Parson Russell Terrier History
A special breed of Terrier bred in the south of England for the sport of fox hunting during the mid 1800's has a pure bred bloodline that nearly runs parallel with the royal masters it once served in the hunt. The Parson Russell Terrier was known for its energy and endurance as it kept stride with horse and hound while pursuing the European red fox across Devon's wooded countryside. While the hounds could sniff out their quarry from deep within its den or drive them underground, the Parson Russell Terrier could follow after and chase the fox out of the hole so the pursuit could continue.
The behavioral traits that are characteristic of the breed, namely: character, intelligence, attitude, and the ability to adapt to its environment make the Parson Russell Terrier perfectly suited for the sport it was bred for, foxhunting. Being of a unique build that is balanced, yet flexible, the Parson Russell Terrier has straight legs that are ideal for the run and a narrow chest that's perfect for fitting in the most confined of spaces.
Measuring at 12 and 14 inches in height with a rough coat full of dense, straight hair; he appears smooth in appearance from a distance. This ideal height with his longer pair of legs enables him to follow the fox and hounds with relative ease. The Parson Russell Terrier is bold in the pursuit but cautious so as not to bring unnecessary harm to his body. He has a mild temperament but as an independent and intelligent breed of terrier, he is accustomed to working alone, relying on instinct to guide his movements. As such, there are many tales told throughout English households and taverns that betel of the Parson Russell Terrier finding the fox even before the hounds could.
Named after the most famous of British hunts men, Reverend John Russell, 1795-1983, otherwise known as the Sporting Parson, the Parson Russell Terrier is a worthy testament to the hunting legacy he left behind. Reverend John Russell's passion for fox hunting and working with bloodhounds and terriers is notable and the stuff of legend. To bear witness of his love for the hunt, Reverend Russell and his confidants carefully bred uniform terriers that measured 14 inches in height and weighed in at 14 to 17 pounds. Additionally, it was known that Reverend Russell's own terriers were distinctive from the others, being white or predominantly white with tan or black and tan markings, which were located at head or rear.
As a founding member of England's Kennel Club in 1873, Reverend Russell had a keen eye for knowing what to look for in a trophy fox terrier, which served him well as a judge for The Kennel Club. During his time, Reverend Russell was named the Father of the Wirehaired Fox Terrier, which at the time, the wirehaired coat was thought to be a passing fad. The bloodlines for Reverend Russell's terriers are found in the most respected pedigrees of early smooth fox terriers. Yet, as a breeder of broken coats, he often bred to smooth-coated fox terriers to help improve the quality of their coats. In addition, the bloodlines of Rev. Russell are also found on both sides of L'il Foiler, the wire coated bitch and dam of the well known wire champion Carlisle Tack, who is said to be indistinguishable from the type of terrier bred by Rev Russell.
Just as it was then, fox hunting today in the southern part of Great Britain is comprised primarily of stylish, mounted hunts and riding over the fields of the countryside with class. Whenever terriers worked these hunts, they were required to be of baying terriers to help signal the hunters of the fox's whereabouts and to spook the fox. Yet, Parson Russell insisted that his terriers be steady from riot, for they respected the sport and the hunt ended if the fox did not bolt.
In the south, if a terrier attempted to kill a fox underground, it was suspected of being a hard Russell who carried the undesirable bull terrier blood thus, the brindle disqualification in the pedigree standard. This hard trait though served the terriers of the northwest country well since fox hunts near the Scottish border are not mounted but man and dog follow the fox on foot over rocky, harsh terrain. These northern terriers are expected to be of hard stock since they may be required to latch on to their quarry and drag it from ground and over the terrain. In the North Country, the hard Russell type terriers were negatively branded as carrying Lakeland or fell terrier blood, which accounts for the faulting in the pedigree standard of a curly coated terrier.
Just as they were originally bred to do, the Parson Russell Terrier should remain, a baying terrier whose strength and skill is to bolt and chase but not to kill his quarry. These noble characteristic traits are what reflect a correct attitude and are a credit to the breed's history today in both the show ring and in the home.
Upon Reverend Russell's death, this standard, however; became misused over time and the name Jack Russell Terrier was used to describe all mixes and variations of working and hunting terriers, many of which bore little or no resemblance to Reverend Russell's original bloodline. There were some factors contributing to this. In southern England, the mounted style of hunting with horse and hound had been hindered by agricultural expansion. In addition, the sport became too costly for the average citizen. Those who lacked in sufficient land or resources chose rather to fox and badger digging for terrier sport rather than the chase-style hunt.
In the digging style of hunt, terriers were carried to known locations where their quarry was in hiding, and then they were released down through the hole to attack whatever they could find. In this regard, there were no horses, riders or hounds required. These terriers were less intelligent than Reverend Russell's original bloodline but what they lacked in intelligence they made up for in aggressiveness. This breed needed not the length of leg, stamina or instinct of the early Parson Russell Terrier. Due to the mixing and liberal breeding practices that occurred over time, the public came to know a Jack Russell, only as a game working terrier, regardless of its shape, color or size.
Unfortunately, it was the kind of terrier that was without the characteristics that once qualified as the standard in a Parson Russell Terrier. This terrier incorrectly bore the name of Jack Russell terrier and was the breed that was imported to America. Thus, it was the long backed, short legged and prick eared mix that was stricken with Achondroplasia and of an uncertain temperament that began bearing the name of Jack Russell Terrier. Reverend Russell and his associates would never have recognized these terriers as the original Parson Russell or the Fox Terrier from which they gained notoriety and respect, for indeed, this new version of the breed was far from the original.
To this end, the first Standard for the breed was drafted in 1904 by Arthur Heinemann, who founded the Parson Jack Russell Terrier club in 1914. According to the standard guidelines, it called for a 14 inch terrier and as a prerequisite; it must accurately reflect the original Parson-type terrier. In keeping the purity of the bloodline and the integrity of the standard intact, this original Parson Russell type terrier was kept alive by sportsmen in southern England and meticulously recorded through the years by well-known dog enthusiasts.
There were some slight modifications to the standard that occurred over the course of time. In England in the early 1970's, a 10 to 15 inch height standard was implemented to include the myriad of popular post-war breed variations of the original. This new height standard calls for a balanced terrier as does the 12 to 14 inch standard. However, from a breeder's perspective, the 10 to 15 inch standard is impossible to produce a 10 inch balanced terrier since they lack the bone, substance and stature that are conducive to satisfying the breed's function and character.
For this cause, the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America, JRTAA, was founded in 1985, which was originally the Jack Russell Breeders Association, JRTBA, and its primary purpose was to help restore the breed to the standard of the original Parson Jack Russell Terrier bloodline. Based upon the Heinemann standard, the JRTAA standard was written to represent the Parson Russell Terrier as a working terrier to the European red fox and that, alone. With special emphasis on the height requirements of 12 to 14inch standard height range, the JRTAA breed standard called for a terrier that could perform the dual functions of the original Parson Russell Terriers, which was to both follow the fox above and below the ground and to bay its quarry rather than attack or kill it.
Finally, in January of 1990, the breed was officially recognized using the 14 inch standard throughout England by The Kennel Club as the Parson Jack Russell terrier, otherwise known as a working, baying variation of the fox terrier. It was The Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain (PJRTC), who felt the breed was seriously endangered by the breeding practices of those who pushed the 10 to 15 inch standard and decided to make a case for the old standard. Comprised of working terrier breeders who valued the original standard established by Reverend Russell, they took the breed to Kennel Club recognition in order to protect the original standard set up by him.
Then in July of 1997 and by unanimous decision, the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club accepted the Jack Russell Terrier into its official registry, effective on November 1, 1997. Shortly thereafter on January 1, 1998 the breed became eligible to compete in all AKC events, which included conformation competitions in the Miscellaneous Class as all-breed shows. The breed was then accepted into the AKC Terrier Group on April 1, 2000 and recognized as the standard breed.
Exactly three years later on April 1 of 2003, the name of the breed was changed from Jack Russell Terrier to Parson Russell Terrier to distinguish it as the true Parson type terrier and differentiate it from the little generic terriers casually referred to as Jack Russell terriers. Following suit, the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America club name was changed to that of the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America, PRTAA. With all the fundamental groundwork in place, the Breed Standard was revised effective on September 29, 2004 and the original fox terrier that could proudly bear the name of Parson Russell Terrier was back in its prime again.
Parson Russell Terriers of Today