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The Jack Russell Terrier Personality: Small Dog, Big Attitude

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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.

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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19 Comments on "The Jack Russell Terrier Personality: Small Dog, Big Attitude"

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Richard Livingstone
Richard Livingstone
I (well, my then 12 year old daughter, encouraged by wife) with my very very reluctant acquiescence) got Abbie, our 3 yr old Parson Russell terrier at 10 weeks. Never having had a dog and not looking forward to life disruption, I can be honest and say I was crapping myself at the prospect (sorry). But, who knew – what a lovely dog she is now. Provided she is exercised for an hour a day and five minutes play with chew toys after meals, she’s happy as Larry and a joy to have around. I’m lucky to be a home… Read more »
Sue

We got our jack when someone dumped her on our street. I had 2 big labs and a Shepard all boys. She fit right in and is the alpha. She is always first in line and barks at everyone to get ready. She took charge the day she came into our home.

Becs Wallace
Becs Wallace

I have a twelve year old jack, called Dougal. I rescued him when he was five.
The breed was not my first choice, as I had been led to believe that were “yappy and snappy”. Dougal is neither. He has a very deep bark but it doesn’t happen often – mostly if he sees a squirrel or more especially a cat. He has never snapped or nipped.
He is intelligent and tenacious and I now adore the breed. He is, by far, the best companion/friend/partner, I have ever had.

Karen
Karen
My Jack Russell, Louise, is 4 1/2 years old now. She’s a rough coat with white with tan around the eyes and ears. She is the mellowest Jack Russell I’ve ever met. We crate trained her for 2 years so that my have kept her feeling calm and secure as young dog. I honestly think she was just born with a calmer disposition than some of the Jacks I hear about. She rarely barks–except at the mail carrier, squirrels and crows! She does occasionally get scared of larger jumpy dogs. My son can do anything to her and nothing bothers… Read more »
Kathryn Derwey
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… Read more »
Lisa Elliott
Lisa Elliott

I rescued my shorty jack from an abusive house at 6 months old. He was and is petrified to go near a cage due to his old owner punching him when he refused to go to his cage. We’ve had him for 5.5 years with minor incident. On Wednesday, Louie fell asleep on my lap. I moved a bit and he freaked and bit my face.

Anders Nilsen
Anders Nilsen

Hi – Have had my JRT on several training courses, and one is with a dog specialist working for the Police in Oslo for helping in cases where people are bitten by dogs. He says most people that get bit by dogs are dog owners who are kissing their dogs good night. The dogs are deep a sleep and dreaming, and get scared when suddenly being woken up by their owners. You should always be careful waking up a sleeping dog 🙂

Anon
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,… Read more »
Kathryn Derwey
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… Read more »
Michael Delcoco
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?

Anon
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.

Kathryn Derwey
Kathryn Derwey

See my other posts above.

tony moran
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… Read more »
Kimberly Alt
Kimberly Alt

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

Lishy
Lishy
So I’ve had a lovely all white with a couple brown spots Jack Russel named Kasper for almost 7 years now. I love him and he’s an amazing dog when you need the affection. I wish I could do more for him though. I received him through an old friend who couldn’t take him as well as all her other dogs so he was free. The only thing she made me aware of is he came from a puppy mill. 🙁 So of course I want to give him all the love and attention he needs and one is taking… Read more »
Laura
Laura

hi lishy i read your story about jack russell. it just breaks my heart to hear that your dog was being mistreated. im so sorry. did you ever hear of the tv show ceacar911 or the tv show the dog whisper? they both air on animal planet cesar milain is a world renowned dog trainer. you can contact him on website. i hope this wiil help lishy. im laura by the way pls let me how know what the outcome is. thanks laura this is my email address brenlaur9814@hotmail.com.

Dawn
Dawn
1) Use a halter instead of a choke collar when walking him, so he doesn’t hurt his neck straining and pulling when you walk him. 2) Look up how to train a dog to ‘heel’ – should be some info online. 3) In an obedience class I took they taught to always stop and refuse to move forward if dog is pulling; also to 4) keep dog on a very short leash at your side and give a tiny treat every 5-10 seconds to start, while walking; then gradually increase length of time between treats, then make treats more intermittent,… Read more »
Kathryn Derwey
Kathryn Derwey

See my other posts.

Hennis
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… Read more »
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