Familiars and other pets.

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They can't be useless like a familiar or a Rangers animal companion and they can't be powerful enough to compare to a PC like a Druids animal companion.

What can you do to fill the gap?
Require them to be subbed out for other class features (3rd).
Be glad they aren't included in the game (4th).

That's just me, though. I've never been a fan of animal sidekicks.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Anyway, My first thought is a "Cycling Minion".

He stands, he fights, he vanishes when he takes a hit, he never really dies unless you do and he's always ready to go at the start of combat.

Invincible, expendable and his turn would be very fast.
Using pets in combat become encounter powers and rituals outside of combat.
I foresee minion rules becoming a great asset in this area.

That said, the one reason I'm looking forward to 4E now is try a campaign where the PCs are dino-riders or have dinosaur companions, vs. newcomers who bring black powder weapons and technology. Cortez meets lost world.
I second thee minnon cycle idea... out of the fight on a hit but alway heable (reade it surges it self not use party resource) on short rest I would probly say a solder type 2 levels lower then the pc...

Before posting, ask yourself WWWS: What Would Wrecan Say?

I guess a Cycling Minion would be an encounter power. The player in question could trade out a power of a certain level to get a certain level Minion.

You'd upgrade the Minion when you upgraded that encounter power.
This is from a old thread on the subject and my idea for it:

I think an animal companion for a Ranger could work as something you gain as a Paragon Path.

I could see it being you pick out your animal companion, lets say in this case a rottweiler. By choosing a rottweiler you gain access to a series of minor-powers (takes a minor-action) which are essentially commands.

Once you use these at-will, minor-powers the animal companion goes about trying to complete it. Each command would be a power onto itself, that either the DM or Player rolls for the animal.

Each animal would have access to its own selection of commands (some would be generic that all would receive).

For the rottweiler they can be things like:

-Tracking a target.
-Threatening a target (you gain combat advantage).
-Throat attack (may cause wounding damage).
-Guard target.

To keep an animal companion focused on a task, each round you must reinforce it with the same command (when in situations without initiative/rounds it is considered implied that you are doing so).