The Harrier is frequently mistaken for an oversize Beagle or a small English Harrier, but he is a distinct breed of scenthound used to hunt hare and fox. His history in this country dates to colonial times and his lineage farther back still, to the early French hounds that were the ancestors of the Bloodhound and the Basset. This rare breed is primarily a packhound, but that is no barrier to his ability to be a companion dog. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering making one of these handsome hounds a member of your family.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Like all hounds, Harriers are sweet and affectionate, but because of their hunting heritage, they are also highly energetic. Expect to provide a Harrier with a long daily walk or jog or strenuous outdoor play. Harriers are great hiking companions or you can teach them to run alongside you --leashed, of course --as you ride your bike. Live in the country? A Harrier is a great companion as you ride your horse around your property. He is a good competitor in agility and is a natural at tracking. Consider a Harrier if you are an active, outdoorsy person who will enjoy spending time with this playful, people-oriented dog.

Be sure to walk or run a Harrier on leash unless you're in an enclosed or traffic-free area. Otherwise, he'll take off when he finds a good scent, going at a pace that you won't be able to match. He'll also need a securely fenced yard to ensure that he doesn't escape and go off hunting on his own. Think Fort Knox. Harriers can be diggers and will dig under a fence. An underground electronic fence does not qualify as secure or effective for this breed. The desire to follow a scent will overrule any fear of a brief shock.

The typical Harrier has a keen sense of humor and is known for playing the clown. He loves kids and gets along with other animals. Being a pack animal, the Harrier is fond of canine company and is best suited to a home where he won't be the only dog. He will alert you to anyone approaching the home, but he will also welcome the burglar and help him find the silver. The Harrier likes to "talk" and will communicate with you using moans and groans, grumbles and mumbles.

When it comes to training, the Harrier is smart and easily trained. Positive reinforcement, particularly with food rewards, is the way to win his heart and mind. You must, however, take into account his desire to follow his nose. If the Harrier is on a good scent, he'll tune out everything else and no amount of calling will get his attention until he has satisfied his curiosity. Hence, the need for a leash.

Harriers have short, easy-care coats and need only a weekly brushing or wipedown. The only other grooming they require is regular nail trimming and tooth brushing. Check the ears weekly and clean them as needed to prevent ear infections.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Harriers love their people and will pine without human companionship. They should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, the Harrier should be with them.

Health Issues Common to Harriers

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

That said, Harriers are a pretty healthy breed. Hip dysplasia is the main problem seen in the breed. Eye diseases are rare. Ask a breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy's parents have hip clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Low $1,500-$6,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Harrier Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Visit the website of the Harrier Club of America for a list of breeders.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Harriers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Harrier can live to be 13 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Harrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Harriers

Pet insurance for Harriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Harriers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Harriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Harrier is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.