The Jack Russell Terrier is a type of small terrier that has its origins in fox hunting. The name “Jack Russell” has been used for all of the several types of Russell terrier but is now most commonly used for working terriers similar in form to Parson Russell Terriers. The Parson Russell Terrier itself was known as the Jack Russell Terrier in the United States until 2003. In England the name has been used to refer to the Parson Russell Terrier and to the short-legged type, the Russell Terrier. In Australia and other countries affiliated with the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) a fourth type, the Australian Jack Russell Terrier, is also talked about but the official name is Jack Russell Terrier. These types are not always considered to be separate breeds, definitions are still evolving and the naming of the breeds is still sometimes unclear.
Jack Russell Terrier Appearance
All Russells are small terriers; Jack Russell Terriers vary between 25 and 30 cm at the withers and Parson Russell Terriers are between 32-38 cm.
They are predominantly white with black, tan, or tricolour markings, particularly on the face and the base of the tail. They have small V-shaped ears that usually fold sharply forwards, and strong teeth with a scissor bite.
They have a dense double coat that appears in three varieties: smooth coat, where the topcoat is very short (approx. 1cm) and stiff; rough coat, where the topcoat is longer (as much as 10cm long, though usually groomed shorter); and broken, which is used to describe both dogs with topcoats of intermediate length and dogs that have longer coats only on some parts of the body (always on the face, frequently on the head and back, sometimes extending to the shoulders, occasionally everywhere except the legs).
Tails are straight, six to eight inches (150-200 mm) long, held high and upright. Traditionally, tails were docked to around four inches (100 mm), the length of a hand’s grip. This was supposedly to aid in pulling the animal out of a hole. In many countries, docking is now illegal, and even in countries where it is not undocked JRTs are becoming more common. The Parson himself did not dock his working terriers.
The breed has a sturdy and robust appearance and an outgoing character; breed standards emphasize that the Jack Russell must have a ‘keen expression’.
Jack Russell Terrier Temperament
Jack Russell Terriers are considered an intelligent, high-energy breed. Their compact size, friendly and inquisitive nature, and intelligence make them popular as pets. Built for speed and strength, they will always be ready to play. However, they require consistent training and a good deal of attention and exercise to maintain their temperament and to occupy their minds. Jack Russells who are not trained on a consistent basis, or are not exercised regularly, may occasionally exhibit aggressive or unmanageable behaviour, including excessive barking, escaping from the yard, or digging in unwanted places inside and outside the house. In America, several Jack Russell rescue networks have to work constantly to find temporary and permanent homes for JRTs whose owners could not meet these requirements for keeping JRTs as house pets.
The old terriermen wanted terriers that would bark incessently at their prey. The dog could then be located underground, and dug out if necessary. As a result, JRTs are most definitely vocal dogs. They lack the nervousness that makes so many small dogs “yappy”. JRTs rarely bark without good reason.
Most JRTs easily mingle with children, though they don’t tolerate even unintentional abuse. Most are outgoing, and very friendly towards other dogs, but a good number show same-sex aggression issues. JRT’s do tend to exhibit a “Napoleon Complex” regarding larger canines that can get them into dangerous situations. Their fearlessness can scare off a larger animal, but their apparent unawareness of their small size can lead to a lopsided fight if not kept in check.
Jack Russell Terrier Health
A well-cared-for Jack Russell can live for over 15 years. One main health concern is cataracts. They are often seen in dogs bred by “backyard breeders” who have not CERF or BAER tested the breeding stock they use.
Jack Russell Terrier History
Russell terriers were first bred by the Reverend Mr. John Russell, a parson and hunting enthusiast born in 1795. In his last year of university at Oxford he bought a small white and tan terrier bitch called Trump from the milk man. Trump was purchased based upon appearance alone. She was the basis for a breeding program to develop a terrier with high stamina for the hunt as well as the courage and formation to chase out foxes that had gone to ground, but without the aggressiveness that would result in their harming the fox, which was considered unsporting. The line of terriers developed by John Russell was well respected for these qualities and, when he died in 1883, his dogs were taken on by other hunt enthusiasts. It was unlikely, however, that many of his dogs were descended of Trump as Russell was forced to sell all of his dogs on more than one occasion because of financial difficulty.
The first split between the types of Russell terriers may have occurred early in their history with dogs being sold by the sister of John Russell’s kennel man. These she described as “Jack Russells” but they may not have been part of the line of terriers developed by John Russell. Instead they may have been shorter-legged working terriers of variable heritage. Later, around the turn of the century, the secretary of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club bred a strain of terriers for badger digging. These needed the brave character and endurance of the Jack Russell Terrier, which were crossed with Bull Terriers to give a stronger and harder dog with shorter legs than the original type. Again these were described as “Jack Russells”.
Jack Russell Terrier Breed Development
Along with these changes the Second World War had a great impact on the breed. Sporting dogs were needed less and the numbers of working Russell terriers were drastically reduced during these years. The original working Russells often became family dogs and were crossed with other popular family dogs including Corgis, Chihuahuas and terriers such as the Fox Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These crosses resulted in changes in form and function and led to a new type of short-legged terrier with a variable conformation. It is this form of the descendants of Trump that are now known as “Russell Terriers”, “shortie Jacks”, or “Puddin’ Dogs”.
The original longer-legged forms were also preserved and, in England, were called “Parson Jack Russell Terriers”. This form was recognised by the Kennel Club (UK) in 1990 and gained provisional recognition by the international breeds association, the F.C.I, in the same year. The name of the breed was changed to “Parson Russell Terrier” in 1999 by the Kennel Club (UK) and gained full recognition by the F.C.I under this name in 2001.
In the United States a group of enthusiasts opposed to the registration and regulation of the working breed registered “Parson Jack Russell” as a trademark. This led to the long-legged breed being recognised by the American Kennel Club under the name “Jack Russell Terrier”. This name was changed to the “Parson Russell Terrier” in 2003 to conform with the nomenclature in other countries. Breeders of the unregistered, working strain continued to use the Jack Russell name for their dogs. Currently there are few differences between the two types, although working Jack Russell Terriers are sometimes smaller than Parson Russell Terriers. Working terriermen tend to select breeding pairs based upon size and temperment. As even the largest quarry worked with Jack Russells reach a maximum chest diameter of about 14 inches, this is generally the largest chest that working terriermen will tolerate. It is likely that the differing approaches to breeding and the restricted gene pool of the registered type will result in divergence between the types, possibly leading to two very different breeds as has happened to other working breeds following kennel club recognition.
In England, the Kennel Club recently re-opened its registry to allow the inclusion of some Jack Russell Terriers under the Parson Russell name. The standard was extended to include slightly smaller dogs to about 10 inches (25 cm) high but still with the longer-legged form. Individuals registered with the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain or the British Jack Russell Terrier Club and with registered parents and grandparents were accepted for registration. This may have a delaying effect on any divergence of the two types, but many breeders remain opposed to registration and are likely to continue to breed outside the Parson Russell standard and to continue to use the “Jack Russell Terrier” name.
The working strains of Jack Russell Terriers are not recognised by the FCI, or by any major registry. Some breeders have campaigned for recognition either as part of the Parson Russell Terrier breed or separately. However, other breeders, such as the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, feel that this working breed should not be restricted by the standardization and limits to breeding that this would involve. Most large registries recognize and register only breeds that they regard as “purebred”, that is, dogs who breed true to form, within a set standard, and whose parentage is known to be of other examples of the breed meeting these criteria. For working-terrier enthusiasts this may not always be acceptable. They want to breed for function rather than form, which might include using dogs of variable ancestry to improve the working abilities of the offspring.
In 1990 Jack Russell Terriers were given full recognition by the Australian National Kennel Council. The FCI followed with recognition in 2001. This breed is sometimes called the “Australian Jack Russell Terrier” to distinguish it from the other forms of Jack Russell terriers found in other countries. Its form is very similar to the Parson Jack Russell and to working Jack Russell Terriers, although its standard form is for the body to be longer than it is tall. This gives it a form somewhere in between that of “shortie” Jacks and the taller formation of other Jack Russell Terriers and of Parson Russell Terriers.
Because of the recent nature of these changes there is still considerable variation in the names used for the different types of dog. Additionally, controversy over registration, conformity to set standards and breeding restrictions may still lead to other variations in the naming and classification of these dogs.