Hares and Rabbits

by Donna Smiley

In order to understand some of the very basic differences that led to the creation of Harriers and Beagles as hunting hounds, you must first know more about their intended quarry.

 

To most people, the terms “rabbits” and “hares” are interchangeable as they both conjure up images of cute, furry hopping critters with big ears.  However, in actuality they are quite different.  And it is these very differences that the two hound breeds were created to match.

 

hareWhile rabbits and hares are in the same order (lagomorpha) and family (leporidae); they differ in genus.  Rabbits are sylvilagus whereas hares are in the lepus classification.  In the US, wild rabbit varieties include the Eastern Cottontail, the New England Cottontail and the Swamp Rabbit.  The most common hare varieties are Snowshoe Hares, and the Black-Tailed, White-Tailed and Antelope Jackrabbits.
Both families are very fertile and reproduce easily and often, as Mother Nature requires of successful prey species.   Hares have young that are born fully furred with eyes open and ready to run.  They do not have burrows below ground but rather have shallow depressions on top of the earth where they hunker down overnight.  Hares tend to be bigger than rabbits, with larger ears, legs and rear feet.  On the other hand, rabbits give birth to blind, naked, helpless young in cozy fur-lined nests dug underground.

 

Beagles were developed to hunt rabbits, as they are a smaller, slower hound.  They pursue rabbits tirelessly, but not with excessive speed; when a rabbit is pushed too hard or fast it will bolt down a hole in a split second, thereby ending the chase.   Harriers were developed to be a perfect match for hares, which are larger and faster and without any burrows for escape.   Rabbits are overmatched with Harriers, and Beagles are usually too small to be very successful with the larger hares.

 

220px-JumpingRabbitHares and rabbits both tend to run in large circles when pursued, most covering several acres of their home territory.  When hunted, they don’t bolt for miles as do foxes or coyotes, but rather they will circle back to near where they started.   Through selective breeding, huntsmen created hounds that do the same thing when hunting – they circle back to the hunter in very large loops when searching for quarry.  “Foxhounds cast forward, harriers (and beagles) cast back” is an old huntsman’s adage, which is definitely true.  These characteristics were bred into the hounds to best match their quarry.

 

In the US, where most rabbit and hare hunting is done with a lone hunter, a shotgun and a couple hounds, this circling tendency is counted upon by the hunter to bag their bunny.  When the hounds are on a rabbit or hare and are speaking loudly, the hunter knows that the quarry will eventually circle back near where it started, so they try and position themselves to get a clear shot of the rabbit when it comes running back with the hounds in hot pursuit.

 

So now you know why Harriers and Beagles are the sizes that they are!

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_hare

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit

 

 

Understanding Harriers

by Donna Smiley – reprinted from her submission to Show Sight

Before Charles Darwin so dramatically changed the world with his brilliant masterpiece,  “On the Origin of Species”, his background in British field sports and hunting gave him insight into the whole concept of “evolution”.

 

You see, humans have been creating new animals through engineered evolution for millennia.  Rather than nature selecting for survival traits through random mutations,  man has been capitalizing on minute genetic variations within animals for as long as we have been domesticating them.   That’s how the huge wild aurochs that once roamed Europe eventually became placid domestic cattle and mild-mannered dairy cows of today.

 

The British Isles went wild over the past few centuries creating and perfecting breeds of dogs to fill sometimes very tiny niches in working ability.   These original sportsmen and huntsmen first looked at the specific game they were wanting to hunt as well as the terrain in which they would be hunted, and then crafted their dogs to best fit that niche.

 

Simply look at the breeds in the Sporting Group, where British breeds predominate, and you will see this creativity.  Broad categories include Setters, Pointers, Flushers & Retrievers, with each group crafted to perform a very specific job in regards to hunting feathered game.

 

And within those broad groups, there is even more specialization .  For example, Cocker Spaniels were created for hunting woodcock, and the larger English Springer Spaniels were crafted to “spring” gamebirds into the air to be either shot or taken with a falcon.

 

Similar specialization is also seen in the scent hounds.   So to understand some of the very basic differences that led to the creation of Harriers and Beagles for hunting packs, you must first understand their intended quarry.

 

To the general public, “rabbits” and “hares” are interchangeable as they both bring to mind cute, furry hopping creatures with big ears..  In reality, they are quite different.  And it is these very differences that Harriers and Beagles  were created to match.

 

While rabbits and hares are in the same order (lagomorpha) and family (leporidae), they differ in genus.  Hares are in the lepus classification with  rabbits being in several different genera; sylvilagus and oryctolagus are the most common.

 

Both hares and rabbits are very fertile and reproduce easily and often, as is required of successful prey species.  However, hares do not have burrows below ground but rather have shallow depressions on top of the ground where they hunker down overnight..  They therefore give birth to young that are born fully furred with eyes open and ready to run.  Hares also tend to be bigger than rabbits, with larger ears, legs and rear feet.   On the other hand, rabbits give birth to blind, naked, helpless babies in cozy fur-lined nests, burrows and tunnels dug underground.

 

Beagles were crafted to hunt rabbits, as they are a smaller, slower hound than the Harrier.  They pursue rabbits tirelessly, but not with excessive speed, because when a rabbit is pushed too hard or fast it will bolt down a hole in a split second, thereby ending the chase.

 

Harriers were developed to be a perfect match for hares, which are larger and faster  and without any burrows for escape.  Rabbits are overmatched with Harriers, and Beagles are usually too small to be very successful with the larger, faster hares.

 

Hares and rabbits both tend to run in large circles when pursued, most covering several acres or more of their home territory.  When hunted, they don’t bolt for miles as do foxes or coyotes, but rather they will eventually circle back to near where they started.

 

Through selective breeding, huntsmen created hounds that do the same thing when hunting – they circle back to the hunter in very large loops when searching for quarry.  “Foxhounds cast forward, harriers (and beagles) cast back” is an old huntsman’s adage, which is definitely true.  These characteristics, as well as other physical traits necessary for successful hunting careers, were bred into the hounds to best match their quarry.

 

To fully appreciate Harriers, you must further understand how they are bred and used in their homeland, the UK.  There Harriers are only found in the few remaining handful of hunting packs currently registered with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB).  Harriers are never kept as individual housepets and are never shown in Kennel Club shows.  They are a working animal, bred for centuries for one purpose – the successful pursuit of the large European hare and/or the red fox.

 

The hunts are generally owned and managed by a committee, with one or more Masters governing the entire process and responsible to the members for providing good sport on the hunting days.  They achieve this by tailoring their own individual pack to be the best suited to hunting their particular countryside and quarry.

 

In the southeast, where the countryside is mostly flat open fields and where the mounted riders prefer fast Thoroughbreds, the Harriers tend to be more up on leg, a bit lighter in bone and substance thereby making them faster in the open country.  However, in the northern parts where the countryside is more hills and valleys, with rougher terrain and more rock walls, thickets and gorse, the riders choose slower draft horse/thoroughbred crosses, so the hounds consequently tend to be stocker with a bit more bone and substance to handle that terrain and hunting conditions.

 

If the pack hunts fox as well as hare, their season starts in early fall with “cub hunting” , which is an informal training period where the young untried hounds just brought back into the pack are worked with the older, experienced hounds in chasing and disbursing the yearling fox cubs from their mother’s home territory.  The formal hunt season usually begins in earnest in November, and continues through early spring.  During this time, hounds will be hunted two or three times a week.

 

This is where sound conformation, endurance, heart and hunting ability are put to the test.  Depending on territory, most hunts will typically cover 20-30 miles in a day.  Multiply that by two or three times a week for five months a year, and you’ll realize that Harriers are expected to cover 800 – 1,000+ miles each season.  Now perhaps you can begin to understand why Harriers have to be constructed the way they are.

 

Moderation in all things, incredible stamina, rugged durability and unceasing determination are their hallmarks and their legacy.  This is the working standard to which the huntsman breeds:  if a Harrier hunts successfully for several years, it is bred; if it doesn’t hunt well or isn’t built well enough to hunt satisfactorily, it is culled.  A tough but utilitarian standard to be sure.

 

These characteristics are what give us correct “Harrier type”.

 

Correct Harrier type is NOT one single look.  It is a working standard that lays out the blueprint for correct type, and allows for a wide variety of styles within that framework.

 

Remember that each pack in the UK looks slightly different from the others because their own style of hound has been created to be best suited for their particular needs.

 

Yet each pack has the correct underlying foundation of a medium-sized solid hound that is moderate in all ways so as to have the durability and stamina necessary to cover a thousand miles a year for five, six or seven years .

 

Because Harriers in the US all trace back some way or another to the various packs in the UK, you will see a variety of styles in the show rings today.  No one style is better than the others, as long as the individual hound still fits within the medium-sized, moderate, durable scent-hound type.   Breeders, exhibitors and judges will have their own preferences in style, and the Harrier standard is written loosely enough to accommodate that.

 

The next time you see a large entry of Harriers at a show, take a few minutes to look at the various styles .  And then look beyond the obvious differences to see the underlying similarities that are truly the correct measure of Harrier breed type.

Samantha and Palmer Beagle Puppies – 8 weeks old

Samantha and Palmer pups at 8 weeks old.

 

Candid and Bart puppies, 6 weeks old

 

Curious & Bart Pups, 5 weeks old

 

Response to “I just want a pet quality” statement

While this article very eloquently speaks to why people should be asking for show-quality-bred dogs, pay particular attention to the last portion. And substitute “harrier” for “canaan dog”. Something we all should be seriously discussing IMO.

Donna Smiley, Kingsbury Hounds

 

Response to “I just want a pet quality” statement.

by Carrie Cabrera (Notes) on Friday, June 28, 2013 at 12:55pm

Query received from someone interested in purebred, specifically Canaan Dog, rescue:

I’ve had a few purebreds, and more mixed-breeds.  I’m not interested in “show quality” and never have (and never would) get into breeding or showing my dogs. I’m in it strictly for the companionship and unconditional love!  

Response:

One of the shortcomings of the written medium is that humans are a very visual species,and we lose a lot in communication when we can’t include things like facial expressions and body language.  I love, love, love these kinds of conversations so I put this as a caveat:  I’m not trying to be argumentative, here, but I’d like to ask if you would be willing to discuss a few comments you’ve made above.

You don’t have to be into breeding or showing in order to deserve a “show quality” dog. In fact, I have made the argument on my blog that unless you are adopting a dog from a shelter, the only people you should ever consider buying a dog from are exactly the people who breed for dog sports like conformation (or the sport dog breeders who are breeding for agility, flyball, dock diving, etc). The reason for this is that for the most part, breeders who are active in a dog sport community are under a lot of (good) peer pressure to be BETTER breeders.  They keep detailed records on the health of their lines,records that can only exist because they actively test and screen the dogs they breed from.  That’s something you won’t get from the backyard breeders who are pumping out litter after litter just for the purpose of making money by selling puppies.  People who are active in the conformation ring are out there asking their peers to actively judge the quality of the dogs they breed,inside and outside of the ring.  The sport dog breeders are getting the same feedback in the sports that they compete in. The backyard breeders wouldn’t dream of doing that in a million years.  The reputable, ethical breeder who has ties to their breed community not only gives their puppy owners a lifetime commitment to take the dog back — keeping it out of rescue and out of shelters — but these same breeders are often the same people who go into the shelters and pull out dogs to foster at home and put into the hands of people like you who want to become involved in a specific breed without having to go through the incredibly hard work of raising a puppy.

I often tell people that conformation is a game of degrees.  Many times, the only thing that separates a puppy kept back for the show ring vs one placed in a pet home can be something as subtle as the angle of the shoulder bones, or the texture of the hair coat, or the placement of color markings.  The puppies placed in a pet home are every bit as good as the puppies placed in a show home in all other respects — they just were off by a degree or two.  Moreover, since you’re looking for an adult dog, I would encourage you to not discriminate against the show ring.  Many, many breeders have retired champions living in their home who they realize would be happier in a different environment and they’re just waiting for the perfect home to come along.  Maybe the dog would prefer to be an only dog, so they can soak up all the love and attention all to themselves.  Maybe the dog has a softer temperament, and would do better in a home that had an older dog as a companion, rather than the some-times boisterous environment of a home with four or more adult dogs.  Maybe the breeder has kids of her own, with all that comes with that like having friends over, and the retired show champion would do best in a home with an older couple, where life is quieter and moves at a slower speed.

The biggest benefit of adopting a dog from a conformation breeder is consistency:  You know you are going to get a dog that looks like X and for the most part will act like Y. There is some variation from dog to dog within a breed, of course, but for the most part you can guess that your Doberman puppy is going to grow up to be a one-person dog and will probably not tolerate other dogs of the same sex. Your Golden Retriever is probably going to like tennis balls and be pretty welcoming to your kid’s friends and your neighbors.

There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re not interested in competing in conformation.  It’s nota sport for everyone.  It’s political, and people can be nasty, and it’s a lot of time and money for scant reward.  It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with a bunch of other people who speak DOG like you do, it’s an incredible rush when the judge points at your dog in the ring, and heck, it’s fun just to go watch all the pretty doggies!  But please don’t confuse” I don’t want to show my dog” with “I don’t need show quality.”  You DO need show quality.  You DESERVE show quality, and so does every single other person on the planet who has done their homework, identified a breed of dog that they think will be an acceptable match with their needs and lifestyle, and found a reputable breeder.

I’m not anti-mixed-breed dog.  The dog we owned before was a mix of indeterminate type (he looked like a German Shepherd mixed with a Beagle), and I loved him unreservedly. The day he died he took a little piece of me with him.  There are some serious flyball competitors out there doing really interesting things with Border Collie/Staffordshire Terrier crosses and Border Collie/Whippet crosses. Dog sports are the new frontier for “working dogs” and just like people have always done, they’re going to try and breed a better dog.

Now, to address the last point, about breeding your Canaan Dog:  Canaans are a heritage breed. They are also vanishingly rare.  How rare?  Well, according to the ASPCA, there are about 78 million dogs in the United States.  To the best of our knowledge, less than a thousand of those dogs are Canaan Dogs. To put it another way, .0013% of all dogs in the United States are Canaan Dogs.  They are THAT rare.  [In 2012 there were a total of 70 Canaan Dogs registered with AKC, SEVENTY.]  To our best estimates, there are probably 3000-5000 Canaan Dogs in the entire world.  Without breeder intervention, this is a breed of dog that is teetering on the edge of extinction.

I’m going to go out on a limb here as someone who has never bred a litter of dogs in my life, and I’m going to say that the normal rules about breeding dogs take on a different light when you’re watching a breed disappear.  Yes, we should only be breeding dogs who have competed and earned a championship; yes, it’s still imperative that we test our dogs for health issues so that we can be sure the dogs we pass on to the next generation are as free of genetic disease as possible, but above all else, we need to be breeding as many qualified females as we can, or else one day there won’t be any Canaan Dogs left to breed. The rarity of the breed doesn’t mean that we should expect less of our breeders, but it does mean that if you own a qualified female, you should be prepared for the eventuality that the breeder you acquired the dog from is going to be looking at you and asking you to make your dog available for breeding. We don’t have so many dogs that we can afford to shut down bloodlines without losing some vital genetic diversity within the breed.