Everything to Know About the Harrier Dog Breed

Harriers are a type of scent hound bred for hunting hares and foxes in large packs. They are one of the few truly medium-sized breeds of dogs.

About the Harrier Dog

harrier dogHarriers stand between 19 and 21 inches at the shoulder and weigh 45-60 lbs.

They have short hair, hanging ears, and come in a variety of color patterns. A humorous, yet a fairly accurate short-hand description of a Harrier is “a Beagle on steroids.”

Harriers should have lots of bone and substance for their size — they should appear willing and able to work all day long, no matter the terrain. The muzzle should be square, of a good length, with a well-developed nose and open nostrils.

Eyes should be dark, alert and intelligent. Since pure speed was not part of their job description, their front and rears are only moderately angulated, which is better suited to providing stamina for long hours of work.

The ribs should be well-sprung and extend down past the elbows to provide lots of heart and lung room. The feet on the Harrier should be tight cat-feet with well-developed thick pads that will hold up to rough terrain and lots of work.

The tail is set on high and carried up; a brush of hair should be seen on the underside. The hair on the rest of the body is short, and on the ears is fine and soft. Dewclaws are removed from the front feet, and from the rear if they happen to be born with them.

Coat color is not regarded as important in Harriers, so no color is preferred over the other. The typical Harrier is tan, black & white, with a black saddle blanket, tan on the head, ears & legs, and white on the feet, muzzle, chest, underside, blaze and on the end of the tail.

However, tan, brown & white, or open-markings with lots of white are also fairly common.

History

In the UK

Harriers were developed in England as a scenting pack hound. The earliest records of a pack of Harriers dates from the 1200’s. Originally, they were used to hunt hare with the hunters on foot, so used to be a much slower, more methodical hound more reminiscent of the bloodhound type.

Eventually, when foxhunting became the fashion, Harriers were adapted to hunt in front of mounted riders. Harriers are still used today in the British Isles, Australia and Nwe Zealand, with most packs hunting both fox and hare.

In the US

Harriers first came to the US in colonial days. There were even several Harrier packs in the US through the early part of this century. General George S. Patton (then a Colonel) was Master of the Cobbler Harriers from 1936 to 1938.

The last US Harrier pack disappeared in the late 1960’s when the hunt changed over to foxhounds.

Harriers were one of the first breeds admitted to the AKC Stud Book in 1885. Two Harriers were exhibited at the very first Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877. Never a popular breed in terms of numbers, Harriers consistently rank at or near the bottom of yearly AKC registration statistics.

In the US today, the vast majority of Harriers are first and foremost housepets. Some also have careers in the show ring or obedience ring. A few are also used by rabbit hunters, as they are outstanding on snowshoe hare and other game too fast for most Beagles.

Temperament

As with most dog breeds, due consideration must be given to their original purpose when looking at a Harrier as a companion. A true hound, they are energetic, independent, self-willed and persistent.

Harriers were bred to work absolutely all day long (covering 20-40 miles) out in front of hunters, to think things out for themselves, to never give up the chase no matter what happened. Harriers perform their function remarkably well; hares and foxes are known to collapse from sheer exhaustion when pursued by the tireless Harrier.

Because of their naturally independent, sometimes stubborn, nature, obedience training is highly suggested for Harriers. If you are looking for a dog to be constantly underfoot demanding attention with a tennis ball in their mouth or waiting on your next whim, then Harriers aren’t for you.

They love being with you but are not dependent on you for entertainment. Because they will entertain themselves, care needs to be taken to see that Harriers are not allowed to get into unsupervised mischief!

Harriers are full of energy, but are not hyperactive! They are ideally suited to participating in your athletic activities such as jogging, bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, etc.

In the home, they are generally very sensitive about their activity level and love to share a lap, wrestle with the kids on the floor, or lay on a rug and chew on toys.

However, Harriers are generally not recommended as apartment pets for most people; except for those willing to put forth the extra effort to provide adequate training and lots of daily exercises.

Developed as a working pack hound, Harriers are by nature a gregarious, friendly hound that gets along well in large numbers. They should never be aggressive to either people or other dogs. They usually fit in nicely with other pets – dogs, cats, horses, etc.

Harriers have a truly outstanding temperament – friendly, outgoing and fun-loving. And they seem to innately love children; they are sturdy and patient enough to put up with endless play, grasping fingers and clumsy feet with hardly a complaint, although of course dogs and young children should never be left together unsupervised.

They are very affectionate, sweet and loving hounds that tend to view every stranger as just an old friend that they haven’t yet met. As such, they do not make good guard dogs.

Harriers are, however, good watchdogs. They will most certainly notice anything unusual and will sound the alarm with a loud, alert voice.

Care/Maintenance

Harriers are generally sturdy, healthy, happy, low-maintenance hounds. But of course, as it is with all dogs, proper veterinary care is required.

Because they are a short-coated hound, Harriers require only a minimum of grooming — a good brushing and nail-trimming once a week should be sufficient. Their long hound ears also require occasional cleaning. Like all short-haired dogs, Harriers do shed, but the majority of this tends to be seasonal.

While Harriers are independent (with an occasional stubborn streak), housebreaking should not be a problem as long as consistency and positive reinforcement is used.

Unfortunately, quite a few all-breed reference books put forth the mistaken idea that Harriers are difficult to housebreak – NOT TRUE! In fact, quite a few people who have had other breeds prior to Harriers have commented on the ease with which their Harriers were housebroken as opposed to their other breeds.

Harriers can also be vocal — some love to howl, as they were bred for centuries to do when trailing after a game. Some also love to dig (under fences, into flowerbeds, etc.) Training and proper care are needed to keep both of these traits in line, especially if you have close neighbors.

A securely fenced yard is essential. If given the opportunity (such as an open gate or broken fence), most Harriers will not think twice before taking off in pursuit of any interesting scents that they chance upon. While they will usually return home if they are able, a secure yard will prevent them from getting lost, injured or killed.

General Health

The scarcity of Harriers has helped to make the breed as healthy genetically as it is. Because there has never been a high demand for Harriers, breeders have always had to give careful consideration to their breeding decisions, and normally only breed the very best to the very best.

Hip dysplasia is very rare in Harriers but has been found on two occasions. Those two were diagnosed through routine OFA exams, not because the hounds were lame. Most Harrier breeders are careful to OFA prior to breeding.

CERF testing is also highly encouraged among breeders, and so far no eye problems have ever been found. Prospective buyers should ask for OFA & CERF certification.

In the past, several Harriers were known to have epilepsy. Currently, however, as a result of careful breeding, epilepsy has not been seen in many years.

Genetic shyness (“squirrelly-ness,” for lack of a better term) is occasionally seen in Harriers. Hounds with this problem will usually be normal at home in familiar surroundings. But they can “freak out” over silly things – a stranger with an umbrella, the garden hose, a white for-sale sign, etc.

This is not caused by lack of socialization, because this has occurred even in hounds that were extensively socialized from a very young age. Prospective buyers should check the pups to see how they react to strange stimuli – they should be outgoing, curious and confident.

Availability

As mentioned previously, Harriers are one of the rarest AKC breeds. To illustrate this, in all of 1994 there were only four Harrier litters born in the entire US (resulting in only 31 puppies).

So if you are seriously considering a Harrier as a pet, please be aware that you may have to wait a while to find one — you will not be able to go out next weekend and get one!

There are only a handful of breeders across the US, and litters are normally few and far between. If you are willing to consider an adult instead of a puppy, sometimes breeders have adults that are in need of homes too.

Even though Harriers are a rare breed, you can expect a puppy to cost generally $300 to $400.

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