Once upon a time, hunting was a favorite pastime among men of property, including men of the church. We can thank one of those hard-hunting English parsons for the Jack Russell Terrier, developed to hunt fox in the south of England some 200 years ago. Parson John Russell, "Jack" to his friends, wanted an efficient hunting dog and decided to design exactly the dog he had in mind.
The result was a bold, athletic dog who won hearts with his quickness, intelligence, determination, and intense desire to hunt. The Jack Russell Terrier, also called the Parson Russell Terrier, is a favorite among horse owners, dog sports enthusiasts, animal trainers for film and television, and people who simply appreciate his fearless personality, boundless energy, entertaining antics, and portable size.
But beware! The trained Jack Russell that you see on TV or in movies doesn't come that way. Teaching a Jack Russell to become a civilized companion is no easy task. It requires lots of time and patience as well as a strong sense of humor. The JRT is highly trainable, but he has a mind of his own and won't stand for boredom. If you don't keep him entertained, he'll find his own amusements, and you probably won't be happy with the results.
If you want a dog who can learn tricks, run an agility or flyball course in seconds flat, play fetch until you drop, and who will make a charming companion when he's not getting into mischief, the Jack Russell may be the dog for you. If you can't deal with a dog who will chew, dig, and bark, rocket through the house multiple times daily, chase cats and other small animals with glee and murderous intent, and will always find the loophole in any command you give, he's definitely not the dog for you, no matter how cute and small he is.
The Jack Russell is a people lover who should live indoors with the family. It's best if he has access to a fenced yard where he can burn off some of his abundant energy. The fence should be impossible for him to climb, dig under, or jump — think Fort Knox. And don't count on an underground electronic fence to keep your Jack in the yard. The threat of a shock is nothing compared to the desire to chase what looks like prey.
Always walk your Jack on leash to prevent him from chasing other animals, challenging bigger dogs, or running in front of cars. Give him 30 to 45 minutes of vigorous exercise daily, as well as plenty of off-leash play in the yard to keep him tired and out of trouble.
Faint heart never trained feisty Jack Russell. People who live with Jack Russells must be firm and consistent in what they expect. Jacks are strong-willed dogs, and although they respond to positive motivation in the form of praise, play, and food rewards, they'll become stubborn in the face of harsh corrections. Provide your Jack Russell with rules and routines and apply the right amount of patience and motivation, however, and you'll be well rewarded. There are no limits to what a Jack Russell can learn when he's paired with the right person.
Give your Jack plenty of positive interactions with other dogs beginning in puppyhood — early socialization is important to prevent aggression toward other dogs.
If you have the time and patience to devote to him, the Jack Russell has many qualities that make him an ideal family dog. He's devoted to his people and loves being with them. His heritage as a hunting dog makes him an excellent jogging companion once he's full grown. Active older children will find him to be a happy and affectionate playmate, but his rambunctious nature can overwhelm younger kids.
On the downside, his fearless nature frequently puts him in harm's way. He has tons of energy and won't be satisfied by a sedate walk around the block. This is a dog who loves to run and jump and fetch. Plan on giving him 30 to 45 minutes daily of vigorous exercise.
He's an escape artist who's best suited to a home with a yard and a secure fence that can't be climbed, dug under, or jumped over. An underground electronic fence won't contain a JRT. The Jack's strong prey drive makes him entirely untrustworthy off leash, so you'll need snap on the leash when you're outside of fenced areas. And his instinct to "go to ground" — to dig for prey — means your garden isn't safe from excavation.
A Jack Russell can fill your days with laughter and love, but only if you can provide him with the attention, training, supervision, and structure he needs. First-time or timid dog owners would do well to start with a less challenging pooch. Do yourself and the dog a favor by considering carefully whether this is the right breed for you. If it is, you're in for a wild but wonderful ride.
The energetic and spirited Jack packs a lot of personality into his small body. Loving, devoted, and endlessly amusing, he enjoys life and all it has to offer. Given half a chance, he'll pursue his delights over fences and through the streets. He's incredibly intelligent, but his wilful nature can make him difficult to train. Friendly toward people, he can be aggressive toward other dogs and any animal that resembles prey, including cats. His fearless nature puts him at risk when he decides to take on a bigger dog.
He thrives on structure and routine, but training sessions should be short and sweet to hold his interest. Repetition bores him. A proper Jack is friendly and affectionate, never shy.
Like every dog, Jack Russells need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Jack Russell puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
Jack Russell Terriers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Jacks will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog's been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Jack Russells, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for patellas (knees) and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that the eyes are normal.
Because some health problems don't appear until a dog reaches full maturity, health clearances aren't issued to dogs younger than 2 years old. Look for a breeder who doesn't breed her dogs until they're two or three years old.
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America doesn't register any dogs with hereditary defects; dogs must pass a specific veterinary exam before being registered.
The following conditions may affect Jack Russell Terriers:
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is generally a disease of small breeds. This condition — a deformity of the ball of the hip joint — can be confused with hip dysplasia. It causes wearing and arthritis. It can be repaired surgically, and the prognosis is good with the help of rehabilitation therapy afterward.
Deafness is associated with white coat color and is sometimes seen in this breed.
Patellar Luxation, also known as "slipped stifles," is a common problem in small dogs. It is caused when the patella, which has three parts-the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap), and tibia (calf)-is not properly lined up. This causes lameness in the leg or an abnormal gait, sort of like a skip or a hop. It is a condition that is present at birth although the actual misalignment or luxation does not always occur until much later. The rubbing caused by patellar luxation can lead to arthritis, a degenerative joint disease. There are four grades of patellar luxation, ranging from grade I, an occasional luxation causing temporary lameness in the joint, to grade IV, in which the turning of the tibia is severe and the patella cannot be realigned manually. This gives the dog a bowlegged appearance. Severe grades of patellar luxation may require surgical repair.
Glaucoma is a painful disease in which pressure is abnormally high in the eye. Eyes are constantly producing and draining a fluid called aqueous humor. If the fluid doesn't drain correctly, the pressure inside the eye increases. That high pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and blindness. There are two types. Primary glaucoma, which is hereditary, occurs when there is a problem in the area of the eye where fluid goes out. Secondary glaucoma is a result of some other problem in the eye, such as inflammation, a tumor, or injury. Glaucoma generally only affects one eye first. Affected eyes will be red, teary, squinty, and appear painful. A dilated pupil won't react to light, and the front of the eye will have a whitish, almost blue cloudiness. Vision loss and eventually blindness will result, sometimes even with treatment. Treatment can be surgery or it can be treated with medicine, depending on the case.
Lens Luxation causes the lens of the eye to become displaced when the ligament holding it in place deteriorates. It's sometimes treatable with medication or surgery, but in severe cases the eye may need to be removed.