Jack Russell Terrier: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Jack Russell Terrier running in a park

Brighton Dog Photography / Moment / Getty Images

The Jack Russell terrier is a small but solid and spunky breed. These dogs stand only about a foot tall but pack plenty of personality and adventure into their compact, muscular bodies. The JRT, as it’s sometimes referred to, is both an agile hunting dog and a fun-loving family companion. But don’t be fooled by the small size because these dogs have surprising stamina and willpower, so they can be a challenge for novice dog owners.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Terrier

HEIGHT: 10 to 15 inches

WEIGHT: 13 to 17 pounds

COAT: Short coat that can be smooth or rough

COAT COLOR: White with black, tan, or brown markings

LIFE SPAN: 13 to 18 years

TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, fearless, clownish, quirky, athletic, energetic


ORIGIN: England

Characteristics of the Jack Russell Terrier

While Jack Russell terriers often make great family pets, it’s important that they are taught proper obedience and that children are also taught proper boundaries. These dogs are playful and fun-loving, though, making them terrific companions for active families. However, their strong prey drive can be problematic in households with other small pets, including cats. It’s important to socialize your JRT early and often for a well-balanced pet.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell terrier originated in England in the mid-to-late 1800s in response to a need for a small but feisty fox hunting dog. While foxhounds had gained much popularity among England’s gentry for horse-and-hound hunting, a pastor named John Russell saw the need for a small terrier that could pursue the fox into the ground. As a result, he began a selective breeding program squarely aimed at developing a tenacious but tiny hunter.

There is little historical documentation of Russell’s breeding programs. It seems that the pastor was an avid huntsman who was looking to create a fox hunting companion without realizing that he was going to become the originator of an entirely new breed. The most likely conclusion is that JRTs owe their existence to selective breeding of white terriers (now extinct) and English foxhounds. The resulting dogs were initially referred to as simply fox terriers, the term used for any fox hunting dogs of the day.

The Jack Russell terrier gained in popularity quickly, with a name inspired by the breed's founding father himself. The small but agile dogs were bred with speed—they could keep up with horses on the chase. They also were built with trademark terrier tenacity. These dogs were successful in hunting foxes, raccoons, woodchucks, and other small game. They especially found a niche when used in conjunction with larger foxhounds. While the larger hunting dogs could pursue a fox until it retreated into its den, the smaller JRT could flush the fox from its hiding place and the chase could continue.

It also wasn’t uncommon to see hunters sling this pocket-sized hunting dog into their saddlebags for long distances. With so much to offer in a small package, it’s no surprise that Jack Russell’s terriers soon became a breed of their own. In time, the JRT was brought to the United States. While the exact history is unclear, it appears that the breed was known stateside by the 1930s.

A devoted and loyal community of JRT owners sprang up, and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America was formed in 1976. The organization was established to promote and protect the breed and continues to maintain the breed’s official registry. The JRTCA focuses on preserving the breed’s working heritage and is strongly positioned against AKC or any other kennel club registration.

However, not all enthusiasts of the breed have shared the JRTCA’s approach. Some JRT owners were in favor of AKC recognition. In 1997, the AKC recognized a new breed known as the Parson Russell terrier. Jack Russell terriers that met a specific set of criteria for the new breed standard became eligible for registration with the AKC. Another derivative of the JRT, the smaller Russell terrier, also gained AKC recognition in 2012. 

Jack Russell terrier purists stand by the JRCTA and their breed standard and registry. The club hosts competitions throughout the year to provide breed enthusiasts an opportunity to highlight their terrier’s strengths and earn recognition from the breed community. Trials include conformation, go-to-ground, trailing and locating, racing, agility, and obedience. 

Historical black and white picture of fox terrier
Carlisle Tack, an early fox terrier owned by John Russell in the late 1800's. Alephalpha / Wikipedia Commons / CC by SA

Jack Russell Terrier Care

If you’re thinking about adding a Jack Russell terrier to your family, be prepared to expend the energy necessary to keep this bouncy pup happy and well-balanced. Jack Russell terrier puppies are almost too cute for words, but these pups grow into active and athletic dogs that require a major commitment in terms of exercise, mental stimulation, and training.


No discussion of the care of a Jack Russell terrier would be complete without strong advice regarding exercise. These dogs may be small, but they have major exercise needs. Don’t confuse the JRT with your average lap dog. While they do make great family dogs that love human companionship, they were bred to hunt. A dog that is only 10 to 15 inches tall but was bred to run with horses will give you an idea of what type of activity outlet these canines crave.

Plan to give your JRT about 90 minutes of vigorous exercise daily depending on age, which should include several substantial walks a day. Runners looking for a jogging companion will be surprised to find that the tiny Jack Russell terrier makes a capable partner. In addition, it’s almost imperative that you have a yard to let your little terrier run and stretch its legs. The JRT also has an impressive vertical—this breed can jump up to 5 feet high. So be sure that any enclosure is of sufficient height to prevent escape. Also keep in mind that these dogs have a reputation for being notorious diggers, so make sure that you don't allow digging escapades to turn into a terrier great escape.

The Jack Russell terrier excels at agility work and go-to-ground trials. The latter are timed trials that test the speed and agility of this working breed as it completes a tunnel course.


Grooming is fairly simple with a Jack Russell terrier. The short coat is easily combed to remove loose hair and an occasional bath will keep dirt and dander under control. The coat of a Jack Russel terrier can be smooth or rough, which is wiry in appearance. A third coat is referred to as broken and is a combination of smooth and rough patches of fur. Like all dogs, give regular attention to nail trimming and ear cleaning to keep this dog happy and healthy. 


The Jack Russell terrier is extremely smart which makes it easy to train. They quickly learn tricks but can also be quite naughty. It’s imperative that you instill proper pack order in the mind of your dog from an early age and set clear boundaries within the house. Obedience work can also be a great challenge for the mind and heart of the JRT. However, a heavy hand and overbearing manner won’t bring out the best in this friendly dog. Instead, use short, frequent training sessions to engage the active mind of your JRT and positive reinforcement to train your dog to work alongside you—not against you.

Jack Russell Terrier black and white puppy walking in grass
 Robert D. Barnes / Moment / Getty Images
Adult brown and white Jack Russell Terrier outside in yard
TERADAT SANTIVIVUT / Moment / Getty Images
Black and white Jack Russell Terrier lying on green chair
 Chris Amaral / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Jack Russell terrier is a hearty, healthy breed. They aren't plagued by abundant health problems and often live a long life—up to 18 years or more. However, there are a few health conditions to remain aware of. The majority of health conditions that the JRT is known for developing center around eye problems or joint, mobility, and ataxia issues.

  • Patellar Luxation: Knee caps that slip out of place
  • Deafness: Potentially prone to congenital deafness
  • Cataracts: Opacity of the eye lens
  • Glaucoma: Causes pressure inside a dog's eye
  • Primary Lens Luxation: The eye lens detaches completely, leads to loss of vision
  • Progressive Renal Atrophy: Rods and cones in the eyes are either undeveloped or deteriorated leading to blindness
  • Cerebellar Ataxia: Uncoordinated and abnormal movement caused by a central nervous system issue
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: Congenital orthopedic disorder that causes degeneration of the hip joint

It’s recommended that you look for a breeder who can provide CERF clearances for a dog’s eyes and OFA clearance for the dog’s knees. Of course, it’s always best to understand a dog’s genetic background and inquire about the health of the puppy’s parents. If possible, meet one or both parents of the litter. 

Diet and Nutrition

Jacks are active dogs that need a quality diet to fuel their latest and greatest adventures. Like all dogs, they’ll benefit from a well-balanced and properly proportioned meal regimen. They can be persistent beggars, and don’t forget about their incredible ability to jump and swipe a snack from counters, tables, and more. It’s important that you keep a close eye on your JRT’s weight since an overweight dog is at risk for numerous health problems. 

Where to Adopt or Buy a Jack Russell Terrier

Think you have the energy it takes to make a JRT part of your life? If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a spirited and smart companion for years to come. The Jack Russell terrier is much-loved for its personality and impressive abilities.

If you’re considering adding a JRT to your family, consider opening your home to a rescue. Many of these sweet but tireless dogs find their way into rescues because of misinformed or under-educated dog owners.

If you decide to pick a puppy from a breeder, be sure that you find a reputable breeder with high standards for the health and well-being of their canines. The JRTCA is one source that can help you to identify committed and quality breeders. If you choose to buy a JRT from a breeder, expect to pay between $800 to $1,500 for a puppy or adult, but some breeders may charge up to $2,500 for a show-quality dog. A benefit of buying a dog from a breeder is that your JRT dog could potentially be better socialized than a rescue.

Begin your search for a Jack Russell terrier by contacting the following organizations:

Jack Russell Terrier Overview

  • Very intelligent

  • High stamina

  • Relatively healthy with a long lifespan

  • Strong prey drive

  • Prone to excessive barking

  • Requires vigorous daily exercise

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you're interested in the possibility of bringing a Jack Russell terrier into your life, you might also be interested in these similar breeds which you can check into:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • What is the difference between the Jack Russell and the Parson Russell terrier?

    There is some confusion on the difference between the Jack Russell terrier and the Parson Russell terrier. The two breeds share similar origins but have diverged in recent years—primarily due to disputes over AKC recognition and breeding standards. Jack Russell terriers are registered by the JRTCA (Jack Russell Terrier Club of America) and only need to conform to a working breed standard. As far as physical differences, the Parson typically has longer legs and a squarer body than the Jack Russell's shorter and more rectangular frame.

  • Are Jack Russell terriers aggressive?

    When they are not running, digging, and jumping, Jack Russell terriers may become aggressive, but mostly just to other animals. They can be dog-aggressive, especially with another JRT of the same sex. Otherwise, the JRT might be mostly boisterous with people.

  • Will a Jack Russell terrier be a good dog for kids?

    Though it is not typically aggressive with people, the JRT is known to be a bit too rambunctious and snappish with smaller, younger children. Remember, this dog also likes to jump at a height or higher than that of toddlers, which may frighten a younger child. With all of this said, this breed is a wonderful playmate for older, active children who tend to be more patient with dogs.