Feisty, stubborn, characterful, tireless ratters - the Jack Russell has legions of fans. But is that Jack Russell actually a Parson Russell? They may look similar but there are big differences. Tony Jackson explains

In 1815, the Reverend John Russell, 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”. He was determined to own the dog himself and haggled with the milkman until the terrier – a bitch called Trump – was his.

early Jack Russell terrier

Trump, the terrier bitch that started the Jack Russell breed

Trump was white, with a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear and 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 start of the breed that has borne her master’s name right up to the present day. Through her, Parson John Russell created and continued a line of hard, working terriers — renowned for their ability to stay with hounds and to mark, bolt but never kill a fox underground. However we know nothing about Trump’s background, where she was born, her parentage and how the milkman acquired her, although w terriers of her stamp were known and worked to fox from the latter part of the 18th century.

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It seems 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.

Jack Russell expert Eddie Chapman

Jack Russell expert Eddie Chapman

A terrierman speaks

So what exactly is a real Jack Russell terrier? I asked Eddie Chapman, renowned in the hunting and working terrier world for his expertise. He has owned, bred and worked hundreds 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

A real Jack Russell

“The real Jack Russell must have a shallow, narrow chest similar in size to that of a vixen,” Eddie Chapman 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

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 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.

Parson Russell characteristics

  • The Parson Russell terrier is bred for showing, not working.
  • It is taller than a Jack Russell, has a longer head and larger chest
  • It is adapted to the show bench rather than the hunting field.

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 cause a fox to bolt but not fight with it.

Terrier types

Terrier Types

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It’s the 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.