Facts About the Dynamic Russell Terrier Dog Breed

Russell Terrier jumping and running in grass.
Russell Terrier jumping and running in grass. Photography ©Martin Ruegner | Getty Images.

The Russell Terrier, a high-energy, exuberant breed, lives life at full throttle and takes guff from no one. He’s smart, endearing and often exhausting.

Bred in England in the mid-1800s, the breed is named after the Reverend John Russell, who was an enthusiastic hunter. One of his first breeding terriers, Trump, was allegedly bought from his milkman. Known as the “Sporting Parson,” he bred feisty and bold fox hunting dogs. The terrier’s job was to run with hunters and their hounds, then flush the fox out when he went underground. In time, some of these terriers were carried on the hunter’s (or his assistant’s) saddle. The dog would be released from his pouch quickly if a fox went to ground. The Russell’s compact, agile body allowed him to maneuver easily underground.

Training a Russell

Russell Terrier close up.
Russell Terriers are adept at learning tricks, but do take a lot of training. Photography ©Fran Gaglione | Getty Images.

Today’s Russell Terrier maintains his tenacious spirit and boundless energy that made him a model fox hunting dog. High spirited and assertive, the Russell isn’t suited for a laid-back, “who bothers with walking or training a dog much?” family. He’s bright and bold, thriving on many sports. But while he flourishes with companionship, he often shows an independent spirit. “What do you mean Sit, Stay? I’m off to chase some squirrels!”

Training a Russell for obedience takes patience. Don’t let Hollywood’s depictions deceive you. The breed learns tricks easily, but he’s not known for predictable compliance. In fact, Moose, the Russell that worked on the long-running Frasier TV comedy, became a star only after his first family couldn’t handle him and sent him off to a trainer.

A Russell has the flexibility and speed for the agility course, but you’ll need to convince him it’s a worthwhile activity. He’ll likely deem barn hunts and earthdog trials as time well-spent. After all, he was bred to follow his quarry’s scent, so these sports feel natural. He may also excel in flyball or backyard ball chasing.

Without outlets for his intensity, energy and hunting drive, he may dig up trouble in the yard, quite literally. And speaking of yards, prospective owners will need to fence their yard securely: Russells are known for following a good scent well off their property. They are also often untrustworthy off leash. Their hunting drive, once kicked into gear, generally trumps an owner’s requests.

Life With a Russell

The Russell Terrier.
The Russell Terrier may try to boss other dogs around. Photography ©Antonio Morelli/EyeEm | Getty Images.

Even indoors, the Russell is a lively dog. He can live in an apartment only if his family is committed to his regular exercise. Out and about, his fearlessness may lead to problems; he may try to boss other dogs around, regardless of their size. And given his prey drive, a Russell should be closely supervised around cats and other small animals. Ever playful, a Russell can be a good playmate for older, respectful children.

Russell Terrier Facts

  1. Grooming: In general, low-maintenance. Requires regular brushing and occasional baths. The Russell coat makes it easy to brush off any loose dirt or hair.
  2. Shedding: Yep! Get the vacuum out.
  3. Height: Between 10 and 12 inches at the shoulder.
  4. Color: White predominates, with additional varied colors and markings.
  5. Coat: Smooth, rough or broken coat.
  6. Life span: A relatively long-lived breed, Russells can live into their teens.
  7. Motto: Just do it!

Confused about the distinction between the Parson Russell Terrier, the Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier?

What is the difference between the Parson Russell Terrier, the Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier?
What is the difference between the Parson Russell Terrier, the Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier? Photography ©Jozef Polc / Alamy Stock Photo.

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America is a breed club and registry affiliated with the Jack Russell Terrier United World Federation. It believes, according to its website, that “the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier are both variants of the Jack Russell Terrier … ”

Some international organizations like the Federation Cynologique Internationale and the U.K.’s Kennel Club recognize two separate breeds: Jack Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier.

Here in the U.S., the American Kennel Club (AKC) also recognizes two distinct breeds, which it calls the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier, each with two distinct parent clubs: The American Russell Terrier Club and the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America. Why, you ask? According to the American Kennel Club’s The New Complete Dog Book (2017), in the early days, “Jack Russell Terrier” wasn’t used to describe a breed but became a common name for any mostly white, earth-working terrier in honor of the Reverend John Russell.

How did the two distinct dogs come to be?

Two distinct dogs eventually evolved from John Russell’s fox terriers: the Parson Russell Terrier (which has longer legs and stands 12 to 15 inches) and the Russell Terrier (which is more rectangular and stands 10 to 12 inches). Various strains of these terriers were used for sport, vermin control and as family companions all over the U.S.

The American Russell Terrier Club was established in 1995 as a registry to keep the Russell and Parson Russell separate in both bloodlines and appearance.

In 2003, the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America changed the name from Jack Russell Terrier to the Parson Russell Terrier. The AKC followed suit.

The AKC recognized the Russell Terrier breed in 2012. So the AKC does not officially recognize any breed as Jack Russell Terrier, only Parson Russell Terrier and Russell Terrier.

Most Americans call both a Jack Russell Terrier. This is why using the name “Jack Russell Terrier” can be a little confusing when it comes to this breed. But we can all agree on how wonderful this dog is.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Martin Ruegner | Getty Images.

Originally an attorney, Lynn Hayner writes about dogs and law, in no particular order! Lynn lives in Waco, Texas, with her family, a rescued cat, and her new German Shepherd Dog, Anja.

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Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!

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12 thoughts on “Facts About the Dynamic Russell Terrier Dog Breed”

  1. Since so many have commented on having loved and lost there beloved jack russell, I must tell you about my baby Elle. Elle Grace was short legged JRT and the love of my life. I have always had dogs growing up but none that stole my heart like Elle did. One eye brown, one blue, I love the… Elle… No bigger personality, 12 pounds fury and energy. I am 48 and my girls want to get another puppy. Its been 1.5 years, and I find myself here looking at Jack Russells, but there will never be another one like her. They are wonderful dogs that will give back twice what you give to them.

  2. My pal skipper the best if it moved we cked it out he ate what I ate and more a great pal we have puppie off spring if any one needs long leg smooth coat high energy great pal tks jack owners

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  4. We lost our Petey in 2017 he was 15 1/2 years old. We missed him so much and had to get another one. His name is Shiloh and he just turned a year old on January 14 th of this year. This breed is not for everyone. They are so energetic! They keep you moving all the time. They are always one step ahead of you and very intelligent. That’s why we love this breed. Shiloh is a Parson Jack Russell and very much loved!!!

  5. Sian Rosemarie Williams

    We very sadly lost our beautiful little JRT Poppy she wasn’t even three. Totally destraught and heartbroken. She had a brain tumour. She was a wonderful very well behaved young fur baby. I loved training her. She was a complete joy to own and have in our lives. We will get another but not yet. Its been over seven months now and I am still in tears every day. Next spring feels like a good time to get another little Jackie. Enjoy your little ones. Miss and love you Pops xx

    1. So sorry to hear about your Poppy. I too had an absolutely beautiful JRT who I lost to a brain tumour at age 3. It was heartbreaking to see a wonderful little dog becoming aggressive and distant. Sadly he became very difficult to walk on the leash as he wouldn’t let us remove the leash after a walk and eventually attacked my husband who had to have hospital treatment for his bite wounds. We had to take our lovely Sam to be Euthanised as each time he engaged in this aggressive behaviour he was left traumatised and I couldn’t bear witnessing this trauma. We did get another dog (a Jackahuahua) after a few months and I still have him. He’s a very loving faithful dog but less affectionate than Sam was and I also have another JRT who explodes onto the scene with every walk. She has so much energy she was once chased by a greyhound in the park but it didn’t catch her. They ended up playing together. I hope you did get another dog. Life just isn’t the same without one.

  6. One of the Best breed profiles about JRTs ( yes, I do call them all Jack Russell Terriers lol. This is our third Russell Terrier. (One at a time). They are delightful companions. Full of energy, but just as likely to be found lying on their backs sleeping…mostly on one of our laps. Our current boy, Baxter, is 9 mo old. He has been so easy to train, and is basically a ‘shadow’ but ready to chase anything that moves!

  7. I have a russell terrier, almost a year old, ned the naughty. I got him to kill snakes in my garden. I know, i know, we,re to love snakes. Don,t be fooled. They ha e top notch pr! They also kill birds, hummingbirds, butterflys, frogs and many other lovely critters.

    Ned the naughty is such an incorrigble, happy, manic fellow. I was con conderned that i could play enough with him in wet winter. So, i got him a top notch bengal cat. Also super intelligent and manic. They keep each other busy. They do mutual playing and grooming. The bengal routinly sticks her head in his mouth and cleans his teeth.

    This makes for a great combination!

  8. Hi! Great story. We have 14 amazing years with our beautiful Barkley. He and my son grew up together. We love and miss our Jack Russell terrier!

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  10. Pingback: Facts About the Dynamic Russell Terrier Dog Breed – Doggd

  11. Pingback: Facts About the Dynamic Russell Terrier Dog Breed – NEooWS : News from around the world – your way !!!

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