“Harrier,” in old Norman-speak, means “hunting dog.” He is one of the oldest scenthounds still existing today, dating back to 13th-century England. In appearance, he resembles a Beagle or American Foxhound, but is a distinctly different breed…The Harrier is a smaller version of the English Foxhound, which makes him ideal for hunting rabbits, squirrels, hares and raccoons. Packs of Harriers were kept by British gentry, but the poor in the Middle Ages could not afford horses, making the Harrier known and kept only by aristocrates since their swiftness let them keep up with the hunters’ horses. He’s been known in America since colonial times, brought with southern planters to keep their fields free of vermin. Although the Harrier was recognized by the AKC in 1900, he has never been popular as a companion or show dog despite his handsome appearance and likeable demeanor.
In temperament, the Harrier is playful and extroverted like the Foxhound, but not as much as the Beagle. He’s been described as friendly, out-going, intelligent, curious and affectionate. He does well with children and other pets. The Harrier does not do well in apartments or cities unless he has a large yard in which to expend his vast energy and exercise needs. He’s more comfortable in a rural setting with lots of ground to cover since he’s a very savvy scenthound. If he’s bored, he can become destructive and a nuisance barker.
A Harrier is often skeptical of strangers and makes an excellent watchdog, sounding his loud baying bark at the approach of an “unauthorized” person in his territory. However, he is not a good protection dog, and once he is properly introduced to a stranger, is generally friendly towards him/her. He can easily hunt for hours over rough terrain at the wish of his owner. His amiable disposition makes him eager to please, yet his independence makes him difficult to train in obedience or agility. He is often seen competing in field trials where he does well.
Harriers’ only major health concern is hip dysplasia, although rare cases of epilepsy have been seen. His short, hard coat requires only a simple brushing. In the field, he tolerates cold and heat well, but needs to be housed indoors.
The Harrier is not a good choice for a first-time dog owner who is unfamiliar with very active scenthounds. To master obedience, he needs an experienced trainer with a firm hand. With the right owner, he is an excellent hunter and friendly companion dog.