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What is a Russell Terrier?

The Russell Terrier is a big dog wrapped in a small package. In the terrier’s mind, anything can be accomplished. This drive causes them to be avid hunters and capable athletic partners. The terrier is one of the top breeds to compete in agility trials and competitive hunts. One must not be fooled by their energy, however. Russell Terriers are highly versatile, adaptable, and loyal. They are equally happy snuggling up to their owner on the couch as they are pursuing their prey. This makes them a great companion choice for both the old and the young. Many do well in families with children, and others are happy as the sole companion for an older adult.


The great determination of the Russell Terrier can offer the owner a bit of a challenge at times. The owner must be smarter than their dog! However, Russells have an eager desire to please. They learn obedience and tricks rapidly. The breed also does well as trained therapy dogs, assisting those with medical needs and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Some are used in children's reading programs-- their presence encourages timid children to read.

The Russell Terrier is not a yappy dog, but they will announce the arrival of visitors. This clever dog is fun loving and very entertaining.  The personality of a Russell Terrier cannot help but put a smile on the face of those who are in its presence.  Many dog owners are of the opinion after owning a Russell Terrier that no other dog breed will do. The loyalty and tenderhearted companionship of the Russell Terrier are unsurpassed.


Russell Terriers are 10” to 12” tall at the withers and generally weigh between  11 and 14 lbs. They come in 3 coat types: smooth, broken, and rough.  Russell Terriers must be at least 51% white, with the markings ranging from the lightest tan to brown, black, or tri-colored.

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The modern day AKC Russell Terrier has its roots in 1800s England in the fox hunts and with the professional terriermen employed by those hunts. Although the Reverend John Russell is credited with developing his own strain of white-bodied fox working terriers, after his death, the many terriermen throughout the United Kingdom kept and bred the type of terrier that best suited their own needs for hunting their particular area of the countryside. Consequently, where a terrier was required to hunt over rougher land or run on foot over the terrain, a longer-legged terrier was essential. When the terriermen needed to cover a large expanse on horseback, a smaller dog that could be carried in a terrier bag was required.


The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Australia was formed in 1972. It was the first country that attempted to bring the Jack Russell into the organized kennel club system. They implemented a comprehensive registration system and wrote a formal breed standard, choosing to specify 10" to 12" in height as ideal. The breed standard they wrote described a dog with a rectangular outline, differentiating the Jack Russell Terrier (JRT) from the taller, squarer dogs that later became known as Parson Russell Terriers.


That JRT club in Australia also initiated discussions with their national kennel club in Australia regarding the breed being accepted for registration as a pure breed, which it was. Many countries in Europe, Asia, and South America then followed suit. It took longer for North America and England to add the breed to the kennel club. 


So, although the Jack Russell Terrier originated in England; it was Australia that is credited with 'development' of the 10-inch to 12-inch, moderately rectangular, purebred dog. It is not simply a bred-down or small version of the Parson Russell Terrier since the latter was not recognized or registered until the early 1990s.


When America and Canada finally recognized the Australian-developed JRT in the kennel club, it was renamed The Russell Terrier, but the Russell Terrier in North America and the Jack Russell Terrier developed in Australia are the same breed. Every Russell Terrier is a JRT, but not every JRT is a Russell Terrier. When the American Kennel Club recognized the JRT as a pure breed in the US, it was renamed the Russell Terrier. 

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Russell Terrier

Parson Russell Terrier

"Why does a Russell Terrier not look like the Jacks I grew up with?"

The Russell Terrier is a somewhat newly recognized breed for the American Kennel Club despite the Jack Russell Terrier’s (JRT) long-time familiarity to much of the public. Because this small terrier existed in many shapes and sizes for a couple of hundred years in England and since the 1950s in the USA long before it was considered a ‘pure-breed’, everyone seems to have a picture ingrained in their own mind as to what a JRT should look like. That picture is often based on what each remembers seeing as a child.  So, some think of a leggier, lighter-weight, nearly square terrier (A); others think of a short-legged, heavier boned and muscled, “puddin” style dog with a good amount of spotting (B); and then we have everything in-between. 

These disparate views of what constitutes a Jack Russell Terrier have carried through to modern day, and these various types of Jack Russells can be found in many of our current pedigrees of AKC Russell Terriers.  These various types in the ancestry of our current Russell Terriers commonly results in inconsistency within litters and between litters.  But we have an official breed standard (description of the breed) in the American Kennel Club, and ethical breeders make every attempt to breed toward the written standard to achieve a moderate, balanced dog (C).


Although the breed is referred to as a RUSSELL TERRIER in the USA and Canada, it is fully based on the Jack Russell Terrier breed standard first written in 1983 by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Australia and then approved in 1991 by the Australian National Kennel Council, and later by FCI (International Canine Federation) in 2003, and it is consistent with the Jack Russell Terrier now also recognized as a pure breed in its origin country of Great Britain. 





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Russell Terrier

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