The short-faced bear was the largest and most powerful land carnivore in North America during the ice age. It may have weighed about 700 kg (1,540 lb.). These bears were much taller than grizzly bears, but not so heavily built. Also, their limbs were longer and more slender.
Perhaps the most distinctive features were its short face and broad muzzle—thus the picturesque name "bulldog bear". A striking feature of the largest known skull, which was found by a gold miner at Gold Run Creek, Yukon, is its great width relative to length (nearly 80%). A skull from a female in early adulthood, from Ophir Creek, is perhaps the finest Yukon skull. Its radiocarbon age of 20 000 years shows that this individual survived at least until the cold peak of the last glaciation in Eastern Beringia (unglaciated parts of Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories). The only other recorded Canadian specimens (as of 2008) are from Pellucidar Cave on Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; and Lebret, Saskatchewan.
The short-faced bear ranged over the high grasslands of western North America, from Mexico to Alaska and Yukon. Presumably it was a rather solitary scavenger or predator. A smaller, lighter-built species (Arctodus pristinus) with smaller teeth occupied the more heavily wooded Atlantic coastal region.
The short-faced bear became extinct about 11 000 years ago. The cause is perhaps partly the earlier extinction of some of the large herbivores that it may have preyed upon or scavenged, and partly increased competition with the smaller grizzly bear that entered North America from Eurasia.