‘I’m About to Be Killed.’ Dog Defends Canadian Hiker from Charging Grizzly

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Craig Campbell already thought he had one of the best dogs in the world. But after the close call he had with a grizzly bear last week, he’s sure of it. Campbell was hiking on a trail near his home in Cochrane, Alberta, on May 2 when a sow grizzly charged him. He failed to draw his bear spray in time and thinks he probably would have died if not for his dog, a 10-year-old Doberman named Night Von Landgraf.  

“I’m a dog guy, and this Doberman, he comes from a very good breeder and is highly trained,” Campbell tells Outdoor Life. “I’ve had 12 dogs that I’ve trained myself. I kept Brittanys for about four years, and I’ve now had four Dobermans. But this dog. He’s just the nicest, best dog I’ve ever had.”

A retiree who’s originally from Ontario, Campbell says he got Night from Landgraf Working Dogs, a well-known kennel run by Wendy Schmitt. The breeder has a reputation for producing dogs that excel in the competitive sport of Schutzhund (a German word for “protection dog”). Also known as IGP, these trials focus on a dog’s tracking, obedience, and protection skills.

Night goes in attack mode during an IGP trial. Photo courtesy Craig Campbell

Campbell says Night was easy to train and took to the sport naturally. He’s friendly by nature but aggressive on command. In 2019, the dog received the highest score of any Doberman in Canada for IGP level two. The COVID-19 pandemic threw off their plans to compete in the national championship, Campbell says, but that doesn’t matter much now. Because when his dog faced the ultimate real-world test, Night rose to the occasion.

Three Shapes in the Bush

On May 2 Campbell took Night and his other dog, a Labrador retriever, to the local trail that he hikes every day. It’s an old, gated-off road with fences on each side that passes through some fields before climbing toward the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.

“During the week, I would say that two out of five times I might see another person. I usually have it completely to myself.”

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Campbell explains that he’s seen plenty of moose on the trail, and he sees mule deer constantly, but he’s never spotted a bear on the trail. He still carries bear spray whenever he hikes there, but he says it’s more for the coyotes that have tried to fight Night on occasion.

They were walking down the trail as usual that afternoon, and both Campbell’s dogs were off leash. He says the Lab — a regular “chow hound” always looking for something smelly to eat — trotted away with her nose down. By that point, he and Night had reached the point in the trail where it transitions from rolling pastures into a small thicket of spruce and poplar scrub.

“I’m walking west, and I step off the path to the north, where I’m calling for this stupid Labrador who has taken off and I’m sure is eating something,” Campbell says. “So, I’m looking for her — and I’m not positive if I heard something or felt something. But I glance behind me through the bush on the far side of the trail, and I see what looks like the silhouettes of three bears. And I say to myself, ‘It can’t be.’”

A Doberman being trained in a field.
Night works on his tracking skills during an IGP training session. Photo courtesy Craig Campbell

At that point, Night was behind him on the trail roughly 35 feet away. Campbell kept staring at the shapes in the brush and realized they were definitely bears. But he thought they had to be black bears, since most of Alberta’s grizzlies live at higher elevations and farther west. He was still thinking this when the sow charged him.

The Standoff

“All I can tell you is that this mama exploded from the woods. It was so fast that I was in disbelief.”

As the bear ran toward him, Campbell dropped his hiking stick and threw off his heavy winter gloves. Then he tried lifting his heavy canvas jacket so he could grab the bear spray that was holstered on his belt. But the bear ran faster than he could draw. The grizzly hit the fence on the edge of the trail and reared up on its hind legs.

“I’m not going to get this bear spray out,” Campbell remembers saying to himself. “I’m about to be killed.”

Canadian man wearing fur hat.
A close-up of Campbell on a mid-winter hike. Photo courtesy Craig Campbell

That’s when Campbell saw Night, who must’ve started running as soon as the grizzly busted out of the brush. The dog leapt in front of Campbell, landing between him and the grizzly on the other side of the fence. The bear panted and woofed, its lower lip curled back to show its teeth, but Night stood his ground. Over the next five seconds (which Campbell says felt like five hours), the two animals faced off.

“Night was just vicious,” Campbell says. “He was silent and wasn’t really barking, but he snapped at [the bear] through the fence. He had this snarl, and every muscle in his body was tightened.”  

By then, Campbell had managed to draw his bear spray, which he aimed at the bear but never deployed. The standoff ended when the grizzly broke first, dropping to all fours and running back to her cubs.

A Doberman in the snow.
Night takes a break on the trail. Photo courtesy Craig Campbell

When the bear got out of sight, Campbell and Night slowly made their way back down the trail. His Lab was still nowhere to be seen, and he called 911 when he got back into cell range near the trailhead.

“A wildlife officer met me at the trailhead eventually,” Campbell says. “After that it took about an hour and 10 minutes for my Labrador to finally come back [from the carrion she’d found] with a very full stomach.”

Looking Back on the Charge

Wildlife officials have no plan to go after the grizzly bear, Campbell explains, and he’s happy about that. He says the bear was just being a bear.

On Saturday, Campbell plans to return to the site with John Clarke, a retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer and problem wildlife specialist who is one of the foremost grizzly experts in the province.

After speaking with Campbell over the phone, Clarke thinks there could be another explanation for the charge besides the bear just protecting its cubs. It’s possible that the sow was guarding a carcass and had grown irritated by Campbell and his dogs, which had been on the trail pretty much every day before that. Campbell even says that exactly one week before the charge, as they were hiking on the same trail, Night let out a distinctive bark that he thinks was meant to alert him to a bear. He just never expected it to be a grizzly.

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There are other lessons to take away from the incident, and Campbell says he’s already ordered a new sling for his bear spray that will make it easier to draw quickly. He’s also more confident in his own abilities because he didn’t panic and run away screaming when the grizzly charged him.

“Because then I’d be dead, right?” Campbell says. “The bear did what it should. My dog did what it should. And I did what I should. And so, we have a happy ending.”   

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