What began as a quest for the perfect fox-hunting dog at the beginning of the 1800s, ended in the creation of no fewer than 3 strains of remarkable hunting dogs that all began with the wily and wonderful Jack Russell Terrier!
In 1819, the Reverend John Russell first began to breed the Terrier we know today, out of the necessity for a mostly-white fox hunting dog. Up until that point, the dogs employed to hunt foxes were too similar in coloring to the foxes they chased. The Reverend wanted to create a smart, fast, small, energetic hunting companion that was mostly white in color (easier to spot in the field) and possessed a tempered aggressiveness with the prey (meaning they could chase it down but not actually harm it when caught).
Thanks to Loubec Kennels for the pictures of puppies & adults used on this page.
It all began with a small white and tan female pup named Trump, which he bought from a milkman outside of Elsfield, England. Trump was said to be similar to a Wire Fox Terrier, but with shorter legs. She was most likely a stout cross between a Fox Terrier and a Black and Tan Terrier. The dogs that followed were named “Jack Russell Terriers” in honor of the man that began the quest to breed them. Breeding continued past the Reverend’s death in 1883, and three distinct types came to be: the Jack Russell, the Russell, and the Parsons terriers. While only slight variances separate the three, the Parson is the tallest and the Russell is the shortest (commonly called “the shorty JRT”).
Today, this is clearly one of the most popular dogs around. So it might be surprising to know that though the Parson Terrier and the Russell Terrier have been acknowledged by many kennel clubs worldwide, the Jack Russell Terrier itself was not included, formally, among the 175 breeds recognized by the AKC. Part of that was in fact due to objections by those in the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. They wanted to keep the Jack Russell a working, hunting breed…not a show dog. Finally, in the late 1990s, the Jack Russell Terrier was accepted into the “Miscellaneous” category of the AKC. And now, though their differences are small, the Parsons and the Jack Russell Terrier (JRT) are considered absolutely different breeds by both the AKC and the UKC, among many others.
Breed Standards – When referring to the actual JRT, the average height ranges between 10–15 inches (25–38 cm) for both males and females, while the average weight is between 14–18 pounds (6.4–8.2 kg). Length must be in proportion to the height. Coat colors and textures can vary, but the accepted coat is usually smooth, but fairly thick. As for colors, white should predominate (needs to be more than 51% white) with tan, brown, or black markings. Coats can also be brindle of black and tan, but they are not common. As for other characteristics, the body is firm and well-muscled, the head is flat and in good proportion to the rest of the body, the nose is black, eyes are almond-shaped black or brown, and the tail should be no more than four inches and set high. Sturdy, alert, poised for action (or fun)…that’s the look of a Jack Russell Terrier.
For more specifics about your pup, contact your local breeder, who can help you further explore the standards.
Energy – If you ever run out of batteries in your house…and if someone would be able to channel the energy in one little doggie package… it would probably be sufficient to run every device on the premises for a good year! But, given all that energy in one compact package, the Jack Russell needs to be provided lots of exercise and opportunities to burn it off. These dogs love to play, run, chase, and catch. Without enough positive outlets, your dog may resort to more destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, barking, and escaping their confines. Though their size may be perfect for a small space or apartment, the breed really needs a large space to run. If you don’t mind keeping your dog very thoroughly exercised, though, apartment living should be fine. Since their hunting instinct is so sharp, be sure to always keep a leash on them when not in a confined backyard or fenced-in space.
Temperament – This is a dog that literally lives for action and adventure…and if it can’t easily find it, it will usually create the action and adventure it desires. That will sometimes lead to mischief, another earmark of the breed. Happy, intelligent, playful, spirited, loyal and devoted, the Jack Russell Terrier can make a wonderful companion dog…if you put in the time to train them. They are known to be willful and they required a firm hand. If you are not able to establish yourself as pack leader, your little bundle of furry joy will run all over you (literally and figuratively). And Jacks who do not receive the necessary exercise are doubly tough to train. They can also become aggressive if not socialized. But, if you can give the breed the exercise and discipline it needs, you would be hard-pressed to find a more congenial, cheerful friend. These dogs do well with children and strangers, horses, and other larger pets, but their hunting instincts may get the better of them with cats and rodents. But if you are looking for a dog with spunk, one that will always be good for a snuggle and a laugh, the breed would be a great pick!
Health – The life expectancy of the JRT is from 13-16 years with proper care and feeding. But, as with any breed, there are some genetic issues that may crop up, including but not limited to cataracts, ectopia lentis (serious eye problems, particularly dealing with the lens), congenital deafness, mast cell tumors, dislocation of the kneecaps, Legg–Calvé–Perthes syndrome (deformation of the hip joint that can lead to collapse), and von Willebrand disease (irregular bleeding).
One other odd health concern to be aware of is the severe reaction your Jack Russell Terrier can have to a skunk’s spray. Since the dog breed has hunting in their blood, they may, at one time or another, find an opportunity to chase one of these stinky creatures. But the spray of this animal can cause toxic shock syndrome in the dog, leading to anemia and kidney failure.
Grooming – If you stop to consider the beginnings of this dog breed as being a tenacious hunter, you could probably predict that in order to keep up with the hunt, the last thing needed was a fussy, tangled coat. As a result, all coat types of the Jack are fairly easy to groom. A regular brush with a firm bristle brush and a bath when needed (or every couple of months) should be just fine to keep your pup in top form. If your aim is to show your dog, you will need to strip the coat. "Stripping" creates a smoother coat and is an alternative to clipping dogs with terrier coats. Basically, with your thumb and a stripping knife, you can pluck small amounts of old, dead, scraggly hair. If this is done properly, it should not be painful for your dog…but if not, it can be very painful. So, it’s best you leave this step to a professional groomer.
Your local Jack Russell Terrier breeder can provide you with other tips helpful instructions on grooming and caring for your furry friend.
Negatives – This dog is full of spirit. So full, in fact, that it is not a good fit for everyone. You need to not only commit to pretty heavy and consistent exercise, but also to some firm-handed discipline. Without training and exercise, your pup can suffer from wide ranging behavioral problems.
Positives – If you are active (or want a reason to be), the Jack Russell Terrier can certainly keep up with you (or drag you along). These dogs are funny, loyal, quirky, mischievous, determined, smart, and the life of any party. With a long lifespan and few grooming needs, this breed can be an excellent choice, for the seasoned dog owner. If you want a dog with a true personality, and you are up for an occasional challenge, the JRT should be at the top of your list!