Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terrier

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier are 2 different pure breeds. Confusingly they are both named after the same man, Parson Jack Russell. Known as the 'Sporting Parson', his working Terriers were legendary. In the 1800's, some were developed into showdogs and exhibited as Fox Terriers. During the 1900's those working terriers which remained, bore Parson Jack Russell's name. By the late 1900's these working terriers had become pure breeds. Here we shall deal with those developed which were as a pure breed in Australia and England. These have a small height difference.

The Legacy of Parson Jack Russell (1795-1883)

Parson Jack RussellParson Jack Russell

Parson Jack Russell was a founding member of the Board of the first Kennel Club (UK) and a terrier judge. He kept his own records of his dogs. But as these were not recorded in the Stud Books of the Kennel Club (UK), technically they were not pure-breed dogs. Furthermore his gene pool was never split by either leg length or coat type. Terriers that would do the required job were selected as puppies and trained as required.

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

"[Parson] J. Russell, who is certainly the father of fox terrier breeders, tells us that he has bred his dogs since 1815, and their pedigree has been kept quite pure, except that he once admitted an admixture of old Jock, a high compliment to the old dog"[2].

During his lifetime, Parson Jack Russell witnessed the gene pool of his original working Fox Terriers split from the showdogs. But it is indisputable that his respected old fashioned working type of terrier bearing his name has retained his instinct to work to this day. The following quote is from his obituary published in the 1883 Kennel Club Gazette:

"As the oldest Fox Terrier breeder in England, Mr Russell's connection with the Kennel Club was an honour to that body"

The Parson Russell Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

'Trump''Trump'Parson Jack Russell began his lifetime passion in 1815 with a Fox Terrier bitch called 'Trump'. T.H.Scott wrote in the 'Sportsman's Repository' in 1820 that other Fox Terriers at that time existed that were just as perfect point for point as "Trump"[4] who laid the foundation for the Parson's strain of working Fox Terriers.

A 'Terrier Man'A 'Terrier Man'

But he succeeded in developing a terrier that had legs of sufficient length to hunt with his hounds yet had a chest so small and flexible it was able to wriggle along and squeeze through the incredibly small den or tunnel where the fox lived. If the Terriers did not have the length of leg to keep up with the hounds, they were carried to the scene of the hunt in the coat pockets of a 'Terrier Man', often mounted on a pony.

After Parson Jack Russell died, his Parson Russell Terriers continued working with the hound packs bolting foxes. Towards the end of the 1900's, there was a movement against fox hunting as a sport. So Parson Russell Terrier enthusiasts began developing these working Terriers into a pure breed.

Parson Russell huntingParson Russell hunting

Although a Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club existed in England, it took a century after Parson Jack Russell died for a breed standard to be written and a class for 'Working Fox Terriers' to be provided at Crufts. Finally, in 1990, the Parson's terrier was recognized by the Kennel Club (UK). Later, it's name was changed to the Parson Russell Terrier to differentiate it from the Australian Jack Russell Terrier. It's ideal height is 14" for dogs and 13" for bitches[3].

The Jack Russell Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

Jack Russell TerrierJack Russell Terrier

In 1964, when the famous Australian equestrians, Bill and Mavis Roycroft visited England, they fell in love with the Jack Russell Terriers that were assigned to Hunt Clubs in the UK. They brought a dog and two bitches back to Australia and from them, Australia developed the Jack Russell Terrier. The Jack Russell Club of Australia was subsequently formed in 1972 to record of their pedigrees. On January 1st 1991, the ANKC recognized the Jack Russell Terrier as a pure breed with England as its country of origin but Australia its country of development[1].

Australia's First Champion Jack RussellAustralia's First Champion Jack Russell

Pictured on the right is our first Australian Champion. While his height is 10"-12" (inches) this does not make him a short legged terrier with its body hung between its forelegs like a Scottish Terrier. Instead the Jack Russell's legs from elbow to ground should be equal in length to half it's body height, enabling it's chest to be spanned.

The Jack Russell and Parson Russell Today

Jack Russell Jack Russell

The main difference between the Parson and the Jack Russell is the proportion of body length to leg length. The Jack is 60:40 while the Parson is 50:50. Note the Jack's leg length is half it's height at shoulder while the Parson is a more squarely built terrier.

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

Both the Jack Russell's and the Parson's working background is acknowledged in their respective breed standards with the circumference of their chests being measured by a process called spanning. All Jack Russell's and Parson Russell's should be procedurally spanned whilst the examination on the table is taking place.


Jack Russell TerrierJack Russell Terrier

Whilst the flat skull has been retained from their Fox Terrier background, the ears of both the Jack Russell and the Parson are lower set than the Fox Terrier and must not be carried above the level of the skull.  Rather the ears should be carried somewhere between that of a button ear and a side placement ear.

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

Additionally, neither the Jack Russell nor the Parson should have the elongated head so admired in the Fox Terrier. Instead, in order to be assured of retaining the strength of muzzle for working purposes, the foreface is required to be no longer than the length of the skull. So, there should be more stop between the skull and the foreface than its Fox Terrier predecessor.

Coat Type

Parsons Rough and SmoothParsons Rough and SmoothIt is important to understand that the original coat type of rough through to smooth and all variations in between have always been equally correct. Parsons and Jacks have never been split into different breeds by coat type like the Fox Terrier (Smooth) and the Fox Terrier (Wire). The two extremes of coat type illustrated on the left demonstrate coat limits.

Historically several authorities preferred the rougher jackets to more smooth ones. They believed a hard, close rough coat gave the dog more protection against all types of weather as well as safeguarding it better from encounters with the fox and other quarry.

Parson mother with her 7 pupsParson mother with her 7 pups

Today the coat should never be excessive, encouraging trimming and modern sculpturing techniques which detract from the workmanlike appearance of both these breeds. Variations between these are equally correct like the mother with her litter of 7 of all coat types, on the right. Other subtle differences in conformation between the Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terriers can be observed by diligent students and breed enthusiasts.

References and Further Reading


We have now published a unique Terrier book 'Terriers Unveiled' Available at our sister site: https://rangeairevision.com/terriers-unveiled/

Also published as

  • 2020 - Jane Harvey - 'Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terriers' - Published in 'Dogs Victoria Magazine'  (The Victorian Canine Association Inc. Cranbourne, Vic) Volume 97 No. 12 Page 5 - 7
  • 2012- Jane Harvey, "Fox Terrier and Jack Russells" in Lets Talk Terriers (Tracy Murphy, Dean Park NSW) Vol 8 No 2 2011 Pages 16 -18

Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0

[1] William C. Kinsman (Secretary ANKC) "Jack Russell Terrier approved by the ANKC" Editorial in the KCC Kennel Gazette Vol 56 November No 11 Page 1

[2] Hugh Dalziel "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, and Exhibition" ("The Bazaar", London) 1879-1880 Chapter XVIII Page 304

[3] R Makeef "Parson Russell's Terrier A short history of the origin of the breed in 1825 and the foundation of the Club in 1895" (VCA Gazette 1993 Vol 59 No 5 Page 21)