Difference between Parson, Jack Russell and Russell Terrier

By Linda Cole

The Parson, Jack Russell, and Russell terriers are actually three different breeds, even though they’re related and look much alike. The Russell Terrier was introduced at the National Dog Show in 2012 as a new breed recognized by the AKC. The Jack Russell is not a recognized breed, despite the dog’s popularity in this country. There is a good explanation as to why, but it can be a bit confusing.

The Parson, Jack Russell and Russell terrier breeds were all named after the Reverend John “Jack” Russell (1795 – 1883), a parson who lived in Devonshire, England during the 1800s. He was an avid fox hunter, when he wasn’t attending to his duties at his church. The Reverend was also quite fond of fox hunting dogs, and bred them. His first terrier, a female named Trump, was likely the foundation for Russell’s working dogs.

Reverend Russell, also known as “The Sporting Parson,” wanted a working dog that was feisty, strong and confident ,to hunt fox and go to ground to flush out fox or other prey from a hole. The Reverend lived in the southern part of England where the terrain wasn’t as hilly, and a short legged dog met his needs. The small dog ran with hunters on horseback, and hounds following a fox. When the hounds chased the fox underground, it was the terrier’s job to follow and flush the fox out of the hole so the hunt could resume.

It was after Reverend Russell’s death when the JRT breed began to evolve into the Parson Terrier. Hunters living in areas where the land was more uneven and hillier wanted dogs with longer legs that allowed them to better navigate rougher terrain so they could keep up with the hounds and horses. They were also more interested in hunting other prey, primarily badger. If a pup was born with shorter legs, they were kept at home as companion pets, to roam around the barn and home catching vermin, and as watchdogs.

Eventually, it was discovered that the dogs with shorter legs could be useful on a hunt. The dogs were easy to carry over rougher landscape in terrier sacks slung over the hunter’s shoulder or across their saddle. And because of their smaller size, it was easier for them to get into smaller dens underground. This is when the Parson and Jack Russell terriers began to split off into two separate breeds.

The traditional Jack Russell terrier was created in England, and developed in Australia into the breed we know today. Both the Jack Russell and Parson terriers were bred as working breeds. However, it’s the Parson terrier that was bred as a hunting dog with a higher energy level. The Jack Russell terrier was bred more as a companion dog. Although both breeds share the same intensity in prey drive, the JRT understands when it’s time to chill out, and they are mellower than their cousin, the Parson terrier.

There are not a lot of differences between the Parson, Jack Russell, and Russell terrier, but all three are considered different breeds, and this is where it can get confusing. The Russell terrier is actually a shorter version of the Jack Russell terrier. Australia and other FCI (an international federation of kennel clubs) countries call the Russell terrier a Jack Russell terrier, which is the traditional old style JRT. In the US, the Russell terrier is the same size as the Australian Jack Russell terrier. Both the Russell and Parson terrier are recognized by the AKC, but the Jack Russell terrier isn’t.

The standard height for the Parson is 12 ½ -15 inches, the Jack Russell Terrier is 10-12 inches, and the Russell – also known as the “Shorty JRT” – is 8 -12 inches tall. The Parson is known as the dog with the square body, and both the Russell and JRT have rectangular bodies.

Why isn’t the JRT recognized by the AKC? This, too, is a little complicated. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) wanted to make sure the breed kept its working dog status. When AKC was considering adding the Jack Russell terrier to their list of recognized dogs in the early 1990s, the JRTCA opposed it, fearing the working ability would be bred out of the breed, with an emphasis placed on conformation over hunting ability. In 2001, the issue was brought up again when the Jack Russell Terrier Breeders Association filed a petition requesting the Jack Russell be recognized as a legitimate breed.

Because there’s a variation in the JRT in size and appearance, all Jack Russell terriers that met a specific standard were renamed as Parson terrier. The newly recognized Russell terrier is the same breed as the Jack Russell terrier recognized in Australia and other FCI countries, and the JRT is still not a recognized breed. This seems to have made everyone involved happy, for the time being.

Top photo by Vidar Hoel
Middle and bottom photos by Chris Martin

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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4 thoughts on “Difference between Parson, Jack Russell and Russell Terrier

  1. The photo of the dog with the ball in its mouth, with the longer, wirey hair….which is that? I like that one. Good article…but confusingly crazy! Good for the writer to explain.

    So, If I was looking for a dog with the shorter legs, wire hair, longer hair….what should I be searching for? The JRT or Russell Terrier?

  2. There is one major error in this writeup. The JRT breed mentioned in America, or the Jack Russell Terrier as recognized by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, must be a square terrier, not rectangular. The JRTCA breed standard allows a size range of 10″ to 15″ at the whithers, but specifically requires that the terrier be the same height at the whithers as the length from the whithers to the base of the tail – a square terrier. The shorter terriers in the JRTCA Breed Standard (from 10″ to 12 1/2″) are still required to be proportional in height to length, without the shorter legs of the Russell Terrier. The broad size range allows for an assortment of sizes to be chosen from to accommodate a wide range of quarry in the hunt field.
    Jerry Waelterman, Missouri State Rep., JRTCA

  3. The Jack Russell Terrier is a strain of working terrier developed by the Rev. John “Jack” Russell. John Russell maintained his strain of fox terriers bred strictly for working, and the terrier we know of today as the Jack Russell is much the same as the pre-1900 fox terrier. The Jack Russell has survived the changes that have occurred in the modern-day Fox Terrier because it has been preserved and protected by working terrier enthusiasts and has survived on its merits as a worker. The Jack Russell Terrier has a very broad breed standard in order to allow a range of types to work different quarry in a variety of situations, from shallow earths to deep rock crags. The permitted height range is 10”-15”, not 10-12” as stated in Linda Cole’s article. The chest size is considered paramount in evaluating a Jack Russell Terrier. It must be small and flexible enough to allow the terrier to get up to his quarry. This is described in the standard as being “spannable” by average size hands and that equates to the chest size of an average size fox.
    The “Parson” Russell Terrier originated when a small group of Jack Russell Breeders wanted to obtain Kennel Club recognition. Their Jack Russell Terriers became show dogs only and the emphasis on working was discarded. The Kennel Club wanted a narrower breed standard and the height requirement was tightened to 13” as an ideal for bitches, 14” as ideal for a dog. Anything under 12” or over 15” is a disqualification. There is no specifications given in their standard for chest size, other than being “flexible”. Since this breed is a subset of the Jack Russell Terrier and was only recently recognized by the Kennel Club, many might retain the desire to work underground. But the deep and unspannable chests on many of today’s Parson Russells make them unable to do the earthwork as John Russell intended.
    The “Russell” Terrier is a type of terrier that was developed in Australia from stock originally from England. They have a height limitation of 10”-12”, anything else is an immediate disqualification Although their breed standard calls for a small, flexible and “spannable” chest, their breeders emphasis is on showing only and being a family pet. Not keeping the emphasis on “working” has resulted in a terrier with a different temperament than the Jack Russell Terrier. They certainly are cute and easier to live with but the majority have no interest in pursuing quarry underground even though the physically could do so.

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