Many of us have hiked or walked in the park and caught a glimpse of a shape in the shadows. We jump, our heart races, and we wonder if we just saw a bear. Thankfully, more often than not, we’ve just seen a type of dog resembling a bear.
There are several giant breeds to consider if you wish to have a big bear dog for a canine companion. Size is one aspect to consider, and a full, fluffy coat is another. As far as color goes, bears can be black like the black bear, brown like the grizzly, or white like the polar bear. The panda, with its distinctive black-and-white pattern, is in a class of its own.
Although all of the breeds explored here resemble bears in appearance, their personalities vary tremendously. Depending on the needs of your household, one of these ursine lookalike breeds may be the right fit for your family.
Dogs That Look Like Polar Bears
Polar bears intrigue us with their raw power and pure white beauty. The largest land carnivores, polar bears blend in against the pristine snow and ice, and their young cubs slide and play in the winter wonderland. Ursus maritimus, or “sea bear,” reflects the polar bear’s classification as a marine mammal. Polar bears’ fur is actually transparent, not white. Their black skin and thick fat layer trap heat to keep the polar bear warm in sub-zero temperatures.
The Great Pyrenees is commonly used as a livestock guardian dog and resembles a fluffy, drooling polar bear. His thick white coat protects him from extremes of temperature. In pairs or teams, Great Pyrenees work together to chase away predators and, when appropriately raised with the stock they guard, are gentle even with newborns. Pyrs are known for being calm and peaceful with children, too. Great Pyrenees tend to actively patrol at night and rest or sleep most of the day.
Other similar breeds with these characteristics may be misconstrued as lazy by anyone seeing them resting during the day. These livestock guardian breeds (LGD) are Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash, Maremmas, Karakachan, Kangals, and Kuvasz. Other less common LGD breeds include the Komondor, Polish Tatra, Pyrenean Mastiff, Sarplaninac, Armenian Gampr, Central Asian Shepherd, and Caucasian Ovcharka.
With his Siberian roots, the Samoyed handles frigid temperatures better than most other dogs. He was initially used to pull sleds across the snow and is strong enough to pull one and a half times his weight. Samoyeds need lots of exercise, and their independent nature requires a firm hand.
The Samoyed’s polar bear look is fully functional. His heavy coat is designed to shield him from extremely low temperatures, sometimes as low as sixty below zero, in snow and ice. His smile, a function of the upturned corners of his mouth, limits drooling. Drooling in subzero temperatures would lead to icicles forming on his face. His smile prevents this from happening. His thick white double coat is relatively high maintenance. To keep it from matting, use a pin brush daily and work gently from his skin to the ends.
Kuvaszok aren’t quite fluffy as polar bears, but with their thick white coats and males weighing over one hundred pounds, they’re definitely forces to be reckoned with. Used to guard livestock such as horses, sheep, and cattle, the Kuvasz dates back at least as far as the 9th century, when Magyar tribes conquered the Carpathian basin and brought the Kuvasz to the land that would become Hungary.
During World War II, the fierce white dogs protected their land and families and were nearly eliminated by invading troops. After the war, dedicated breeders rebuilt the breed from the mere thirty or so dogs that remained in the country. Kuvaszok today still guard herds of livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle for farmers working to minimize loss to predators.
Dogs That Look Like Grizzly Bears & Black Bears
The terror the grizzly bear instills in people shows in his Latin name, Ursus arctos horriblis. Grizzlies are one of two subspecies of brown bears in North America. Grizzly bears are omnivores found in woodlands, alpine meadows, forests, and prairies. Control efforts and habitat loss greatly limited their range, but conservation efforts are proving successful. Grizzlies range from very light tan to dark brown and have a hump of muscle over their shoulders for more powerful digging.
Black bears, Ursus americanus, are generally smaller and darker than grizzlies and lack the muscular hump on their backs. The American black bear’s range covers most of North America. Omnivorous by nature and attracted to human food and refuse, black bears occasionally appear in a suburban setting. Black bears have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb trees.
Newfoundlands resemble black bears and grizzly bears, depending on the color of the Newfie. This patient and gentle “nanny dog” may be black, brown, grey, or black and white. Their massive size, males weighing up to 150 pounds and up to 28 inches at the shoulder, may intimidate, but don’t be fooled. The breed standard states that a sweet temperament is the number one trait of the breed.
The Newfoundland’s devotion to his children characterizes his personality. A multipurpose dog at home in land and water, Newfoundlands require surprisingly little exercise for their size. These stately dogs are high maintenance due to their size and grooming needs, but their calm, quiet personalities make them excellent indoor “grizzly bears” for a home with enough space.
The Tibetan Mastiff intimidates with his grizzly bear size and appearance. These dogs can be brown, black, gray, or blue. The Tibetan Mastiff’s ancient ancestors originated in Tibet around 5,000 years ago and are believed to be in the heritage of European Mastiff breeds. The Dokhyi, or “tied dogs,” were tied during the day and allowed to roam for protection at night.
Tibetan Mastiffs are quiet in the home and are good family members when properly socialized and raised with children. They require room to romp outdoors and a securely fenced yard to contain their tendency to wander. Their guardian heritage predisposes them to night barking, which would have kept predators at bay but may make neighbors unhappy.
From German origins, the Leonberger’s coat runs from lion-yellow, golden to red and red-brown, sandy, and all combinations thereof, always with a black mask. Although his looks are much like a grizzly bear, the Leonberger’s temperament couldn’t be less grizzly. Even with his tremendous size, males standing up to 31″ at the shoulder and weighing up to 170 pounds, Leonbergers are gentle family companions.
Male Leonbergers have a ruff like a lion covering their neck and shoulders. This ruff, combined with their medium-length fluffy waterproof coat and bearlike triangular ears, completes the grizzly bear look. The breed’s versatility shines in carting, agility, flyball, therapy work, and waterwork, where their webbed feet make them natural swimmers.
Another grizzly or black bear lookalike, the Chow Chow is an ancient breed of northern Chinese origin. Originally used for hunting, herding, pulling loads, and guarding the home, the Chow Chow is now primarily a companion. With their distinctive blue tongue and independent attitude, Chows are fastidious dogs. They have little doggy odor and are easy to housebreak. Some Chow owners say they are like cats as much as dogs.
Chow Chows are depicted in artifacts and pottery dating back to 200 BCE. Chows were multipurpose dogs, and even sometimes served as the main course at mealtime. The ancient Chinese used their beautiful grizzly-like fur to trim coats. In 1820, the London Zoo showcased Chow Chows in an exhibit titled “Wild Dogs of China.” The Chow Chow began its rise to popularity outside of China when Queen Elizabeth had one as a pet. Best suited to experienced dog owners, Chows are independent and aloof.
Dogs That Look Like Panda Bears
Panda bears, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, live in the temperate forests in China. Pandas are excellent climbers and eat up to eighty pounds of bamboo per day. Their adorable black and white pattern makes them appear like living teddy bears. In reality, they are listed as a vulnerable species, with fewer than 2,000 individuals left in the wild. As cute as they are, they may weigh up to three hundred pounds. The canines who resemble the panda aren’t all cuddly teddy bears, either.
Old English Sheepdog
Although his markings aren’t exactly like a panda bear’s, the Old English Sheepdog (OES) does resemble the fluffy round panda in gray and white. Also called the Bobtail, the OES’s name is technically inaccurate. Compared to other breeds, he’s not old, and he’s neither English nor a sheepdog. Although the breed was developed in English farm country in the 1800s, breeds like the Russian Owtchar and the Scottish Bearded Collie were the foundation of the blend that became the OES.
The OES was initially bred to be a drover, driving cattle from farm to market. His winning temperament and handsome looks made him a popular house dog through the 1970s, but the time and effort required to keep his coat mat-free reduced his popularity in recent years. Still an excellent family companion, the OES’ playfulness lasts long after his puppyhood is over. His short, compact body with rounded rump makes his body look particularly panda-like.
Spanish Water Dog
Although the Spanish Water Dog is smaller than most breeds that look like pandas, his uniquely curly coat makes him particularly cuddly. Originally from the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish Water Dog was developed to herd, hunt, and work with fishermen. His curly coat protected him from fluctuating humidity levels in his area of origin.
This sturdy, well-proportioned pup is well-suited as both a watchdog and a family companion. His coat comes in black, brown, beige, or white, but the black and white variety resembles a miniature panda bear.
The Caucasian Shepherd‘s thick coat, when grey or grizzled and white, makes this large livestock guardian breed resemble a panda bear. Caucasian Shepherds were used for family protection and to guard livestock. For almost a century, the Caucasian breed has had two types, the Mountain and the Steppe; the Mountain is heavier-bodied and longer-coated than the Steppe.
Caucasian Shepherds are devoted and gentle with their family, especially the family children, but they aren’t a breed for the first-time owner. Independent, strong-willed, and territorial, this breed isn’t cuddly as a Panda looks. Not all modern lineages are suitable livestock guardians. If that’s the plan, seek a reputable breeder for proven stock.
Depending on your family’s dynamic, there are many options if you’d like to bring a “friendly grizzly” or another bearlike dog into your home. Most of these breeds take up considerable space in the house and yard, and supplies and food for a dog this size can be expensive. Some breeds are less suitable for inexperienced dog owners than others, so research your desired breed to make sure your pup has the best shot at a long, happy life in your home.