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Questions and answers about Parson Jack Russell Terrier temperament, personality, behavior, physical traits and characteristics, feeding, health care, buying, adoption, puppies and adult dogs.

Parson Jack Russell Terrier dog breed

Jack Russell Terrier FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Parson Jack Russell Terrier Dogs

By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2010



Why are Jack Russell Terriers also called Parson Jack Russell Terriers? Are they the same breed?

Everybody's perplexed about this, and it doesn't stop with just those two names -- there's also a Russell Terrier, with no Parson OR Jack.

The name confusion began with "in-fighting" among dog clubs, with some asserting that the breed should look a certain way, while others extolling a different look. The end result, after a long legal battle, was that the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (the largest registry of Jack Russell Terriers in the world) won the exclusive right to use the name Jack Russell Terrier for the dogs they register, dogs that come with JRTCA registration papers.

The American Kennel Club, the loser of the lawsuit, settled on the name Parson Russell Terrier for the dogs THEY register, dogs that come with AKC registration papers.

Both the JRTCA and the AKC specify that the breed should be long-legged (square-built), rather than the short-legged, long-backed build that is also commonly seen. They will register the short-legged ones, but they don't want them to be shown or bred. So the American Russell Terrier Club has emerged to promote the short-legged dogs as Russell Terriers.

In short, though these different builds are basically just variants of the same breed, with the same temperament and behavior, most of the world now recognizes them as separate breeds. Genetically-speaking, dividing a breed is never a good idea, since it reduces the number of potential breeding partners, limiting the gene pool at a time when inbreeding is already a serious problem in purebred dogs.




Is the square-build "better" than the short-legged, long-backed build?

The square build is certainly a natural build.

The short-legged, long-backed build can be okay if the legs are straight. But when the legs are bowed (like Queen Anne furniture legs), this build is neither natural nor healthy. It's caused by a genetic skeletal deformity called chondrodysplasia, which translates roughly to faulty cartilage.

When a puppy is developing in the womb, his skeleton is first formed in cartilage as a sort of model. As he continues to develop, the cartilage is supposed to be replaced by bone. But if, because of certain inherited genes, the cartilage doesn't get enough blood to transform properly into normal bone, the puppy will be born with incorrect proportions of cartilage and bone. The result is a large head and chest, short, thick, bowed front legs, and a longish back with calcified disks that lack elasticity and cushioning powers and are predisposed to coming loose and protruding into the spinal canal (intervertebral disk disease). Chondrodysplastic dogs, sometimes called "shorties" or "puddins", are also more susceptible to joint problems, and later in life, arthritis.

So what's a puppy buyer to make of all this? Well, the choice is yours, as long as you're aware of the potential risks.




How big are Parson Jack Russell Terriers?

It depends on which registry you ask.

  • The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America says 10 to 15 inches at the shoulder and they prefer the square build for showing and breeding, though they will register the short-legged build.
  • The AKC says 12-15 inches and only the square build is supposed to be shown and bred, though they will register the short-legged build.
  • The American Russell Terrier Club says their short-legged, long-backed dogs are 10-12 inches.

Weight is about 12 to 17 pounds.




Where does the Parson Jack Russell Terrier come from, and why was the breed developed?

The Parson Jack Russell Terrier is descended from early white-bodied terriers used for hunting foxes. In the 1800s, a clergyman/hunter, the Reverend John Russell, developed his own strain of feisty terrier, who ran with the horses and foxhounds as they chased after the fox. When the pursued fox "went to ground" (taking refuge in a den), the terriers were sent into the underground den to dig and harass and bolt the fox so the "sporting chase" could continue.




What kind of temperament and personality does the Parson Jack Russell Terrier have?

To get an idea of what a breed might be like, always look at what he was developed to do (see the question above). Many of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier's characteristics -- his strength, energy, independence, and strong chasing and digging and barking instincts -- are hardwired into his genes because they helped him excel at his work.

I give you my honest opinions about Parson Jack Russell Terrier temperament and personality -- positives AND negatives -- in my dog breed review, Parson Jack Russell Terrier Temperament (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).




What colors do Parson Jack Russell Terriers come in?

They're mostly white, with some tan, brown, and/or black markings.




What kinds of coats do Parson Jack Russell Terriers come in?

Three coats:

  • Smooth.
  • Broken. Smooth-ish, but with slightly longer hairs, especially on the face and tail. This coat is in-between a smooth and a rough.
  • Rough. Scruffy. A JRT owner describes this coat as "like my dog went to bed with wet hair and had nightmares."

All three coats are dense, harsh, double coats that SHED.




How much grooming do Parson Jack Russell Terriers need?

All three coats need only occasional brushing, but more frequent brushing pulls out dead hairs that would otherwise be shed all over your floor and furniture -- always a plus!

Broken and rough coats need trimming or clipping every few months.




How much do Parson Jack Russell Terriers shed?

A LOT. Jack Russell Terriers shed a LOT and they shed constantly, 365 days a year. The smooth coats shed the most, but the other two coats shed plenty, as well. Be sure you're up for this amount of shedding before getting one of these dogs.




What's with the ears? Why do some Parson Jack Russell Terriers have ears that flop forward, while others have ears that prick up?

Well, most Jack Russells do have ears that fold forward, and this is really how the ears are supposed to be carried. But some do prick up, it's true, and some dogs have one ear that folds forward and one that pricks up, or pricks halfway up, or cants off to one side. In the grand scheme of things, ear carriage isn't terribly important in what makes a Parson Jack Russell a Parson Jack Russell!




Are Parson Jack Russell Terriers born with a short tail?

No, they're born with a normal-length tail, which is then surgically cut short when the puppies are just a few days old. This practice, called docking, is done today purely for fashion. Many countries have outlawed it as cruel, so you will see Parson Jack Russell Terriers in England and Australia, for example, with their natural tails. In the United States, if you don't want your Parson Jack Russell Terrier's tail docked, you will need to find a breeder who's willing to designate a specific puppy for you when it's just a few days old and not dock its tail. Good luck!




How long do Parson Jack Russell Terriers live, and what health problems do they have?

Typically 12-15 years, but they're not necessarily healthy throughout their long life! You should definitely read my full article, How Long Do Parson Jack Russell Terriers Live?




Do crossbred or mixed breed Parson Jack Russell Terriers make good pets?

They do make good pets, yes, but first you need to know what a purebred dog really is -- and what crossbred and mixed breed dogs really are. You might think you know, but I bet you'll be surprised by my articles: The Truth About Purebred Dogs, The Truth About Crossbred Dogs, and The Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs.




Can you help me decide whether the Parson Jack Russell Terrier is the best breed for me?

Yes, I offer personal consultations on choosing the best breed for your family and lifestyle. Learn more about my Dog Breed Consulting Service.




Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Parson Jack Russell Terriers have pros and cons, and female Parson Jack Russell Terriers have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs




If I just want a dog for a pet, not for showing or breeding, does it matter whether he has AKC registration papers?

First you need to know what registration papers really mean -- and don't mean. You might THINK you know -- but you might be wrong! Find out the truth about AKC Registered Puppies: Are AKC Papers Important?.




There's an adorable Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No. There are no responsible Parson Jack Russell Terrier breeders who would ever place one of their Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.




How do I find a good Parson Jack Russell Terrier breeder?

It's hard! The sad truth is that the vast majority of people offering Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppies for sale are unknowledgeable, irresponsible, completely clueless -- or all of the above. Visit Dog Breeders: How To Find a Good Breeder.




How do I pick the best Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.




I'm interested in adopting a dog rather than buying from a dog breeder. How do I find Parson Jack Russell Terrier dogs for adoption?

You can find Parson Jack Russell Terriers available for adoption from dog rescue groups or from the animal shelter. Visit Adopting a Dog From Rescue and Adopting a Dog From The Animal Shelter.




I just got a new Parson Jack Russell Terrier. Which pages should I read first?

  • Parson Jack Russell Terrier Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off RIGHT is essential!
  • Training Parson Jack Russell Terriers, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.



What's a good training schedule for training Parson Jack Russell Terrier puppies? What things should I teach, and when?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Parson Jack Russell Terriers: Puppy Training Schedule.




How do I housebreak my Parson Jack Russell Terrier?

The key to housebreaking your Parson Jack Russell Terrier is confinement, confinement, confinement. Visit Housebreaking Your Puppy or Adult Dog.




My Parson Jack Russell Terrier has some behavior problems I'd like to solve.

Respect training solves behavior problems much better than obedience training. Visit Respect Training For Puppies and Adult Dogs.




What's the best dog food for Parson Jack Russell Terriers?

Homemade dog food. Visit The Best Dog Food For Your Dog. If you can't feed homemade dog food, there are only a few (very few!) commercial dog food brands I recommend. Visit The Second-Best Dog Food For Your Dog.




I have to take my Parson Jack Russell Terrier to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically -- but most vets are not telling you the truth about this! Don't let your vet give your Parson Jack Russell Terrier any more shots until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.




What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Parson Jack Russell Terrier, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.




My vet doesn't agree with some of the things you've written about health care.

That just means he belongs to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). There are two competing veterinary organizations in the United States and they disagree on just about every aspect of canine health care. The health information on my web site comes from vets who belong to the American HOLISTIC Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). In my opinion, AHVMA vets are better than AVMA vets. Visit Think Your Veterinarian's Good? Here's How To Tell.




I have a question about Parson Jack Russell Terriers that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my books: