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The Harrier: No Foot, No Hound

Harrier dogs standing outside in the yard.

The Harrier: No Foot, No Hound

Horsemen have long lived by the old adage, “No hoof, no horse.” This basically means that the horse is built from the ground up, and without sound, strong, healthy hooves as the foundation, your horse is useless.

The same most certainly holds true with working hounds. A Harrier is also built from the ground up, and strong, tight, thickly padded feet made for miles of sometimes punishing terrain is a prerequisite.

Showing why, in the UK at the hound shows, Harriers and all hounds are shown ‘on the flags’ (which just means on flagstones and not grass)—so that their tight, tough feet can be easily seen.

While the breeder has the responsibility for actively breeding correct, tough, well-structured feet, owners are responsible for maintaining their hound’s feet in good, healthy condition through routine maintenance and care such as regular nail trimming.

But certain environmental conditions will also require additional foot care. For most people, this means winter, with the cold, ice, and snow that can injure feet. The dryness of winter can sometimes lead to cracking of the pads, and walking or running on some types of snow or ice can actually slice the pads. Extra care and vigilance really need to be taken by owners in these conditions, as Harriers probably won’t stop their activity simply because their feet are hurting—that’s not their nature. They’ll keep going on three legs just fine! So, it’s up to the owners to use common sense and keep their hounds from injuring themselves this way.

Another hazard of winter, depending on your location, can be the salt or chemicals put down on sidewalks to melt the snow and ice. Your hounds can pick up quite a bit of chemicals on their feet that also splashes up under their bellies from their own footfall. The danger of these chemicals is two-fold. One, they can damage the pads and skin directly if left on too long. And two, they can poison the hound if they are allowed to groom themselves and lick off the offending salt and chemicals. So, be very sure to put your hound in the bathtub right away after a walk in the city, and soak the feet clean of the salts as well as rinsing the legs, belly, and coat of any splashed-up chemicals.

Summer poses its own risks, especially if the owners run, jog, or bike with their hounds. People have thick, sturdy running shoes to protect their feet from hot pavement and baking asphalt, but hounds are not so lucky. They count on the intelligence of their owners to realize that the surface they run on might be very painful or damaging to their feet—and to choose an alternative such as exercising in the cool mornings or on grass at the park instead of on streets or sidewalks.

Even in grass, you should be able to see the tight, correct feet.

A foot hazard that our hounds personally encounter when hunting are cactus spines. We have a particularly nasty type of cholla cactus locally; they reproduce by dropping off golf ball-sized chunks of spines that blow away from the parent plant. While our hounds avoid running directly into the cactus itself, they cannot avoid picking up these nasty spine chunks in their feet. We carry needle-nosed pliers for removal when a hound comes limping up to us, saying, “Fix it, mom!” After the hounds are back home, we then spend time carefully checking between the pads of their feet, looking for stray spines that might have been missed initially. So, please remember to pay attention to your hound’s feet! No foot, no hound!