The Jack Russell Terrier Is Small But Feisty – The Breed For You?

Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell Terrier is a loyal and confident companion.

There are three breeds of Terrier that are often confused; The Jack Russell Terrier, the Parson Russell Terrier, and the Russell Terrier. They may look similar, but there are differences in size and physical proportions. We’ll try to explain it all on this page!

Jack Russell Terrier
Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russell Terrier – Temperament

This is an energetic breed that never seems to run out of steam. Originally bred over 200 years ago to hunt fox, their job was to detect where a fox had gone to ground, and to get down the fox hole to either flush it out or else to corner it until the hunters could dig the fox out.

This background means that the Jack Russell is alert, vibrant, curious and inquisitive. They need exercise, and time to run around. In spite of their small size, they are not ideal for apartment living unless they can get out for a good long walk every day, and also have the chance to run around in an enclosed area like a small fenced park or a backyard.

This dog is very agile, and can climb as well as jump several feet high. They can easily get up on to high sofa backs, shelves, hedges and bushes. This means they can escape from a backyard unless it is securely fenced. They will chase almost anything that moves, and should not be trusted with small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and gerbils, for example. On the positive side, they will quickly take care of any unwanted rodents that get into your house or garage such as mice or rats.

Jack Russell Terrier
image courtesy Wikipedia commons

This breed can get on well with children, but may snap at small kids if they play rough or unintentionally hurt the dog. They do better with older children and teenagers.

The Jack Russell is extremely brave, and seems to show no fear. They are full of confidence and have a happy assertive nature. This not a breed for a first-time or inexperienced dog-owner, as they can exert their confidence to become dominant. It’s very important to make it clear who is the boss in the house. They need a firm hand and patient training.

If the dog has not been socialized as a puppy, and poorly trained, their confidence and attitude may make them aggressive towards other dogs, triggering fights. They need adequate socialization and solid obedience training, with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy. Then you will have a supremely loyal and playful companion!

Jack Russell Terrier
image courtesy Wikipedia commons

Jack Russell Terrier – Breed History

It’s generally agreed that this breed originated in England with clergyman Rev. John Russell. He was very keen on fox hunting, but wanted a better breed of dog than was generally available at the time. Back then in the early 1800s,  any Terrier-type dog that was used in fox hunting was called a Fox Terrier.

Russell was studying at Oxford University, and came across a mostly white Terrier, which he bought. This dog became the basic stock for Russell to develop a breeding program, concentrating on stamina, energy and tenacity as well as physical size.

The job of fox-hunting required some apparently conflicting traits. The dog needed to be able to run fast enough to keep up with the hounds, yet small enough to get down a fox hole. The dog needed enough stamina to stay active for the day, yet strong enough to dig out the fox. And despite its small size, the dog needed to be brave and tenacious enough to venture down the fox hole in the dark. Finally, the dog had to be aggressive enough to go after the fox, yet not attack it, which would end the chase prematurely.

By the 1850s, Rev. John Russell had developed his idea of the ideal fox terrier enough that it was recognized as a separate breed, with all the required traits in one dog. Unfortunately he was not able to keep his breeding program going, due to financial problems. His line of dogs became dispersed, and it is unknown exactly which dogs went where.

There were a couple of breeders in England who tried to continue the breed type, claiming to have dogs descended from Rev. John Russell’s dogs. They called them Jack Russell Terriers, to distinguish them from other Fox Terriers. They were working terriers, and smaller than the show-ring Fox Terriers.

In the West Country of England, the dogs were used for hunting badgers rather than fox, and it is thought that some Bull Terrier stock was added to the mix, for more strength, which also resulted in shorter legs. This style of dog was called the Parson Russell Terrier. So, while working Jack Russell Terriers were now distinct from Fox Terriers, there was also a growing divide between the Jack Russell and the Parson Russell.

After World War II, the need for hunting dogs declined sharply, and Jack Russell Terriers were kept more as family pets and companion dogs. In this setting they were often crossed with other dogs such as Corgis and Chihuahuas, resulting in cross breeds that usually had a slightly longer body and slightly shorter legs.

In the 1970s, Jack Russell Terrier clubs were set up in the U.K. and Australia. Oddly, the Australian stock was of the Russell Terrier type, but they used the name Jack Russell.  This name was accepted when the breed was recognized by the FCI, but in America the breed is still referred to as the Russell Terrier.

Jack Russell Terrier
Jack Russell Terrier

Some authorities maintain the the 3 breeds (Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, and Russell Terrier) are in fact variations of one basic breed, while others are clear that the 3 breeds are indeed separate and recognizable. This confusion has been compounded by politics between national breed associations and national Kennel Clubs, and disagreements about the standard of each breed.

What are the claimed differences?

It’s mainly to do with size and proportions. The Jack Russell Terrier has a size range of 10 to 15 inches, while the Parson Russell is 12 to 14 inches, and the Russell Terrier is smaller at just 8 to 12 inches.

Weight-wise the Jack Russell Terrier is also the heaviest, at up to 18 lbs.

Also, the Parson Russell Terrier has a longer body in relation to leg length compared to the Jack Russell, and the Parson Russell has a longer head.

Vital Statistics

Height:  10 inches to 15 inches

Weight:  14 lbs to 18 lbs

Life span:  12 to 14 years


Basically white with markings of Black, Brown, Cream, Tan or Tri-color.

Jack Russell Terrier
Milo the Jack Russell, from France. Note the extensive black markings.

Ease of Training

This is usually not a difficult breed to train, due to their intelligence and will to please, BUT they are very self-confident, and need a firm consistent hand. We recommend gradual and thorough socialization as a puppy to introduce them to new sights, sounds and smells from a young age. This should be regular and frequent, to maintain the dog’s acceptance of unfamiliar surroundings.

Once a few months old, we recommend taking your dog to puppy classes. This adds to the socialization process, and introduces the dog to formal training, so that it learns how to learn. This should be followed up with formal obedience classes.

The aim is not so much to make the dog obedient to your every wish, but more to establish who is in charge of the house, and to prevent the dog from becoming over-assertive and eventually dominating the owner, by sleeping where it wants and demanding food when it feels like it. A strict but fair daily timetable must be established, that you stick to consistently at all times.

This results in a happier dog that is more accepting of your rules, and that knows it’s place in the home. And that means a happier owner and a more sociable dog for everyone, less likely to snap at small children or attack other dogs regardless of size.


The Jack Russell Terrier is supremely brave and confident, as well as alert and vigilant. He will very quickly let you know if there is something odd going on in the area, by barking continuously. He makes a great watchdog.

But they are not so good at being a guard dog, as they are just too small to be an effective deterrent to a determined intruder. As big as this breed’s heart may be, they lack the physical size and weight to take much action.

That said, they will do just about anything they can to protect their owner and their home. But if you’re looking for protection, I suggest a bigger breed.


The Jack Russell has a short dense coat in 2 layers; a soft undercoat and a thicker coarser top coat. They are easy to groom, needing brushing only a few times a week to keep loose hairs under control. They do not shed excessively.

They only need bathing occasionally, if they start to develop a doggy smell, or have rolled in something smelly. Overall they are clean dogs, and easy to maintain.

The ears should be checked every week, for any signs of infection such as redness and swelling; and any dirt accumulation cleaned out. The teeth should be brushed every day, with a dog-specific toothpaste. Do not use a human toothpaste.

Health Considerations

This is a generally healthy breed, with few genetic issues, but there are certain conditions to be aware of, including;

  •  Eye problems such as cataracts
  •  Deafness
  •  Patellar luxation
  •  Ataxia
  •  Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
  •  von Willebrand’s disease.

Reputable breeders will have their dogs regularly checked and certified for these conditions.

Famous Jack Russell Terriers

There are a LOT of famous Jack Russell Terriers. One of the earliest is the dog on the “His Master’s Voice” record label, based on a dog called Nipper.

In the U.K., the celebrity chef and TV presenter Rick Stein had a Jack Russell called Chalky, which used to appear on his shows.

Other Jack Russells have appeared in TV shows such as Frasier and Wishbone, and also in movies such as Crimson Tide, The Mask, Mr. Accident, Hotel for Dogs, and Beginners, among others.

Read more about Jack Russell health issues.

Jack Russell Owner Interview

This is an interview with a Jack Russell Terrier owner.

Can you tell me a little bit about your dog? Where did you get him/her?

Jack Russell Terrier Arrow

My dog is named Aristotle. We call him Arrow for short. Arrow is a 4-year-old neutered male and we have had him since he was 3 months old.

We got him from a shelter where he was up for adoption, along with his mom, dad, and four other siblings. We didn’t have the intention of getting a Jack Russell Terrier when we started looking for dogs, but we saw him on PetFinder and fell in love with him.

We were in the market for a small dog that was moderately easy to care for, and easy to train. Arrow was the perfect choice and addition to our family. He is a great dog and I love him very much.

How easy was he to train?

Arrow was very easy to train. He was house trained within a few weeks and learned his name right away.

He can learn minor tricks very fast. For example, he mastered the command for ‘sit’ in less than an hour and then retained the information.

We discovered very soon that the Jack Russell Terrier was an intelligent breed. If someone wants a dog that isn’t stubborn and that they don’t have to spend a ton of time with training, then they should get a Jack Russell.

How much exercise does he/she need?

Since he is a Jack Russell Terrier he needs to get a lot of exercise, however, he mostly does that himself. He runs around and plays with our other dog for hours on end.

We take him on long walks around the neighborhood a few times a week and he loves to play Frisbee, even though the Frisbee is bigger than him and he trips over it sometimes.

We have an invisible fence around my house, which allows Arrow to be able to run freely outside without any worry that he will run away. Often he will sit outside with our other dog if someone from the family is outside working.

Does he/she have a particular doggie smell?

He does not have a strong smell at all, unless he is wet, which is common amongst most dogs. However when he is dry, he does not have a particular odor.

Does he shed?

Since Aristotle has short hair, he sheds a little bit but not as bad as some dogs.

He definitely does shed though and it can be very noticeable on dark furniture and clothing and is not for someone who is allergic to dogs or someone who will mind a bit of pet hair on their things.

It is very livable and tolerable, though, and it is usually not bad at all, especially because we brush him so often.

Does he bark much?

Aristotle barks a lot, which is typical for any terrier and especially the Jack Russell Terrier, and it can get annoying at times. He would make a good watchdog for anyone who lived alone, or needed someone to watch out for him or her.

He is not for someone who lives in an apartment or lives really close to neighbors or other people that could get annoyed by their barking.

What is he like around other dogs?

Arrow can be a little bit hesitant about making new doggy friends. Because of that, he can either get along really well with a dog or become enemies with them. It really depends on how the other dog treats him and if they are friendly to him, or they growl at him.

If he is calmly introduced to another dog, he just has to get used to them before they are best buds.

Do you have any other kinds of pets besides dogs?

Besides my two dogs, I have two cats, one horse, many fish and a few hermit crabs.

Do they get along?

Aristotle gets along very well with our other dog and plays with him all the time.

He doesn’t get along very well with the cats, though. That’s probably just because he tries to play with them like they are dogs and they don’t appreciate that. Our horse doesn’t live at the house, and he does coexist with my other pets.

How is he around children?

He is bad around small children.  When my brother was a toddler and Arrow was a puppy, he was very mean to him and didn’t treat him well. 

He was too young to know better. Now he growls at any small children, especially boys, and will even attack them. But if you are nice to him and treats him well he is very sweet and will be your best friend.

Would you consider him a fussy eater?

Arrow is not a fussy eater at all and will eat anything that is given or offered to him. He is a huge fan of people food when he can get his paws on it.

How much time does it take to groom him?

Grooming Arrow is very easy and does not take longer than five minutes because of how short his coat is. We brush him every day so his shedding doesn’t get out of control, but it does not take a lot out of my day.

Any special personality quirks?

Arrow knows this particular trick where if you say “bang” and point your hands in the shape of a gun at him, he will lay over on his back and pretend to be dead.

Do you have any further advice for people interested in getting a Jack Russell Terrier?

Anyone who wants to own a Jack Russell Terrier should know and keep in mind that these dogs are very loud and will bark at almost everything.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how bad you need a watchdog. They need a lot of exercises, especially if they are the only dogs in your home.

If you have another dog, then they cut out some exercise time because they will play together. It is best to make sure you have enough time and room for your dog to run around and play.

They don’t do well with cats, only because they are so hyper around them and Arrow in particularly bad with children.

Keeping these things in mind, overall they are excellent dogs that are really intelligent and easy to train. They are also extremely affectionate and will be your best friend if you let them.

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