Jack Russell Terrier Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
Parson Jack Russell Terrier Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
If any dog can top the high energy level of a Fox Terrier, it is a Jack Russell. If any dog can top the hard-as-nails hunting skills of a Border Terrier, it is a Jack Russell. And if any dog can top the strong prey drive, determination, and intensity of a Jack Russell Terrier – well, that could only be another Jack Russell.
This bright, clever, athletic breed is on top of everything that's going on in his environment. Nothing gets by him.
A solitary or sedate lifestyle is not suited to a Jack Russell Terrier. He requires full participation in the family and vigorous daily play sessions, especially ball chasing, which he tends to be passionate about – even obsessive. Too little exercise, too little companionship, and too little mental stimulation will quickly lead to boredom, which will in turn lead to destructive behaviors. JRTs are not apartment dogs, nor are they suited to people who work a lot.
Most Jack Russell Terriers are happy-go-lucky and friendly with strangers. But in the presence of strange dogs, keep them close and under control. If the other dog minds its own manners, the Jack Russell will usually adhere to a "live and let live" philosphy. But some Jack Russells are so brash and fearless they will take on a Rottweiler if it even looks cross-eyed at them.
Two Jack Russell Terriers (regardless of sex or age) should never be left alone together. All may appear to go well for a while – even a long while. But with this breed, a seemingly amiable relationship can suddenly flare into deadly combat over something as innocuous as possession of a chew toy. If you keep two Jack Russells, it is safest to separate them when you leave the house.
As you've probably guessed by now, small pets that run, squeak, or flutter probably won't last an hour.
The exploratory and hunting instincts of Jack Russell Terriers are legendary. These dogs will "go to ground" after anything that moves and they will stay in or by the hole for hours, even days. Obviously, JRTs are enthusiastic diggers and barkers!
The Jack Russell Terrier is highly intelligent and can learn almost anything – very, very quickly. The hardest part of training a Jack Russell is convincing this cheerful but assertive little guy that he actually has to DO what he has learned, when you say so, even when he's not in the mood. Fortunately, if you are offering the correct mix of physical exercise, mental stimulation, companionship hours, and confident leadership, the Jack Russell is usually willing to oblige.
Now it is possible to find a mild-mannered, laid-back Jack Russell. When you're looking for an adult dog from a rescue group, they might have a purebred or mixed Jack Russell who is more mellow. But this temperament is not the norm for the breed, so if you get a puppy, he or she is likely to grow up to have the active go-getter temperament I've been describing.
If you want a dog who...
- Is small, sturdy, and natural-looking
- Is one of the most energetic, most determined, and most intense of all breeds
- Is extremely alert and makes a keen watchdog, yet is still sociable with strangers
- When handled properly, is the brightest and most trainable of all the terriers, loves learning tricks, and EXCELS in competitive activities such as agility and flyball
A Parson Jack Russell Terrier may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- The dynamic terrier temperament (see full description below)
- Providing plenty of exercise and interesting things to do
- Rowdiness and destructiveness when NOT given enough exercise or interesting things to do!
- Very strong chasing instincts
- Digging holes
- Constant shedding (lots of white hairs everywhere)
- Mouthiness – chewing on things, carrying things around, mouthing your hands in play
- Potential aggression toward other animals
A Parson Jack Russell Terrier may not be right for you.
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Jack Russell Terriers have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Jack Russell Terrier to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of Jack Russell Terriers
If I was considering a Jack Russell Terrier, I would be most concerned about...
- The dynamic terrier temperament. Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar. The same words are used over and over -- quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense.
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Jack Russell Terriers need regular opportunities to vent their energy and do interesting things. These dogs are so smart that I hate to see them in homes where they're expected to just hang around the house and yard. Jack Russells were never intended to be simply household pets. Trying to suppress their drives to hunt and explore, without providing alternate outlets for their energy, results in a frustrated and bored Jack Russell – and frustrated, bored Jack Russells can "act out" in ways that you won't like.
Jack Russell Terriers thrive when you find interesting things for them to do that challenge their minds, such as agility training (obstacle course), advanced obedience training, flyball, or "earthdog" training (where terriers dig and tunnel after small critters who are secured in a sturdy cage so they can't be harmed). See my book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words (below), for a dynamic training program that will keep your Jack Russell on his toes!
- Potential animal aggression. Many Jack Russell Terriers are dominant or aggressive toward other dogs. Two Jack Russells should not be left alone together – one may kill the other over possession of a toy. Most Jack Russells also have strong instincts to chase and seize small fleeing creatures.
- Fence security. Many Jack Russell Terriers are clever escape artists who will go over or under fences in search of adventure. You may need higher fences than you might imagine for their small size. They can climb chain link. You may also need to sink wire into the ground along the fence line to thwart digging. Gates should have the highest quality locks, as some of these dogs can open flimsy latches.
- Constant shedding (shorthaired coat). Yes, constant. The shorthaired Jack Russell Terrier sheds year-round. You'll find little white hairs all over your clothing and furnishings. Some owners actually get rid of their Jack Russell just because of the shedding. The rough (wiry-type) coat also sheds, but its dead hairs are often trapped in the wiry coat rather than falling on the floor. But the rough coat requires more grooming.
- Mind of their own. Though much more amenable to training than other terriers, Jack Russells must be taught at an early age that they are not the rulers of the world. The toughness that makes them suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you try to teach them anything. Many Jack Russell Terriers love learning tricks, but less so the "No" command. Some Jack Russells are stubborn and bossy and you must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. Read more about Jack Russell Terrier Training.
- Barking. All terrier breeds tend to be quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them.
- Health problems. Jack Russell Terriers can suffer from serious eye diseases such as lens luxation and cataracts, joint diseases such as luxating patella, heart disease, epilepsy, and more. Read more about Jack Russell Terrier Health.
To help you train and care for your dog
Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.
The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.