Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terrier

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

Prior to 1800 the generic name 'Fox Terrier' was given to any Terrier that was used to bolt foxes out of their dens. This was particularly associated with the sport of Fox Hunting. But when the Fox Terrier became a show dog, those which remained working Terriers became known as Jack Russell Terriers or the Parson Russell Terriers, named after the Reverend Jack Russell. But it was not until the 1990's, almost two centuries later that these two breeds became the separate recognized pure breeds we know today.

Jack Russell Terriers

Reverend Jack (John) RussellReverend Jack (John) Russell

The Reverend Jack (John) Russell was a founding member of the Board of the first Kennel Club (UK) and a terrier judge. As outlined above, while the Fox Terriers were becoming show dogs, the Reverend became more famous for his working terriers that bear his name to this day. His dogs came in varying leg lengths. The longer legged terriers ran with the hound packs and therefore had longer legs. But the shorter legged terriers were carried to the fox dens by the hunter or a terrier man whose jacket had pockets large enough to carry these small terriers.

A Terrier ManA Terrier Man

The Reverend kept his own records of his dogs. These were not recorded in the Stud Books of the Kennel Club (UK).  So, Jack Russell Terriers were therefore never technically pure-breed dogs. The gene pool was never split by either leg length or coat type. Terriers that would do the required job were simply selected as puppies and trained as required.

The following is a quote from Hugh Dalziel's 'British Dogs'[2] 

"The Rev. 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".

During his lifetime, the Reverend John (Jack) Russell witnessed the gene pool of his original working Fox Terriers split from the showdog. But it is indisputable that his respected old fashioned working type of terrier bearing his name has remained 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 Legacy of Reverend Jack Russell

"Trump" 1815"Trump" 1815

The Reverend Jack Russell began his lifetime passion with Fox Terriers in 1815 with a bitch called 'Trump'. T.H.Scott wrote in the 'Sportsman's Repository' in 1820 that there were other Fox Terriers at that time that were as perfect point for point as "Trump"[4] who laid the foundation for the Reverend's strain of working Fox Terriers. The Reverend 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 earths or tunnels where the fox lived. For this reason, to this day the  chest  of a Jack Russell Terrier should be sufficiently small that its girth behind the elbows is capable of being spanned by average sized hands. This practice is called spanning a terrier.

Whilst Fox Terriers had been pure-breeds for more than a century, Jack Russell Terriers continued working with the hound  packs of England, bolting foxes. But towards the end of the 1900's, there was a movement against fox hunting as a sport. So by the middle of the 1900's, Jack Russell Terrier enthusiasts began looking to develop these wonderful working Terriers as a separate recognized pure breed.

Jack Russell and Parson Russell Terriers Today

Jack Russell (Smooth Coat)Jack Russell (Smooth Coat)

When the famous Australian equestrians, Bill and Mavis Roycroft visited England in 1964 and 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 there, 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 in Australia with a height of 10" - 12" (inches)[1].

Parson Russell TerrierParson Russell Terrier

Meanwhile in England, the 'old type' Fox Terriers continued to be bred from the Reverend John (Jack) Russells' working lines selected for brains and a sound constitution. Although a Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club has existed in England right through the 1900's, a breed standard written and even a class for 'Working Fox Terriers' provided at Crufts, the Parson (Jack) Russell Terrier was not separately recognized by the Kennel Club (UK) until 1990. Firstly it was called the Parson Russell Terrier and later the name was changed to the Parson Jack Russell Terrier. It differs from the Australian Jack Russell in that its ideal height is 14" for dogs and 13" for bitches.

Both the Jack Russell's and the Parson's working background is acknowledged in their respective breed standards with the requirement for them to be spanned. This process is called spanning a terrier.

Jack Russell (Rough Coat)Jack Russell (Rough Coat)

Whilst the flat skull has been retained from its 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. 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, with more stop between the skull and the foreface than its Fox Terrier predecessor.

Parson Russells Working Parson Russells Working

It is also interesting to note that although the height has split the original type of terriers kept by the Reverend John (Jack) Russell into the two separate breeds of the Jack Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier, the coat type has been retained in its original form which ranges from smooth through to rough and all the coat types in between.

Parson hunting fox up treeParson hunting fox up tree

So historically the Jack Russell and the Parson were the same breed. But their Breed Standards were written by different groups of enthusiasts in different countries. So today, despite the major difference between these two breeds being their height at shoulder, both breeds still retain their strong instinct to search for all types of quarry that live beneath the ground.

Our DVD 'Terriers Then & Now' contains more about the Fox Terrier (Smooth and Wire), the Jack Russell and the Parson Russell Terriers

References and Further Reading

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

[4] 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)

Also published in 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