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Jack Russell Terrier: History and Appearance
The Jack Russell Terrier originated in the 19th century near Oxford, England, when the Reverend John Russell bred a strain of hard working fox terriers.
The Reverend John Russell developed a keen interest in the sport of fox hunting, and because of that, set to work in developing a breed of fox terrier that would excel above all others. His goal was to create a dog that was fast enough to keep up with horses, yet small enough to go to ground after the foxes. More important, the dog would have the self-control and intelligence not to attack the fox.
Reverend John Russell started with a white fox terrier named Trump, whom he felt had all of the qualities desired in the new breed of terrier, though he had never watched her hunt. Trump was bred to another white fox terrier, and breeding continued from the resulting litter. As a poor parson, Russell did not have the ability to be as selective in his breeding practices as some of the wealthier aristocrats who were developing new breeds at the time. In many cases, he had to work with the dogs he was able to obtain, and several times he had to sell off his dogs for financial reasons. Despite this, he was able to create an exceptional hunting breed through careful planning and luck, and because of it, we have the Jack Russell Terrier.
The breed soon became a favorite among hunters, due to its intelligence, stamina, and athletic ability. It was prized by those who hunted on horseback. By the 1930’s, the breed became well known in the U.S. It is believed that after John Russell’s death, the dogs were possibly bred with Dachshunds, Corgis, and other smaller breeds to adjust their size, though there is little record of this.
Bred from a variety of terriers, there has always been a great deal of variation in the Jack Russell Terrier’s height and size. Some dogs are longer legged, while some have shorter legs. Because the Jack Russell did not always breed true to type and there was so much difference in appearance, it was rendered ineligible to join the Kennel Club of England. At this time, it was one of the most popular breeds in England, and because of this, the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain was formed in 1974.
By the 1980’s, there began to be some disagreement over the dog’s standard and appearance. In England, the Jack Russell Terrier Club split into two groups. One group was working toward a definitive standard that would allow the breed into the Kennel Club of England, while the other group focused more on the dog’s working ability and skills as a hunting dog. The group promoting the breed’s standard became the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club. The second club continued under the existing name.
The Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club, promoting what they felt was the “true Jack Russell Terrier” soon gained recognition for the breed in the Kennel Club of England in 1989, followed by the American Kennel Club in 1997. The breed was recognized by both clubs as the Parson Russell Terrier, and continues to be known as such.
The Jack Russell Terrier did not receive recognition by either group, though its parent groups in both England and America continued to focus on working ability and temperament versus standard appearance. In 1976, the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America was founded and is the largest club and registry for the breed in the world.
There is some disagreement over the difference between the Jack Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier. Some breed fanciers will state that there is no difference at all. Others will cite that the Parson Russell Terrier has a square build and is longer legged; while the Jack Russell Terrier is shorter legged and has a longer body, as well as a less consistent appearance.
In modern times, the Jack Russell Terrier has gained fame by appearing in TV shows, commercials, and movies. A Jack Russell Terrier was even featured as the prized pet of one of the characters on the television show, Frasier. The breed’s desire to work, high energy, and intelligence in learning new tricks and skills has made it a natural performer. The breed still excels as a hunting dog and as a competitor in canine sports. It is also valued as a family pet.
The Jack Russell Terrier is a small dog, ranging from about 10 inches to 12 inches tall and weighing up to only 18 lbs. The Jack Russell Terrier features a medium to small chest, a flat back, and a very agile and flexible body. The appearance is sturdy and strong. This is a highly active dog, and despite its size, has a very “strong” physique. The Jack Russell Terrier has pointed ears, small, almond shaped eyes that are usually dark in color, and a medium muzzle. The nose is usually black, though it may vary with coat color. The legs are sturdy and strong, enabling the dog to get low to the ground to go after prey. The tail is carried high and alert, and may be docked.
The Jack Russell Terrier comes in several coat varieties, including smooth, rough, and broken coated. The smooth coat features thick, straight, smooth hair that lies close to the body. The rough coat consists of slightly longer fur that is rough in texture. The broken coat is a combination of both types. All three coat types consist of coarse fur that is double coated. Coloring varies from white, to white with tan or black, to tri-color (white, tan, and black.) Some Jack Russell Terriers may feature beards or eyebrows.
Showing a Jack Russell Terrier
Though not recognized by the AKC or the Kennel Club (England,) the Jack Russell Terrier still has opportunities for show. The breed excels in field trials, hunting competitions, canine sports, agility competitions, and obedience trials.