Difference Between Jack Russell & Parson Russell

Updated February 21, 2017

The Parson Russell terrier, first recognised in the middle of the 19th century, is a small, often pure white terrier that was originally bred for hunting and sport. It was mistakenly named the Jack Russell terrier when it arrived in the United States. Although Parson Russell terriers and Jack Russell terriers have similarities, they also display noticeable differences, both in appearance and temperament.

Characteristics of the Parson Russell Terrier

Parson Russell terriers were originally bred for hunting. As recognised by the original breeders, they stand between 12 and 14 inches tall. Their height and long legs allow them to easily pursue fox and other prey. Their fur is straight and thick and has a smooth appearance. Parson Russell Terriers are known for being brave but also tend to be very conservative. Though bred to take orders, Parson Russell terriers are also independent and able to operate alone using only cunning and instinct.

The Rev. John Russell

The Parson Russell terrier is named after a prominent and well-known British hunter, the Rev. John Russell, who died in 1883. Russell and his colleagues primarily developed white Parson Russell terriers. Some others bred by Russell were white with tan or black blotches on the tail or head. Russell helped develop England's Kennel Club in 1873 and began judging terriers a year later. By the time Russell died, he was widely known as "the father of the wirehaired fox terrier."

Jack Russell Terrier

The term "Jack Russell terrier" has only been used in the United States. Parson Russell terriers imported from England were inappropriately labelled as Jack Russell terriers, but, remarkably, the name stuck. Many of the terriers classified in this group hardly resembled Reverend Russell's terriers at all. Most of the terriers in the United States at the end of the 19th century hadn't been strictly bred. Often, they were long, short-legged, had small bones and were unpredictable, features in stark contrast to those of the Parson Russell terrier.

Parson Russell and Jack Russell terriers

In the United States, official, regulated standards for the Jack Russell terrier were established in 1904 and further enforced when Arthur Heinemann created the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club in 1914. The newly named Jack Russell terriers at this point were 14 inches tall and resembled, but didn't match, the same terriers raised by Reverend Russell. Despite all the controversy involving the name, the American Kennel Club unanimously allowed the Jack Russell terrier to enter its database on Nov. 1, 1997. This name covered terriers that both did and did not share the characteristics of Reverend Russell's terriers. Later, the name "Parson Russell terrier" was revived to give special recognition to terriers that met all the qualifications of terriers originally bred by the Rev. John Russell. Under this new standard, Jack Russell terriers were classified as terriers that resembled true Parson Russell terriers but did not meet all the qualifications.

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About the Author

Charles Alex Miller began writing professionally in 2010. He currently writes for various websites, specializing in the sciences. He is a full-time employee in the chemicals and environmental sciences industry.