Jack Russell Terrier Personality: Small Dog, Big Attitude

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Jack Russell Terrier (caption: Jack Russell Terrier)The Jack Russell Terrier is a small dog with a particularly big attitude. This breed’s roots are in fox hunting and using its petite size to its advantage. Learn more about why it has earned a place in the hearts (and homes) of dog lovers everywhere.

Article Overview


It is thought that the Jack Russell Terrier found its beginnings from the English White Terrier when Reverend John Russell purchased a small, talented terrier from his local milkman.

As a hunter himself, it was important Russell had a fox hunting dog that was able to keep up with the hunt as well as drive out the foxes from their holes. John Russell later began a breeding program in which he strived to breed courageous fox hunters with good stamina. (Note: the name “fox terrier” comes from their ability to fox hunt and not for any relation to the Fox Terrier).

By the 1850s these dogs were recognized as a specific breed and where the Jack Russell Terrier officially began. However, over time, the demands and traits of the dog changed. Around 1894, Blake Heinemann created a breed standard for terriers who were skilled at digging out badgers. This type of dog required shorter legs and is believed that is why the Jack Russell began to shrink down in size from Reverend Russell’s larger fox terrier.

From Hunting To Household

After World War II, there was less demand for hunting dogs, so the Jack Russell began to serve as a domesticated companion. During this time they were also crossbred with a variety of other smaller dogs creating a wide range of offshoots from the Jack Russell Terrier including “Shortie Jacks.

As society moved further away from post-war life, the terrier became a popular dog among households worldwide and prompted the formation of a variety of breed recognition clubs.

Physical Traits

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.

Today’s standard for the breed has the following characteristics:

  • Measures between 10 – 15 inches tall at the withers
  • Weighs anywhere from 14 – 18 lbs
  • A thick double coat which serves as protection
  • Generally white with brown and black spots
  • Small ears that are triangular
  • One of the most favored characteristics of the spunky Jack Russell Terrier is its almond-shaped eyes that shine with life and excitement
  • The average lifespan is around fifteen years

Jack Russel Terrier PuppyThe 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.). Find out more about dog tail and ear docking (i.e., cropping).  When not docked, its tail often carries patched markings similar to those on the dog’s coat.

Personality: Loves To Work (And Lives To Play)

Jack Russell Terriers are hunting dogs by nature, so they enjoy running and chasing. As a result, this is a high energy dog and requires adequate exercise and stimulation. Without sufficient activity, they are prone to destruction of property and terrorization of other household pets (and children).

The high energy level of the Jack Russell Terrier is a good fit for athletic individuals who are looking for a dog that can keep up with them. The Terrier’s energy level is also particularly useful when training in agility or other outdoor activities like catch and fetch.

This breed is also known for its intelligence and often used in Hollywood films and commercials due to its high trainability. Unfortunately, as traditional working dogs, they are also prone to barking and making noise to gain the attention of its master and frighten foxes and badgers.

While they are family-oriented dogs, and generally do well with children, they do not tolerate being pulled on and taunted the way more family-friendly breeds like Labrador Retrievers do. This smart little dog is not afraid to nip or bite back when it feels it is threatened. Otherwise, they’re a happy breed and thrive when respected.

Jack Russell Terriers also tend to fall into what is referred to as “Small Dog Syndrome” (when they try and make up for their size with a bigger personality). So you should maintain a firm and confident hand throughout your dog’s training and obedience classes and establish your position as the alpha.

Potential Health Concerns

The Jack Russell Terrier is generally a healthy animal, but they do have a few common health problems:

  • Kneecap dislocation
  • Deafness (common among white-coated dogs)
  • Legg Perthes (a disease that affects the dogs hip joints)
  • Inherited eye diseases

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If a Terrier suffers from any ailment, it should not be ignored or untreated. For instance, a Jack Russell with a dislocated kneecap should limit exercise, or it could cause additional problems, including depression.

When adopting any breed, it’s essential to ask about any problems that exist (in the dog itself or its litters). If unknown, doing a dog DNA test is a worthwhile way to find out potential health risks. Learn what you can discover with a dog DNA test.

Video: Jack Russell Terrier Facts

Watch this short video to learn even more fun facts about this breed from the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (and see them in action).

Best Toys & Treats

If you need some ideas on what your Jack Russell Terrier might like, check out our list below. Jack Russell Terrier can go through toys fast because they like to chew, so we suggest buying toys in bulk when cheaper.

Jack Of All Trades: Master Of Fun

Part of ensuring that the Jack Russell Terrier is the right breed for you involves maintaining an active home with regular, daily stimulation. Just because they are small, doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise. Learn more about dog fitness and activity trackers to help keep you and Fido accountable.

An unhappy dog leads to an unhappy family which often leads to rehoming. So be sure the characteristics of your dog are a good match for your family to ensure a loving home for everyone.

Do you have or are you considering a Jack Russell Terrier?

About The Author:

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. She has been writing about dogs since 2014, covering subjects such as dog insurance, training, health, accessories and more. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing and personally testing canine products and services. With every piece she writes, her goal is to help our readers find the best fit for their unique needs.

Kimberly grew up in a family that loved Labrador Retrievers and remembers running and playing in the yard with them as a child. In 2017, she and her husband adopted their Coonhound mix, Sally, from a local shelter. Kimberly's research was put to good use since Sally faced some aggression issues with other dogs and needed some training to be an inside dog. She worked daily with Sally and sought help from professionals to help Sally become the happy pup she is today.

One of Kimberly's favorite pastimes is spoiling Sally with new toys, comfy beds and yummy treats (she even makes homemade goodies for her). She tries to purchase the safest products for Sally and knows that each canine has their own specific likes and dislikes. Kimberly is passionate about dogs, and knows the bond between humans and canines is like no other.

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Steven Keiser
I had German Shepherds my entire life until my last dog was a Jack Russell Terrier ,thee smartest dog I ever had, also another great trait is the seem to not only look like a puppy, but also act like one also its entire life
Gabriella Taylor
I just picked up my little 6 week old Jack Russell/Chihuahua & fell immediately in love. Named her Gypsy & 5 days later she is fitting in like a puzzle piece! I also have 2 cats & a senior longhaired female Chi that wants no part of this Party Girl right now! Its all about the “Puppy Breath “! Loving every minute she has been here…
I have the same mix. Love him.
Jacqueline Harris
My JRT Red loves to be rubbed and is spoiled l. True to breed big personality he will up on digs 3-4 Times his size. I love this lil Guy. Him.my baby
Cindy Shankle
We have two female JRT, Charlie and Quinn (Harley Quinn). They give us hours of entertainment; Charlie plays ball 24/7 and Quinn I just wants to snuggle all the time! We have had other breeds in the past, but our Jacks have stolen our hearts!! We’ll never be without one or three!
Jade Green
Zeda is 7. She places her squeaky ball behind my back when I’m asleep, so that when I wake up, I roll on it, and the squeak lets her know I’m awake and ready to play ball! Lol. She loves car surfing, ( head out the window) the beach, kayaking, and chasing any wild thing that moves. She is however, excellent with my cats, which is contrary to her nature. She’s is always a delight and has my ❤️.
Carol Breckel
My Jack is a highly energetic boy that can play ball nearly 24 hours a day. He will rest about 5 minutes when tired and then gets right back at it! He has Basenji mixed in with the Jack and is a handsome boy. He is going to be 7 this year. Even though his face is turning white he doesnt seem to have slowed down much. He is my best friend and loyal protector. He is by my side as often as possible. Pretty much a one person dog. ❤❤
Mine plays ball constantly too.
Becky phillips
I was blessed or crazy to have had two jacks at the same time. Milly was mom to Weezer( the band) who was whelped at my bedside. They had boundless energy, huge personalities and were my best friends. Both of them lived to 17.5 years
Weezer died April 18 and I am still crying. Peace.
I had a Jack Russell (Willie Jak) tri-colored Loved loved loved him …I had him for 13 years…he had stomach cancer. I vowed I wouldn’t have another dog. I had lost my best friend…so painful..still miss him. About a year later, my niece (a dog lover also) found a rescue dog, Riley. I couldn’t resist!!! He is my little buddy ..mostly jack Russell but has funny ears. He is totally different from Willie Jak..and We love each other so much!!!
Shelly Nichols
My 10 years old boy JRT is Spot. He is very handsome. I got him when he was 7 weeks old. I like to describe him as being “hard headed” some times, strong willed but always lovable. He will have a plan for you if you do not have one for him. He is very sweet, smart and protective. He likes all the attention and gets fussy if someone gets to close to me. He barks at anything that comes near the house and has nipped at strangers that try to bend over him and chased kis riding by on there bikes. Most people see him and because of his cuteness want to pet him. I have to warn them he can react with dismay. I can not imagine life without Spotty. He loves his balls – he wakes me up in the morning ready to play ball. You have to give him something to do or he will get bored.So I like to throw his balls in the air and let him round them up. He will put them all in a perfect line and wait for me to throw them again. The funniest thing he likes to do is when I am in the shower he likes to put his ball in the tub and have me toss it out. Just a fun loving dog. So far Spot is very healthy and strong. They one thing about this breed is they do not take no mess from anybody. People are often surprised how tough he acts because he is so cute.
Pamela M Castro
My JRT Ashley does have a big personality. Shes 13 now and is mostly white….gas shakiness in her hip area….has recently lost her hearing unfortunately. She is my happy…..go lucky pooch. An avid hunter of lizards…..birds….mice….even caught a squirrel once. Her worst habit is always guarding her food bowl and barking anytime someone gets close to it. Shes always been very spunky and thats what i love about her most. Very loyal and loving. I wish she could live forever…..shes truly one of a kind. Weve only had to have her under the vets care ince for an ear infection. Now im always sure to clean her ears monthly real well to prevent priblems like that.
Latonya Moore
I really would like to have a jack or parson.
Brian L Reiff
4 Jack’s, 1 standard 2 parson 1 shorty. Best dogs ever
Pamela Stein
I unexpectedly lost my most beloved 16 Week old Jack Russell short-legged male “Jacko” 10 Days ago. congenital heart defect. I remain heartbroken.
Active older lady mid-70s own home and garden on 500 sq.m. Johannesburg South Africa. Public park across the road. He was SO clever and loved me So much and me him. He used to jump in the air like a Springbok to retrieve a ball. I am heartbroken. Good friends advise not to get another JR: difficult to train very active need big garden but I only want a small very intelligent dog.
Please advise if you believe I am too old or if JR’s need a bigger garden Thank you.
Galen Hunsucker
I would advise no. My JRT killed two of my older dogs. We got her at 3 months age and she is now one yr old. I am afraid of her now. I don’t know what will set her off. I would like to turn her over to a rescue group that would train her and find a new home for her. I have had dogs all my life and loved each one dearly. I don’t want her put down.
Brenda Olson
We have a Parson and he is really sweet and loyal.I started training ours since we got him ( he was 3months then and now he is turning 4yrs.this Sept 6)on those period of time he only chewed my husband slipper once because he is bored,aside from that he is great and he even trained our Mini Pin we got her when (she is 3months and she is 3yrs.now).Parson or Jacks are really smart and very active. They are full of energy. They need space to play ball and run around.Our Parson is well trained,he gets along with any animals even our chickens. He says hello to them( by smelling their head or their feathers)and after that he walks away. When he was 1yr old he figured out to play soccer through a basketball ball and now that is one of his game and exercise in our backyard and he is really awesome at it, rolling around and even in our house. He loves water and loves to swim in the river and he is really good at it. Russells are smart,too smart that they don’t want to just sit or sleep around. They are hunting/working dogs so, they have to do something everyday to burn those energy. We love our Parson.
How did u train ur jrt? We just got one a couple of weeks ago…shes 11 weeks old now. I am having the worst timw traing her on the puppy pads we r consistent and routine. She just not getting it. Any tips? Angela
Diane Blume
I think you should get ANOTHER JRT! We just lost our 10 month old Missy due to an accident.
We cried and cried. She was our baby girl and went every where with us. She would even come and get in the shower! Her best friend was our chocolate Lab and her brother was a yellow tabby cat.
No, you are not to old. I think a little female would adapt quickly to whatever you offer. They are intelligent and loving. We are getting Missy’s sister on July 12th from another litter. We are counting the days!
Henry Sebastian
We have 1 Russell Terrier her name is Zade she is a short legged dog and meets all the measurements that are given for a Russell Terrier but to us she is a short legged dog. My question is what do you mean by standard?
My Jack, Boscoe, has been my loyal friend that has helped me through my nasty divorce, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I do not know what I would ever do without him! He is the friendliest dog, with every dog. He’s a lovey and affectionate guy, loves his running and exercise, and is very loyal and protective. He is still not fixed. I’m in hopes of finding a similar female to breed because I have a list of family and friends that want an offspring from my boy! Absolute best dog I have ever had!! And my children’s best friend also, since the were toddlers. Love him. Love the breed!
Henry Sebastian
Where do you live we are in South Louisiana USA and have a very loving and fun female JRT.
Sandra Reuther
I just lost my JRT of 14 and 1/2 years. He was my best friend. Right now all I can find are champion dogs that sell for $2000. I’m looking for a puppy, male or female but would prefer make. I don’t care if it’s a rescue or an adoption. I live in the outskirts of the Chicago area and would be willing to travel somewhat for a new friend. If anyone knows of a puppy that needs a good home and lots of love please email me with JRT Puppies in the subject line. Sreuther@aol.com. Thank you for your time. Sandy Reuther
Go o line to Jack Russell terrier rescue- that’s where we found our sweet boy Buddy!
Jan Bruder
There’s a shorty jack breeder in Larsen WI. Just outside of Oshkosh. I am getting a puppy from her in August. I just lost Stella my JRT for 17 years. I love these dogs!!
I’m actually looking at a JRT pup in Rockford, IL! Only $300. I’m not interested in papers or any of that Jazz. Type “Jack Russell terriers Hoobly IL” into google and it will pull right up.
Sandy, I am in San Diego. I have a 2 year old rescue that I love with my whole being. She does have some issues, but my health issues may require me to do the best thing for her, which breaks my heart. Please contact me if you think she could be loved as I live her!
I have had two JRTs in my life. Both brought me great joy and unconditional love. They have both passed away now. I had a male and female. They are great mousers as the female would sit in my lap and watching for hours if she even thought there was a mouse in the house She always got the mouse. Her name was Abbeysuesuesue. She also had conversations with you. She was a talker. My husband just passed away 2 days ago and I am thinking about rescue or foster definitely. No breeders for me.
Pat Fasula
JRT’s are the best friend you will ever have. One must have much patience in the beginning. Eventually they get the routine and fun begins.
Jane E. Locker
My Buddy is a rescue Jack Russell… He’s calmer and it’s quiet… We think because of the abuse he suffered before I got him. I would not trade Buddy for all the money in the world… He’s smart… Gives new meaning to love and devotion and loyalty… We love him so much… And he doesn’t take crap from Smoki..our rescue Siamese we’ve had nine years since she was a feral kitten… They are both very much loved..
Diana Parker
That’s funny! I have a 4 year old named Hedy, JRT and an 18 year old Siamese cat and a 9 year old Himalayan cat. My Hedy constantly antagonizes the Siamese. It drives me nuts! She doesn’t bother my Himmy as much because she has claws (the Siamese doesn’t). I would never recommend to anyone to being a JRT puppy into a home with older cats because they could potentially fatally harm them. I have been genuinely extremely lucky. I treat all my pets like family and I had no idea what I had in store for me when I adopted Hedy. She is very loving but has a very difficult, head strong temperment. I could never rehome her because of her big personality. She would probably be abused. My Hedy is with me for life lol!
My JRT rescued me! He just showed up on my porch one day when I was going through a very rough time in my life. Now 10 years later it’s hard to remember life before Toby.
Kaye Cate
We had a wonderful friend in our Bandit my first JRT he was almost 16 years old when he passed and I thought I could never love another dog the way I did him. After 3 long months with such a quiet house we searched for another JRT and not only found one but found ourselves with two. They have never replaced our first but have just added much joy and love to our home. They are two years old and we thought that would be all we would have but just recently we rescued a sweet boy who was the runt of the litter and the breeder knew she would not be able to sell. He is the sweetest and has such a wonderful loving way about him, so our family is full of joy ,love and happiness with our JTRS and I can truly say there is never a dull moment!!
Sam Williams
We just rescued a dog from the sheter that we beieve is Chihuahua/Parson Russell Terrier Mix. What a character she is!
Fred C.VanPelt
Thanks for the information,my JRT,is a blessing. I had just retired when I got him as a rescue, he keeps me active. He doesn’t like other dogs and goes ballistic when he sees them when we are walking.
Trish Kane
This article was great and gave us some good insight into the JRT breed. We have our two year old Jackson, who is a delight. He is a smooth coat, and has tall legs! I was so surprised at that as he kept growing. He has settled in at 12 pounds and loves to play and to sleep under a blanket or lap rug. We have another dog who is a male Schnoodle (half poodle/half schnauzer) and is 13. Jackson has been good for him to help keep him young at heart. However, Jackson has started to fight with Barnee if Barnee gets too near his food as Jackson is eating it. Jackson also seems to be taking the position of Alpha dog and is jealous of us and tries to keep Barnee from laying with us. Jackson is neutered and these issues didn’t start until after he turned two. Any ideas for countering this behavior?
Yes. Stop allowing Jackson to feel like the leader of the house.
We had our first smooth-coat JR, Zeke, for 15 years and four months, when he passed away. He was our dear boy and we scattered his ashes at his favorite camping spot near Winter Park, Colorado. He died on a Sunday and by Tuesday, I was on the phone with his breeder to find our next JR family member. Our “youngest son” is a rough coat JR from the same line as our first boy. Jax has been bringing joy to us for three years now. We love JRs, but you REALLY need to know what you’re getting into with these little fireballs–please do your research before bringing one into your home–they are such wonderful dogs for the right family and they do not deserve to end up at a rescue.
Jeff Chambliss
My Dad had a JRT named Misty. She was with Dad when he passed, then Mom kept Misty until Mom passed. I kept Misty until November of 2011. She lived to be 19 years and 4 months. I have one now I’ve had for 6 years and he is my buddy. They are a long term commitment. I have been told if you want a pet that lives longer you have to buy a tree! Great little dogs.
John Whiteside
My jr is 16 now. Did you jr pass suddenly? I am dreading the day our Wally leaves us.
My JR Mandie passed when she was 14. She had arthritis in her hips, which was treated, but she kept getting worse until one day she couldn’t walk. Losing her was horrendous. Its been 2 years and I still cry sometimes. So painful to lose such a long time companion. Just love your JR as much as you can because their time here is limited. Be glad that you brought joy into his life.
Walter smith
I found my JR about ten years ago. I called him buddy. He passed to the rainbow bridge two days after Christmas. He was my baby, my buddy.it broke my heart.
reinhardt schilli
Our Mr. Lou was also 16. Unbelievable guy. Put him down,health issues. Minnie went 2 months later. They had a litter we still have Abbey, Buster, and Angel. Lou passed early this past June, Minnie on July8th. I am destroyed. I don’t know what to say to help except stay as strong as you can.I have learnt much from those two hellraisers. Hard to replace them. Dogs are wonderful animals, better than we are. Things will get better. I still look for them thinking they will come back. Thank you little ones for loving me.
My darling JR just went to doggy heaven a couple of months ago. I am still so sad as every morning I look for my “Kally “.
I will another when the time right. She was 3rd JR..they are a delight with the proper training love and patience.
Catherine Anderson
Oh, also, she looks like a Jack Russel. The vet says she will be a smaller dog, never more than 30 pounds. She has the JRT personality, VERY energetic, playful, and full of spunk, but she is also settling in for seconds at a time already for petting, which she is learning feels really good. I live on a large acreage, and I see the hunting instinct in her as well. Very different from any puppy I’ve ever tried to raise, for sure. JRTs are a breed all their own, I think. I hope to find a JRT enthusiast.
My pup is an aussie – jack. they are incredible. But yes, high energy and lots of playtime required. It’s a super smart and fun dog! Great personality! Super happy. I hope this girl finds a wonderful home. I’m almost tempted 🙂
Catherine Anderson
I recently rescued a JRT/mini-Australian shepherd mix who was doomed to possible death. Well, actually, my son rescued her by snatching her from the woman’s arms and telling her he couldn’t bear the thought of putting her down She is high energy! Her name is Pepper. She is 13 weeks old. I live south of Missoula, Montana. I am turning 70 next month, and I am a writer, which is a very quiet, sedentary profession. As dear as this baby girl is, I know I cannot give her the best possible life. I would love to find her a FOREVER home with people or a person who understands and is familiar with the JRT. Until then I am providing her with a good home and trying hard to be a good puppy mom.
OK….so after all these tales of JRT…yesterday i figured out that is what i have. . I thot they were smooth coat, she’s very wire coated.

My ex bfriend bought a trailer in the texas country…and this momma had 4 pups underthere. got them out the second weekend….they were still nursing around 5 weeks. omg I’ve never seen fleas so thick…i still have scabs from my flea bites 3 weeks later. i wormed and deflead sev x’s. the baby rattlers were extra bad this year.

3 surviving pups crawled under my good fences…and we put out fliers for the pups. all 3 pups founders asked to keep them, that they had “fallen in love” or were “too attached” to return them; they asked to keep them. I still have momma, the gas station guys called her suzy q. i didn’t think i would keep her bc she did not like my sooooo friendly rottie male (only 2 years)….well they are getting along better.

I will keep her, if she is not a flight risk. the city charges me as a bad dog owner when my dog burrows out. so far, she seems to like being here and regular meals; i know she misses her pups. i hope i am her last home. i’m finding out that she is potty trained. I’m crate training her too. i just want a dog that will not cost me time andd energy to pick up after her, destroy items, etc. I think she’s good.

meanwhile the bf’s house underwhich i found her, he is much less loyal.