Dogster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What Were Jack Russell Terriers Bred For? History, Traits & Characteristics

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on May 3, 2024 by Dogster Team

Jack Russell Terrier is lying on a white carpet near a wet puddle with urine

What Were Jack Russell Terriers Bred For? History, Traits & Characteristics

Ah yes, the Jack Russell Terrier—a fantastic, energetic, and naturally hunting breed. These working dogs are hugely popular and for good reason. They are spunky, friendly, fun little dogs who love to play and live active lives. This is likely due to their origins, as they were first bred in the mid-1800s to help with the English fox hunts of the day.

The nature of the job required fox hunting dogs to be smart and well-trained as well as tough and tenacious. While some Jack Russells of recent times may have moved on to quieter work in film and literature, they were originally fierce, intelligent little hunters. Below we explore the traits and history of the beloved breed, the Jack Russell Terrier.


The History of the Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell Terrier is named for its original breeder—Reverend John Russell. Living in England in the mid-1800s, Rev. Russell was an avid fox hunter and bred dogs to assist him. The result? A compact, yet very tough terrier bred to hunt and hole foxes.

To hole a fox is to chase it until it goes to the ground in its den. Thankfully the foxhunt has been banned in Britain since 2005, though it still happens thanks to legislative loopholes. While we don’t agree with any activity that results in the unnecessary harm of any creature, the Jack Russell did display some objectively admirable traits.

When it comes to hunting, Jack Russell Terriers are not as much brutish fighting dogs as they are strategic beacons. That’s to say, they don’t fight and kill the foxes, they bark and scare them into a corner and call for their masters.

While they are surely tough, wiry dogs that display a courage that is 10 times their size or more, their hunting style was that of a strategist rather than a brute. So, where did they get their highly tuned hunting instincts from? Unfortunately seeing as nobody thought to ask Reverend Russell that question nearly 200 years ago, the answer is a subject of debate and speculation.

jack russell terrier dog in a whelping box
Image Credit: DasyaDasya, Shutterstock

Possible Ancestors of the Jack Russell Terrier

Nobody’s 100% sure which breeds the Jack Russell was bred from, however, we do have a couple of possibilities. Some think that the Jack Russell was bred from a Wire Fox Terrier crossed with a Smooth Terrier, and others believe there were Bull Terriers and Beagles in the mix as well.

Let’s have a closer look at each of these breeds, and you can be the judge.

Wire Fox Terriers

The Wire Fox Terrier is a stout dog at 18 pounds and 15 inches and with its wiry, rough coat it looks like a slightly elongated version of the Jack Russell, but with a beard at the end of its snout. It is a confident hunting dog that was also used for fox hunting. Full of energy, intelligence, and tough as nails, it is easy to see why the Jack Russell Terrier is said to be bred from this type of dog.

Wire Fox Terrier hunting
Image Credit By: TSViPhoto,Shutterstock

Smooth Fox Terriers

Another ‘fox’ terrier, the Smooth Fox Terrier looks a lot more like the Jack Russell than the wire fox terrier, to which it is related. The Smooth Fox Terrier is known as the gentlemen of terrier breeds and is known for its graceful agility potential. There are also sturdy and tough hunting dogs that are brimming with intelligence and chomping at the bit for a job to do well.

smooth fox terrier_Charlotte Yealey_Pixabay
Image Credit: Charlotte Yealey, Pixabay


The Beagle is a dog from another line of hunters—hound dogs. Known for baying, playfulness, and a ‘merry’ temperament, the Beagle is an intelligent pack hunter. These clever dogs are known to be escape artists and this may be due to their curious and energetic nature. It’s easy to draw some temperament and aesthetic similarities between a Beagle and a Jack Russell Terrier.

beagle hunting
Image Credit: olginaa84, Pixabay

Bull Terriers

This is another line of dogs that comes from a cross between Bulldogs and an Old English Terrier. While this dog is full of personality and playful as well as mischievous, his parent breeds were bred for aggression originally, so these guys aren’t always the best with other dogs. That said, Bull Terriers make great family pets and are known for their sense of humor and affectionate nature.

Credit: tratong, Shutterstock

Related Breeds

Parson Russell Terriers are a breed that is closely associated with the Jack Russell and is often confused for the same breed. The differences are slight. It’s said that the Parson’s Russell Terriers were descended from the original group of dogs that gave us the Jack Russell. The Parson Russell, however, was bred for badgering rather than foxhunting by a man named Arthur Heineman, who created the first breed standard in 1894.

What Are Jack Russell Terriers Known For? Traits and Characteristics

The Jack Russell Terrier is an intelligent and incredibly brave dog who can put out a LOT of energy. If you live an active lifestyle, then a Jack Russell Terrier may be a great choice to accompany you on trails and runs. These are super-active pups that just love to go.

Jack Russells are known for their trademark terrier appearance with a medium snout and a short, low shedding coat. Their coats can be smooth or wiry and Jack Russell Terriers can also be small, though they are bigger than toy breed dogs like Min-Pins.

They are quite friendly, but training should be a priority with Jack Russell Terriers who, as hunting dogs, will see the cat as prey. Remember, these dogs were bred to chase and bark, so if you’re in a busy apartment building, they may not be the breed for you. Jack Russell Terriers are known to have strong tendencies to bark, so again, training and manners from a young age is definitely a good idea.divider-paw


If you’re out for a hardy, energetic dog that wants to work, then a Jack Russell Terrier might be a great choice. These dogs thrive on a farm or in any environment where they can be given a job to do. They are loyal, they are dedicated, and they certainly don’t give up easily. Jack Russells, like so many dogs, make for fantastic companions, but aren’t for the faint of heart!

Featured Image Credit: Bonsales, Shutterstock

Get Dogster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Dogster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.