Dog Walkin’ Wellington
The Jack Russell
By Barbara Phillippi
The Jack Russell Terrier, how it got its name, how it’s different from other dogs (Yes, it is!)
Over the past months, we’ve taken a closer look at a couple of lesser-known breeds, and we’ll discuss others in future columns. But this month, it’s going to be the Jack Russell Terrier, the breed that captured my heart, many years ago.
First, why the name, “Jack Russell?” Parson John Russell lived in England from1795 – 1883. In addition to his pastoring duties, he was a flamboyant character, with a passion for hunting. His circle of friends included the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, and others who rode miles to hunt events on a regular basis. John “Jack” Russell admired and bred the brave white dogs that bolted fox and badger from their holes to the horsemen, and joined them in the sport.
The word “Terrier” is from the Latin “terra,” and means, literally, “dog
of the earth.” Russell began to look with disdain at the Fox Terrier, which had been the hunting dog of choice for centuries, but he believed their skills in the field had declined since the advent of the dog show, in the 1880’s. Appearance and temperament had been compromised, and the chest was too large to enter holes easily, diminishing the usefulness of these working dogs. Fox Terriers increasingly became pampered pets of the wealthy.
Parson John Russell’s first bitch was “Trump,” a rough coat terrier of mixed ancestry, purchased from a milkman. It is believed by terrier men everywhere that from Trump came the beginnings of today’s Jack Russell Terrier. Jack Russells are a hearty lot, with a huge gene pool from historic crosses with Beagles (for scent hunting,) Bulldogs, Dascshunds, and even Whippets. But today’s reputable JRTCA (Jack Russell Terrier Club of America) breeders strive for a standard that has evolved over the years, always keeping in mind that these are working dogs, at home hunting and working in fields and hedgerows. This little white dog was not bred to be a pet.
Today, most Jack Russells aren’t working underground, and you can find them everywhere, including the barns and streets of Wellington. The Sunshine State Jack Russell Terrier Club, and the Gold Coast Terrier Club of Florida, hold “trials” and fun days for JRTs and owners, several times a year. At these events, Jacks compete in the conformation ring, racing, go-to-ground, agility, trailing and locating, and lure coursing. Any Jack Russell owner and dog can join in the fun, even if their dog isn’t “registered.”
We often hear references to the “English Jack Russell,” or the “Irish Jack Russell,” both are stocky dogs, with a body longer than the legs; these “Shorties” are great dogs, but do not meed the standards of the Jack Terrier Club of Great Britain, the parent club of the JRTCA itself. Some breed standards are:
*Three coat types are allowed in conformation, rough, broken, smooth
*Dog must be at least 51% white, so that it might be seen more easily when being dug out of a hole or tunnel
*Two heights meet standards, “Under” (10 – 12/12”) and “Over,” (12/12 – 15.”)
*”Button ears fold over in triangle shape, eyes must be almond shape, not round.
*Nose must be black, not liver color
*Chest must be flexible, and spanable behind the elbows, by the hands of an ordinary person, to insure successful hunting below the ground in narrow tunnels
*Tail must be high set, and carried gayly
Here’s a link to the official JRTCA breed standard page:
And then, there is the Parson Russell Terrier. It looks like the Jack Russell, it’s in the AKC dog show rings, what’s the difference? Several years ago, the American Kennel Club (AKC) voted to allow the Jack Russell Terrier into its registry of breeds. The AKC has often changed breed standards that diminished the qualities that a dog was bred for. Fearing that whimsical new breed requirements might diminish the working qualities of the Jack Russell, the JRTCA sued the AKC, won the exclusive right to the name, “Jack Russell Terrier,” and closed the JRTCA registry to AKC registered dogs. Thus was born the “Parson Russell,” a new darling in the AKC show ring.
Is there a Jack Russell Terrier in your future? Hmmm.. better give it some serious thought. “Wishbone” and “Eddie” were cute on TV, but the JRT is not for every household. The family brings the pup home to an apartment, mom & dad go to work, the kids go to school. A Jack Russell Terrier needs a job, and will find activity of some sort to amuse itself during the family’s absence. Redecoration of the living quarters is a favorite activity. Catherine Browne, author of the definitive book about the Jack Russell Terrier, writes:
“It is important to give serious consideration to the suitability of inviting a JRT into your life. Living with and providing for the needs of this active, alert, and bright hunting dog are demanding. If you are not ready to be taken on by a whirlwind of a dog, go no further. You would do well to research another, less demanding, breed.”
Sadly, media exposure of this breed is responsible, in large part, for the thousands of Jack Russell Terriers that languish in rescue facilities.A reputable JRT breeder will usually offer hearing and vision tested Jack Russell puppies, and a return policy. But uninformed people persist in purchasing pet store Jacks, or pups from breeders whose only purpose is to profit from as many breedings as possible. This is a huge problem nationwide, and includes not just the back yard or puppy mill breeder, but also the Amish religious sect. Most sell puppies from any male/female mating, regardless of health and temperament issues.
If you read the book, and decide you’re up for the ride of your life, please consider a rescue Jack Russell. A companion dog need not meet the “standards;” it can have perky ears, shorter legs, brown nose, etc, and be perfect for you. I’ve had beloved rescued Jacks, and they measure up in love and devotion. They adjust easily to a new home, and are eager to bond with their human rescuers. A few rescue websites:
Please read the book. It’s available on www.Amazon.com, used, for pennies, and there’s also a new Kindle edition, which sells for $14.97. I’m lucky to be a friend of its author, Catherine Romaine Brown. For many years, she’s served on the Board of Directors of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, (JRTCA,) the premier registry of Jack Russell Terriers in the United States. Catherine is in demand as a judge at sanctioned trials, both nationwide and internationally, and she and her dogs regularly participate in agility, go-to-ground, conformation, and other disciplines at Jack Russell Terrier events.
In my opinion, and that of many admirers of this breed, this book is the definitive guide to JRT ownership.
“In a perfect world, every dog would have a home, and every home would have a dog.”