Harrier: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Harrier dog outdoors

Nicki1982 / iStock / Getty Images

Sometimes referred to as "Beagles on steroids," Harriers are active, medium-sized dogs that were originally bred to hunt hares and foxes in large hunting parties.

Although they're far less common today, Harriers have a long history as hunting and working dogs. Today, it's rare to find Harriers in shelters, or even from breeders. In fact, the Harrier is the one of the most rare breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Despite their smaller size, Harriers are not suitable for apartments unless owners are willing to dedicate several hours each day to outdoor exercise. What's more, Harriers aren't recommended for first-time dog owners due to their stubbornness and difficulty to house- and obedience-train.

Breed Overview

Group: Hound

Height: 19 to 21 inches tall

Weight: 45 to 60 pounds

Coat and Color: Thick, short coats that come in tri-color (black, brown, and white) or red and white

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Harrier

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendliness High
Pet-Friendliness High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Low
Intelligence Medium-High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Harrier

Harriers have a long, varied history with several conflicting origin stories. Some believe Harriers originated in France—"harrier" is the Norman French word for "hound" or "dog"—and were descendants of Bloodhounds, Talbot Hounds, or Bassett Hounds, all of which originated in France and Belgium. Others believe they originated in England, where Harrier-type dogs first started to appear in hunting packs around 1260.

Regardless of their country of origin, it's widely agreed that Harriers were originally bred to hunt hare. Early hare hunting was done on-foot, so the first Harriers moved much more slowly and strategically than today's Harriers. Once hunters began to hunt on horseback, Harriers developed much more speed and agility to keep up.

There are records of Harriers arriving in North American sometime during the 1700s, but they never gained major popularity among American families or hunters. Despite being one of the first breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, only 949 Harriers were registered over the course of 110 years.

Today, most Harriers are kept as family companions, or are used to hunt types of game that are too quick for Beagles to catch.

A depiction of an English hunting party.
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images 

Harrier Care

Thanks to their rough-and-tumble origins, Harriers' smooth, shiny coats require minimal grooming and maintenance. Brushing your Harrier with a soft-bristle brush or hound glove once per week will remove dirt, debris, and loose hair, and keep your Harrier's coat and skin healthy. You can expect to bathe your Harrier once every few months. Typically, a Harriers nails will be worn down naturally, but examine them every few weeks and trim as needed. This will keep your dog's paws healthy, and your legs and furniture scratch-free.

Like many hounds, training a Harrier can be challenging—they're stubborn independent thinkers who tend to do what they choose. During training, it's important to keep your Harrier interested and engaged, as they may become bored easily. Be sure to use methods that make your Harrier think being obedient is their idea, and utilize positive-reinforcement consistently. It's recommended that Harriers attend obedience training from the ages of 9 weeks to 6 months to ensure proper socialization and consistent training.

Harriers are great with children and other dogs—they're pack dogs, after all—but should generally be kept away from other small pets, like cats, hamsters, rabbits, and birds. Harriers are hunting dogs and may consider these other animals to be prey.

Because Harriers are very high energy, they have high exercise needs. They're not suitable for people who live in apartments, unless owners have access to a large fenced-in area for their Harrier to run around. As Harriers age, their exercise needs will change: Puppies should get about 30 to 45 minutes of playtime each day, while adult Harriers need over an hour of running, playtime, or other activities. Harriers can become bored easily, so it's important to release their excess energy. Failing to do so may result in destructive behavior caused by boredom.

Common Health Problems

Like all breeds or mixed breeds, Harriers may be susceptible to certain health conditions. Not every Harrier will develop health problems, but it's important to know what to do, in case these conditions develop in your dog.

Some common health conditions among Harriers include:

  • Hip or elbow dysplasia, which can lead to instability, weakness, and pain in the joints. It's an inherited condition, but can be worsened by rapid growth due to weight gain or injury.
  • Hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder that reduces the dog's metabolic rate and can lead to canine obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Ethical, reputable breeders take every step to ensure they're producing healthy dogs that adhere to the highest breed standards, but that's not a guarantee for perfect health. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about keeping your Harrier their healthiest, and steps you can take to reduce their risk of developing certain health conditions.

Diet and Nutrition

Your dog's diet depends largely on his age, weight, activity level, and metabolism, but it's generally recommended that adult Harriers eat 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality, low-grain, dry dog food divided over two meals each day, while puppies eat up to 4 cups divided over three meals.

Harriers should look muscular, and have a visible waist when looking down at him. When you run your hands down his sides, you should be able to feel (but not see) his ribs.

If you're concerned that your Harrier has gained too much weight, or you're not sure how much they should be eating and exercising each day, talk to your vet. She'll be able to recommend a nutritional plan customized to your dog.

Pros

  • Low-maintenance coat that requires minimal brushing and bathing

  • Playful with kids and other dogs

  • Friendly to strangers

Cons

  • Difficultly to train makes Harriers unsuitable for first-time dog owners

  • Highly active and requires extensive exercise

  • Not recommended for homes without fenced yards

Where to Adopt or Buy a Harrier

Because they're uncommon in the United States, you're unlikely to find a Harrier in your local shelter. If you're using a breeder, be sure to do your research and locate an ethical Harrier breeder in your area. Ask the breeder lots of questions about their breeding techniques, and try to meet the litters' parents.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Harriers are high-energy dogs that can be challenging to train, so it's vital to do your research and make sure a Harrier will fit your family's home, schedule, and lifestyle before bringing him home.

If you're interested in learning about breeds similar to the Harrier, check out:

  • The Beagle
  • The American Foxhound
  • The English Foxhound