Jack Russell Terrier Traits and Temperament

Updated August 16, 2021
Jack Russell Terrier Puppy

The Jack Russell Terrier is a one-of-a-kind breed that is full of life, curiosity, and enthusiasm. They have a lot of personality crammed into a small package, and they're not for the inexperienced dog owner. These dogs are highly entertaining, loving, and adventure-ready for the appropriate family.

Jack Russell Terrier Origins

Jack russel terrier characteristics

Jack Russell Terriers, Parson Russell Terriers, and Russell Terriers all have a common ancestor: fox-working dogs from Rev. John Russell's kennels, developed in the mid-nineteenth century. The Parson Russell Terrier and Russell Terrier are variants of the Jack Russell Terrier, established as separate breeds by the American Kennel Club (AKC), according to the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA).

The JRTCA successfully petitioned the AKC to not recognize the Jack Russell Terrier as a breed because it did not want the Jack Russell to lose its working characteristics, out of fear breeders would focus on developing dogs to a show or breed standard, and not performance in the field. Jack Russells were bred specifically to follow red foxes to ground. They were trained to run with hound dogs and be equal in stamina, but kept small enough to get into tight areas to hunt red foxes and bolt them from their dens. The United Kennel Club recognized the Jack Russell as a breed in 2016.


Jack Russell Terriers have a deliberately broad breed standard, and can range in height from 10 to 15 inches at the shoulder. Members of the breed display a wide range of appearances, as their working characteristics are prioritized over conformation to a show standard.

Coat Variations

Fast running Jack Russel Terrier

There are three different short coat types among the Jack Russell Terrier; smooth, rough, and broken. All variations are double coats. Jack Russells don't need much grooming other than a weekly brushing and a bath if they've been digging in the dirt or involved in other messy hijinks. They are moderate to high shedding dogs and the amount of shedding can fluctuate with the seasons. Their coat colors are solid white or white with tan, brown, or black. White should predominate, making up at least 51 percent of overall coloration.


The Jack Russell Terrier exemplifies the terrier temperament, displaying a confident and happy disposition. They should be fearlessness but not overly aggressive, and have a lively, active, and alert disposition. Remember that the Jack Russell was specifically bred for earthwork, and digging is in its DNA.

Jack Russells are high-energy, intelligent working dogs that have a high prey drive and can easily get bored if you don't keep up with their physical and mental needs. They have a real penchant for digging and barking, and they make excellent hunters of rodents, squirrels, and all things small and fluffy. Thisa can unfortunately extend to small pets and cats, and they can be difficult with other dogs, too. Though they can be funny, engaging, and friendly companions, they're not a great choice for small children or busy families.

Exercise Needs

Jack Russell Terrier playing with ball on the backyard in the light of a morning sunrise

A Jack Russell Terrier needs a lot of daily exercise to be happy and to eliminate potential behavior problems. Good, long walks are important and playing games in the yard such as retrieving are good exercise choices. In addition to physical exercise, it's important to provide them with a lot of mental stimulation and training. Interactive "brain game" toys, such as foraging food puzzles, can help keep them occupied. They can be cuddly and affectionate lap dogs, but don't count on that if they haven't had their daily exercise. These are also not good dogs to place in the yard alone to play, as they need socialization, and can be fiercely intelligent escape artists who have no qualms digging under -- or jumping over -- your fence to go exploring.


Beautiful young woman playing with her dog at home

Like all terriers, the Jack Russell is highly intelligent and can be difficult to train if you're not used to working with a smart dog that has an independent nature. They can also be easily distracted due to their prey drive, so it's best to start training with them as young as possible in a low-distraction environment. Jack Russells enjoy training and are excellent at learning tricks and dog sports such as agility, rally, Go-to-Ground and Super Earth competitions through the JRTCA, and scent work. The more you give them to do, the happier they'll be. They also excel at two sports geared toward their breed type called Barn Hunt and Earth Dog, which work their innate instincts.

Health Concerns

Jack Russell Terriers have an approximate lifespan of 18 years. They tend to be hardy little dogs, but there are some medical concerns about the breed:

  • Deafness, which may be present at birth.
  • Eye disorders, including progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma, and cataracts.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which is a joint disorder in the hips.
  • Luxating patella, which is a condition affecting the kneecaps.

Caring for Puppies

Jack Russell Terrier dog

Caring for a Jack Russell puppy isn't much different from other breeds. It is important to emphasize early socialization and training. Do not delay enrolling your puppy in a socialization class as well as a basic obedience class. You do not want your puppy to grow into a feisty adolescent without a good set of basic manners.

Difference Between the Jack Russell, Russell, and Parson Russell Terrier

Many dog owners are familiar with the Jack Russell Terrier, but may not be aware it is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, the largest breed registry organization in the United States. The AKC recognizes two very similar dogs known as the Parson Russell and the Russell Terrier, also known as the English Jack Russell Terrier and Irish Jack Russell Terrier. Some Jack Russells are even called Parson Russells. Thes AKC-recognized breeds are variations of the original type, the Jack Russell.

  • The main differences between the Jack Russell and other Russell breeds is that the Jack Russell is maintained primarily as a working dog, where its variants are often bred for conformation shows.
  • The Parson Russell standard developed dogs with larger heads, longer square-shaped bodies, wider chests, and a narrower range of acceptable sizes.
  • The Russell Terrier tends to be smaller than both the Jack Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier, and is also longer in body frame and legs than a Jack Russell Terrier.

Where Can You Get a Jack Russell Terrier?

Girl with her dad holding a Jack Russel Terrier puppy

If you decide to get a Jack Russell Puppy from a breeder, the average cost is about $1,500 but prices can range from $800 to $2,500. Breeder listings can be found on the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.

Rescue Organizations

If you want to rescue a Jack Russell Terrier, the JRTCA has a helpful directory of rescue groups on its website. Jack Russells are also very popular dogs, so you have a good chance of finding one at an all-breed rescue or shelter using Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet. You should search for Parsons Russell Terriers, as an all-breed group may mistakenly list Jack Russells by the other breed's name.

Is this the Right Dog For You?

Jack Russell Terriers are wonderful little dogs with a lot of heart, energy, and intelligence, but they're not the ideal choice for owners who don't want to put in the effort to train and exercise them. If their daily needs are satisfied, they can make good apartment dogs, although they do significantly better where they have room to roam. If you're thinking about getting a Jack Russell but aren't sure, the JRTCA offers an online personality profile that will help you decide if this is the right breed for you. They're definitely a breed that you should do your research on before bringing them home, as their drive and energy can be overwhelming.

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Jack Russell Terrier Traits and Temperament