The Parson Russell Terrier is a robust and feisty terrier, and was for a time one of the most popular and recognizable dog breeds in the United States. This breed is one of the most determined and dedicated athletes in the canine world and is capable of incredible feats of physical agility. Initially bred to be an uncompromising fox and vermin hunter, the modern day Parson Russell Terrier remains a capable working terrier. For many years the Parson Russell Terrier was known as the Jack Russell Terrier, and many sources consider the two dogs to be the same breed. However, in recent years there has been a split between two groups of breeders over kennel club recognition and breed standards. For the purposes of this article, the name Jack Russell Terrier will be used when discussing both breeds or varieties, and the name Parson Russell Terrier will be used when discussing that breed specifically.
The Jack Russell Terrier was a type rather than a breed for the vast majority of the dog’s history. These dogs were initially created by the Reverend John Russell to assist him in hunting foxes. The history of terrier breeds in the British Islands is a very long one. The word terrier comes from the French word terre and the Latin word terrarius, both meaning earth or ground. One possible literal meaning of terrier is, “one who goes to ground.” The first written usage of the word terrier comes from 1440, although terrier-type dogs are almost certainly far older. The word terrier likely entered the English language with the Norman conquest of 1066, implying these dogs were already well-established at that time. Indeed, mentions of dogs similar to terriers in Britain exist since the earliest reliable reports of the island. Roman reports from 54 A.D. mention small hunting dogs which pursued game into burrows.
Unlike many types of dogs, there is solid archaeological evidence to support the ancient ancestry of terriers. Roman-era finds from near Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD to defend Roman-controlled England and Wales from Pictish-controlled Scotland, included two distinct types of dog, a medium-sized coursing breed similar to a modern Whippet, and a short-legged and long-bodied dog which likely resembled a Dachshund or Skye Terrier. This find not only implies that terriers existed thousands of years ago, but that they were used to hunt in the same fashion as today, where a larger faster breed runs the game to ground and the terrier goes down to bring it out. The original ancestry of terriers is unknown as they have been present in Britain for so long, and they are so different from other major types of dogs. It is most probable that these dogs were developed in the British Isles by either the Celtic people or the various tribes which preceded them.
For many centuries, Terriers were used both for hunting small game and eradicating vermin. These dogs were equally capable of pursuing rabbits, badgers, rats, and otters; versatility that made them valued companions of small farmers and townspeople. At this point, terriers were almost exclusively short-legged and wire-coated dogs. However, terriers were less popular among the nobility who had less of a need for vermin eradication and who viewed the pursuit of small game such as this to be beneath their social standing. However, as forests began to disappear from England so did the deer and boar, which had till this point been the nobility’s preferred quarry. Partially as a result, the British upper class turned to fox hunting as a replacement.
The development of the English Foxhound in the 16th and 17th Centuries led to foxhunting evolving from a simple sport into elaborate ritual. The basic premise of Fox hunting was that Foxhounds would pursue the smaller fox while riders followed on horseback. Ideally, the Foxhounds would catch the fox themselves and kill it. However, sometimes the fox would escape into its burrow; which was much too narrow for the Foxhounds to follow. When this occurred, huntsmen would be forced to both hold back the hounds and dig the fox out of its burrow by hand so it could be dispatched. This created a need for a small, aggressive and tenacious dog that could be sent into the burrow and either chase the fox out or kill it underground. Eventually, hunters began to develop terrier breeds which specialized in fox hunting and could be readily dispatched and sent down into the foxes lair. This type of terrier breeding reached its peak during the latter half of the 19th Century.
Terriers were primarily brown or grey dogs for most of their history. The first record of a white terrier comes from 1790, when a white terrier named Pitch was painted by Sawrey Gilpin. Pitch was owned by Colonel Thomas Thornton. Later engravings of the painting state that Colonel Thornton’s dogs were the ancestors of most white terriers in Britain. Recent researchers have suggested that Pitch may have been either a terrier/Greyhound or terrier/Beagle mix, and the white color entered terrier lines in that manner. Colonel Thornton’s dogs were mixed with a number of other terriers and possibly non-terrier breeds such as the Beagle, Bulldog, Pointer, and Dalmatian. As terriers were seen as less valuable and prestigious than the noble Foxhound, for the majority of their early history terrier breeding records were not as carefully kept. Eventually, this early development would result in the breed known as the Fox Terrier.
In the 1800’s, dog shows became highly fashionable and the British upper class began to treat dog breeding much more seriously. One such fancier was the Reverend John Russell. Born in 1795, Russell, popularly known as Parson Jack, was an avid lifelong hunter. In 1819, he acquired a female terrier named ‘Trump’ from a local milkman. Russell described the brown and white dog as his ideal terrier, and he began a lifelong breeding program. His program experienced highs and lows and Russell was forced to sell off all of his dogs on at least four separate occasions.
However, he would always begin anew, dedicated to breeding long-legged terriers which could keep up with Foxhounds and horses; as well he aspired to create a terrier that would only drive the fox out of its burrow rather than kill it. He chose not to breed either black and tan or brindle dogs, as he thought those colors were indicative of Lakeland Terrier and Bull Terrier blood, respectively. These two breeds were known for being “hard” terriers, or ones that were likely to kill the fox in the burrow. By the end of the 1850’s Russell’s dogs were seen as a distinct type of fox terrier, though none of his pedigrees or breeding records can be traced beyond 1862. The Reverend Russell never intended for his dogs to be anything other than a variety of Fox Terrier and indeed he was one of the founding members of both the Fox Terrier Club and the Kennel Club.
After Russell’s death, Fox Terrier breeding in most parts of England favored more modern looking Fox Terriers. In some areas, the Russell-type predominated. In 1894, the Devon and Somerset Badger Club was founded by Arthur Blake Heinemann. This club produced the first written standard for a Russell-type terrier in 1904, although Heinemann’s dogs were used for badger hunting and were likely substantially different from Russell’s dogs. The Heinemann standard called for a 14 inch tall terrier. Around this time Jack Russell Terrier breeding began to be considerably looser, and an influx of genes from other breeds may have entered the gene pool, such as Corgis, other terriers, and Chihuahuas. A number of breeders began to develop Jack Russell’s which were considerably shorter-legged and allowed hunters to work on foot rather than horseback. These dogs remained popular as family pets and hunting companions in England.
It was these later Jack Russell Terriers which were less carefully bred that first entered America. It is unclear when the first Jack Russell Terriers entered America, but they were well-established by the end of the 1970’s. Ailsa Crawford, one of the first serious Jack Russell Terrier breeders in America, founded the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) in 1976. The JRTCA intentionally focused on the Jack Russell Terrier’s working ability. To further this goal, championships were determined largely by working ability rather than conformation. Breeding within lines was strongly discouraged. Dogs were not registered until adulthood; ensuring registered dogs had the requisite working ability. Additionally, standards were kept broad, allowing the registration and acceptance of dogs from 10 inches to 15 inches.
During the 1970’s, a number of breed clubs formed in England to promote the breed, some of which favored Kennel Club recognition and others which vehemently opposed it. One of the primary disputes between the two groups was the proper size of dogs. Breeders who wanted Kennel Club recognition desired dogs which complied with the 14 inch standard they felt best represented the Reverend Russell’s original dogs. Breeders who did want recognition favored the broader 10 to 15 inch standard. This split also occurred in the United States. In 1985, the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America (JRTAA) split from the JRTCA. The dispute was over the same grounds as those between British breeders, with the JRTAA favoring a narrower standard closer to Jack Russell’s dogs.
The Jack Russell Terrier slowly increased in popularity in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In 1982, a Jack Russell Terrier named Bothy became the first dog to visit both the North and South Poles, a feat which is unlikely to be repeated as dogs have since been banned from Antarctica. In 1990, those Jack Russell Terrier clubs in England which sought Kennel Club recognition got their wish when the breed was granted formal recognition in 1990 as the Parson Jack Russell Terrier, though initially the breed was only recognized as a variety of Fox Terrier and not its own separate breed. In the United States, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted the breed recognition in 1991 as the Jack Russell Terrier. The Kennel Club used the narrower standard advocated by the JRTAA while the UKC used the broader JRTCA standard. JRTCA members were either skeptical or outright opposed.
In the early 1990’s, Jack Russell Terriers were prominently featured in three separate film and television roles and the breed skyrocketed in popularity in America. Debuting in 1993, the television show Frasier featured a Jack Russell Terrier character named Eddie. Eddie was extremely popular and got more fan mail than any of the show’s other characters. In 1994, The Mask, starring Jim Carey, opened. Carey, played bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss who’s pet Jack Russell Terrier ‘Milo’again stole the show. This movie did a lot for exposing the breed to children. Finally, in 1995, the children’s television show Wishbone debuted. The show was about a dog that could read books and fantasize about them. Wishbone was played by a Jack Russell Terrier, and the breed became even more popular with children. By the end of the 1990’s, the Jack Russell Terrier was one of the most popular and fashionable family dogs in America.
By the end of the 1990’s, the American Kennel Club (AKC) began to express interest in registering the Jack Russell Terrier. At that time, the Jack Russell Terrier was far more numerous and well-known than most AKC registered breeds. The JRTCA members who were skeptical of registration with the UKC, a club which clearly states that its primary focus was on dogs with working ability, were furious over the possibility of their dogs being registered with the AKC, which focuses primarily on conformation. A huge battle began between the JRTCA, and the JRTAA and AKC. This fight became deeply personal and divisive, and at points even brought about legal action.
In 1997, the AKC began registering Jack Russell Terriers, and allowed them to compete in various events. The AKC used the 14 inch standard and recognized the JRTAA as the official breed parent club. Breeders who favored the 14 inch standard both in the United States and United Kingdom wanted to disassociate themselves from those who favored the broader standard. They sought to change the name of the breed from either the Jack Russell Terrier or the Parson Jack Russell Terrier to the Parson Russell Terrier. This change was made official by the Kennel Club in 1999, the AKC in 2003, and the UKC in 2008. The JRTAA also officially changed its name to the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America (PRTAA).
There remains substantial disagreement among breeders, fanciers, kennel clubs, and experts as to how to treat the difference between the Jack Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier. The most common treatment is to consider the Parson Russell Terrier as the conformation show variety of the Jack Russell Terrier breed. This is the treatment shared by virtually every major national and international kennel club, including the AKC. The UKC further confuses the issue by calling their dogs the Parson Russell Terrier, but use the broader Jack Russell Terrier standard. In essence, the UKC is saying that the two breeds are the same, and the official breed name is the Parson Russell Terrier.
However, many organizations take different stances. Many members of the PRTAA believe that the Jack Russell Terrier is not a breed at all, but rather a generic type of dog similar to a retriever or spaniel. Similarly, while most JRTCA members consider the Parson Russell Terrier to be a variety of Jack Russell Terrier, others argue that since the breed does not have the working ability requirements for registration that these dogs are not Jack Russell Terriers at all. The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) and the New Zealand Kennel Club (NZK) are the only two major canine bodies that treat the Jack Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier as two unique breeds and register them as such. It is possible that the two dogs will eventually develop into two distinct breeds, but it is hard to say for now as a number of Parson Russell Terriers are either registered as Jack Russell Terriers or are eligible to be, and vice-versa. However, it is likely that the Jack Russell Terrier population far exceeds that of the Parson Russell Terrier. Although it is impossible to get exact populations, the ANKC registration statistics can provide a clue. In 2009, that kennel club registered 18 Parson Russell Terriers and 1073 Jack Russell Terriers.
Regardless of their mutual relationship, the Jack Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier are both declining in popularity, especially in the United States. The shows and movies which popularized the breed are no longer on the air, and the breed is no longer nearly as fashionable as it once was. Additionally, these shows created expectations for the breed which were unfair. Jack Russell Terriers portrayed in mass media are professionally trained actors that work off unseen cues and rewards. In reality, most Jack Russell Terriers are rather stubborn and can be quite difficult to train. Additionally, many families discovered that this breed is considerably more energetic and prey-driven than they desired.
A large number of Jack Russell Terrier puppies went to homes that were unprepared or undesiring of this breed’s special needs. Many Jack Russell Terriers did not have their needs met and developed behavioral problems as a result. This in turn led to the breed beginning to develop a negative reputation which was largely unfair. This problem continues to this day. Large numbers of Jack Russell Terriers did and continue to end up in animal shelters, where their reputation makes them difficult to adopt. A very high percentage of Jack Russell Terriers that end up in animal shelters end up being euthanized, which is very unusual for a breed of this small size. These problems are becoming less severe as the breed’s peak popularity in the 1990’s is farther and farther in the past. The breed is definitely declining in popularity in terms of AKC registrations, in 2010, the Parson Russell Terrier ranked 92nd out of 167 breeds, twenty spots lower than in 2000.
Many Jack Russell Terriers are still primarily bred for hunting ability, and most Parson Russell Terriers are only a few generations removed from hunting dogs. As a result, this breed or breeds remains a capable hunting terrier and excellent vermin eradicator. This has made them a popular barn and farm dog as well. This breed is also commonly used in a number of canine sports such as Frisbee, flyball, and agility competitions. The Jack Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier are among the most popular dogs among highly active families, and are always ready for an adventure. However, the vast majority of Jack Russell Terriers and especially Parson Russell Terriers are now companion animals.
The Parson Russell Terrier is almost identical in appearance to the Jack Russell Terrier, but is more standardized. As many consider the Parson Russell Terrier to be a variety of the Jack Russell Terrier, this makes sense. In fact, the UKC uses the broader Jack Russell Terrier standard for the Parson Russell Terrier, essentially eliminating any different between the two breeds. There are two primary differences between the AKC Parson Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier. The Parson Russell Terrier can only be between 13 inches and 14 inches tall at the shoulder, rather than from 10 inches to 15. The other difference is that all Parson Russell Terriers must have the straight, long legs and balanced body type reminiscent of the Reverend Russell’s original dogs. The shorter-legged and longer-bodied dogs cannot be registered as a Parson Russell Terrier. Some fanciers claim that the Parson Russell Terrier tends to have a longer muzzle and narrower head, but that might be more of an aspirational goal or a growing trend rather than the situation as it currently exists.
There are few breeds which are as fiery and energetic as the Jack Russell Terrier. These dogs are known for their endless drive and ability. This fun-loving and inquisitive breed is always on the lookout for some excitement. Despite their huge surge in popularity as a family dog in the 1990’s, this is definitely not the best breed for every family as many owners discovered. The Jack Russell Terrier has been described as having the ultimate terrier temperament, meaning that almost all characteristics common to terriers are extreme in the Jack Russell Terrier. The Jack Russell Terrier is very loyal and devoted to its owner, but is not a fawningly affectionate dog. They were bred to work independently and remain an independent breed. Jack Russell Terriers which have been properly socialized generally get along well with children. This is probably the best terrier breed around children excluding the Bully breeds.
The Jack Russell Terrier is considerably less snappy than most terriers. However, this breed will not tolerate any abuse or rough play from a child and is unafraid to bite in this circumstance. For this reason, Jack Russell Terriers do best with older children. The way in which Jack Russell Terriers interact with strangers is highly dependent on their level of socialization. Properly socialized Jack Russell Terriers will generally tolerate strangers, although they are very rarely friendly with them. Jack Russell Terriers which have not been properly socialized with strangers are often nervous or fearful of them, and quite commonly outright aggressive. An untrained Jack Russell Terrier is likely to be a biter. Jack Russell Terrier owners must be willing to spend the time and effort to properly socialize and train their dogs. Jack Russell Terriers also tend to be very dominant, and will take charge of a household if they are allowed. This means that this is probably not the ideal breed for a first time dog owner.
The Jack Russell Terrier does not get along well with other dogs. This breed has one of the highest dog aggression levels of any breed, and few Jack Russell Terriers are willing to back down no matter the size of the dog. The Jack Russell Terrier is so unlikely to back down that they are regularly involved in fatal dog attacks, and despite its small size, the Jack Russell Terrier is more often the killer rather than the victim. Many Jack Russell Terrier fanciers advise owners to keep Jack Russell Terriers in separate rooms when away. Otherwise, fatal or serious fights may break out.
It is highly unadvisable to confine an adult Jack Russell Terrier with a young puppy, as this has resulted in a number of fatalities. Jack Russell Terriers can get along with other dogs if they have been properly socialized, but this process must be done carefully and from a young age. Jack Russell Terriers are very dominant and will take control of almost any group of dogs which they are in. Jack Russell Terriers also tend to be extremely possessive and will violently defend a toy which they have claimed as their own. This Unlike most small breeds, Jack Russell Terriers tend to do better with larger dogs that they are less likely to seriously injure. The Jack Russell Terrier is generally equally dog aggressive regardless of the sex of the other dog. However, two unneutered male Jack Russell Terriers would almost certainly have to be kept apart at any time.
The Jack Russell Terrier is not a good breed to have around other animals. Jack Russell Terriers have perhaps the single greatest prey drive of any dog breed. They will kill any animal smaller than themselves. A lizard, mouse, or guinea pig probably has a life expectancy of less than two minutes with a Jack Russell Terrier in the room. This is the case regardless of how well-socialized a Jack Russell Terrier is. Never leave a Jack Russell Terrier unsupervised with a small animal which you do not want to see dead. The Jack Russell Terrier can be socialized to get along with cats, but there are likely to be a number of problems. Jack Russell Terriers are very likely to terrorize any individual cat which they have not been socialized with. This animal aggression is one of the reasons that some fanciers prefer the Jack Russell Terrier. These dogs have been known to clear a barn of rats much faster than a cat, although perhaps not as quickly as the Rat Terrier. However, if you don’t want a back porch which is covered in dead lizards, snakes, squirrels, rabbits, baby raccoons, and whatever else the Jack Russell Terrier can get its teeth into, this is probably not the ideal breed for you.
Most Jack Russell Terriers are extremely intelligent dogs. They are capable of learning some of the most complex tricks and behaviors of any dog breed. Other than some herding behaviors which the breed is too inherently animal aggressive for, a Jack Russell can be taught anything that any breed can learn. This is why the breed is so popular in Hollywood. However, this has led many to assume that the Jack Russell Terrier is easy to train. This is not the case. If you are expecting a dog which will instantly learn and obey, you are in for a shock. This breed can be incredibly challenging to train, although not to the extent of most terriers. These dogs tend to be stubborn, sometimes to the point of absurdity. It is very difficult to teach a Jack Russell Terrier something it doesn’t want or care to. In particular, harsh training methods fail with the Jack Russell Terrier, which is likely to respond with harshness of its own. Jack Russell Terriers need a training method that is heavily reliant on rewards and positive reinforcement. However, owners must constantly make the Jack Russell Terrier aware that they are in control. This breed will constantly challenge for dominance, and will take any inch given to them for the full mile.
Members of this breed have incredibly high exercise requirements. This breed almost certainly has the highest exercise needs for any breed of this size. In fact, the Jack Russell Terrier probably has the highest exercise requirement of any breed other than a few herding breeds and pack hounds. Jack Russell Terriers need a large amount of vigorous exercise every day. This breed is happiest when it has a huge backyard to roam freely for hours on end. A great deal of space is important for this breed, which adapts very poorly to urban life. Unfortunately, most Jack Russell Terriers can and should not be taken to dog parks, where they are very likely to get into serious confrontations. Although they are probably happiest hunting on their own, these dogs also enjoy a variety of canine athletic competitions such as flyball, obedience, Frisbee, and especially agility.
Jack Russell Terriers are fun loving and inquisitive and are always ready for a new adventure. Some Jack Russell Terriers have become accomplished surfers, divers, and even mountain climbers. If you are a very high energy family who is always looking for the next thrill, a Jack Russell Terrier can and will follow you to the ends of the Earth, no matter the terrain or conditions. Despite their fun loving nature, Jack Russell Terriers are not especially keen on traditional dog games such as fetch, and do not like rough play with anyone. This high drive continues for most of a Jack Russell Terriers life. There are plenty of ten year old Jack Russell Terriers which are still just as energetic as a six-week old puppy. Some Jack Russell Terriers maintain their energy after their other body systems begin to shut down, and it is not unknown for an arthritic and nearly blind Jack Russell Terrier to drop off a rabbit on its owner’s porch.
Jack Russell Terriers which do not have their exercise needs met are very likely to become the terrors of the dog world. Many families assume that they can take this breed for a daily walk and expect that to be enough. This is not the case. An unstimulated Jack Russell Terrier is very likely to become bored. Bored Jack Russell Terriers will almost certainly become destructive, chewing on whatever they can find. This breed also has a strong tendency to become nervous and aggressive when unexercised. Some breed members also become highly vocal.
One behavioral problem which Jack Russell Terriers are highly susceptible to is Small Dog Syndrome. In fact, Jack Russell Terriers are perhaps more likely to develop Small Dog Syndrome than any other breed. This condition occurs when owners do not discipline or take control of a small dog in the same way that they would a large dog either because they think it is cute, funny, or not a threat. Eventually, the small dog thinks that it is the boss of the world, and becomes uncontrollable. Dogs with small dog syndrome tend to be aggressive, dominant, and out-of-control. This condition is responsible for a number of small breeds getting bad reputations as biters. Owners must treat their Jack Russell Terriers just as they would a large breed.
Potential Jack Russell Terrier owners must be aware of the breed’s tendency to become extremely vocal. As is the case with almost all terriers, Jack Russell Terriers bark frequently and at whatever catches their attention. This makes them excellent watchdogs. However, if not properly trained, a Jack Russell Terrier’s barking may get out of control. This breed may also bark constantly if it becomes bored.
The Jack Russell Terrier has lower grooming requirements than most terriers. All three coat varieties will do fine with a regular and thorough brushing with a wire brush. This breed will not require professional grooming unless it is to be shown. Rough and broken coated dogs must be stripped for the show ring. This does not mean that the Jack Russell Terrier is not a shedder. In fact, this breed is considered a heavy shedder. Rough coated Jack Russell Terriers shed much more than most breeds with similar coats, although not to the extent of the smooth coated dogs. It has been said that smooth coated Jack Russell Terriers only shed heavily once a year, for 365 days. The broken coated dogs shed an intermediate amount depending on how broken their coat is. If you own a Jack Russell Terrier you will have dog hair all over your floors, furniture and clothes. If you or someone in your family has allergies or simply hates the thought of constantly cleaning up dog hair, this is definitely not the ideal breed for you.
Although this is the case with most dog breeds, the Jack Russell Terrier’s health is highly dependent on the breeder and the line. There are a number of lines of working and show Jack Russell Terriers which have been very carefully bred for many generations. These dogs must demonstrate high working ability and genetic problems will not be tolerated. Healthy Jack Russell Terriers have one of the highest life expectancies of any dog breed, and regularly live from 13 to 16 years. It is not unknown for breed members to live until 18. However, as the breed surged in popularity, a number of disreputable breeders bred substandard dogs. These Jack Russell Terriers are likely to suffer from a number of health problems. Always be very careful when selecting a Jack Russell Terrier breeder to ensure that they are reputable.
One common problem experienced by Jack Russell Terriers is known as Legg Perthes. Legg Perthes is a leg disease common in many small dogs. This disease is characterized by the rapid degeneration of the femur and hip, resulting in osteoarthritis. The condition typically shows up at a young age. This condition is quite serious and can lead to intense pain and often lameness, as the dog is incapable of putting weight on that leg. Although the condition is irreversible, there are a number of treatment options.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A list of health problems commonly found in the Jack Russell Terrier must include: