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Parson vs Jack Russell vs Russell Terrier: What’s the Difference?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Parson vs Jack Russell vs Russell Terrier

If you think a Terrier is a single breed of dog, you’re mistaken. There are dozens of recognized breeds in the Terrier group and even more that aren’t officially recognized. Of these breeds, the Parson Russell Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, and plain old Russell Terrier stand out as three sides of the same die.

While these breeds are extremely similar in name and appearance (not to mention origin!), they are not the same. Here are the differences between the Parson, Jack Russell, and Russell Terrier:

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Visual Differences

Image Credit: Left – Jeannette1980, Pixabay | Center – giuseppe1402, Pixabay | Left – Reddogs, Shutterstock

A Quick Glance

Parson Russell Terrier Jack Russell Terrier Russell Terrier
Average size (adult) 13-14 inches 10-15 inches 10-12 inches
Average weight (adult) 13-17 pounds 13-17 inches 9-15 pounds
Lifespan 13-15 years 10-15 years 12-14 years
Exercise At least one hour per day At least one hour per day At least one hour per day
Grooming Weekly brushing Weekly brushing Weekly brushing
Family-friendly Often Often — only with older children Often
Trainability Somewhat trainable Somewhat trainable Somewhat trainable

Parson Russell Terrier

The Parson Russell Terrier was first developed in England sometime in the 1800s. As with most Terriers, this dog was bred for hunting — in the Parson Russell Terrier’s case, hunting foxes.

According to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) history on the breed, the Parson Russell Terrier’s name comes from Reverend John “The Sporting Parson” Russell. The word “parson” refers to a member of the clergy, and Reverend Russell was well-known for his passion for hunting and religion.

Parson Russell Terrier
Image Credit: Kristyna Mrazkova, Shutterstock

Physical appearance

The Parson Russell Terrier bears the robust and enduring build of any working Terrier. The breed has an alert posture, always ready to chase down their hunt. Parson Russell Terriers were developed to pursue foxes into their underground dens, so while strong, these dogs are also agile and nimble.

A standard Parson Russell Terrier is predominantly white, though the breed can have markings in a wide range of colors. Some dogs even have tri-color markings.

Male Parson Russell Terriers stand about 13 to 14 inches at the shoulder, depending on the dog’s sex. On average, this breed weighs 13 to 17 pounds.


While not overly stubborn, the Parson Russell Terrier also isn’t the easiest dog to train. Effective training must be consistent and start early, with an emphasis on positive reinforcement. This breed should also be provided with plenty of socialization in puppyhood.

Physically speaking, this breed requires a great deal of exercise and mental stimulation. Because of the breed’s athletic disposition, canine sports are an excellent outlet for the Parson Russell Terrier’s energy.

Parson Russell Terrier
Image credit: Jeanette1980, Pixabay


The Parson Russell Terrier is quite healthy and generally lives to be between 13 and 15 years old. Common ailments to watch out for include patellar luxation, deafness, eye disorders, and ataxia.


The Parson Russell Terrier comes in two coat types, smooth and rough. Both varieties require weekly brushing, but the type of brush used will depend on your dog’s individual fur type: Smooth coats require a thick brush, while rough coats respond best to a pin brush.

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Jack Russell Terrier

Historically, the Parson Russell Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier have the same origin story. Both breeds were first developed by Reverend Russell, but while the Parson Russell Terrier was eventually fine-tuned for hunting, the Jack Russell was destined for a life of companionship (with that said, the breed still excels on the hunt!).

Unlike the Parson Russell Terrier and the Russell Terrier, the modern Jack Russell Terrier is not officially recognized by the AKC. This decision was actually made by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, which feared that allowing the breed into the AKC would shift the breed standard away from its hard-working background.

To make things even more complicated, the Parson and the Jack Russell Terrier were, for a long time, technically the same breed. It was only after the Jack Russell Terrier was purposefully excluded from the AKC that the two split off into separate standards.

Jack Russell Terrier sitting on the grass
Image Credit: Oldiefan, Pixabay

Physical appearance

Because of their shared lineage, the Jack Russell Terrier closely resembles the Parson Russell Terrier. Notable differences, albeit subtle, include a slightly narrower chest and more rectangular body shape. The Jack Russell’s legs are often shorter than the Parson’s.

Like the Parson Russell Terrier, the Jack Russell Terrier is predominantly white with various markings.

The Jack Russell Terrier typically measures about 10 to 15 inches at the shoulder. The breed can weigh anywhere from 13 to 17 pounds.


The Jack Russell Terrier is energetic and bold, with a high prey drive most wouldn’t expect from such a small dog. This trait makes the breed a poor match for households with small pets, including cats. The Jack Russell Terrier can also be aggressive toward other dogs, even those much bigger than them.

When it comes to training this breed, they are intelligent but not necessarily receptive to intense training sessions. Jack Russell Terriers require thorough socialization from an early age to keep their dog aggression in check.

This breed contains plenty of physical energy, requiring at least an hour or more of exercise per day. If you think a Jack Russell Terrier is content laying around the house all day, you’re in for a surprise — an escape-proof fence is a must. Watch your yard, because these dogs also love a good, hard digging session!

jack russell terrier puppy
Image credit: Smit, Shutterstock


Generally, the Jack Russell Terrier lives to be around 10 to 15 years old. Common health concerns are similar to the Parson Russell Terrier’s, including deafness, patellar luxation, and eye conditions.


Along with the Parson Russell Terrier’s smooth or rough coat, the Jack Russell Terrier also comes in a broken coat. All three types respond well to weekly brushing, which clears away loose fur and debris.

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Russell Terrier

Last but not least, we have the Russell Terrier. In different parts of the world, this breed is also called the Irish Russell Terrier and the English Russell Terrier. Simply put, this breed is a smaller variation of the Parson Russell and Jack Russell Terriers.

While the Russell Terrier started out in England, the breed finished developing in Australia. Like the Parson Russell Terrier, this breed is recognized by the AKC.

Russell Terrier sitting on grass
Image Credit: corneliagross, Pixabay

Physical appearance

While the Russell Terrier strongly resembles the Parson Russell Terrier in its overall build, this breed’s legs are much shorter than their cousin’s. This physical difference exists largely because the Russell Terrier was developed to dive straight into fox dens where the hunting hounds could not fit.

Along with its short legs and long body, the Russell Terrier bares the standard white-with-markings coat seen in all three breeds.

The Russell Terrier measures about 10 to 12 inches at the shoulder, slightly shorter than the Parson or Jack Russell Terrier. This breed should weigh between 9 to 15 pounds in adulthood.


As you can probably guess, the Russell Terrier is energetic, slightly stubborn, and ready to pursue its prey with a moment’s notice. However, this breed still makes an excellent companion animal if its household can meet its activity needs.

At least one hour of exercise is needed each day to keep a Russell Terrier healthy and entertained. Short, active training sessions are the best strategy for getting your way with this breed.

Russell Terriers love having a job to complete, so structured activities like agility training, flyball, and luring are great ways to keep them busy.

Russell Terrier
Image credit: alphatex, Pixabay


On average, a Russell Terrier will live 12 to 14 years. Like its larger counterparts, this breed is prone to developing patellar luxation, deafness, and various eye disorders.


The Russell Terrier boasts the three coat types seen in the unofficial Jack Russell Terrier: smooth, rough, and broken. Again, weekly brushing is enough to keep the Russell’s fur clean and looking its best.

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Parson vs Jack Russell vs Russell Terrier: Which Is Right for You?

Chances are that up until now, you would have grouped each of these three breeds under the name “Jack Russell Terrier.” While there are notable differences between these dogs, there is also an overwhelming number of similarities.

Unlike dog breeds that are unique by design, the designation of the Parson vs Jack Russell vs Russell Terrier is more a matter of choice than one of any glaring differences. Still, these minute details can be what ultimately determines the ideal dog breed for you.

Have you ever owned a Parson Russell, Jack Russell, or Russell Terrier? Let us know your experiences on our Facebook or Instagram!

Featured Image Credit: (L) Csanad Kiss, Shutterstock | (M) Krzysiek Płocha, Unsplash | (R) thka, Shutterstock

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