeds have been bred for over 2,000 years in the region. They are a basal breed and have been around much longer than most other dog breeds.
2. Chow Chow
Chow chows, also just called chows, are a cute Chinese dog breed with a very distinctive look. Like Samoyeds, they are an incredibly old dog breed and have been around for thousands of years of history. There are depictions of chow chows on pottery dating back to 200 BCE. They were originally used to help with hunting and as guard dogs. They were a favorite of Chinese royalty, with one Chinese emperor having 2,500 pairs of the dogs.
These dogs do resemble bears, especially teddy bears. One of their historic nicknames in China is Xiang gou, meaning “bear dog.”
As a breed, chows are somewhat aloof and have a dignified type of personality. Some people say they have a cat’s personality but with the loyalty of a dog. One of the most unique features of this bear-shaped dog is its bluish-black tongue. They also have protruding brows, deepest eyes, large ears, and a furry appearance that enhances their bear-like qualities.
3. Russian Bear Dog
The Russian bear dog is more commonly known as the Caucasian shepherd dog. In this case, the term Caucasian actually refers to the caucus mountains. These dogs were bred in Russia from these mountains in the country of Georgia. The precursors of the official breed have lived for hundreds of years in Georgia and worked as dogs that guard livestock from the many predators of the region, including wolves and bears. They were also used to help during bear hunts. They get their name not from their resemblance to bears but from the fact that they could protect from bears and help to hunt bears.
Other names for the breed include Caucasian ovcharka, Caucasian mountain shepherd, and Caucasian mountain dog.
In the 1900s, dog breeders selected shepherd dogs from the Caucus mountains to create this large and hearty breed. They have big floppy ears, a long snout, and long fur that keeps them warm in the cold winters. This dog is one that likes to work. They do not do so well as family pets unless you give them a lot of tasks. They are also smart dogs who are easy to train.
Pomeranians are famous for looking like little teddy bears with their puffy coats, cute ears, and adorable faces. With the right haircut, a pom can look just like a stuffed toy. Due to their adorable looks, they have been a favorite of royalty throughout history. Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria were both fans of the breed, as were other famous people like Mozart.
These small dogs typically don’t weigh more than 7 pounds and have a spitfire personality. They are active and love playing with kids who know how to respectfully play with a dog. They also make great watchdogs because they are quick to alert you to strangers.
5. Great Pyrenees
These majestic white dogs with floppy ears come from the Pyrenees Mountains that sit between France and Spain. They were originally bred to guard sheep against predators like bears and wolves. They have a lot of patience because they would mainly sit on hilltops waiting for predators to come along. They also have fierce courage since they would scare away animals much larger than them.
Like many of these bear-like breeds, the Great Pyrenees likely has a long history. Bones similar to this breed have been found in the region dating back to 1800 BCE. One medieval French village has a sculpture of a Great Pyrenees at the gate. In the 1600s, the dog breed was named the official Royal Dog of France, skyrocketing its popularity.
Today, these lovely, strong, and calm dogs are still used to help with guarding livestock. But they also make a great family companion animal.
Newfoundlands, or Newfies, as they are sometimes called, are large furry dogs with flopping ears and a lovable bear-like appearance. The dogs were originally bred from other dog breeds, including the Irish water spaniel, Labrador retrievers, and the curly-coated retriever, as an ideal dog to work with fishermen in Newfoundland. These large and strong dogs would pull fishing nets and haul carts.
Newfies are also well known for their courage and ability to help in water rescues. It is rumored that a Newfoundland saved Napoleon Bonaparte from drowning in 1815. There are many tales through the years of Newfoundlands helping to rescue dozens of people from shipwrecks. One of the most recent stories comes from Yuba, California. A 10-month-old Newfoundland instinctually helped rescue a man who had fallen into the Yuba River without formal training.
This dog breed is another gentle giant with a bear-like face. The breed was created for European royalty by combining Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, and other working dogs. They are strong dogs that actually love to pull carts and help out. Though they are calm and quiet, they do require plenty of activity due to their love of working.
Like the royalty they were bred for, they have a dignified aura. Leonbergers love to spend time around their owners and family but are shy with strangers, though not aggressive.
Eurasiers are a dog in the spitz family with friendly, bear-like faces, triangular ears, and pointed snouts. The dog was bred to be a family-friendly pup that resembled a wolf. The breed is a combination of Samoyeds, chow chows, and the wolf spitz. The name of the breed comes from the fact that it has both European and Asian origins. These dogs have calm and confident personalities. They are well suited to family life since that is what they were bred for. They do not do well in kennel situations or heavy work situations.
9. Tibetan Mastiff
These massive dogs are considered an ancient and potentially basal breed. They have been present in Tibet for thousands of years. They have some features similar to wild canines, such as wolves. For example, they go into heat once per year instead of twice per year. They are from the Himalayan Mountains, and so they have a hearty disposition. Early in history, they were given as gifts to some of the first foreign travelers from the Middle East to Tibet. So, the Tibetan mastiff is likely the founding breed for other mastiff breeds throughout the world.
These large, fluffy, and bear-like dogs are well-known as guard dogs. Due to their size and temperament, they are not good for apartment life, but would do well in a house with a yard. They tend to sleep more during the day and stay awake and alert at night to keep watch. If you leave your Tibetan mastiff outside overnight, don’t be surprised if your neighbors become annoyed with their barking. They will sometimes stay up and alert to animals or people.
Akita are another dog breed with a teddy bear face. They have pointed ears resembling bears as well as a pointed snout. These dogs come from the mountains of Japan. This is another dog breed that was once used to help protect against bears. Throughout Japanese history, they were also used for dog fighting. Between the 1500s and 1800s, they were faithful companions to samurai.
These dogs are well known for their loyalty. One Akita, Hachiko, was famous for waiting for his owner outside of the train station every day for 9 years after the owner died.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Karen Appleby/Shutterstock.com
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are dogs and bears related?
Bears are not directly related to dogs, but they are both in the same suborder called Caniformia. Raccoons and foxes are also in this suborder.
What is the most recent common ancestor between dogs and bears?
The most recent common ancestor between bears and dogs was miacids, which lived as recently as 32 million years ago.
What are dog breeds that look like bears?
Some dog breeds that look like bears include Samoyeds, Newfoundlands, and Akitas.
What do bears and dogs have in common?
They both have non-retractible claws, long pointed snouts, sharp teeth, and furry coats.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- The American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/eurasier/
- The American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/tibetan-mastiff/
- The American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/leonberger/