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How Smart Are Jack Russell Terriers? Breed Intelligence & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

jack russell terrier dog with a basketball ball on a green lawn

Jack Russell Terriers are small but tenacious dogs with a lot of energy and a desire to hunt, chase, dig, and run. Jack Russel Terriers are considered of average intelligence, based on tests that study how long it takes to learn new commands and the frequency at which they respond to those commands. However, the Jack Russell is deceptively intelligent. It may not respond to every command, but that is likely because it is trying to have fun or trying to figure out how to escape and hunt rats.

Read on for more information on Jack Russells, including how intelligent they are, and some tips to help train your Jack Russell.

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How Is Dog Intelligence Measured?

Dog behaviorist Stanely Coren listed 131 dog breeds in order of their intelligence in his book The Intelligence of Dogs. He used two basic tests to determine intelligence. He looked at how often a breed had to be shown a new command before that command was learned, and how often a breed would respond to a known command at the first time of asking.

How Intelligent Is The Jack Russell?

Of the 131 dogs ranked, the Jack Russell came in 84th position. That puts the Jack Russell at about average. But, any owner or former owner of the breed, will likely tell you that the Jack Russell is more intelligent than this ranking suggests.

There aren’t too many ways to measure canine intelligence, other than these metrics. But they don’t take into account independent thinking. For example, your Jack Russell might not respond to your commands because it is busy trying to figure out how to escape from the garden and is putting that plan into action.

That doesn’t necessarily make it any less intelligent than other breeds higher on the list, it effectively means that it is less responsive. It also highlights the importance of training. By training your Jack Russell and ensuring that it behaves well, pays attention to you, and listens to your commands, you will be able to get the little vermin hunter to respond to your commands more often.

Owners know that Jack Russell likes to have fun, and this fun-loving nature can really get in the way of intelligence tests. If your Jack Russell is more interested in chasing a ball around the garden than in listening to your commands, it will seem less intelligent.

jack russell terrier dog inside the apartment
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Jack Russell: Vermin Hunter

Where the intelligence of the Jack Russell really comes to the fore is when it is hunting rats and other vermin: the reason the Russell was bred in the first place. It is tenacious, can locate vermin quickly, and has the athletic and mental capability to chase vermin into, under, over, and through most obstacles.

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Top 5 Tips to Train Your Jack Russell

Jack Russells are intelligent and with the right methods, it is possible to train your Jack Russell. You will likely always have a dog that barks and enjoys chasing anything that moves, but you should also be able to control this behavior and have your Jack Russell respond to commands.

1. Start Young

It is possible to train an adult dog, but it is a lot easier to train a puppy, and starting training when your dog is young not only means they pick up basic commands but it prepares them for training in later life. It makes them more susceptible to ongoing training even as they mature. If you adopt an adult Jack Russell, you will still be able to train it, but you will have to show even more persistence and resilience.

man walking side by side with a jack russell terrier
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2. Be Persistent

Persistence will be key to training, no matter the Jack Russell’s age. It will take multiple training sessions to learn a command, and if your Jack Russell has their mind on something else or just isn’t in the mood for training, sessions will take longer and feel more difficult. The key is not to give up. Come back tomorrow and try again.


3. Be Consistent

Be consistent with your training technique and methods, as well as with the commands you use and other elements of training. Repetition helps dogs learn, and even Collies, which are top of the intelligence ranking, typically need to hear commands several times before they learn. Use the same word or phrase, offer the same treat, and until your dog gets the command, try training at the same time and in the same spot.

Jack Russell Terrier dog training
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4. Make Training Fun

Jack Russells love to have fun. They enjoy running, chasing, and hunting, and if you can turn training sessions into fun sessions that feel like a game, you will get a lot further.


5. Don’t Push It

Keep sessions short, especially initially and while your dog gets used to the training process. If you notice your Jack Russell’s attention starting to wander, try to end on a positive note with the successful completion of a task or command, but consider ending the session before they completely lose attention and wander off.

jack russell terrier dog on green grass outdoor with owner
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Jack Russells Hard to Train?

Jack Russells are headstrong and independent, and they love to have fun and chase. As such, they can be challenging to train, but if you are persistent, use positive reinforcement, and keep up your efforts, it shouldn’t be too difficult to train your little terrier to obey your every whim.

Do Jack Russells Have a Favorite Person?

These loyal dogs will bond with family members but it isn’t unusual for them to pick a favorite person. Generally, this is either the person that feeds them or the person that provides the most fun. Ensure that all family members take some time to play, feed, and train your Jack Russell to try and ensure they don’t favor one individual over all others.

Is a Jack Russell a High Maintenance Dog?

Although they can make great pets, Jack Russells are yappy. They also need a lot of exercise and they enjoy digging and chewing. They can also be quite independent and headstrong. This combination means they are high-maintenance dogs in a lot of ways.

Is It Better to Get a Male or Female Jack Russell?

If you already have a Jack Russell, you should get one of the opposite sex. Otherwise, females tend to be a little quieter and may not act up as much or as often as males. However, they are still intelligent and cunning, so you may still have a battle of wits on your hands.

smiling woman with her cute jack russell terrier dog
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Jack Russells are popular pups that were originally bred to hunt vermin. They are somewhat headstrong and independent dogs, but they are also intelligent and especially enjoy playing games and having fun. This combination means it is possible to train a Jack Russell, but it does take persistence and consistency to achieve the desired results.


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