Jack Russell terriers have been getting plenty of attention lately, thanks to a scene-stealing pooch named Uggie, who starred in Oscar-nominated film “The Artist” as well as “Water for Elephants.” In preparation for the annual Westminster parade of dogs, we offer a little background on a popular and precocious breed.
An avid huntsman named the Rev. John Russell is credited with introducing this pint-size breed to southern England during the mid-1800s. The tenacious terriers built a reputation for their ability to prolong hunts by fearlessly flushing foxes out of their underground dens.
“If you ever look at paintings of hunting scenes, you will notice that there is always a small dog with them,” says Jo Paddison, president of the South Coast Jack Russell Terrier Club (JRCT) of California. “They look like little cute cuddly things, and they are, but they can really be pretty feisty.”
In the United States, working versions of the breed are referred to as Jack Russell terriers, which includes a range of body types. Purebred show dogs that will make the rounds at Westminster are officially called Parson Russell terriers.
Described by the AKC as a single-minded hunter that can be very affectionate with its people, these terriers pack a lot of dog into a small package. Their fearless hunting skills translate into focused pooches that require plenty of exercise — and strong leadership.
“When you bring a puppy home, in the first week he’s going to know who’s the boss of the house,” Paddison says. While they will play fetch for hours, fans of the breed like to showcase its agility, hunting and racing skills.
Competitions include challenges such as “go-to-ground,” a simulated hunting game that sends Jack Russell terriers racing through as much as 35 feet of tunnels in search of their prey, typically a caged rat. The dogs must move through tunnels within a certain time frame, then focus intently on the rat for 30 seconds to a minute. (See the video below.)
“My dogs know where the rat is, so sometimes they take the short way around, which is a scratch,” Paddison admits. “You never know with a Jack Russell what it’s going to do.”
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) offers an online quiz and breed profiles to help prospective owners understand these precocious pooches. The club notes that Jack Russell terriers require firm, consistent discipline, and a job. Otherwise, “they can be very destructive if left unattended and unemployed.”
The terrier club and the AKC also warn against mixing the breed with small children.
“They won’t tolerate you grabbing their tail or pulling an ear,” Paddison says. “A lot of Jack Russells will retaliate with a snap. Not a vicious bite, but a snap. We recommend that children under 5, as a rule, don’t have Jack Russells.”
Jack Russell terriers were bred to follow foxes into their dens, so the dogs tend to be small and agile. The petite pooches also make great lap dogs. According to the AKC, mature Jack Russell terriers reach about 14 inches at the highest point on their shoulders, and they typically weigh 13 to 17 pounds.
Since the breed was created for hunting rather than appearance, their coat can range from smooth to broken. But all Jack Russell terriers are predominantly white with the occasional spattering of black or tan markings.
Common health issues
If you are considering purchasing a Jack Russell terrier from a breeder, the JRTCA offers a breeder referral list. Paddison says prospective owners should ask plenty of questions and request proof that the breeder has conducted extensive health tests. Eye issues such as cataracts are common for the breed.