Are bears just big dogs? These are the sorts of questions our greatest scientists have tried to answer for generations, thousands of man-hours poured into getting to the bottom of life’s greatest mysteries. And here at Dog o’Day, we are nothing if not Professional Scientists. So with that in mind, once and for all we will settle whether bears are dogs, based on scientific evidence, because again, we’re scientists. No, I will not show you my diploma.
Part of the confusion seems to stem from, all of things, a dog’s natural enemy: the cat. There are domesticated house cats, and then numerous larger cats like panthers, leopards, tigers and more. So surely there have to be big dogs, as well, right? Yes, we’re all familiar with the concept of “wolves,” but those are only slightly larger than most dogs, and smaller than even some of the bigger breeds. So if there is a large dog like there is a large cat, could it be bears?
Intro out of the way, let’s look at the evidence for bears being big dogs, and the evidence against bears being big dogs. Both are totally valid, and carry equal weight.
Bears are big dogs: the evidence for this theory
On the side of “bears are big dogs” are multiple social postings, which I think we can all consider “science.” On Reddit, a thread is conclusively named “bears are just big doggos” and shows off a polar bear in Russia eating out of someone’s hands, just like a dog.
Meanwhile, on X (formerly Twitter), Trey the explainer says “bears are just big dogs. Pass it on.” So here we are, passing it on. Can’t argue with a guy whose family name is “The Explainer!”
There are a ton more posts like this all over the internet, and as we all know, nobody has ever posted incorrect info on the internet so this must be true.
…or is it?
Bears are not big dogs: the evidence for this actual scientific fact
Okay, fine, bears are not dogs. If you’re at all familiar with the actual concept of evolution, you’ll know that if you go back far enough you can find a shared ancestor for almost anything. However, for bears and dogs, you have to go back 30 to 60 million years to small carnivores called miacids.
The two animals’ family trees diverged from there, and are on entirely different branches: bears are of the family Ursidae, and dogs are of the family Canidae. The latter includes wolves, foxes, coyotes and of course dogs. The former includes pandas, raccoons, weasels, and bears. So in fact, a bear is a closer relative to a raccoon, than a dog. Which probably explains the whole “eating trash” thing.
That said, they do share some similarities, which is probably where the confusion comes from. Both bears and dogs are classified as Caniformia, which is not a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, but a classification of dog-like animals. Additionally, they’re both from the Carnivora Order, which is what it sounds like: they eat meat.
But other than that, dogs and bears are two entirely different species. Which leads to another question: are there big dogs, like there are big cats?
If bears aren’t big dogs, what are? Are there big dogs, like big cats?
There are no big dogs a la the big cats, and that’s because the man doesn’t want you to have them. Just kidding. There’s actually a pretty simple reason, and it comes down to hunting. According to the BBC, while big cats mostly hunt alone, hence the need for their larger size, dogs hunt in packs – so the overpowering of their prey is the sort of task that can be distributed across multiple creatures.
Interestingly, that potentially points to another piece of evidence regarding the point of this article: bears hunt alone, therefore they can't be dogs. So maybe they’re actually big cats?
Are bears big cats?