A-z - Animals

What are Jack Russell Terriers bred for? Original roles, jobs, history, and more

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key point

  • Dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans 20,000-40,000 years ago.
  • The Jack Russell Terrier was recognized as a breed in the 1850s.
  • The Jack Russell Terrier was originally bred to be a fox terrier.
  • Today, Jack Russell Terriers are companion dogs and show dogs.
jack russell terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier is a happy, energetic dog with a strong desire to work.

© iStock.com/K_Thalhofer

If you're in need of a furry friend with vivacious energy, the Jack Russell Terrier might be just the thing for you. Known for their friendliness and playfulness, these dogs are common residents in American homes. While they make great lap warmers these days, their primary role wasn't always as a companion animal. Jack Russell Terriers were originally bred to hunt foxes! This article will explore when and why Jack Russell Terriers were bred, and what jobs they've had since then.

dog domestication

Dogs were first domesticated 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Historians and archaeologists believe that dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans, well before the domestication of horses. In fact, dogs were the only animals that formed a family relationship with humans during the Pleistocene!

herding dog herding sheep
When dogs were first domesticated, one of their first jobs was herding livestock.

© iStock.com/Julia_Siomuha

Domestic dogs are descendants of the now-extinct wolf pack. The modern gray wolf is a close relative of the dog, and there are some similarities between them; however, they also share many different characteristics. Many traits unique to domestic dogs are the result of breeding and artificial selection. When humans breed dogs to select for certain traits, it can cause widespread population and species changes over many generations. For example, domestic dogs have special muscles in their faces that wolves do not. This is because humans find dogs that seem to show emotion cute. Genes encoding the muscles that allow dogs to move their eyebrows and smile were selected, and domestic dogs are now genetically distinct from wolves in this respect.

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describe

The Jack Russell Terrier is a small breed that typically weighs between 14 and 18 pounds and stands 10 to 15 inches tall at the shoulder. Their fur is white with usually black, brown or tan markings on the tail, face and ears. The three types of Jack Russell terriers vary in their coat type. There are smooth coat, rough coat and ragged coat Jack Russell Terriers. A "broken" coat indicates a mixture of smooth and rough fur. All coat types are double coats such as Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Siberian Huskies and many other breeds. This means they have a thick undercoat that tends to shed easily. The Jack Russell Terrier was first recognized as a distinct breed in the 1850s.

jack russell terrier hunting mynah bird
The Jack Russell Terrier's high energy and stamina make it an effective hunting dog.

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The Parson Russell Terrier is a closely related breed that shared a similar history with the Jack Russell Terrier until they diverged in 1980. Although there are some physical differences between these dogs, it is debatable whether they are two different breeds. The only major kennel clubs that recognize the Parson Russell Terrier as a different breed than the Jack Russell Terrier are the National Kennel Club of Australia, The Kennel Club of New Zealand and the United Kennel Club. However, in Australia there are only 18 Parsons registered with the Kennel Club compared to 1073 Jack Russells. Instead of recognizing them as two different breeds, the American Kennel Club updated the name of the Jack Russell Terrier to the Parson Russell Terrier in 2003.

original character

Jack Russell Terriers were bred to hunt foxes.

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In 1819, an Englishman named the Reverend John "Jack" Russell took charge of the breed and attempted to breed the Fox Terrier. Specifically, the priest wanted to breed a dog that would be perfect for chasing foxes out of their dens. Desirable characteristics of the Foxhound are high stamina for long pursuits, and courage in chasing and fighting foxes. Mild aggression is also an important quality that drives dogs to chase foxes. Additionally, their small size not only helps keep foxes out of their burrows, but also facilitates transport on horseback in "terrier bags". After Reverend developed a line of hounds with these characteristics, they quickly became popular among hunting enthusiasts.

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their role today

After World War II, the use of hounds decreased. During this time, the primary role of the Jack Russell Terrier changes to that of a companion animal. Today, they are common as show dogs in homes and on stage. They are very affectionate, friendly with children, and get along well with other dogs — all traits that make great family pets. They are also very energetic and need a lot of exercise. According to the American Kennel Club, the Jack Russell Terrier has been steadily increasing in popularity since 2015 and currently ranks 72nd out of 284 breeds.

Jack Russell Terrier with hands in the shape of a heart showing love.
Jack Russell Terriers are now popular companion animals.

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In dog shows, the Russell Terrier is relatively new. The breed made its debut in 2013 at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the terrier group. They are also competitors at the National Dog Show held by Purina and the American Kennel Club National Championships. The Jack Russell Terrier has yet to win Best in Show at a national dog show, but its closely related Fox Terrier has won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.

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about the author

jesse elop


Jesse Elop is passionate about wildlife and enjoys learning about animal biology and conservation. His favorite animals – besides his puppy Rosie – are zebras, mandrills and bonobos. Jesse's background in biology and anthropology has provided him with many interesting facts that may appear in some of his articles!

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