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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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
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.
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.
My JRT is 14 and a real character she likes her home comforts and is loyal and faithful
Loni K Plank
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
Yes i have 4 2 male 2 female
Lots of fun allways hunting have a great sense of smell.
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.
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
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..
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”!!!
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
Deirdre Huizar
I had my Jack Russell Bella for 13 years,she was my everything. She never tore or chewed up anything, she was such an angel. She ended up with cancer and a collapsed lung and I had to put her to sleep. I miss her terribly. She loved her toys and her little dresses that I would bring home to her. I guess I got lucky having a non destructive baby.
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.