brown and white jack russell terrier dog on sand with big stick in his mouth looking at camera

Jovial Jack Russell Terriers: History, Health, Personality, More

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The Jack Russell Terrier (or JRT, or just Jack Russell) is one of New Zealand’s most popular dogs. Owners might occasionally… on a bad day… be caught calling them “Jerk Russell Tornados” but the reality is almost everybody loves a Jackie almost all the time.

Though they’re not quite Labrador level popular, they still make the top five dog breeds in terms of popularity with Kiwis. And it’s understandable; they’re small, loyal, and full of character.

Developed in England a couple of centuries ago to hunt foxes, the Jack Russell Terrier is cheerful, smart, and entertaining. They know how to capture hearts with their silly antics and unbridled enthusiasm. They’re also quite a handful to socialise, train, and manage day to day. Even though they’re small and cute, they’re not the right breed for everybody!

So, what type of home do they suit? How does a Jack Russell differ to a Parson Russell Terrier? And what health and behavioural issues do you need to be aware of, if any? Here’s the lowdown on everything Jack Russell.

Physical traits

You’ve definitely seen a Jack Russell before, but many people don’t know that these little cuties can be wirehaired or smooth, for instance. Or that a wirehaired terrier who isn’t white can’t be considered a Jack Russell.

So, here are some of the key physical traits of the breed:

  • Size: Small – they weigh 7-12 kg and are 20-30cm in height at withers
  • Average lifespan: 13-15 years old
  • Coat: Short, flat, double coat. Can be smooth, broken, or rough in texture
  • Colour: White, or white with black/tan markings

Despite their small size, they have quite the personality. The saying ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ comes to mind here!

jack russell playing in beach water with yellow tennis ball in mouth

Medical problems with Jack Russell dogs

Like any breed, the JR can be more susceptible to certain health-related issues.

Skin

Skin conditions in dogs are often caused by allergies. Jack Russells are quite prone to dermatitis, and their allergic reactions can be brought on by a variety of things like grass, pollen, fleas, and even food. Lifestyle changes and medications can both help to control skin problems.

Luxating patella and cruciate ligament injuries are two particularly common problems with Jack Russell Terriers. JRTs are also prone to another genetic condition affecting the hip: Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCP). This is a painful condition caused by a malformed bone that doesn’t properly fit into the hip joint. 

Eyes

Unfortunately, Jack Russell Terriers can also develop eye issues. There are two main ones to watch out for.

The first is glaucoma, which is a build up of pressure in the eye that can rapidly cause blindness if not treated quickly. The second is Primary Lens Luxation (PLL). PLL is when the lens in the eye is dislocated because the ligaments holding it in place have broken. Without treatment, it can cause glaucoma and blindness.

Teeth

Dental disease is common in both dogs and cats. But if you have a Jack Russell, they’re often more likely than other dogs to have problems with their teeth. This is why knowing how to clean your dog’s teeth is really important for these little Terriers.

Bad breeding

Conditions like these are why it’s so important to ensure you don’t support puppy mills in New Zealand and that you purchase from ethical dog breeders. When bred responsibly and correctly, these issues are less likely to develop.

Of course, you should always be on the lookout for parvo, kennel cough, and other common infections. There have been a few recent outbreaks of viruses in New Zealand, so keeping your pup up to date on their vaccination schedule is particularly important.

old jack russell dog lying on grass enjoying the sunshine

Temperament of the Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russells are feisty dogs. They don’t seem to know how little they are!

Energetic and determined

They’re loyal and energetic so are often popular with families, but their fearless and spirited nature can also be difficult to manage. They’re very entertaining and fun dogs to have around, with plenty of energy, but they’re stubborn and like to do their own thing.

Jack Russells are a “talkative” breed. As a result, excessive barking is a common complaint. You can manage this through proper training and socialisation, as well as plenty of exercise and stimulation. Without this though, they can become quite hyped up and will bark easily.

Need for socialisation

The breed can usually be socialised to get along with your cat or other dog, but do need to be taught properly. They have a high prey drive so naturally want to chase rabbits, cats, and other prey, though they tend to do ok around horses, for instance.

They can live with other dogs but aren’t naturally easy-going and laid back, so need to be well socialised to avoid aggression. Their feisty temperament can, of course, cause issues when they decide to take on a bigger dog than themselves.

Loyal and loving

The Jack Russell Terrier is incredibly loving and devoted. They adore their human family, but are assertive and may not be suitable for homes with young children. Once you’ve reached your way into their hearts though, your Jackie will be a loyal companion to you for many years.

They’re also quite alert and can make good watchdogs. Plus, if you have any rodent issues those hunting instincts will serve you well to keep rats and mice away from your garden. They enjoy having a job to do and are at their best when they have a constructive outlet for their considerable energy levels.

wirehaired JRT close up brown and white dog against dark background - dog has one brown patch over his left eye

Background to the breed

Jack Russell Terriers are perhaps one of the most popular breeds in the world. Despite that though, there’s still quite a lot of confusion about what exactly a JRT is.

The American Kennel Club doesn’t recognise these dogs. Dogs New Zealand does, but they consider the Parson Jack Russell Terrier and the JRT to be the same dog. In fact, kennel clubs around the world have slightly different definitions of Jackies. This is largely due to the history of how they came about.

A hunter by trade

Around 200 years ago, hunting was a particularly big sport in the United Kingdom. Reverend John Russell, known as “Jack” to his friends, was responsible for breeding the JRTs we know today. He wanted the ideal hunting companion, and bred a dog who was quick, energetic, intelligent, fearless, and had a very high natural desire to hunt.

So what’s the deal with Parson Russell Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers?

Essentially, the breed has been renamed a few times – although there are some small differences. The Jack Russell Terrier was the first hunting dog that Reverend Russell bred. After he died, JRTs evolved into the Parson Russell Terrier. These dogs are taller than Jack Russells, with longer legs and squarer, shorter bodies. Think of them as very similar siblings but not completely identical twins!

Ideal home for a Jack Russell

The ideal home for a Jack Russell (in a perfect world) would be one where someone is home all day, because the breed is fairly prone to separation anxiety in pets. Because of their tendency to snap and their high prey drive, they’re best suited to homes without small children, as well as other pets like birds or cats.

Though they’re able to get alone with other dogs, their ideal family would spend plenty of time socialising their Jack Russell through a quality puppy school, doggy daycare and/or plenty of walks and supervised playdates.

Jack Russells are active dogs despite their small stature. They love nothing more than a good walk or a run in a safe area.

They make great companions for people who love daily exercise, or who have access to a fenced area where they can burn off excess energy. Without proper exercise, you might end up with an overweight or obese dog, which can lead to problems like diabetes and heart issues. And it can make their orthopaedic issues worse too.

JRTs, like many other Terriers, are known to bark. This can be out of boredom and frustration, and they will also bark recreationally at birds, dogs, passers-by, and more. So, they’re typically not one of the best pets for apartments or share houses, for instance.  

dog ear cropping shown on a Jack Russell Terrier

Cover your Jack Russell with dog insurance

Dog insurance gives you and your Jack Russell Terrier a big health safety net, enabling you to get them medical attention if they get into a scrap with another dog or go chasing after a lizard and end up eating something poisonous. And if possible, you should take it out early so you don’t have any problems with pre-existing conditions and pet insurance coverage.

Plus, PD Insurance will give you one (or more) months free when you take out a policy. Why not get a quote? It might be cheaper than you think!

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