If you’ve never heard of a terrier who can jump 5-foot fences, spend hours tenaciously pursuing a rodent, and keep the whole family continually entertained with its antics, then you don’t know Jack. Actually, that description could apply to terriers in general. However, the Jack Russell Terrier is arguably the epitome of terrier-ness, possessing in spades all the traits that make terriers what they are.
Jacks were originally bred to hunt foxes in England in the late 1700s. But like other terriers who started as hunting dogs, they have more recently leveraged their intelligence, charm, and scruffy good looks to become beloved household pets. Unfortunately, a lot of people who choose to bring a Jack Russell into their home don’t understand what they’re getting themselves into. These little dogs are quite healthy as a breed, but due to their assertive personality, they can be very high maintenance in other ways.
Jacks are feisty, funny, affectionate, loyal, smart… and entirely too much for many people to handle. These active pups need lots of daily activity. If they don’t get a chance to burn off their excess energy in positive ways, they’ll find ways to do it in negative ways. In fact, even when regularly exercised and properly trained, these little scamps can be naughty at times – it’s part of their charm.
Health Problems & Life Expectancy
The life span of a Jack Russell is generally 13 to 16 years. Compared to other breeds, the Jack Russell doesn’t have a lot of inherent health problems. With its small, tank-like build, it’s also resistant to injuries – though these dogs can get hurt anyway due to their rambunctiousness. In particular, they’re known for confrontations with wildlife (skunks, snakes, and vermin) and may also get into trouble by taking on bigger dogs.
A lot of Jack owners report that their dogs shake, sometimes uncontrollably, and often in response to stimuli such thunderstorms or fireworks. This seems to be a product of the breed’s intense nature. That said, while it might be a common trait of the breed, it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet about it. Shaking in dogs can be a sign of severe stress, pain, or anxiety.
Variations and Mixes
The term “Jack Russell” is often applied to the long-legged Parson Russell Terrier and the short-legged Russell Terrier. However, technically speaking, the Jack Russell is a working dog that is not recognized by the AKC. Those other two breeds are variations of the Jack that have different physical traits and – according to some, at least – less hunting instinct.
Besides the two breeds recognized by the AKC, there are many other Jack Russell variations, including the Irish Jack Russell Terrier, the Australian Jack Russell, and the Miniature (or Toy) Jack Russell. They are also a popular component in hybrids, and are often mixed with Dachshunds, Beagles, Rat Terriers, Chihuahuas, and other small breeds.
Finally, Jack Russells are also differentiated by their coat type: smooth, rough, or broken (mixture of the first two).
Owning a Jack Russell Terrier
Jacks are a hoot-and-a-half, but as mentioned, you’ve got to keep them busy. Here are a few things to consider before getting a Jack:
Exercise. A short daily walk usually isn’t enough for these dogs. Jacks are best suited to people with active lifestyles who can include the dog in regular outdoor recreational activities. Agility training is another option to get these dogs some much-needed mental and physical stimulation.
Digging. Jack Russells love to dig. If you have a garden that’s precious to you, you might want to consider another breed.
If you still want a Jack Russell, choose a dog from a reputable breeder – not over the internet and definitely not through a puppy mill. Unfortunately, because a lot of people get Jack Russells without realizing how much attention they need, you can also find a lot of these dogs surrendered to shelters and rescue organizations. If you’re up to the challenge of owning a Jack Russell, consider adopting an adult dog that needs a home.