ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Harrier

Harrier dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Originally bred for hunting foxes and hares (hence their name — Harrier), these dogs have kept their excellent hunting skills throughout the centuries and are still widely used for hunting in the U.K. They are greatly appreciated, though not very common as companion dogs.

They are a medium-sized breed, smaller than English Foxhounds, but still a bit bigger than Beagles.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityHigh
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Hound Dogs
Height:21 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:45 to 60 pounds
Life Span:10 to 12 years

Harriers are often nicknamed «Beagles on steroids», because of their high visual resemblance to Beagles, but greater energy. They are joyful and lively and were specifically bred for hunting foxes and hares, because of their excellent sense of smell. Besides being very good pack dogs, they are also appreciated family companions.

Despite their great qualities, Harriers are still hard to find and one of the rarest dog breeds. Very few litters are usually born throughout a year, and in 1994, only four litters were born in the entire U.S., this meaning about 31 puppies.

These dogs love to track and explore, and must be taken on long, daily walks or jogs to release all of their energy. Being initially bred for hunting on foot and later alongside horseback hunters, they have great stamina and energy to spend. Be very careful with Harriers that you intend to keep indoors for a long time, as they may focus their energy on chewing, digging or destroying anything they may find around the house. This is why you must always make sure they only entertain themselves the way they should.

They are also mouthy dogs who would bark at any strange sound or movement, especially when someone gets onto their territory. This makes them great watch dogs, but may be a problem if they stay outdoors during the night or if you live in an apartment.

Most Harrier Dogs are likely to be stubborn and have a mind of their own, which is a great asset in hunting, but can make training difficult. This is why obedience training is recommended from the earliest age, and only positive reinforcement should be used to achieve the best results.

Main Highlights
  • Harriers are mouthy dogs and most of them love to howl. This is why they are great watch dogs, but their friendly attitude makes them awful guard dogs;
  • Being initially bred as hunting dogs, they still love to chase small animals, so you must socialize them very well to prevent your cats or other small pets from getting hunted down;
  • They are also good at escaping, so make sure your yard has a high and sturdy fence with a very solid foundation;
  • Harrier dogs have a high energy level and are best suited for active families that like to jog, hike and ride their bikes next to their dogs. Otherwise, they may get obese if living with a sedentary family;
  • These dogs are really stubborn and may be a bit difficult to train by the wrong people. Also, they may be difficult to housetrain;
  • They are suitable for outdoor living, provided that they have an adequate shelter from cold and hot weather and plenty of fresh water, especially during summertime. Though, they still love to spend time with their human pack;
  • These dogs are pack animals, so keeping a single Harrier out in the yard would not be a good idea. They need constant company of their family or other dogs;
  • Despite their great skills and friendliness, Harrier Dogs are still not so popular companion dogs and only a few litters are born every year.
Breed History

The history of this breed is highly disputed between three main groups, each with its own theory: some say that Harriers may have been developed by crossbreeding Fox Terriers, Greyhounds and English Foxhounds. The second theory is that the earliest specimens of this breed were bred with Talbot Hounds, Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds.

The last theory is that Harriers are just a version of the English Foxhound. Although the first pack was established as early as the 13th  century in England and that the breed has been used for hunting in England and Wales ever since, it was not recognized in this country until 1971.

Although the Harriers’ origins are lost in time, we do know for sure the purpose the breed was bred for: they were and still are excellent hunting dogs. They were always used to hunt hares and foxes and were constantly adapted if the hunting needs changed. For example, when horseback hunting became fashionable, only the fastest dogs were bred, to make them run faster.

The first records of Harriers imported in the U.S. were as early as the 1700s. Many Harrier packs were then registered and recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America.

The earliest description of the breed was written in 1735 by William Somervile, and the breed was finally recognized and classified in the Hound Group by the AKC in 1885.

In March 1891 the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles was founded in England. In 1891 — 1900, there were 107 registered packs of Harriers in England, and they were far more popular than Beagles at the time.

Although great hunting dogs, Harriers were never very popular as companion dogs. By the turn of the 19th century, between 1884 and 1994, there were only 949 dogs registered with the AKC. Despite that, as many as 182 specimens ranked as AKC Champions of Record, which means about 19% of all registered dogs. Quite a high rate!

Despite their low popularity, Harriers were the 13th breed registered by the AKC, and among the first Hound breeds recognized. In 1877, the first two Harriers were registered in the first Westminster Kennel Club Show, and four New York Harriers were registered in the second show.

Size

Harriers are medium-sized dogs, measuring between English Foxhounds and Beagles. Adults reach between 21 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder, and usually weigh between 45 — 65 lb.

Personality and Character

Harriers are very sweet and gentle dogs, that are very playful, so they are very appreciated by children. They are also very tolerant of people, and very few would act shy when meeting someone new.

Still, they can be stubborn dogs, with a mind of their own. This is why only positive reinforcement should be used while training, to get the best results. Scolding or shaming a Harrier for not doing what you want will only make him more stubborn and unwilling to learn anything. Keep training sessions short and fun, and always display firm, but gentle leadership.

They are very noisy, and would keep barking for a long time if anyone trespasses their territory.  This makes them great watch dogs, that would guard your home faithfully when you are away.

They need very early socialization to be able to keep calm around other pets. They are social by nature and love hanging out with other dogs, but smaller pets may be seen as prey and chased away. This is why they should be raised together in order to avoid any problems.

Introduce your young puppy to as many people, sounds, smells and places as possible and always invite your friends over and encourage them to handle the little one. This way, you make sure you have the most social Harrier.

Health and Potential Problems

The only major health concern in Harrier dogs is the Canine Hip Dysplasia, and some dogs are known to suffer from epilepsy. Otherwise, they are very healthy dogs, that live a happy life for about 12-15 years with only little to worry about. Most active and working dogs may get injured, so you may have to watch out for any crippling or signs of pain.

  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones. This is a hereditary condition, but it may worsen over time by a series of environmental factors, like rapid growth, jumping or falling from higher places. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Epilepsy: these dogs may be prone to epilepsy, a disorder that may cause seizures. It is incurable, though it may be kept under control with adequate medication;
  • Ear infections: because of their long and dangling ears, air may not circulate properly around them, leading to infections. Always check your dog’s ears and keep them clean with a soft cloth, dipped in a cleaning solution from your vet.

Before getting any puppy, always ask for health clearance for all these affections. A responsible breeder should always have screening test results available for you to check out and will never breed any dog just to make some profit of him. Also, you should be able to meet at least one of the parents (usually the mother is available) to see their personalities and health state.

Care Features

Harriers are no apartment dogs, as they are very active and energetic. They must live in a house with at least a medium yard, surrounded by a well-secured fence. They love to dig and chase, so a weak fence is not enough to keep them safe inside. They may escape and chase a cat or rodent away, and run the risk of getting hit by a car or fought by other dogs.

These dogs do best with an active family, who would take them hiking, camping, jogging or biking. They have a huge amount of energy, so children may be their best friends. On the other hand, dogs that are kept in sedentary homes are very likely to get bored and focus their energy on destroying anything they can find. Just make sure their idea of entertainment is safe for them and your home as well.

They can adapt to outdoor living, but they would be most happy when allowed indoors with their human pack, although they won’t demand a lot of attention. Harriers are social dogs and should never be left alone for a long time. They would bark or howl when they get lonely or bored, so make sure they still get some company while you are away or if you leave them outdoors during the night.

They may be kept outdoors, but only with adequate shelter from the cold or hot weather. Also, make sure they do have plenty of fresh water to drink during summer time, and allow them indoors whenever weather conditions become extreme.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs, especially those from working lines, need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent them from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

Should you feed your Harrier dry kibble, about 1.5 to cups per day would usually be enough. Split them into at least two smaller servings per day, which are a lot healthier than one large meal. Puppies should be fed around 3-4 meals per day, while adults would usually do well with 2 servings. Of course, you must always read the feeding instructions on the kibble package to make sure your dog gets enough, but not too much.

Females that are pregnant in late stages or breastfeeding should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Harriers look like smaller English Foxhounds. Their coat is tricky, short and shiny, with very soft ears. Coloration may vary a lot, but they are most frequently seen in red and white, or tri-colored (tan, black and white).

They are very easy to groom, and only require a weekly brushing with a soft hound mitt or a rubber brush. They shed moderately, but brushing helps remove dead hair and dust, and keep them away from your clothing or sofa.

Be very careful with Harriers that usually spend a lot of time outdoors in the field, especially with their ears. Their long and dangling ears may be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, particularly if debris gathers there. Always clean their ears gently with a soft cloth or a cotton ball dipped into a vet-recommended cleaning solution. Never stick anything in their ears, and only wipe the visible parts.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to prevent bacteria and tartar from accumulating and to avoid gum disease. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

These dogs love children, as they are the only ones who can keep up with them, and the  best play mates. Always supervise young children while playing with the dog to avoid accidental biting because of kids pulling their tails, paws and ears, especially in very young dogs. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

Harriers are pack dogs, so they really enjoy the company of other dogs, especially if the family is away during longer times. Only well-socialized Harriers that were raised with other smaller pets would live peacefully alongside them. Otherwise, they may see them as prey and try to chase them down.

Harrier dogs are interesting pets, very versatile and not so demanding. They are great dogs for large families, preferably with other dogs as well, and won’t demand great attention, but at the same time, they are very energetic, so they won’t suit a busy family that doesn’t have time to give them proper exercise.

They would alert you every time someone or something enters your quarters, but they may be tricky to train because of their strong minds. Give them something to focus their energy on, and you would have the greatest relationship ever, with some of the funniest dogs around.

How about adopting a Harrier? Would he make a good member of your family?

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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