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How to spot the difference between a Jack Russell terrier and a Parson Russell

Jack Russell or Parson Russell. They look similar so how can you tell the difference? Tony Jackson explains.

Parson Russell terrier

The most striking difference between a Jack Russell terrier and a Parson Russell terrier is their size.

Jack Russells are slightly smaller. The breed should measure 10-15″ on their shoulders (withers) whereas a Parson Russell is taller at 12-14″ on the withers. The Parson Russell also generally has a squarer body,  a wider chest and in fact is bred to be a show dog.

What a Jack Russell should look like

Ideally a working Jack Russell’s head should be shorter from nose to eyes than from the eyes to the back of head. The dog should be shallow in chest like a fox.  Size makes little difference.

Jack Russell terrier on quad bike

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. It is likely that bull terrier blood was introduced to the stock to create a harder type of animal. This may have resulted in shorter-legged terriers.

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.

Parson Russell characteristics

  • A Parson Russell terrier is bred for showing, not working.
  • It is taller than a Jack Russell, has a longer head and larger chest

So how did the terrier breed come into being?

In the early 19th century the Reverend John Russell became a keen foxhunter. He was however  infuriated by the fact that when the hunt did find a fox it ran to ground. The terriers that did exist were intent on killing the fox, rather than just flushing it out.

So the young John Russell decided to breed a better terrier for foxhunting. Within 30 years he had achieved his goal.  By the mid 1850s Jack Russell terriers were being bought by all the fashionable foxhound packs in England. Their skill lay in bolting foxes without attacking them.

But how did he achieve this?

Trump – the mother of the Jack Russell breed.

In 1815 the Reverend bought a bitch he saw from a milkman. Named Trump, she was the height of a full-grown vixen, white, with a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear and at the root of the tail. Her whole frame suggested hardiness and endurance, covered by a thick, close and slightly wiry coat.

early Jack Russell terrier

Trump, the terrier bitch that started the Jack Russell breed

The origins of the Jack Russell terrier

With Trump, John Russell created and continued a line of hard, working terriers. They were renowned for their ability to stay with hounds and to mark, bolt but never kill a fox underground.

Russell is believed to have put Trump to a black-and-tan terrier from the Duke of Beaufort’s hunt. He continued to use many different crosses of white terriers to produce the perfect terrier to be used alongside a pack of foxhounds. What was required was a terrier capable of running with hounds,  facing a fox underground and, by nipping and barking, forcing it to bolt unharmed.

Jack Russell expert Eddie Chapman

Jack Russell expert Eddie Chapman

The ‘real Jack Russell terrier’

Eddie Chapman is 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.

“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. A Jack Russell should weigh a pound to an inch.”

A: I grew up with cross-bred terriers which, being longer on the leg than the Jack Russell terrier, were more like hunt terriers. They were trained to work as gundogs by my father as well as working with the ferrets for rabbits. The terriers would go to ground and bring out rabbits, always dead but still good enough for the pot. They would also hunt up wild pheasants in sugar beet and would retrieve them with no harm. If my father shot a hare, it was coming back to hand no matter how far it had run after the shot. There was always a chase if the shot missed its target but after a short distance they would turn off unwounded game and come back ready for more action.

Our cross-bred terriers were never worked on formal shoots but I have seen other Jack Russell terriers working well in the beating line to flush birds, though some have a failing for catching and killing game. That may be down to a lack of training.

Get your Jack Russell retrieving dummies covered in a rabbit skin at home firs. Then perhaps the same with pheasant wings so that you can see what his reaction is going to be. Progress to cold fresh game. If all goes well, you may just have found a great shooting companion for the future.

This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated