Harriers are a very old breed of scent hound; the first established pack dates to the year 1260, though they may have been around before then.
Though the Harrier is a native of England and is still used as a working pack dog, the Kennel Club does not officially recognize the breed.
Harriers are sometimes called "Beagles on steroids."
The Harrier is one of the healthiest recognized breeds.
Though the dog was originally bred to hunt hare, it has also been used to hunt foxes.
There is some controversy as to how the breed developed. Some say that Bloodhounds, Talbot Hounds and Bassett Hounds were crossed to earlier "Harrier-type" dogs, while others claim that the English Foxhound, Fox Terrier and Greyhound went into the development of the breed. Many people believe that the Harrier was developed simply by breeding down the English Foxhound.
The name "Harrier" comes from an ancient Norman-Saxon word, "harier", which means "hound".
The Harrier has been called the "poor man's Foxhound" because it was slow enough to be followed on foot by those hunters who couldn't afford horses. Indeed, hunters would often hunt their dogs in "scratch packs", or packs formed by dogs of different owners; this way, hunters could enjoy pack hunting even though they couldn't afford to maintain packs of their own.
Like many hounds, Harriers will eat virtually anything and have a tendency of becoming overweight if not watched very carefully.
There have been Harriers in the US since colonial times, though the breed has never been very popular. In the 1930s, Colonel George S. Patton (who would then become a very famous General) was Master of the Cobbler Harriers; the 1960s saw the disappearance of the last Harrier pack in the US. While there are breeders who are devoted to keeping the breed alive, Harriers are almost always at the bottom of the AKC registration rankings.
Harriers have such amazing endurance, stamina, and work drive that they will work all day, covering 30-40 miles on any kind of terrain and will not give up the chase, no matter what. There are numerous stories that tell of hares and foxes actually collapsing from exhaustion when chased by Harriers.
The Harrier does very well with other pets, as it was bred to get along well with other animals who also accompanied hunters on the hunt. They are very affectionate towards people; they had to be, as any dog showing aggression to any hunter participating in a group hunt would not be allowed to hunt. They seem to do particularly well with children.
Harriers are so intelligent that some have been known to figure out how to open gates and scale small fences so that they can follow a scent.