What are Jack Russell's like?
Jack Russell Terriers are happy little dogs who make great companions for active individuals or families, but their assertive nature can make them unsuitable around young children and other animals. These dogs are whip-smart and doggedly determined, which means proper socialisation, training, and stimulation are a must to keep them happy at home.
Like many terrier breeds, the Jack Russell is a small breed with a big paw-sonality. They’re su-paw smart and can have a stubborn streak, so although you can teach your JRT a whole repertoire of tricks, you might have to convince them to show them off.
This tough terrier is pretty hardy and has a high prey drive because they were historically bred as hunting dogs. This does mean they are tenacious and fearless pooches, with alert minds that need a lot of activity to keep satisfied. This hunting background also means that they are loyal little dogs, and are always ready to join you on any adventure whether it’s a long hike, helping you dig the garden or doggy sports like agility or flyball.
Jack Russells are fast, agile, and like to be kept busy. With proper socialisation, training, and stimulation they are often well-balanced but cheeky little characters. However, they are definitely not the breed for you if you’re looking for a laid-back lapdog.
Although they emerged in England in the late 19th century to be used as fox terriers, the development of the modern Jack Russell breed actually took place in Australia. Many ex-pats in the 60s and 70s took their terriers with them and formed breeding programmes and breed clubs, and tried to earn the breed the distinction and recognition it had lacked for the last century. These dogs were bred for showing mostly and have some slight differences to the Jack Russells that continued to be bred in Britain. This all means that this terrier has a lot of diversity and variety within the breed and the gene pool.
Who were Jack Russells named after?
The Jack Russell Terrier and the similar Parson Russell Terrier and Russell Terrier are all named after one man, Reverend John “Jack” Russell. The “sporting parson” as he was known had a passion for fox hunting and is now more famous for his contributions to dog breeding than his clerical career as a vicar.
Almost all of the modern breeds of fox terrier have some relation to John Russell and his dogs. Additionally, “fox terrier” in this case means any terrier that was used to hunt foxes. The distinct Fox Terrier is a specific breed, but itself is one example of a broader variety of fox terriers that were used on hunts. This range of breeds also includes the Jack Russell. (And it’s similarly named counterparts.)
John bought a female terrier named “Trump” from a milkman while he was studying at Oxford University around 1819. He was so besotted with this dog; he bought her on the spot as soon as he saw her. It was all because he thought that Trump was the ideal example of a fox terrier.
Trump was so paw-fect in his eyes that she became the foundation of his line of hunting terriers, including the Jack Russell. He began a breeding programme to create the ideal fox terrier, and by 1850 the resulting dogs were recognised as their own breed, the Jack Russell Terrier.
The modern Fox Terrier has a lot of shared ancestry with the Jack Russell, and they both would have emerged at a similar time from John Russell’s line of dogs. However, the Fox Terrier changed a lot over subsequent decades, while the Jack Russell remained much the same. John Russell bred his dogs exclusively for working, which is why many consider JRTs an example of the early fox terrier, and what the Fox Terrier used to like.
What were Jack Russells bred for?
Jack Russell Terriers were bred to be an energetic hunting dog with enough stamina and endurance to keep up with the horses and longer-legged hounds. These terriers were used to flush out foxes that had “gone to ground”. In other words, they’d follow the fox into their underground den and nip and bark at them until the fox was scared back out into the reach of the waiting hunters and hounds. This use explains a lot about the modern JRT, who are very vocal, feisty, and will chase anything.
Because of their use delving into dens, it was necessary that this breed of dog would be small and compact with a narrow ribcage and shoulders so that they could follow a fox underground. The Jack Russell also had to be flexible so they could follow the fox through all the twists and turns it might have in its den.
This hunting background was also the reason Jack Russells were predominantly white. Because they were used to chase foxes, it was im-paw-tent that hunters could easily distinguish their dog from the prey they were chasing. A white dog was easy to spot in the undergrowth and very easy to tell apart from the red and brown fur of a fox.
Temperament was also very im-paw-tent for these terriers. They had to have enough aggression and drive that they would chase their prey and flush them out from underground. However, they must not be so aggressive that they would attack their prey, and certainly should never kill it. Their job was to flush it out for the hunters, not to end the chase. Modern Jack Russells still show off a very high prey drive and have a deep instinct to chase that can’t always be trained away.
Even in the early days of the breed there was a split in the Jack Russell between working dogs and show dogs which caused a difference in the looks and size of the breed. This diverging use and look are what led to the differences between Jack Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier.
Other roles for the Jack Russell
After John Russell died, only a few people tried to continue his dedicated pursuit of breeding high-standard fox terriers. One man, Arthur Blake Heinemann created the first breed standard for the Jack Russell in the 1890s, two decades after John Russell had passed away. However, Heinemann was an avid badger hunter and he recognised the Jack Russell’s potential in this field. He began to breed his own strain of Jack Russells that had shorter legs and were powerful diggers, able to unearth badgers and flush them out from their underground homes.
All of the traits bred into the Jack Russell to make them a successful hunter have left distinct characteristics with the breed today. Their use to chase foxes and badgers underground has determined the size of the dog and encouraged avid diggers. It also ingrained a love to chase and tendency to bark.
Jack Russell Terrier vs Parson Russell Terrier
There’s not a big difference between these two breeds, and it’s easy to be confused because they look similar, share ancestry, and even sport similar names. Even historically, the breeds have shared and swapped names.
The Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terrier both descend from the fox terriers bred by John Russell in the 19th century, which bred similar characteristics into both breeds. So in the showdown of Jack Russell vs Parson Russell, what’s the difference?
Somewhere along the line, the Parson Russell Terrier became a bit more of a show dog. They have longer legs and wider chests than the Jack Russell, and generally are larger and taller. However, not much else is different. Especially because the Parson Russell Terrier should still have the temperament of a working dog.
As for mixing and sharing names, The Parson Russell Terrier was recognised as a distinct breed by the Kennel Club earlier, but still only in 1990. Even then, it was known as the “Parson Jack Russell Terrier”. However, within a few years, they changed the name to the Parson Russell Terrier so that it could be distinguished from the Jack Russell Terrier. Meanwhile, the Jack Russell itself was only recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 2016!
If that wasn’t enough, the distinction between the breeds gets even more confusing. The American Kennel Club recognises the Parson Russell Terrier and the Russell Terrier, but no Jack Russell Terrier. So what on earth is this elusive third similarly-named breed, the Russell Terrier?
Confusingly, the Russell Terrier is also known as the Irish Russell Terrier and English Russell Terrier. And for all intents and purposes, it’s near-identical to both the Jack Russell and the Parson Russell, it’s just smaller. It is also usually used to refer to the stock of dogs from Australia, and not even the English dogs.
With such a confusing tangle of shared ancestry, similar looks, and absurdly unoriginal names, it’s no wonder even the canine pros can barely keep track of which dog is which.
Jack Russell facts
A Jack Russell is an extraordinary athlete. Not only are they agile and fast with incredible stamina, but they can also jump five times their own height. That means that a Jack Russell with an average height of 12.5 inches can jump an impressive 5.2 feet in the air!
Stars of the spotlight
Jack Russells love attention and combined with their smarts and expressive faces, it makes them paw-some little actors. Jack Russells became embedded in pop-culture thanks to Wishbone and Frasier. Even foodie fans might recognise a Jack Russell thanks to Rick Stein’s pooch Chalky, who regularly appeared onscreen with him. Uggie, the pup who played “Jack” in The Artist is often credited as a JRT but is actually a similar Parsons Terrier.
The first dog at the poles
Bothy, a Jack Russell owned by explorers Ranulph and Virginia Fiennes is the only dog in the world to have set paws in both the North and South poles. This pooch, and his special red snowsuit and balaclava, became wildly famous. Bothy made an appearance at Crufts and on Blue Peter, was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, and you could even buy Bothy cuddly toys. Virginia even wrote about Bothy’s travels in a book of her own. And because of the 1994 ban of dogs in Antarctica, it means that there will probably never be any other pooch to claim this extraordinary accomplishment.
An ear for music
Nipper, the famous pooch used as the logo for HMV is potentially a Jack Russell Terrier but could have been a mutt or smooth Fox Terrier.
Given the broad gene pool and muddled distinction with other breeds, Jack Russells can vary quite a bit in size and weight. Some people refer to shorter Jack Russells, with shorter legs, as “Shortie Jacks”. Generally, you can expect your pooch to be about a foot tall, slightly longer than they are tall, and weigh less than 8.5kg.
|Average Height (Withers)||25-30 centimetres||25-30 centimetres|
|Average Weight||6.4-8.2 kilograms||6.4-8.2 kilograms|
|Lifespan||13 to 16 years||13 to 16 years|
|Coat||Short or Broken or Coarse||Short or Broken or Coarse|
|Temperament||Lively, smart, playful, stubborn||Lively, smart, playful, stubborn|
Jack Russell appearance
Jack Russells can vary dramatically in their appearance depending on the kind of coat they have. But underneath all that fur, the dogs look similar. All Jack Russells will be small and stocky dogs with narrow chests and are muscular without being bulky. A Jacks’ ears are V-shaped and hang folded-over towards the front, which is known as the button ear shape. They have dark, almond-shaped eyes and should look alert and enthusiastic. As for their snouts, they should be moderately sized and well-proportioned to the dog. Usually, their tail is held straight and upright, but when relaxed they can go limp. Their body is longer than it is tall, and their legs are quite short.
Jack Russell colours
Typically, the Jack Russell colours are limited to a palette of three possible colours, white, black, and tan. A pooch can have any combination of these three colours, but usually white is the predominant colour.
The standard Jack Russell colours are:
|White and black||White and tan||White, black, and tan|
However, just like many things with the Jack Russell, there can be a lot of variation. Originally the dog should have been mostly white, and that’s still the norm, you can now find terriers that are predominantly black too. On the other hand, all-white dogs have been seen too.
The shade of tan that the dog’s markings are can vary too. Although by standard they should be a deep tan, some dogs have light lemon markings, and others a deep chestnut.
Jack Russell coats
Jack Russells come in three different coat types, which each lend it a certain look and texture to their fur. Many terriers come in smooth coat and rough coat varieties, and the JRT is no different. A rough coat Jack Russell will have longer, wiry fur. Meanwhile, a smooth coat Jack Russell has shorter fur that lies smooth and against their body. Long-haired Jack Russells are just rough coat dogs.
The third coat type, broken coat, is a mix of both smooth and rough coat. A broken coat Jack Russell will have both patches of smooth fur as well as areas of longer, thicker fur. The amount of smooth vs rough coat can vary too, but many have as much smooth fur as they do long.
No matter which texture of coat your Jack has, you can expect them to shed quite a lot. Also, their fur is very water and weatherproof, regardless of whether it is smooth or rough.
Miniature Jack Russell
Despite numerous listings of puppies marked as Miniature Jack Russells, there is no such kind of dog. People may be breeding a JRT with another breed to create a smaller and similar-looking pup, but it’s then a mixed breed. Otherwise, they may be referring to a “Shortie Jack”, or short-legged Jack Russell, but these are no different in size to a Jack Russell, they just have shorter legs in comparison to their bodies. (And even then, they aren’t a recognised subclass of the breed.)
Jack Russell temperament
Jack Russells can get a bad rep because they bark a lot and have a habit of acting up if they’re bored. Provided your dog is well trained and socialised, many bad behaviours like aggression or destructive chewing can be prevented. However, you should still be wary that a Jack Russell needs plenty of exercise and activity in their lives to keep them happy.
As long as you have socialised your pooch at a young age and provide plenty of exercise and stimulation for their alert minds, you should have a cheerful and balanced pooch who is a doggedly loyal and a playful fur-iend. JRTs are very affectionate and very protective (and sometimes possessive) over their owners. Generally are very friendly towards other people. However, they can be wary of other dogs and are known to be competitive with other Jacks especially. They also aren’t great alongside other pets, given their high prey drive and hunting instinct.
Overall, you can expect your Jack Russell to be very loyal and loving. These pups are bold and fearless, with a stubborn streak that can make them a handful. These rambunctious pooches are high-energy and seem tireless, and when they can’t vent this energy pro-paw-ly, they can be destructive.
Is a Jack Russell a good family dog?
Generally, yes, provided you have no other pets and no very young children. Because of their bold and feisty nature, a JRT might bark and nip at anyone that they disagree with, which means both humans and hounds need to understand how to interact with one another appropriately. Their high prey-drive means they will probably chase your other pets, and they aren’t known to be very friendly with other dogs, especially other Jack Russells. But if you have older children, are all active, and have plenty of time to play and train a pooch, a JRT might be a paw-some choice for you. But this is definitely not a breed suitable for everyone.
Are Jack Russells easy to train?
Jack Russells are neither easy to train nor a challenge. This is because these dogs are incredibly smart and very quick learners. Their strength, stamina and agility also means that they can perform impressive tricks and stunts. But the problem is that they are also a little stubborn, and can need convincing to do anything they’re told. If you understand your dog and what motivates them, you’ll be onto a winner. These dogs love being busy and having jobs to do, so as long as there’s a suitable reward for them, they thrive on training, working, and even doggy sports.
Can Jack Russells be left alone?
Generally, yes, Jack Russells can be left alone. The caveat here, however, is that you will need to prevent boredom. This dog can get destructive if they’re bored, so you’ll need to both train your dog to be used to time alone, and leave plenty of things to keep them occupied otherwise you might come home to shredded slippers and a chomped skirting board. Individual dogs can suffer from separation anxiety, but the Jack Russell isn’t as well known for developing this problem as some other, clingier breeds. The key here is making sure your quick-witted dog doesn’t get bored.
You should also be wary of leaving a Jack Russell alone in your garden. JRTs are smart, strong, and athletic and are notorious escape artists. They have the full package for escape, as they can dig, climb, and even jump more than five feet in the air. That means you will need a very secure garden to let your dog out into.
Do Jack Russells bark a lot?
There’s no denying that Jack Russells know how to make themselves heard. They are more vocal than other breeds, and this is a hang-up from their use as a hunting dog since they would have barked to intimidate foxes and flush them out of their dens. They’re also very alert and make great watchdogs, so your pooch might woof if they hear anyone coming near your house.
Finally, they can be wary of other dogs which can make individuals likely to bark on walks. Luckily, socialisation will usually put a stop to any barking at other dogs. Meanwhile, you might want to invest time training your dog to understand a “quiet” or “stop” command to make sure barking can be controlled at other times.
Jack Russell puppies
Jack Russell puppies are small and very active, so expect a very playful pup. They also grow quickly and usually reach their adult height by 10 months, and their adult weight by 12 months. That means your Jack Russell puppy will be fully grown by the time they reach their first birthday.
Your puppy should also be just as quick a learner as they are a grower. As we’ve said, these are very smart and capable dogs that thrive on being active and busy. Although your pup may show a stubborn streak, provided they have a good reward, they love a challenge and are eager to work so they often take to training very well. You could find you quickly go beyond the basic commands and teach your dog lots of impressive tricks!
Jack Russell names
It could be very easy to fall into calling a boy pup “Jack” for the sake of ease, or unoriginality. Otherwise, you may name your Jack Russell after one of the famous terriers over the years, like “Eddie” from Frasier. However, if you’re stumped trying to find the paw-fect name for your Jack Russell, take a look at these 1000 girl dog names and 1000 boy dog names.
How long do Jack Russells live for?
The average Jack Russell lifespan is 13-16 years, making them a pretty long-lived breed of dog. That being said, plenty of pooches have outlasted that estimate, and many Jack Russells live until their late teens.
What health problems do Jack Russells have?
Luckily, Jack Russells are generally a very hardy and healthy breed of dog. However, it’s im-paw-tent that dogs are screened before they are bred because there are a few very serious hereditary problems they may inherit.
Some of the hereditary health problems Jack Russells can have are:
- Lens luxation
- Late-onset ataxia
- Spinocerebellar ataxia
Lens luxation is a condition where the fibres that hold the lens in place within the eye can deteriorate and break, allowing the lens to dislocate and move. This is as painful as it sounds, and often leads to blindness and usually requires surgery. It is a hereditary condition that should be screened for before dogs are bred, as there is no treatment for the disease.
Late-onset ataxia & spinocerebellar ataxia
These are both forms of ataxia and are equally devastating diseases with no known treatment. Sadly, this means most dogs are euthanized when the condition worsens as it robs them of their quality of life. Late-onset ataxia appears in dogs between 6-12 months and causes loss of balance and lack of coordination. Most dogs have to be euthanized very young, often just within a year of the condition being diagnosed. Spinocerebellar ataxia also causes a loss of balance and coordination, created by a degeneration of the cerebellum and often the spinal cord.
Dogs can live with ataxia, but it usually leaves a lasting impact such as head tilt and unsteady gait. However, the effects are variable. These forms of ataxia are most often seen in fox terriers like the Jack Russell, and to prevent future heartbreak and pain for both dogs and owners, it’s important that dogs are DNA tested to highlight if they have the gene mutation which causes these debilitating conditions.
Other Jack Russell health problems
Provided your pooch hasn’t inherited anything untoward, they should be a healthy, happy, and active little dog. There are a few conditions they may develop, but otherwise, most illnesses will be caused by a common (and usually preventable) canine conditions.
Jacks are prone to luxating patellas (dislocating knees,) and this problem occurs in many small breeds of dog. Make sure you stop your dog from taking too many high jumps and hard falls to prevent any extreme shock to their knees and make sure they’re eating lots of healthy fatty acids to protect their joints.
The breed is also a little more prone to developing kidney and bladder stones than other dogs. Luckily, these can be treated. Making sure your pet drinks plenty of water, and even eating food like Pure, can actually help to prevent these stones and urine crystals from forming. (And save your dog from painful peeing and vet trips.)
Other than that, your Jack Russell might get sick from time to time with a common canine illness, or develop preventable problems like obesity. To keep your pooch healthy and help prevent any of these illnesses, make sure you feed them a healthy diet, give them plenty of exercise, and keep on top of their regular vaccination and worming treatments.
There are other problems a JRT is prone to, but they are uncommon. These include Cushing's disease, which is treatable but will require long-term management.
Grooming your Jack Russell
While they might be high maintenance in their energy levels, Jack Russells are thankfully very easy to care for in terms of grooming. Rather unsurprisingly, a smooth-coated Jack Russell has lower grooming needs than a broken or rough-coated Jack Russell. As such, how you groom your dog will vary depending on the kind of fur they have.
Short hair Jack Russells
Short hair or smooth coat Jack Russells should be brushed once a week to help get rid of dead fur and to keep them clean. Although you can usually get away with doing it a little more infrequently, it’s better to keep a routine. Not least because it helps cut down on shedding and prevent the need for a bath since a lot of dirt will come off with a good brushing. Smooth coat Jack Russells should visit the groomer every few months to have their coat stripped, which effectively removes all the dead fur. (And you’ll always be stunned at how much comes off them.)
As for bathing, you can get away with washing your Jack Russell whenever they are dirty, but it’s generally recommended to wash your dog every three months at least. Meanwhile, try not to wash them more often than once a month as it can irritate their skin.
Long hair Jack Russells
Long hair Jack Russells, whether they have a broken or rough coat, require a little more care. Because their hair is longer, they need more regular brushing to make sure there’s nothing stuck in their fur and to prevent any tangles. Again though, this can usually be done once a week, but twice a week is su-paw. Long haired Jack Russells will also benefit from having their coat stripped by a groomer occasionally.
As for bathtime, your rough coat Jack Russell doesn’t need more or less bathing than their short-haired cousins. Again, this should be no more often than once a month, and no less than once every three months.
Do Jack Russells shed?
Jack Russells are quote high shedders, which seems to surprise many owners. They have a double coat which often leads to higher shedding, plus they shed year-round. It means you will always be finding some stray hair here or there. Shedding can get worse in spring and autumn as your Jack Russell’s coat changes to adapt to the changing temperatures.
Believe it or not, but the smooth-coated Jack Russell actually sheds a lot more than the longer-haired rough coat Jack Russell. This is because their hair sheds when dead, which means it goes through a cycle of growing, then falls out to be replaced with new hair, which grows and dies and sheds, and so on. The shorter a dog’s hair, the faster it moves through these cycles as it takes less time for the hair to grow.
However, frequent brushing and regular bathing will help to minimise shedding, as the dead hair will come out in the wash and on the brush rather than all over your carpet. Having your dog’s hair stripped by a groomer will also help to minimise shedding as it effectively removes a LOT of dead hair all at once.
Are Jack Russells hypoallergenic?
No, Jack Russells are not a hypoallergenic breed. Arguably, no dog is, because allergies can be caused by fur, dander and drool and no breed is 100% free from shedding or drooling. However, many breeds that drop less fur and dander are known as “hypoallergenic” as many people with allergies find they can live with these breeds. The Jack Russell, however, is not one of them. They shed a surprising amount for such a small animal, and you’ll be finding little white hairs stuck to everything.