Jack Russell Terriers

No matter how enamored you were of Eddie on Fraser or PBS' Wishbone, the fact is this: The Jack Russell Terrier (or the Parson Russell, as he's known in AKC circles) is almost certainly not the breed for you. That's not because Jack Russells are bad dogs. He was created for active work, and it's what he loves and what he is driven to do. If you have a job in mind for him that will push his limits and engage his full and enthusiastic attention, then you may be that rare person who is right for one of these dogs.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

If you're wondering why your Jack Russell isn't as well-behaved as Eddie or Wishbone, it's because the dogs that portray those characters have full-time trainers on staff to keep them in line. More to the point, those dogs had full-time jobs, which is what the JRT wants and needs. His endless desire to be digging, barking and investigating can't and shouldn't be squelched. It should be celebrated by someone who loves the very traits that drive many JRT owners insane.

Those traits include a tremendous drive to dig -- something bred deep in the bone of the Jack Russell. It is the legacy of his legitimate work eradicating vermin on the farms where he originated. He'll excavate your garden and your living room with just as much determination as digging for a critter. A Jack Russell Terrier who digs doesn't have a behavior problem; he's the epitome of the breed.

A dedicated owner can channel that enthusiasm into hunting, but if your interests lie elsewhere, the Jack Russell excels at all kinds of organized and informal canine activities. He loves to hike, and can be an excellent agility dog, too.

A Jack Russell will need firm, fair and consistent training from a young age so he'll understand the boundaries necessary for living with humans. As long as he's getting plenty of exercise and stimulation for his quick mind, he's perfectly capable of differentiating between the great outdoors and the family room sofa -- as long as you take the time to teach him.

The Jack Russell comes in a smooth coat (like Wishbone) and a scruffy or "broken" coat (like Eddie). Both require a minimum of grooming -- just a quick brush a couple of times a week to keep shedding under control. Other than that, just keep his ears clean and his nails trimmed. He's definitely meant to be a no-fuss dog.

A word about the name of the breed: When the American Kennel Club decided to recognize the Jack Russell Terrier, it wasn't well-received by most of the JRT people in the United States. They already had their own registry, the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, with very strict standards, and didn't see any good that could come out of AKC recognition.

A group of fanciers felt differently, and they formed the Parson Russell Terrier Association of the United States, the AKC parent club for the breed.

The Jack Russell/Parson Russell isn't the only breed with a civil war among its fanciers, but this particular split is among the most bitter. The JRTCA is the original and feistier of the two breed clubs. They didn't need or want AKC recognition of their dogs, and as far as they're concerned, this whole show dog thing is bad news.

Health Issues Common to Jack Russell Terriers

If you look at the list of diseases on the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America website, you'll decide this has to be one of the unhealthiest breeds around. Not so; it's just that most breed clubs aren't as relentlessly thorough about even the rarest health conditions that can affect their dogs.

The truth is that the Jack Russell Terrier is a pretty healthy dog, although he does have a few genetic health concerns. His fiercely protective enthusiasts are doing everything they can to keep those problems in check, and prevent new ones from developing. That's just one of the many reasons to exercise great care in selecting the breeder of your puppy.

All breeders should be able to show you written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearing your puppy's parents of eye, ear and knee (patellar luxation) problems.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Jack Russell Terriers. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Jack Russell Terrier before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Low/Medium $1,500-$3,000
Deafness Medium $100-$300
Ichthyosis Medium $200-$1,000
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Medium $1,000-$3,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Jack Russell Terrier Puppy

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America has a JRT profiler to help you decide if this is the right breed for you. They also have some tips on finding a good breeder, and a list of their member breeders, who have signed the club's code of ethics.The Parson Russell Terrier Association of America also maintains a puppy buyer's guide as well as a referral list of breeders who have agreed to abide by their guidelines.

More and more of these dogs are in the wrong home every year. Which is why more and more of them end up in rescue every year, too. It's very likely there's nothing at all wrong with the dog, but there was everything wrong with his previous home. Plus, many of the health problems in Jack Russell Terriers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Jack Russell Terrier can live to be 12 years old or more, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Jack Russell Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

If you've decided to buy a puppy, make sure you choose his breeder carefully. Because of their television stardom and deceptive cuteness, the Jack Russell Terrier is sometimes found being sold by puppy millers, Internet retailers and irresponsible breeders. They'll be very happy to cash your check or run your charge card, but not so happy to answer your questions about health testing in their dogs, and no safety net for when this turns out to be a huge mistake -- which it will.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Jack Russell Terriers

Pet insurance for Jack Russell Terriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Jack Russell Terriers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Jack Russell Terriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Jack Russell Terrier is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.