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What Were Jack Russell Terriers Bred For? Origins, Roles & Facts

Melissa Gunter

By Melissa Gunter

Jack Russell Terrier

When seeing a Jack Russell Terrier, the first thing we think about is how adorable they are. These little dogs have tons of energy and can provide us with hours of entertainment. That is if you know how to handle a dog. Jack Russells are well known for being difficult to train and hard to manage for inexperienced dog owners. If you’ve dealt with similar situations when it comes to your pets, you’ll have a loyal, intelligent companion who is built to keep you on your toes.

Considering the popularity of Jack Russell Terriers it makes sense for people, and potential owners, to be interested in the history of the breed. While most know they were bred around 200 years ago to be working dogs, there’s so much more to these cute companions. Let’s learn more about Jack Russell Terriers and their history.

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Jack Russell Origins

Reverend John Russell is accredited for breeding these spunky working dogs. It is why they share his name. As a hunter in the 1800s, Reverend Russell needed a dog who could bolt foxes from their den and be easily recognized in comparison to their prey. In hopes of solving this issue, Reverend Russell bought a female English white terrier named Trump from a milkman in the area. In Russell’s eyes, Trump was the perfect terrier for the job. She was mostly white, making it easy to distinguish her from the foxes she would help hunt, and had a tempered aggressiveness. This meant she would do the job he needed her to do, bolting foxes from their den, but wouldn’t harm the prey and end the chase, which Russell felt was unsporting.

Unfortunately, for Reverend Russell, financial difficulties plagued him and forced the selling of his dogs on more than one occasion. While he continued working with terriers by assisting with them being recognized as a breed in 1850 and even helped found The Fox Terrier Club in 1875, to say any of the dogs in his life when he passed in 1883 were descendants of Trump isn’t possible.

jack russell terrier outdoor
Photo Credit: Annabel_P, Pixabay

Rounding Out the 19th Century

After Reverend John Russell’s death, two men were recognized for their dedication to continuing the dog breed. One was surnamed East and was from the area of Chislehurst. The other was named Archer and lived in Cornwall. East had several Jack Russell Terrier couples that were direct descendants of dogs owned by the Reverend. With these dogs, he created a form of the Jack Russell Terrier that was smaller than previous ones and less like the previous fox terriers.

Arthus Blake Heinemann, the man who created the first Jack Russell Terrier breeding standard, founded a hunting club named Devon and Somerset Badger Club in 1894. This club used the natural abilities of the Jack Russell Terrier and utilized them for badger digging instead of fox bolting. Thanks to this new purpose, terriers from Nicholas Snow of Oare were acquired. Considering Reverend John Russell’s relationship with this hunting club, and the fact he’d provided them with some of his dogs, his name was officially given to the breed cementing Jack Russell Terriers as a part of history.

The Early 20th Century

While the Jack Russells were still evolving into the breed we know today, the hunting club best known for using these dogs for their natural badger digging abilities changed its name to the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club. That wasn’t all they wanted to change, however. After working with the terriers in the club, they decided that badger digging needed a bit more strength than what the dogs currently had. By using Bull terrier stock, they were able to create a shorter-legged Jack Russell Terrier.

While these changes were taking place, other changes were happening in the breed. Two different types of working-class fox terriers were given the Jack Russell name. Shortly after, Heinemann passed away and the club he’d cared for soon shut down before the start of World War II.

jack russell puppy eating grass
Photo Credit: David Dalla Costa, Shutterstock

Things Begin to Change Again

After the war, Jack Russells weren’t needed for hunting, making them less sought after.  Instead, they became companions and family dogs due to their friendly nature and loyalty. Crossbreeding also began at this time. Many Jack Russells were bred with Welsh Corgis and Chihuahuas. This breeding resulted in what they called Russell Terriers or pudding dogs. In 1976, however, Alisa Crawford formed The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. With this new club, the expectations of working dogs were again front and center when dogs were determined to be meeting the standards of the club.

In 2001, the Jack Russell Terrier Breeder’s Association petitioned the American Kennel Club to allow their breed to be recognized. When the breed was accepted, the AKC narrowed the previously recognized standards and changed the name to Parson Russell Terrier. Australia and New Zealand did not follow these standards exactly. Instead, they continued to recognize both the Parsons Russell and Jack Russell Terrier breeds.

Finally Receiving the Recognition They Deserve

In 2016, after being around for more than 200 years, the Jack Russell Terrier was recognized by the Kennel Club as a pedigree breed. Although they are no longer used primarily for hunting, these dogs have come a long way throughout their existence. From amazing fox bolters to badger diggers, and then to trusted companions they are easily one of the most beloved dog breeds in the world. For families who have the time to dedicate to their pets, as well as the energy, a Jack Russell Terrier is the perfect addition to any home.

jack russell terrier jump
Photo Credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, throughout the years, Jack Russell Terriers have been amazing at adapting to change. Going from working dogs to family pets, they are one of the most loyal dogs to have at your side. This amazing dog breed has a rich history and deserves all the love and respect it receives.

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Featured Image Credit: dezy, Shutterstock

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