Difference between Parson, Jack Russell and Russell Terrier

July 3, 2013

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

Find CANIDAE Retailers Near You!

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Share this:

Share Your Thoughts

  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • Google Plus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Gail Dickinson says:

    You’ve got it wrong. The reason AKC jumps through hoops trying to find a name for their terriers is that the JRTCA owns the name Jack Russell. Jack Russell Terriers are a real breed, just not recognized by AKC because they don’t want to be. A dog has to prove it’s athleticism and be free of genetic defects to be eegistered with the JRTCA, Yeh ALC let’s you breed and register the pups from anything that had parents of that breed, regardless of hunting ability, comfort,action or genetic defects. If you want a real,Jack Russell,get a JRTCA dog. I am. not a breeder, just love the breed and own my second JRT.

  2. Dennis Becker says:

    Thank You

  3. Pauline May says:

    You’ve got it completely wrong! Parson John Russell bred the longer legged dog to be able to run with horses – what is commonly known as the Jack Russell, the short legged dog had nothing to do with him. After he died one of his kennel hands bred some dogs with shorter legged dogs with more aggression, like the bull terrier to create the small Jack Russell. The Parsons dogs were not bred to kill but to find the foxes! If you read the books by Eddie Chapman you will discover the true origins, nobody knows more than this guy who has spent over 50 years as a “terrier man” and breeder and Eddie and his dogs are world renowned.

    1. Stephanie Cassidy says:

      So , I was told by a breeder that the Russel Terrier is more mellow than the other two…Is this true or merely opinion?

  4. lucy kessler says:

    I am looking for a Russell Terrier, male with a broken coat with markings (not all white) live in the Balto-Washington area

    1. Kate says:

      I live in the same general area. The Russell Terriers we have, we got from Foxfield Russell Terriers on Long Island in NY. The breeder, Sue Sobel, is one of the best breeders in the US. Her pups have wonderful reputations globally!
      My girls are lovely pets..I do not show them. Look them up. You won’t be sorry!

  5. Skyler says:

    I have now had three of them (Russells and a Jack Russell) and they are without a doubt my FAVORITE breed of dogs. After having other breeds over the years. I will never go to another breed. They bring so much joy with their love they show, tremendous intellect, funny antics, attitude and incredible energy level. There is nothing out there like these terriers and we have had more than 8 different breeds of dogs over the years! My choice will always be to own a Russell, Parson, or Jack Russell.
    As an example, my 12 lb “shorty” terrier dominates my 72 lb English bulldog and holds his own! They are fearless! LOL

  6. Gary Smith says:

    Does the parson have course hair that doesn’t shed as much as the jack russell ?

  7. Dana Bundy says:

    Politics is all that divides these breeds. Sad day

  8. Lisa Smith says:

    I am getting a short legged JRT from a prison program. So he is actually a Russell Terrier? I am so confused. Do they all have the option of the broken coat?

  9. Chuck says:

    Had one like you see on all of the commercials adopt me years ago , he was a great companion and he went missing after about 10 years and I haven’t been able to find another one to replace him , I believe he was the 10 to 12 inch course hair don’t care about any papers just want a dog .

  10. Tammy says:

    I personally think the Jack Russell Terrier is still not getting the appropriate recognition it deserves. I can not believe it’s ok to change the name of the breed of a dog, just so it fits the standards for the AKC. This is very troubling to me.

  11. jack russell says:

    I always thought that only 2 kind of breeds did exist. Well it’s never too late to learn ;-}

  12. Lynn says:

    In Orlando fl. I’m looking for an Australian short jack Russell puppy.

  13. James R says:

    I got 2 Jack Russell Terriers (brother and sister) when I was 5 years old. The male lived to be just about 17y/o – (1999-2015). And the female is still alive and well at almost 18y/o – (1999-Present)

    1. My Jack with short legs is a male and born in July 1999.
      He came into my life the end of August of 1999 and is still living. He is not barking any longer nor going for walks, just little ones in the yard. I have purchased a dog stroller to wheel him about as he loves the car and though this would be a good substitute. I sincerely love this breed of dog, so loving, smart, and much energy. I feel blessed he is still with me.

      1. Chuck says:

        I had a Long Leg smooth coat JRT for almost 17 years. She was my world and I loved her beyond words! She went to Hawaii, South Korea, California with me and drove across the US to SC when we left Ca. Had to put her down a year ago; still cry when I think about the-love-of-my-life. Want another one, but at 68 Y. O. another one may be too active for me. Can’t beat a JRT….PERIOD!!!

        1. Timothy Jones says:

          I am 62 years old and retired and disabled I am getting a hunt Russell and I wonder if that will be too much of a dog for me since I cannot walk that well but I am going to try it I have a lot of room for it to run about to acres so I hope we will get along fine and things will work out I do have a lot of time on my hands to train and work with him but I hear the puppies can be very active.

          1. Grub says:

            Like all terriers, they have two speeds: extra high and off. They are fearless, they will pick a fight with a Rottweiler, and they will obey you if they are in the mood. Their eyes are their windows to the soul and like all terriers their soul says, “I’m about to go do something real bad unless you play with me.”

        2. Elizabeth Quigley says:

          I was 69 when I got my Jack Russell. I really worried that he would be too much for me, But he’s curled up here on my lap right now. He is just like me, sleeps late, stays up late! I have a Golden retriever and they play and run so he gets plenty of exercise, plus I have a large yard that’s at least 100 feet long and fenced. He is short haired, about 12 lbs and very long legs. We walk in the yard or around the block but not fast, and I am disabled!! So if you can walk, he’s probably not too much of a dog for you. We got him from a breeder, we think she sells for a puppy mill. There were no other dogs around when we went look at him. He nurses in his sleep and he is 8 months old, I think he misses his mother as I have never had a dog do that.

  14. Dee Phillips says:

    I have two brother’s duke who ous white an tab an bleu who it’s white with tan ears theses are my baby’s

  15. Burton Gotshall says:

    It was my understanding, when I bought my JRT in 2002 that that the JRTA did not want to associate with the AKC and I can relate to that!
    I raised Silky Terriers for 10 years and The AKC recognized them without question. I could have been crossbreeding most anything and they would have never known.
    As I see it the JRT of the JRTA is a TRUE jack and is as good as its trainer!!! Given the chance, they will train you!!!

    1. ellen says:

      So true…and mine has!

  16. Ellen says:

    I bought a JRT but by this article I most likely have the Parson. He is the tall one, but no matter what this guy is not bouncing off the walls and very well mannered. I think I was lucky because he just knew knew how Ii wanted him to act. He just had his 16th birthday

  17. I have just adopted the most beautiful Jack Russel Chiwawa. With a beautiful patch in her eyes. I want to learn as much possible of her breed more of the Jack Russel portion. I have been enjoying everything I have read here. She is a year and a half my chow chow died I have one chow chow left at home whom is 9 years of age. So now I have the Jackchi and the chow chow.

  18. Michelle Clark says:

    Thank you Linda C for correcting the errors in the article! 🙂

  19. Susan says:

    There are actually 4 different Jack Russell types as follows:

    8-12″ English Jack Russell Terrier -EJRTCA Slightly longer than tall
    10-12″ Russell Terrier – AKC – Slightly longer than tall
    10-15″ Jack Russell Terrier – JRTCA – Length/height proportionate
    12-15″ Parson Russell Terrier – AKC – Length/height proportionate

    The English Jack’s are also called ‘shorties’. I’ve had Jacks in each size range and found the English Jacks to be the calmest ones and my favorites. The taller ones acted like my Smooth Fox Terrier who bounced off the walls until the day he passed away. His motto was Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy! Loved them all!!

    1. Jody says:

      Amen ! I breed English Jacks and I love them dearly. I’m glad they aren’t widely recognized. Shortys are the best !

    2. Allan says:

      I have a female Parsons Jack
      Russel; she is now 11 yrs old and slowed down a little in that she just likes afternoon walks now.
      While she has mellowed with age she still has plenty of spark and enjoys games.
      They are fiesty breed and will take on much bigger dogs if the don’t like them.
      Mine is well socialised so take her for runs on the beach were we meet other dogs and their owners there.
      She does not bark much only if excited or wants to come inside …she loves human contact yet other times she just likes to chill in the same room or on the verandah in the sun.
      She does not have traffic sense so on the road take her on the lead.
      They have an “extreme hunting instinct “always on the lookout for smaller animals.
      She tries to be a bit bossy at times and if her barks are too demanding I will ignore her till she does it more quietly.
      She will play games with me like pretending she does not want to go out when she really does…her wagging tail gives her away.
      She is the best dog I have had but be aware they do need exercise especially during their younger years till about age 8.
      She has broken hair on her back and the hair closest to her body is softer while the outer hair is much coarser.
      She understands words and phrases and their breed temperament is a little like a ” chilled out “Boarder Collie.
      ….downside she drops lots of hair so needs brushing at least once a week and wash once a month or when necessary.
      If you buy this breed your life “will never be the same again”

  20. Chanel M says:

    To Renea Grimes. I couldn’t outright reply to you but here is my reply to your request for info on getting a dog.

    If you are looking for a dog to be simply your companion DON’T get a Jack Russell. I have raised a few and they all need a high amount of attention and exercise. If they are not mentally stimulated enough and given enough physical exercise they will destroy your home and develop bed behaviors. I love Jack Russells but I don’t recommend them to people with limited time and energy. You have cancer and that might be a challenge because Jack’s never seem to stop. They are of course loving and loyal companions, but if energy and patience are thin you won’t enjoy them very much. Training them requires a confident and consistent owner who isn’t afraid to show the dog who is boss. They are very dominant dogs despite their small and cute stature. If a jack has an owner who can’t be the pack leader at all times you risk having an out of control jack. They are not afraid to be the boss. Also they can be a bit temperamental around children who don’t fully understand dogs. But this can be an easy fix if you socialize them. On the upside a relationship with a well-trained JRT can be very rewarding and fulfilling. They love to please their owners (if you are in charge that is) and will want to be with you 24/7. Make sure if you do get one that you have energy for this dog. I tell people all the time it’s like having a baby some days. Also remember YOU are the pack leader and you need to be able to command your dog or he will run you and your home. They are loving and super affectionate, and don’t care to be left alone…..that’s when stuff gets chewed up. They are extremely fast and attentive, they are sometimes smarter than their owners. Nothing gets by them. They are hunting dogs so if you have a cat or other small pets beware they could be in danger of being prey. Socialize them with other dogs as they can be territorial. So to sum it up they need time, energy from you because they have enough already, consistence, exercise, a confident leader, socialization with children and other dogs, and most importantly lots of love.

  21. novii says:

    This is for me a very interesting article. I live in Serbia, and here is very popular breeds only Jack Russell terrier, two other breeds do not exist in trace amounts in our country. Jack Russell has taken place in the hearts of many hunters due to the great courage they was presentation during the hunting of small game.

  22. rENAE GRIMES says:

    I am looking for a medium size dog that has a fairly good temperament. We have 3 small great grandchildren. I have cancer and live in a condo. Want companionship with a rescue dog. My sister will take dog if something happens to me. I do not have a lot of money to spend on a dog with all the of my medical costs. I would like to find a pup or young dog that is house broke. If anyone can help me out, please email. Union KY area.

    1. Robyn Reed says:

      Please, please do NOT get a Jack Russell. THis is NOT the dog for you!
      Take your request ot the local Shelter and look for a youngish, smallish mutt. A hound or lap dog type, and BE SURE you make sure the dog is good with children!! If you want to rescue, google small dog rescues in your area.

      1. Sally says:

        I would personally recommend Dachshunds! Mine are couch potatoes, and don’t require a huge home, though I live on a ranch, and have a large home, they would be just as content in an apartment. My dogs are inside dogs, they all sleep in my bed. They are highly intelligent, extremely humorous, and make fantastic companions. I will always have doxies! I do have other breeds as well, but doxies are one of my favorite all time breeds.

    2. Grub says:

      Get a pug and let children around it all the time as it grows. All they want to do is go on a leash walk, then be comfortable indoors with you as your lap dog. They are not hard to toilet train if as pups you take them out every 20 minutes and put them near places where other dogs have gone, then pick them up and really brag on them. Also take them outdoors to the bathroom area every single time they wake up from a nap because as pups they take a lot of naps and the first thing they do is urinate. They grow into sweet, lazy, loving dogs who don’t want anything except to be loved and sleeping comfortably, probably on your bed. You have to be careful to watch their diet. They love to play but in short bursts, then they just want to snuggle, so they don’t get that much exercise therefore don’t burn many calories.

  23. vicki says:

    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?

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. sandy weinstein says:

    the new russell terriers are just adorable. so much personality, not as hyper as the old jr.