They may look similar but there are big differences. Tony Jackson explains

The story of how the Jack Russell terrier came to being was relayed in the Memoir of the Rev. John Russell by E. W. L. Davies. In 1815, the Reverend, then 20 years old and obsessed with hunting, was on the point of taking his final exams at Oxford University. One day, while strolling near the river Cherwell, he encountered a milkman with a terrier — “such an animal as Russell had only seen in his dreams”. Determined to acquire the dog, he bargained with the owner until the animal, a bitch called Trump, came into his possession.

early Jack Russell terrier

Trump, the terrier bitch that started the Jack Russell breed

White, with a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear and a dot of tan at the root of the tail, her coat was thick, close and slightly wiry. Her legs were straight, while her entire frame suggested hardiness and endurance. She was the height of a full-grown vixen.

The origins of the Jack Russell terrier

Trump was the progenitress, the bedrock of the breed that was to bear her owner’s name into the 21st century. But while Parson John Russell was to create and continue a line of hard, working terriers — renowned for their ability to stay with hounds and to mark, bolt but never kill a fox underground — we know nothing of the background of Trump, where she came from or why she was in the possession of the milkman. White terriers of her stamp were certainly known and worked to fox from the latter part of the 18th century.

It appears that Russell put Trump to a black-and-tan terrier from the Duke of Beaufort’s hunt and continued to use many different crosses of white terriers to produce what, to his way of thinking, was the perfect terrier to be used in association with a pack of foxhounds. He required a terrier capable of running with hounds, or being there when they marked to ground, of facing a fox underground and, by nipping and barking, forcing it to bolt unharmed. A hard dog that killed underground was of no use.

Terrier

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Ratting terrier

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In his 70s, Russell attended a dog show with more than 150 fox terrier entries, and remarked to a friend: “I seldom or never see a real fox terrier nowadays.” He added that the genuine article had been so mixed with strange blood from bulldogs, beagles and Italian greyhounds that a composite animal had been produced, bearing no resemblance to a true fox terrier.

A terrierman speaks

What then, exactly, is a real Jack Russell terrier? I asked Eddie Chapman, renowned in the hunting and working terrier world for his expertise, not only as a terrierman — having worked for some 15 packs of hounds — but also for his determined efforts to retain the essence of the genuine working Jack Russell. Eddie has owned, bred and worked scores of terriers and says he still has three lines of terriers that can be traced back to the Parson Russell line.

A Jack Russell terrier

A Jack Russell terrier

To answer my question Eddie cupped his hands to the size, as he saw it, of a vixen’s chest. “The real Jack Russell must have a shallow, narrow chest similar in size to that of a vixen,” he said. “Most working Jack Russells are 12in and under in height. Above that height means that they are restricted to where they can work. The dog should weigh a pound to an inch.”

The Parson Russell

This is the type of terrier whose conformation and working abilities might well have met the demands of the West Country parson. However, the Jack Russell type of terrier has, for the past 40 or more years, been the catalyst for argument, dispute, claims and counter-claims. The distinctive fox terrier type bred by Parson Russell was adopted in 1894 by the hunting enthusiast Arthur Heinemann for work with his Devon and Somerset Badger Club. The association was re-named the Parson Jack Russell Club, but was to be disbanded just before World War II. It is likely that bull terrier blood was introduced to the stock to create a harder type of animal and this may have resulted in shorted-legged terriers.

However, in 1974 the Jack Russell Club of Great Britain (JRCGB) was established as the parent club for this type of terrier. A definitive breed standard was adopted and such was the Club’s success that the standard was adopted by Jack Russell clubs worldwide. However, in 1990 a rival organisation, under the title the Parson Jack Russell Terrier, emerged to develop show conformation types of Jack Russell terrier.

Parson Russell terrier

Parson Russell terrier

In January 1990 the Parson Jack Russell Terrier was officially recognised by the Kennel Club and in 1999 the title was changed to Parson Russell Terrier. The breed or type was officially recognised by the Kennel Club, a move that was violently opposed by the JRCGB. The secretary of the Kennel Club, Caroline Kisko, claimed that “by recognising the Jack Russell as an official breed we can help cement its heritage and protect its future”, a claim hotly disputed by protagonists of working Jack Russell terriers.

Showing, not working

The Parson Russell terrier is bred for showing, not working. It is taller than a Jack Russell, has a longer head and larger chest and is adapted to the show bench rather than the hunting field. As such it does not, in my opinion, deserve to be associated with Parson John Russell. The West Country terrier that was bred to work with hounds and bolt foxes is now eligible to sit on the benches at Crufts and to be preened, polished and shampooed for the show ring.

To add to the mix, a new club was formed in 1992 under the aegis of Eddie Chapman, to counter the tendency at that time for members of the JRCGB to cross-breed with white Lakeland terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and other blood. A meeting was held in the West Country — the heart of the real Jack Russell territory — and the British Jack Russell Club (BJRC) was formed with the proviso that any terrier displaying alien blood would be excluded. However, the JRCGB committee stamped hard on the introduction of cross-breeding with the purpose of producing show-type terriers and, as a result, the BJRC has now disbanded.

Jack Russell terriers

Under the care of the JRCGB the true Jack Russell terrier has a healthy future, though it is essential that it remains in the hands of those who choose work rather than the show bench. Fortunately, the working Jack Russell still has a role to play in the hunting field. While the adoption of trailhunting has ensured the continuation of hunting countrywide, terrier work under the Hunting Act 2004 permits the use of a single terrier to bolt a fox into a net “for the purpose of preventing or reducing damage to gamebirds or wild birds being kept or preserved to be shot”. The terrier used to locate a fox must wear an electronic collar and bolt but not fight a fox.

This is, of course, a perfect role for the working Jack Russell. Long may this little dog — bold, brave and affectionate — continue to pursue the work for which it was intended by Parson John Russell.