Who Was Jack Russell?

The first Jack Russell Terrier (1819)

Everybody knows the Jack Russell Terrier. And most people can tell you that it's named for someone called Jack Russell. But who was Russell, and why is there a dog named in his honor? (Actually, there are three.)

The Hunting Parson

Parson John Russell (1795-1883) was a vicar and rector in Devon, England. He was also an avid sportsman and hunter. What he would become most famous for, however, was his work with hunting dogs.

Parson John “Jack” Russell.
Image is in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Russell was a founding member of the Fox Terrier Club and The Kennel Club, a British organization that sets and maintains breed standards for dogs. The Kennel Club also puts on the famous Crufts Dog Show each year.

You may remember how a JRT named Ollie stole the show at Crufts in 2017, with his antics on the agility course.

But back to our story.

In addition to founding the club, Russell helped to write the breed standards for the Fox Terrier. He was also a well-respected show judge.

How the JRT Came to Be

The Jack Russell Terrier is one of three breeds credited to the parson. The other two are the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier. These three breeds are similar in appearance but are distinct breeds.

It all began with a bitch named Trump.

A drawing of Trump the dog. Image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Trump belonged to a local milkman in the village of Elmsford. She was a small Fox Terrier with white and tan coloring. It's said that when the parson saw her, he knew she was exactly the dog to begin his breeding program, and he bought her on the spot.

Or so to speak.

At that time, one of the biggest problems was that the dogs used to hunt foxes themselves looked a lot like foxes. It was hard to tell the difference.

The JRT's distinct coloring helped to mark that difference. Russell also bred his terriers to be short in stature, with strong legs for digging out foxes who had “gone to ground.”

Russell considered his dogs to be working dogs. Though he himself judged dog shows and penned breed standards for show dogs, he did not show his own dogs. In his opinion, the difference between show dogs and his terriers was like “the difference between wild and cultivated flowers.”

Today's Jack Russells

After the second world war, demand for hunting dogs went down, and the demand for companion dogs went up. People crossbred the original JRTs with smaller dogs. Breed standards would go on to recognize a variety of sizes.

Today's Jack Russell Terriers are known as intelligent, energetic dogs with a playful streak.

They're short but powerful, and remain, above all, working dogs. They are athletic and fearless.

Like the Border Collie — and like any JRT owner can tell you — a Jack needs a job. They need mental stimulation and a lot of exercise, or they can become moody and destructive.

They're also a terrific pet for an active family.

What do you like best about your JRT? Tell us about it in the comments!