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The Jack Russell Terrier Personality: Small Dog, Big Attitude

Jack Russell TerrierThe Jack Russell Terrier is a small dog with a particularly big attitude. When people talk of a small dog with a big dog attitude most of the time they are referring to this spunky terrier whose roots are in fox hunting. While it may be a small dog the Jack Russell is a very adept hunting dog and uses its small size to its advantage. Despite this fact, however, it has earned a place in hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Origins of the Terrier

It is thought that the Jack Russell Terrier found its beginnings from the English White Terrier when a parson, Reverend John Russell purchased a small terrier talented at fox hunting, from his local milk man. The female “fox terrier,” so named because of its ability to fox hunt and not for any relation to an actual Fox Terrier, became the beginnings of Reverend John Russell’s breeding program in which he strived to breed courageous fox hunters with good stamina. As a hunter himself, it was important to Russell that he had a fox hunting dog that was able to keep up with the hunt as well as drive out the foxes from their holes. Already by the 1850’s these dogs were recognized as a specific breed and this is where the Jack Russell Terrier began.

The Terrier of Russell’s time, however, was larger than the Jack Russell of today. Through demands of the breed over time they began to change. It was around 1894 when Blake Heinemann created a breed standard for terriers that were to be used for digging out badgers, he required shorter legged dogs and it is thought that perhaps this is where the Jack Russell began to shrink down in size from Reverend Russell’s larger fox terrier. As time progressed changes in the dog began to become more apparent but it was post World War II that brought a drastic change for the small terrier.

From Hunting to Household

After World War II there was less demand for hunting dogs and so the Jack Russell began to serve more as a home dog and less as a hunting dog. During this time they were also cross bred with a variety of other smaller dogs creating a wide range of off shoots from the Jack Russell Terrier including “Shortie Jacks”. As society moved further away from post war life it became a popular dog among households worldwide and prompted the formation of a variety of breed recognition clubs.

History of the Jack Russell Terrier

While there have been some changes in the Jack Russell over its history (namely in its height and leg length) the actual  breed has changed very little for the past two hundred years or so. The standard for the breed today has the dog measuring in between 10 – 15 inches tall at the withers and weighing in at anywhere from 14 – 18 lbs. Due to their small size it is increasingly common to find overweight Jack Russell’s from their being fed table scraps or too much food in one meal. The Jack Russell Terrier can have a smooth or a broken coat and these coats are always thick double coats which serve to protect the dog that works as a hunter. It is generally white with brown and black spots and it should also have small ears that are triangular in shape.

A Spunky Personality

Jack Russel Terrier PuppyThe Jack Russell Terrier is still built as a dog that is intended for hunting and the tradition of docking the tail so it may serve as a handle to hold while pulling a ratting dog from a hole is still intact today (although rarely done for practicality it is mostly done for the look of it.) It’s tail is long when not docked and often carries patched markings similar to those on the dog’s coat. One of the most favored characteristics of the spunky Jack Russell Terrier is that of its almond shaped eyes which shine with life and excitement in a truly happy Terrier. Overall though it should be noted that the number one reason that people choose this dog is for their attitude.

The Jack Russell Terrier is a dog who has never known a hard day of work in its life. It lives to work, and perhaps play as well, because being bred to hunt they are runners that enjoy a good run and in particular a good chase! An unfortunate instinct, however, is their barking and general noise level. A working Jack Russell would have to gain the attention of its master as well as frighten foxes and badgers from their holes and they did so by barking. Unfortunately for most, for owners today this is a characteristic that stuck with the breed and they are known for being noisy dogs that aren’t afraid to bark to get the attention of their owner or other companion animals.

No Shortage of Energy Here!

In addition to barking the Jack Russell Terrier is a particularly high energy dog that was bred to have good stamina when it came to the hunt. The Jack Russell Terrier can be deceiving being such a small dog; however, the amount of energy that these small dogs possess can rival even a young big dog on days. The potential owner should always be aware of this stamina and need for exercise because the Jack Russell will always find a way to entertain itself if it is not provided with adequate exercise and stimulation.

Like most intelligent dog breeds that were intended as working dogs, Jack Russell Terrier must be stimulated every single day and offered an appropriate level of exercise to allow the dog an outlet of its energy. Without sufficient exercise the breed is prone to destruction of its master’s property and terrorization of other household pets…this may or may not include children who will generally receive nips at their heels.

The high energy level of the Jack Russell Terrier does not have to be a negative characteristic though; it can prove particularly helpful in a household with athletic individuals who are looking for a dog that can keep up with them. The Terrier’s energy level is also particularly useful when the dog is trained in agility or flyball, two activities that this breed in particular excels at. In short the Jack Russell Terrier is a dog that needs exercise and plenty of it and it should be noted that the average lifespan of this small Terrier is approximately fifteen years so bringing a Jack Russell Terrier in to your home is certainly not a decision that should be taken lightly!

There are a few other factors to consider when bringing a Jack Russell Terrier in to your home aside from energy level. One of the most important things to know about this breed is that while they are family-oriented dogs and can do well with children they do not tolerate being pulled on and taunted the way more family friendly breeds like Labrador Retrievers do. The Jack Russell Terrier is not afraid to nip or bite back when it feels that it is being threatened. In general, however, the Jack Russell is a particularly happy breed of dog and they can thrive in a household with children when the children are taught to respect the dog and not tease or hurt the dog in any way. This should, however, be a lesson taught to any children who are seeking to become dog owners!

It is also important for any potential owner to know that this breed has a tendency to fall in to what is referred to as “Small Dog Syndrome.” “Small Dog Syndrome” occurs when a small dog believes that he is the leader of his pack and he directs the actions and attentions of everyone in his pack – including his humans! In order to avoid falling in to this trap with your future Jack Russell Terrier it is important that you maintain a firm and confident hand throughout your dogs training and obedience classes and establish your position as alpha dog of the family.

Jack Russell Terrier Personality: This is One Smart Pup!

One impressive aspect of the Jack Russell breed is their intelligence and this is one trait for which they are renowned. They are often used in Hollywood films and commercials due to their high trainability and in general the breed also thrives on the intellectual stimulation it receives from being trained. It is possible to have a very well trained and well behaved Jack Russell if you are dedicated to providing a stable and structured pack for your dog to live in. Acting as your dogs master will garner you respect as well as a well behaved dog.

Potential Health Concerns

While the Jack Russell Terrier is generally a sturdy working breed of dog they do have a small variety of health problems which are common to the breed. Included in these health problems are kneecap dislocation, deafness (a popular trait among many dogs that are primarily white coated,) Legg Perthes (a disease that affects the dogs hip joints,) and inherited eye diseases. While most of these traits can be lived with a Terrier that is suffering from any ailment is not free to act like they should. This is an instinctively highly energetic dog with a high prey drive and a need to run so any kneecap dislocation that puts the dog on crate rest and limited exercise for a period of time is going to cause additional problems for the dog such as depression.

One way to avoid the majority of these health concerns is to ensure that the dog you select is from good stock. Ensuring that your dog is from good stock involves research in to your potential breeder, asking to see the health certifications of the puppies parents as well as grandparents is a great place to start. It is also important to ask about any problems that may have occurred with past puppy litters. By asking all of the right questions you can help to ensure that your new Jack Russell Terrier puppy is healthy and sure to live a long life without interference from health problems that could have been avoided.

There are many families that are well suited to the Terrier breed; in general these families are high energy families that always try to make their dog a part of their outdoor fun. Part of ensuring that this is the right breed for you involves researching the breed characteristics as well as actually meeting with your dog and assessing whether your family is a good match for the breed and vice versa. The importance of having a good match between a high energy breed such as the Jack Russell Terrier, and the family it will be living in cannot be over stated.

An unhappy dog leads to an unhappy family which almost always leads to another innocent dog sitting in the shelter waiting for a new home. By doing your research and learning about all the pro’s and con’s of this particular breed you can determine if you and your family are ready to take on this little Napoleon of the dog world and offer it the type of lifestyle that it deserves while still maintaining your families sense of normalcy. Bringing any dog breed in to your home is about meshing the characteristics of your new dog with the characteristics of your family and when done right everyone is happy.

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About Amy Brannan
Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.
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  • Anon

    I’m so sorry that dog faced such harsh punishment. OK I read jack russells, at least when mine is on my bed with me…if someone comes in the room she starts growling and attempts to bite them. I completely hate that but punishing through anger won’t help. It’s a lot like a friend they need constant reminder. If my dog did that to me, I’d question keeping her. However, if you push on, don’t back down get assertive, let her know your bigger and stronger your authority over her. I’m still working on jealousy issues Jacks naturally have! Keep calm, and you’re the gentle boss! I’m sorry about you being attacked. By the way we have a comfy dog house and our jack “hates” it! I’d sleep in there if I could, it might be a feeling trapped, don’t know.

  • Kathryn Derwey

    See my other posts.

  • Kathryn Derwey

    See my other post. Your dog may be deaf. Try not to startle him and do not let him sleep near your face or on your lap. I keep mine next to me, not on me, mostly at arms reach. He has nightmares and I wake him with a touch at arms length. Snapped once but made no contact. Do not crowd these dogs. They need their personal space. Also do not feel sorry for them. Dogs remember but they live in the now and do not dwell on the past as we do. Mine clings to me because I am his Alpha but he likes people. Not much other dogs – male ego and all. Keep yours in check with a touch or a sound when he/she acts up. It breaks their attention. Mine must be touched as he is deaf.

  • Kathryn Derwey

    I got my JRT a year ago when he was about 9 years old from a friend who had too many pets. He is mostly white and is deaf except for some random sounds. Through perseverance and patience I have trained him to recognize more than the basic hand gestures and what they mean. My index finger perpendicular to my mouth means be quiet. He has an obnoxious high pitched whine. Now he stops that on command. He also pays close attention to me. He watches my face 24/7. Kind of unnerving but am now used to it. With JRTs the saying, “a good dog is a tired dog” is very accurate. They need lots of exercise and new experiences. Walks are great but they need, need, need to run. I bought a Mini Kanine Kannon. He gets ball three to five times a day. He tells me when he has had enough by holding onto the ball. Usually the AM ball takes 20 minutes. The rest of the day 10-15 and sometimes only 5 minutes. I got a lite ball for night ball which I use in the winter because of short daylight. I also hide the ball and give him an open hand and shrug to tell him to go find it. Keeps him busy and interested. It also helps to socialize them by taking them to a doggy daycare where they interact with more people and possibly dogs. I take mine to Lowes and Home Depot as well as pet stores. The workers love him and he likes the experience. I also got him a harness and no longer use a collar. The harness stopped his pulling on the leash. Also stopped using the retractable leash. Now only use a 6 ft. That has also stopped his pulling and has made him easier to control.

  • Michael Delcoco

    Ok, I am new to owning a Jack Russell. I’m told the pup is 9 weeks old, however housebreaking and control seem to be getting out of hand. Any recommendations?

    • Kimberly Kurimski

      Here’s an article dedicated to housebreaking puppies. Hopefully it helps you! http://www.caninejournal.com/how-to-housebreak-a-puppy/

    • tony moran

      I have a chocolate short legged Jack Russell that is 4 months old and when I first got her, I was having problems with her wanting to go anywhere she wanted to, when I would see her about to pee, like going around in circles, I would say with a firm voice no and bring her outside and let her finish. I am still in the process of dealing with other behavior problems, you have to have a lot of patience, they are very smart and they do want to please their owner, when she does go outside to pee etc. I show her affection and let her know she is doing good.

    • Kathryn Derwey

      See my other posts above.

    • Anon

      They are creatures of habit…they look for scent on carpets, put her nose towards it after she does and say no. My dog’s peeing literally right under our nose! Get training pads in bathroom so she’ll associate it, she’ll get it, clean carpets or she’ll do it again. If you stay on top of it and let her know its not okay to pee there she’ll learn.

  • Hennis

    Sounds like he is overly excited, or being ditzy, depending on age. I have a year old jack that is adorable dog you’d enjoy, she loves winning and playing. House training has been a nightmare. At first I thought she was just young but others thought she’s being a blonde in saying she won’t learn. Well, I hand walk her to bathroom pad in the morning she goes. She mostly has been on the up but one step back and carpets are drenched. Creature of habit. One thing I notice, I have a large yard no fence so I bought a long clothing line rope from dollar tree to just let her wonder but she feels the need to challenge the length…lol. I mean I’ll peak outside and she’s pulling against it and it’s long, or she gets twisted around everything. I’m not saying this is jack behavior but I had a family dog for 15 years that we picked out from a box of mutt puppies that was so different. He would pee in the tub before going on the floor. He was part terrior. This is my first girl dog and I’m smitten but she’s a rebel, if she gets out she’ll run unlike other breeds. I’m trying to train her to be needy of me/clingy. I know it might sound wrong but I want her to stay close due to their tenacious need to roam and challenge…lol. Yes, above poster your not alone. I think jack Russells are very loved but can be a challenge at least for me. My family got our little angel otherwise I would’ve (had I not bonded) with different breed.

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