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Jack Russell Terrier - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Jack Russell Terrier


The Jack Russell Terrier was developed in Devonshire, England, in the early 1800’s. In 1819, a young John (Jack) Russell was wandering the Oxford University campus shortly before he was to sit for an examination for which he apparently was ill-prepared. He came across a milkman accompanied by an unusual, but adorable, terrier bitch. Russell found her so delightful that he bought her on the spot and named her “Trump.” Trump became the foundation for the Jack Russell Terrier breed. Based upon her appearance (which was similar to a Wire Fox Terrier but with shorter legs and a wider skull), Trump is thought to have been a cross between a Black-and-Tan Terrier and a Fox Terrier.

After Mr. Russell graduated from Oxford, he bred Trump to create a terrier tall enough to keep up with his hunting foxhounds, but small enough to go to earth and bolt a fox from its den. He deliberately avoided introducing so-called “killer blood,” because he wanted his dogs to set the fox running above ground rather than kill it below ground and ruin the chase. He bred for consistency in temperament, not for consistency in looks. It is thought that he introduced Fox Terriers and perhaps Beagles into the mix. His terriers were also distinctive because they were primarily white, with minimal tan and/or black markings mainly on the head and rump.

After Mr. Russell’s death, his dogs and their descendants became hugely popular with sportsmen, and supposedly were crossed from time to time with Dachshunds, Corgis and assorted toys and terriers, causing considerable variation in size, shape and type. This variability made the breed ineligible for acceptance by The Kennel Club (England) for the show ring, despite being one of the most popular breeds in the British Isles. Breed enthusiasts formed their own Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain in 1974 and organized their own competitive shows.

In the early 1980s, that club split in two: those who wanted to impose a rigid breed appearance standard to appease and gain admittance to The Kennel Club, and those who gave priority to the temperament and working qualities of their terriers. The first group formed the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club, for purposes of promoting what they called the “Genuine” Jack Russell. They developed their own breed standard and were granted recognition by The Kennel Club in 1989, and by the American Kennel Club in 1997 as a member of its Terrier Group. The Parson Jack Russell is longer-legged and more squarely built than the shorter-legged, slightly longer-bodied and less consistent Jack Russell Terrier. The existing club continued as the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, which is not a member of the English or the American Kennel Club even today. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America was founded in 1976, and today is the largest Jack Russell Terrier breed club and registry in the world.


The average life span of the Jack Russell Terrier is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include cataracts, cerebellar ataxia, congenital deafness, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, lens luxation, myasthenia gravis, patellar luxation and von Willebrand disease.

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