What’s in a Name?

*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

We all love our Jack Russell Terriers. And we show that love in part by giving them names that reflect their personalities, or our hopes for who they’ll turn out to be.

But did you ever wonder where the name of the breed itself came from?

What is a Terrier, Anyway?

“God Loves a Terrier.” You might remember this sweet song from the movie Best in Show.

“God loves a terrier 
That’s because 
Brown sturdy bright and true 
They give their hearts to you…”

Where does the word “Terrier” come from, anyway? And what does it mean?

“Terrier” literally means “Earth Dog.”


It comes from the Latin word terrarius, which means “of the Earth.”

In the 15th century, this Latin word traveled to English via early French, in the form of chien terrier, which means “Earth Dog.”

What’s the connection?

The Job of the Terrier

Terriers are working dogs. The different working breeds originated to do specific jobs. In the case of the terrier, that job was as a hunting dog.

Terriers are intelligent, compact, muscular dogs. Unlike retrievers, whose traditional job is to fetch prey that a hunter has downed and bring it back, the job of the terrier is to chase prey to ground and hold it there.

The Jack Russell Terrier, like many terrier breeds, has powerful digging legs. Traditionally, the job of the JRT has been to dig out animals, such as foxes, who have “gone to ground” in burrows. Sometimes the intrepid Jack Russell would even follow the prey so far into its burrow that it would need to be dug out along with it.

And Jack Russell?

John “Jack” Russell was a parson in England in the 19th century, but he was better known for his work with dogs.

Russell was one of the founding members of the Kennel Club. He also wrote the breed standard for the Fox Terrier, and was a respected dog show judge.

parson John "Jack" Russell
Parson John “Jack” Russell (1975-1883).
Image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Russell was responsible for bringing three dog breeds into the world: the Russell Terrier, the Parson Russell Terrier, and, of course, the Jack Russell Terrier.

Tough. Persistent. Prey-focused. Athletic. These are some of the qualities many people associate with terriers. Depending on the situation, these are qualities you may want…or qualities that may make you think twice.

Terrible Terriers? Or Terrific?

Since terriers have been bred to chase, catch and kill small animals, people often recommend against trying to house a cat and a terrier under the same roof. Although there are exceptions, the Jack Russell Terrier has a very strong hunting instinct, and many experts recommend keeping them away from cats, rabbits, rodents, and other small furry animals.

On the other hand, as anyone who loves a JRT can attest that, in the right home, its terrier qualities can make a Jack a wonderful family pet.

Terrier intelligence makes a JRT a lively, engaging companion. They’ll love to learn new tricks.

Terrier athleticism will mean lots of walks and romps at the dog park. With a terrier, the grass won’t grow under your feet!

Its alertness also makes the Jack Russell Terrier a top-notch watchdog.

The history of the terrier has endowed it with a very specific set of characteristics. Whether these characteristics make it a good fit with your home depends on you.

Tell Us About Your Terrier!

Do you have a great story about your JRT? Or maybe you have an unforgettable photo? Lay it on us in the comments!

Recent Posts