Parson Russell Terrier – Cracking Jacks

Breed facts:Terrier Group

In association with the Kennel Club, Nick Mays takes a look at the Great British breed everyone knows as the Jack Russell – a fun, lively and a grand little all-rounder in work, rest and play.

Without a doubt, the Jack Russell-type terrier is one of the most instantly recognisable canine breeds – sort of ‘everyman’s dog’, forever associated with ratting and similar pursuits, a feisty little chap filled with courage and determination – the archetypal ‘big dog in a small package’. Hang on though – what’s the difference between the ‘ordinary’ Jack Russell and the Parson Jack Russell Terrier? Well, put simply, the Parson is slightly taller and comes from distinctly bred bloodlines, has a clear breed standard and description, so is recognised by the Kennel Club (KC) and is exhibited at shows.

Parson Russell Terrier
Parson Russell Terrier

It all began with the Reverend John (‘Jack’) Russell, originator of the breed [find out more about him on page 40]. Russell was always a keen country sportsman and, as such, very familiar with different breeds of dog, including terriers. A terrier Russell bought off a milkman became the foundation bitch in the line of what were, in time, to become known as Jack Russell – and later Parson Russell – Terriers (PRTs). Following Russell’s death in 1894, the Devon and Somerset Badger Club was formed by Russell’s friend, journalist and hunter Arthur Heinemann. The club later changed its name to the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club and was recognised by the KC.
The club fell by the wayside just before the Second World War, and post-war, the Jack Russell Terrier became a ‘type’, rather than a breed, often crossed with other breeds to produce the wide range of sizes and colours seen in modern times. For a while it looked as though the Parson Jack Russell Terrier would become extinct, but a small band of enthusiasts reformed the Parson Jack Russell Club in 1983 and submitted the old Parson standard to the Kennel Club for recognition. Eventually, after several rejections, the KC recognised the breed in January 1990.

The Parson is a brave, intelligent and energetic terrier with a great sense of joie de vivre. They are familyorientated dogs, but don’t tolerate a lot of pulling about, so may not be best for families with young children. Due to their hunting ancestry and instincts, they won’t always readily accept other small animals, especially rodents, although if trained from anearly age to respect other family pets they can live quite happily with them. The same applies to cats, so it is best if your Parson is raised with them. Lesley Roberts of the Northern Parson Russell Terrier Club says: “Parsons love to be involved with all family activities, and will want to accompany their owners everywhere. They don’t like being left on their own for long periods, which can lead to destructive behaviour such as chewing and digging.”

‘They need to be taught that the postman or the milkman is not a burglar!’

5 Parson Russell Terrier facts

The main health problem which the KC recognises is PLL (primary lens luxation) which affects the Parson Russell Terrier’s eyes. The Animal Health Trust (AHT) has recently discovered the gene responsible and Parson breeders are about to get the DNA test for this, which should eventually eradicate the problem. There have been cases of hereditary cataracts in the breed but this is not a recognised problem. The other health problem being seen now is late onset ataxia; a muscular co-ordination problem, which breeders are hoping the AHT will start to do some research on soon.

Height & weight
Dogs should ideally measure 36cm (14in at the withers; bitches 33cm (13 in). Both should weigh from 5-8kg (12-17lb).

There are three different types of coat: rough, which requires stripping by hand at least twice a year or to be rolled and kept tidy all the time for the show ring; broken, which is easily kept tidy with a brush but does require stripping; and smooth, which just requires a brush. Brokens and roughs don’t shed all the time, only when they need to be stripped. However, smooths do shed quite a lot so you have to keep up with the vacuuming!

Parson Russell Terriers have extremely healthy appetites and therefore need a well-balanced diet which gives them maximum energy and satisfaction. Reputable breeders are usually more than happy to advise prospective purchasers as to the best diet for their dogs, but mostly plain food suits their digestion. It is recommended that adult Parsons are fed two small meals a day.

Parson Russell Terriers are a long-lived breed, with the average lifespan being in the region of 11 to 15 years of age.

Exercise & training Needless to say, Parsons are very energetic, with their long legs – bred for speed to keep up with horses – so lots of exercise is necessary. They prefer to live in homes with gardens where they can run around, and don’t take well to confinement in apartments. Being intelligent and energetic, they like to keep their minds as well as their bodies occupied, so tend to be good at obedience, agility and fieldwork activities. They respond well to consistent training and clear commands, but can sometimes be prone to somewhat stubborn behaviour – especially if they pick up an interesting scent or catch sight of something to chase, so their owners must make it clear who is boss! However, they need to be occupied in their ‘downtime’ too. Lesley Roberts adds: “When at home they like to have lots of toys to keep them occupied – the chewier the better!”

KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Parson Russell Terrier? Here’s what to look out for:

A breed standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the KC website ( for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure. Breed standard updated October 2009.

Workmanlike, active and agile, without exaggeration. Built for stamina and endurance, overall picture of balance and flexibility. Honourable scars permissible.

Originally a terrier bred to work fox, a confident, energetic and happy dog that has the ability and conformation to go to ground.

Bold and friendly.

Head wedge shaped. Skull flat, moderately broad, gradually narrowing to the eyes. Cheeks not prominent. Stop shallow. From nose to stop slightly shorter than from stop to occiput. Nose black.

Dark, almond shaped, never prominent. Keen, intelligent expression. EARS Size in proportion with the head. V-shaped, dropping forward, tip of ear to be level with outer corner of eye. Fold not above top of skull. Leather of moderate thickness.

Jaws strong, muscular. Teeth of a good size and set square to the jaws, with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite [upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws].

Clean, muscular, of good length, gradually widening and well set into the shoulders.

Shoulders long and sloping, well laid back, cleanly cut at withers. Upper arm of equal length to the shoulder and at such an angle that the legs are carried well back under the body, below the point of the withers. Legs strong and straight turning neither in nor out, strong, flexible pasterns. Elbows close to body, working free of the sides. Moderate width between forelegs. Length of forelegs should be slightly greater than depth of body.

Overall length from point of shoulder to point of buttock slightly greater than height from withers to ground. Chest of moderate depth, not extending below point of elbow. Capable of being spanned behind the shoulders by average sized hands. Ribs carried well back, not over-sprung nor slab-sided. Back strong, straight and flexible. Loin strong and slightly arched. Well balanced. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

Strong, muscular, with welldeveloped second thigh. Good angulation and bend of stifle without exaggeration. Hocks set low and rear pasterns parallel, giving plenty of drive.


Compact with firm pads, toes moderately arched, never flat or open, turning neither in nor out.

Previously customarily docked. Docked: Length complementing the body. Strong, preferably straight, moderately high set, carried well up on the move, may be carried lower when relaxed. Undocked: Of moderate length, preferably straight, giving a general balance to the dog. Thick at the root and tapering towards the tip. Moderately high set, carried well up on the move, may be carried lower when relaxed.

Free-striding, ground covering gait, without exaggeration. Strides should be of good length, never stilted or high-stepping. Hindquarters providing plenty of drive. Well co-ordinated; straight action front and behind.

Whether rough, broken or smooth naturally harsh, flat, straight, close and dense with good undercoat. Weather resistant. Belly and undersides coated. Skin thick and loose. The prepared coat should appear natural, never clipped.

White or predominantly white with tan, lemon or black markings, or any combination of these colours. The colour preferably confined to the head and/or root of tail, but a little body colour is acceptable.

Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

Parson Russell rescue
Parson welfare is dedicated to caring for and finding good homes for unwanted dogs. If you think you could provide a loving home for a Parson who has fallen on hard times then please contact: Patricia Frost-Copping (welfare co-ordinator), tel. 01964 615178; email:
The Northern Parson Russell Terrier Club has a welfare page listing rescued dogs requiring homes at

Useful book For more information about Jack Russells, check out Jack Russell Terrier by breed expert Robert Killick. Published by Collins it costs £8.99 in paperback and is available from good bookshops. ISBN 9 7800 07274 307.

As far as other dogs are concerned, Parsons tend to be somewhat territorial, so care must be taken when introducing them to dogs they do not know. However, they can co-exist perfectly happy with other breeds of dog in the family unit if they are raised with them. Parsons are vocal dogs and tend to give voice to their excitement, especially when confronted by strange people and other dogs.
They need to be taught that the postman or the milkman is not a burglar! That said, they make good guard dogs, being both vocal and quite fearless, prepared to take on all intruders! Where to get a Parson puppy It is always best to contact the breed clubs to enquire whether any members have puppies in your area. If you go to a breeder recommended by a club, you can meet the puppies with their mother – which is always recommended – and ask advice on selecting the ideal puppy for you by experts within the breed. These breeders will also abide by their breed club’s code of ethics. It’s also useful to join a breed club even if you don’t want to show your Parson as you will maintain contact with other owners, and there will always be an experienced owner or breeder on hand to ask for help if you encounter any problems with your dog, such as feeding, training and general care.

Useful contacts
The Parson Russell Terrier Club, Mrs Ruth Hussey Wilford (secretary), tel. 01392 873805.
Northern Parson Russell Terrier Club, Mrs Lesley Roberts (secretary), tel. 01750 722960.

About the author
Nick Mays is a journalist specialising in animal media. He lives in Yorkshire with his family and four dogs. Nick is also the author of several books on animal care.