JACK RUSSELL TERRIER
Although a man of the cloth, the “Hunting Parson,” Rev. Jack Russell, was a passionate fox hunter of the mid-1800s and pursued the sport until his death at age 88. Fox hunters needed small dogs to roust the foxes who had escaped to ground. Many hunters employed smaller or shorter legged terriers, which had to be carried on horseback to the fox’s lair. But the Reverend Jack liked a longer legged type that could follow the hounds on foot. He developed his own strain, based on a crossbred terrier bitch, “Trump,” which he bought from a milkman.
How Russell continued with the breeding program was never recorded, but even modern proponents of the breed admit a certain amount of crossbreeding occurred. First, fighting bull-and-ierrier dogs were used to add the white color (easily differentiated by the hounds from the fox) and increase the aggression and tenacity. Unfortunately, this often resulted in a dog that silently killed the fox underground, thus spoiling the sport of the hunt for the others! Small “pocket” Beagles were used to temper this hard edge, as well as adding the tendency to give tongue. The result was a dog that was often one thought ahead of the fox.
Game to this day, a good Russell Terrier is still capable of going to ground. One owner described how her three JRTs chased a bull raccoon down a drain pipe near her home. When they hadn’t emerged by the next morning, she had a backhoe brought in and started digging. The crew cut a ditch, reaching 300 feet, over the next 12 hours, and finally discovered the raccoon backed up against the cellar wall. Not only were the terriers none the worse for the ordeal, they were still jockeying for position with one another to get closest to the prey. It is not unusual for this breed to forego food, water and other creature comforts once it has the whiff of the quarry.
Although the Parson never used his dogs for the purpose, the JRT is also a plucky ratter. In 1977, an Englishman and his team of four Jack Russells took three tons of rats out of chicken farms in just one day! Another modern JRT owner gave this practical advice to a writer from Sports Illustrated to pass on to anyone planning to take part in this sport with their dogs: “If you take your terrier ratting, always wear slacks or breeches tucked either into your Wellingtons or into your socks so that the rats cannot run up your trouser legs or skirt. This happens far more often than one might imagine, and, although it may be excruciatingly funny to the rest of the party, it is no joke for you.”
Despite all this emphasis on its ability and desire to fight and kill pests, JRTs are excellent house dogs and children’s pets. They have a unique sense of humor, are clean in their habits and are sweet and affectionate to people. They do require plenty of exercise. When there is more than one, they have a tendency to go off hunting on their own if not fenced. The old instincts to get down in the ground may cause some to be passionate diggers. But they are happy companions and their fans are delighted with them.
The Jack Russell Terrier has its own registering body in both Britain and the USA, but in neither country is there much desire for formal recognition of the breed. Owners prefer the unrefined nature of their dog. They worry about novice owners caring more about show points and good looks, allowing a loss of the working characteristics that have been so painstakingly kept over the years. A typical opinion is stated: “If these terriers ever become soft-bred show dogs, John Russell will turn over in his grave.”
In fact, there is a reverse snob appeal about this breed, due to the fact that they do not want to be AKC recognized. This, in addition to the fact that they possess an affinity for horses, has made them a popular addition to many horse farms and estates of the wealthy, especially on the East Coast.
In all physical characteristics, form follows function. The size of a good Jack Russell should be about the same as that of a fox; if the fox can go down the hole, then the terrier should be able to follow without difficulty. The standard demands that the chest be narrow enough to be spanned by two hands behind the shoulder blades. Chests that are chunkier create a dog that can be stuck in the hole! The docked tail of an adult specimen should end up about four inches, just enough length to be able to grab in order to extract the dog from the burrow. The predominance of white differentiates him from the fox.
Most of the larger sized dogs sport the rough or broken coat (similar to a smooth, with fuller hair on the legs and a bit of wiry hair on the chin creating a beard), while the shorter legged variety, carrying more of the cross to the pocket beagle, are more often smooths. Although they often live to 16 years as a house pet, their fearless nature tends to shorten their lifespan in the country. One breeder estimates the average lifespan on a farm to be only six years.