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Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
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“Born to dig” is this dog’s rallying cry. He’s super-active, super-smart and, in the wrong hands, super-destructive. The Jack Russell (Parson Russell if you live on the AKC side of the fence) does best when he is kept busy hunting rats on a farm, going riding with his owner, or competing in terrier races and earthdog tests.
The name Parson Russell Terrier is used by the American Kennel Club and Britain’s Kennel Club to avoid confusion with terriers that use the name Jack Russell Terrier, which is trademarked by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. The Parson Russell and the Jack Russell are essentially the same breed, with minor differences in size in their breed standards.
No matter how enamored you were of Eddie on Frasier or Wishbone from the PBS show of the same name, 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. They were created for active work, and it's what they love and what they are 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.
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 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 when he’s 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, and of course he excels at terrier races and earthdog tests. 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.
When Oxford divinity student Jack Russell (1795-1883) met a terrier named Trump and fell in love with him, a breed was born. Using Trump, the fox-hunting-mad Russell developed a distinctive strain of Fox Terrier that was known for its passion for following the fox. The dogs stood out for their compact, flexible chest and length body for going down holes after foxes, long legs for following the hounds, white color with just a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear, a dot of color at the root of the tail, and a coat that was protective in all kinds of weather and conditions. The breeds in their background were probably the Old White English Terrier, now extinct, and a black and tan terrier similar to the early Manchester. The dogs took the name of their founder, and therein wags a tale.
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.
Another group of fanciers felt differently, and they formed the Parson Russell Terrier Association of the United States, the AKC parent club for the breed. They couldn’t use the name Jack Russell because it had been trademarked by the JRTCA. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1997, and the name was changed to Parson Russell Terrier in 2003.
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. The JRTCA dogs come in a variety of sizes and looks because they are bred solely for working ability, while the PRTAA dogs have a more standardized appearance because they are more often seen in the show ring.
The dogs themselves don’t seem to care. They have plenty of fervent adherents on both sides of the fence. The Parson Russell Terriers are ranked 92nd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Living with a JRT/PRT is an exercise in patience, but the people who love him wouldn’t have it any other way. This is a friendly, outgoing dog who is playful and affectionate. When he’s not hunting, that is. He loves to work, and for him work means seeking out quarry ranging from mice and moles to the traditional fox. When he’s hunting, that’s the only thing he has on his mind. Next to the word tenacious in the dictionary, you will find a picture of a JRT/PRT. That can make him difficult to live with unless you are able to channel his energy, intelligence and single-mindedness into a dog sport such as earthdog trials, terrier races or agility. He must have a job to do, and careful supervision, or he will take your house apart in his search for something interesting to do. Daily exercise—a lot of it—is essential.
The JRT/PRT can be a good companion for an older child who can match his intelligence and activity level, but toddlers are not this breed’s cup of tea. They are not patient with having their ears or tail pulled and won’t hesitate to growl or nip if driven past their limit of tolerance.
Cats and other small pets should beware. The JRT/PRT will view them as prey. He might get along with an indoor cat if they are brought up together, but it’s not something you should count on. Always remember that this dog is a relentless hunter. With other dogs, the JRT/PRT should get along reasonably well. He has been bred to hunt with hounds, after all, so must be willing to work with other dogs. His breed standard says he should not be quarrelsome nor overtly aggressive toward another dog.
Confine him to a securely fenced yard or the JRT/PRT’s strong hunting instinct will take him far away from home and very likely into the path of a car. An underground electronic fence is not suitable for this breed. His desire to hunt may overcome the dislike (the JRT/PRT can seem fearless) of a shock.
The JRT/PRT is an independent thinker, and he likes to do things his own way. Keep this in mind when training him. He’ll respond readily to praise and rewards for things you like and become stubborn if you are harsh with him. Training sessions should be short and fun without a lot of boring repetition.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, so you can start building a strong working relationship, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a JRT/PRT, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
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 some 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.
Documented conditions include eye problems like glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts; congenital deafness; and patellar luxation. 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 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. Even better, look for a breeder who gets CHIC certifications for his breeding dogs.
The Parson Russell Terrier Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Russells can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit patella (knee) and hearing evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Don't fall for a bad breeder's sales pitch. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Russell at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
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. He's definitely meant to be a no-fuss dog.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Begin grooming your JRT/PRT at an early age so that he learns to accept it willingly.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the JRT/PRT and start your search for a good breeder at the websites of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America and the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the JRTCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a JRT/PRT puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult JRT/PRT might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a JRT/PRT in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the JRT/PRTs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a JRT/PRT. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love JRTs/PRTs love all JRTs/PRTs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The JRT/PRT Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other JRT/PRT rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a JRT/PRT home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your JRT/PRT, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your JRT/PRT to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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