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 work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post.

Kimberly's 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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Chris parry
September 12, 2020 5:08 pm

I’ve just lost my JRT this week. He was just over 16 years old and I can say he was the best friend I could ever have. He knew if I had a migraine as he would lay next to me and sleep next to me to keep me company until I was better. He has now left a massive hole in my heart which I’ve no words for at the minutes. At the minute, I really just don’t know how to feel apart from deep down depression. So for everyone who has a JRT, make the most of every special day with them as they aren’t just an animal, they’re FAMILY.

Colleen Guyer
August 24, 2020 8:15 pm

I have a Jack Russell, rat terrier mix. He is a pistol, but a great dog. He was the runt of the litter so he on the smaller size.

Carolyn Vandiver
June 10, 2020 7:20 pm

I had my JRT for almost 17 years. He owned the entire family and we were all greatly saddened when he passed away a couple of years ago leaving a huge hole in our lives. I am trying to find one that I can adopt and share my home with.

July 18, 2020 5:02 am

I have one I adopted from a no-kill shelter for my grandsons. I want to give him to a home without other pets. I have a female adult JRT and they do not get along. He is fine with children and adults…very sweet…just a little jealous of other dogs. He wants to be the only dog getting the attention.

July 20, 2020 11:44 pm
Reply to  Debra

Is he still available? I had my JRT for almost 17 years. I’m looking for another one.

Melissa L Whittaker
June 4, 2020 3:40 pm

I have had 2 JRTs both female. Lily was our first she was the runt so nobody wanted her and there were too many pups for her to get milk, so she was starving now I have Josie she’s 3. Lily sadly passed away my husband passed 3 yrs. ago Jo was born and paid for but I felt so guilty that I decided not to go get her. But God meant for her to be mine because she’s awesome she one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever had she takes care of me as much as I do her

March 24, 2020 8:08 pm

I adopted what I thought was a chihuahua mix about a month ago. From reading this article it is clear that he is more a JRT than anything! I am going through chemo and he is a great snuggler. Because he needs the walks I go (which is helpful to me). I was planning on a training class but the pandemic ended that. I wish I was a dog whisperer…I love Manny dearly!

M.Jo Werling
March 12, 2020 6:14 pm

I have been owned by five JR’S in the past years. My fifth is turning 14 next month. He is going strong,runs everyday and keeps learning new tricks. The most outstanding trait I have discovered is the innate ability the males have to discern illness. Winston,a JR from my past saved my life when I fell into a diabetic coma. He continually jumped on my chest forcing air into my lungs.When help finally arrived I was very close to coding because of lack of air. My current JR will alert meif my diabetes becomes unbalanced he let’s me know by jumping, barking and running back and forth to my glucose testor. Digger was not trained to do this. His female companion,Fae,never seemed to be aware, actually none of the females have been responsive to my illness. Thank you for letting me share my story with you.

February 27, 2020 8:29 am

We had a rescued Jack named Sidney, for 15 yrs. He helped me heal from my PTSD.
When our younger grandchildren were born, he was gentle and patient.

He taught himself to always have a toy in his mouth when around them.

We miss him greatly. We now have a rat terrier whose dna is 50% jack .

We simply love both breeds.

James O'Neill
March 10, 2020 12:08 am
Reply to  Mary

My Jack’s also saved me from my PTS and my four yr old Finn McCool wakes me before my night terrors can get me. Finn McCool is my third Jack they would all lay down their life to save me no thought bout it and i for them. I still cry for Harley and Tricks and i imagine that i always will

Pat Edwards
January 30, 2020 7:03 pm

We currently have two JRT’s but have had three (Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, and Franky Sinatra). We lost Sammy Davis last year due to age (17). We obviously are in love with this breed. Dean Martin is 11 and Franky Sinatra is 3. However, despite his age Franky came into our family as a pup but immediately took over as the alpha of the three. Both Dean Martin and Franky are males (Sammy David was female). It’s should be noted that two male Jack Russells in the same house can be a bit of a challenge as they fiercely compete for attention, selfish affection, and over protective behaviors. To further complicate things– despite their size, JRT’s are as powerful as they are determined, and an amazingly intelligent breed!

We love our JRT’s too much to rehome them so we have resolved to keeping them safe by dividing our house and separating them to prevent squabbles. We have since learned that this is not uncommon behavior for two male JRT’s living under the same household roof. They get along famously with all other dogs… just not with each other u Der the same roof.

It’s a good note to procced with some semblance of caution if considering two JRT’s of the same gender.

Warren Julian
January 27, 2020 4:21 pm

How do I buy one and what is the cost?

Jaime Lyn
February 1, 2020 7:23 pm
Reply to  Warren Julian

If you are interested in a JRT you should look into local shelters. They are AMAZING companions but they are a handful and often people arent prepared and the dog ends up in a shelter. I have adopted two from the same shelter. We were always a big dog family until we found Lily eleven years ago. She passed last year and we went back to the same shelter really just to pet some puppies and cheer up two wks after ee lost her. She had been throgh our sons side through his diagnose and chemi treatments. He was heartbroken. The shelter happened to have another JRT, this time a puppy. We knew the second she came out that she was meant to be ours. She has been with us for 18 months. It might sound like a bit much but she makes us smile every single day. She is awesome and perfect but a breeder left her bc of her underbite. For that she would have been put down had the hard working staff at SAVE-A-PET in Port Jeff, NY had no taken her in. But i digress, think about adopting before going to a breeder. Good luck.

February 27, 2020 8:33 am
Reply to  Jaime Lyn

So very true. Our Sidney also was not “perfect” but was rescued. 15 yrs of love, attitude and companionship

January 22, 2020 7:54 am

I have read many of the confessions of being owned by a Jack Russell below, and agree with all. I lost Hudy October 31, 2019 at age 12 1/2. He acquired me as a weened pup shortly before I retired, and never left my side until his death. He would describe me as too slow, and not energetic enough. He loved the water, and did get an ear infection as mentioned in another comment. He rode on quads, mowers, and tractors with me, and if not already aboard would stand in front to stop me, so he could get on. I can truly say that he was smartest, most loyal, and affectionate dog I have every met. Truly I replaceable.

Jaime Lyn
February 1, 2020 7:26 pm
Reply to  Gene

Sorry to hear that. I lost my first JRT a year and a half ago. She was one of a kind. Truly an amazing breed.

Keith Janota
January 17, 2020 10:49 pm

I have a jack russell terrier and chicucca mix he is the best dog ever

December 29, 2019 9:24 am

I had a Jack for just over 15 years, Buddy was A rescue and the best dog I ever had. Smart, playful and just a great friend. He loved playing with squirrels and our older Lad. If you get a Jack Russell, treat them well and that kindness is returned 10 fold. I lost mine last week at 15 years. Heartbroken but happy I had him. I will be searching for another.

December 25, 2019 11:29 pm

Our loved Maximus was a terrorist, he enjoyed fighting with the pillows until all the feathers were out! My husband had three surgeries last year and Max was at his side all the time. He became ill and had to put him down last Monday. But I can assure that we were so lucky, we had him for 14 wonderful years. He was the best and we miss him too much.

January 30, 2020 4:50 pm
Reply to  Martha

I am looking for a good home for my Jack Russell as I am not fit to care for her now, she is lovely and is very good natured, she is spayed and is 6 years old, she is black and white with tan patch,her name is Pixie. She is very lively.

April 26, 2020 10:01 pm
Reply to  Norma

Did u ever find a new home for your little girl?

Donna L. Colajezzi
June 6, 2020 1:32 pm
Reply to  Holly

Did you find a home for her? My JRT is 15 and I can’t imagine my life without her. I’ll adopt her.

December 17, 2019 3:13 am

I rescued my female JRT 3 years ago when she was two years old. She was shy, quiet, and timid when I first brought her home. Since then, she has gained an enormous amount of confidence and her JRT personality shined through. These days she is assertive, loud, fearless, loyal, and extremely affectionate and loving. She can definitely be a handful but she’s my best friend and my most loyal companion. Wherever I go, she goes and I wouldn’t want it any other way. ❤️

Chrystal Likens
November 26, 2019 1:21 am

My husband and I had 2 at one time. We had to put our male down in May 2018 he was 12. We just put our female down last Sat. She was 15. We miss them both so very much. They were both very good dogs.

November 10, 2019 10:41 pm

I have the best JRT EVER! Her name is Wiggles…she is 13 yrs old and still behaves like a puppy sometimes (she’s losing her hearing at this point )I miss her keen sense of hearing that initiated her INSTANTLY greeting me as soon as I put a key in the door when I get home from work, etc., but as soon as she spots me she greets me with every bit of love she has from day one! I just LOVE her terribly and whole-heartedly and I don’t know what I would do without this furry unconditional love♥️ she is my shadow…I could go on and on about her and the happy times I’ve had with her….maybe a book about “MY WIGGLES” one day! ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ I hope you all enjoy your fur baby’s as much as I have and always will

November 10, 2019 10:07 am

I have 7 Jack’s right now some are the taller and some are shorties my males love to go to the woods when I trail ride. All are great watch dogs. They all have very different personalities. I do have one that is with me 24/7. I LOVE them all and will always have a jack in my life.

Judy Garcia chirinos
May 30, 2020 5:05 pm
Reply to  Lorry

My Jack Russell terrier died last year and I’m looking for another one I live in Fort Dodge. Where I could get one? Judy

November 7, 2019 2:40 am

We adopted a JRT/Poodle mix from a rescue agency 2 yrs ago. He was named “Jack”. It was the name he knew & it really seemed to suit him. We figured he’d been through enough without having to learn a new name. So, he’s now our Jack.
He was around 3 yrs old when we got him. I’ll spare you all the horrors of his life before, and just say there’s a special place in Hell for people who abuse animals.
We’ve worked really hard to help Jack feel safe & loved & it has paid off a hundred fold in the love & joy he gives to us. He’s so darn cute, eager to please, incredibly smart, vigilant about protecting our home, playful, funny & affectionate. He’s an adorable little rascal with a big heart & a great sense of humor. I’m so grateful that we found each other.

November 4, 2019 4:40 pm

My JRT is 14 and a real character she likes her home comforts and is loyal and faithful

Loni K Plank
November 4, 2019 1:38 pm

I had my Jack Russell, maggy., for 13 years. She was my best friend and my constant companion. She was so sweet and smart and i loved her so much. But she could be a hand full sometimes. She loved to play fetch and go on walks and.play in the water but you have to make aure you dry their ears or they get ear infections easily. She was the bestvdog ever.

Raymond Schultz
October 14, 2019 11:48 pm

Yes i have 4 2 male 2 female
Lots of fun allways hunting have a great sense of smell.

October 13, 2019 9:17 pm

We have 3 J.R terriers, Daphne, Eddie, and their puppy, Frasier. Daphne is 17, Eddie is 14 and Frasier is 13 and 1/2. All 3 are as cute as buttons. Daphne gave birth to 9 puppies. We kept only one. Daphne isbtje smartest out of the 3 and the most aggressive. She hates me, the wife, but she loves my husband. She growls at me when she is on the bed watching TV with husband but she had never bitten me. Frasier, the puppy, has been the best chemotherapy doggie, he’s went to chemo with me over the years, but he is extremely protective and will bite. Eddie, the father, spends most of his time with our son Eddie is the most laid back but the most strong. They are a joy and a delight….faithful to a fault and by far the favorite out of all the dogs I’ve ever owned. High energy doesnt even describe them.

October 1, 2019 2:26 pm

We have had three JRTs over the years. Very confident breed. Jasper our current fellow, is very fond of our grandchildren and in general perks up when he sees a child anywhere. He has a deep growl that never translates into action.

Anna Bienkowski
September 30, 2019 9:32 am

My Jack Russell, Max is such a sweet boy.. He hunt other animals and he loves to cuddle.. My other dog, Sophie loves to hunt, run around and do traditional things.. Max on the other hand is the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet..

September 29, 2019 11:19 pm

O have many different breeds of dogs my entire life including; collies, golden retrievers, labs, New Foundlands, schnauzers. I have admired and loved all of them and been amazed at their intelligence and abilities. However, I have been blown away at the intelligence, agility,love of my Jack Russell terrier. She is an extraordinary “human dog”!!!