There are many similarities between bears and dogs on the surface. They are all mammals, mainly use four legs to walk, eat meat. Many dogs show some strong physical resemblance to bears. But are bears related to dogs? Bears and dogs shared a common ancestor about 55 million years ago. They have diverged considerably since then, but despite their inability to reproduce, they still share common traits. The domestication of dogs also changed them significantly. We’ll learn how bears and dogs are classified, as well as the latest research on bears and dogs in the fields of taxonomy and paleontology. We’ll consider how species interbreed and see how this applies to bears and dogs.

What is the connection between bears and dogs?

The practice of taxonomy provides us with a good starting point when considering the similarities or differences between bears and dogs. If we consider bears, their scientific names depend on the specific species, but they usually belong to the Ursidae family. The next level of taxonomic classification is Carnivora, above which is the Mammal class. The class of mammals is very large because it includes all mammals that share characteristics such as feeding their young by milk, hair and many other characteristics. Carnivora doesn’t necessarily mean all animals classified as carnivores, just that they are descendants of carnivorous ancestors. Typically, they are classified by tooth arrangement and other characteristics such as muscle, coat, and body type. 

There’s even a suborder called Canisformes, which includes dogs and bears Unique to this class due to non-retractable claws, use of plantar motion (walking with both feet on the ground), and many other characteristics. Since bears and dogs share the same classes, orders, and suborders, we can expect them to have a lot in common. In effect, this means they shared a common ancestor sometime in the recent (geographically speaking) past, from which modern bears and dogs descend. Any tooth will tell paleontologists, experts who deal with life in past geological times by investigating fossil remains, a lot about the diets and lifestyles of animals. The biggest problem with finding such fossils is the rarity of animal fossils. There are many factors that must be aligned, such as not being eaten by other organisms, not having natural erosion or bacteria, and then the petrochemical process must occur.

When do dogs and bears part ways?

Modern dogs belong to the Canidae family, while bears belong to the Ursidae family. Looking at other animals in these respective families, and how genetic testing was used to determine the genetic distance between the two species, led to some interesting conclusions. Although dogs and bears share a common ancestor, some time has passed between this common ancestor and the present bear and dog paradigm, and these two distinct species have emerged. It’s not accurate to say that dogs and bears parted ways, but that they shared a common ancestor at some point. This common ancestor was neither a bear nor a dog, but factors such as geographic isolation led to the emergence of two distinct lineages.

Can bears mate with dogs?

Bears and dogs cannot mate. Among the many incompatibilities, dogs have 78 chromosomes and bears have 74. Their shared common ancestor has split into many different lineages long before the split between the bear and dog lineages. Successful mating and reproduction requires a few prerequisites. While the definition of a species can change, it does often contain provisions that animals of different species cannot reproduce with each other. This definition is largely attributed to the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Known as a botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician, he is known for formalizing the binomial nomenclature in the 1800s, using two Latin grammatical names to name species. As scientists do more research, it turns out that not being able to hybridize isn’t always true. There are many different species of animals that can reproduce and produce offspring. Such offspring may be sterile, such as mules or ligers.

Bears mistaken for dogs

In China in 2018, a family bought a puppy while on vacation, thinking it was a Tebertan mastiff. When the dog reached 250 pounds and walked around on its hind legs, it occurred to the family that their pet might not be a dog. Sure enough, it was confirmed to be a bear and taken to the care of a wildlife sanctuary. 

Final thoughts

So despite their many similarities, it’s safe to say that bears are not related to dogs, at least they haven’t been related for millions of years. While your chocolate lab may resemble a little brown bear, or your Samoyed may resemble a miniature polar bear, there is no direct connection between the different species. If you value your own safety, this can be a good thing!