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Parson Russell Terrier

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Parson Russell Terrier is a small breed from the UK and is the show or recognized version of a Jack Russel Terrier. Its name comes from the person credited with its development, Reverend John (called Jack) Russell and was bred to be a fox hunter. It is narrower than the Jack Russell and does well in various doggy sporting events such as flyball and agility, tricks as well as hunting and tracking, and for the right owners makes a great companion.

The Parson Russell Terrier at A Glance
Name Parson Russell Terrier
Other names Parson Jack Russell, Parson Jack Russell Terrier, Sporting Parson
Nicknames Parson
Origin United Kingdom
Average size Small
Average weight 13 to 17 pounds
Average height 12 to 14 inches
Life span 13 to 15 years
Coat type Short, dense, rough, harsh
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black and Tan, white, brown
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 109th by the AKC
Intelligence Very intelligent – bright and quick
Tolerance to heat Good – can live in hot weather but not too hot or extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can live in colder weather just not extreme cold
Shedding Average to above average – will leave plenty of hair around
Drooling Low – not prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Above average – watch its food and exercise
Grooming/brushing Moderate – brush regularly
Barking Frequent – will need to train it to stop on command
Exercise needs Very active – an energetic dog but being small the needs can be met
Trainability Moderately easy – can have stubborn moments
Friendliness Excellent with socialization
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization
Good with strangers Good to very good with socialization
Good apartment dog Good due to size but its barking could be an issue
Handles alone time well Good – can handle some time alone
Health issues Fairly healthy breed – some issues include Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, deafness, patellar luxation and eye problems
Medical expenses $435 a year for pet insurance and basic health care
Food expenses $75 a year for a good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $195 a year for toys, license, miscellaneous items and basic training
Average annual expenses $705 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $600
Rescue organizations Several including Russell Rescue Inc, JRTCC National Russell Rescue and Parson Russell Terrier Association of America Rescue
Biting Statistics None reported

The Parson Russell Terrier’s Beginnings

Until the early 1980s this breed has the same history as the Jack Russel Terrier. John (Jack) Russell was born in 1795 and when he was 24 he was wandering the campus at Oxford University and came across a milkman with an unusual dog, a small female white and tan terrier. He bought it from the milkman and this dog became the foundation for his breeding efforts. By the mid 19th century his dogs were recognized as being a type of Fox Terrier but had a wider skull and shorter legs. </p >

Russell bred his dogs to be able to keep up with fox hounds, to have a chest narrow enough to let it get into fox dens and be strong enough to hold a fox. They needed fiery, brave and tenacious temperaments but needed also to be focused. It was not bred to have a killer instinct as its job was to get the fox above ground and running for the hounds and hunters to chase. The focus was very much on its temperament and ability not on its looks so there was a mix in appearance. It is believed in their development was the Old English White Terrier which is no longer in existence, the Beagle and the Fox Terrier. </p >

After he died his dogs became very popular especially with hunters who then crossed them with other dogs such as Corgis and Dachshunds which cause a lot of differences in the dog. Be cause there were such variations in its height and size it was not accepted into the Kennel Club, even though Jack Russells were extremely popular even just as companions. In 1974 a Jack Russell Terrier Club was formed and they created their own shows for the dog. In 1983 the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club reformed looking for Kennel Club recognition. Eventually after several rejections the Parson Jack Russell Terrier was recognized in 1990, the UKC did too in 1991. The dogs name was changed to the Parson Russell Terrier in 1999. </p >

New Lease on Life

This can be a confusing breed and many people think that the Parson, the Russell and the Jack Russell are the same dog with different names, when in fact technically now they are three different breeds but obviously closely related. The Russell Terrier is the newest split, having been introduced in 2012. The Jack Russell is the non recognized version of the breed. The Parson is the one that divided off in the early 1980s. All come from the dogs Reverend Russell bred. After he died though things diverged as hunters needing different things like longer legs, developed the breed to their own needs. Some Russells ended up with longer legs and so on. The Parson was the one with the longer legs and bred to be a hunting dog more with more energy. The Jack Russell was left to be more of a companion dog and rat catcher and can be more mellow as a result. The later version, the Russell is the shortest of the three dogs. </p >

Confusion gets worse when it turns out that different countries refer to each dog with slightly different names. For example in Australia they call the Russell Terrier, a Jack Russell Terrier! In the US the Parson Russell Terrier was recognized in 1997 but called the Jack Russell Terrier, though later its name was changed to match that in the UK. The Parson is ranked 109th in popularity by the AKC. </p >

The Dog You See Today

The Parson Russell Terrier is a small dog weighing 13 to 17 pounds and stands 12 to 14 inches tall. It is bred to show standards and compared to the Jack Russell Terrier it has longer legs, a more squared shape and its body is as long as it is tall. The Parson has a longer head than the jack Russell and its chest is a little larger too. However that chest is still narrow and its legs are straight and strong. Its tail is set high and while it can be docked in some countries, in many that practice is now banned. Its feet are round and like cats. Its double, course coat comes in two types, smooth or broken (wire haired). Its waterproof and is white with markings that are black or tan, or it can be tricolored. </p >

This breed has a strong head that is flat on top and in proportion to the rest of it. It has a rectangular and strong muzzle and a black nose. Its eyes are almond shaped, medium in size with rims that can be pink or dark. Its ears are drop ears, small and V shaped and they fold forwards. Those with the broken coat can have a trace of a beard and eyebrows. </p >

The Inner Parson Russell Terrier


The Parson is an intelligent and alert dog and will bark to let you know is there is an intruder trying to get in. It is not however noted to be an especially protective breed so may not act to defend you or the home. It is a strong and confident breed, energetic too and loves to play. It is cheerful and feisty and does bark frequently so training will be needed to control that on command. In the right home it is loving, affectionate and devoted. When at work it is tenacious and focused but it is rare that this breed is used as a working breed, this tends to be the show version, and the Jack Russell is used for working usually. </p >

This is not a breed for new owners, it needs someone experienced who can remain in control and be firm and confident with it. It needs owners who can clearly set themselves as its pack leader. It is an active dog and will not want a sedate life, it will want to be a part of family activities. It may be a little wary of strangers at first but with socialization it can be friendly with them. It is great at problem solving and can get itself into some mischief. As with many terrier breeds though it can be jealous, willful, aggressive and possessive. For that reason socialization is very important. </p >

Living with a Parson Russell Terrier

What will training look like?

The Parson Russell Terrier is a moderately easy dog to train for those with experience and knowledge. It is intelligent and responds especially well to training that is positive, engaging and uses treats. It can be stubborn and with people who do not know what they are doing it can be hard to motivate. It is not as hard as other terrier breeds though as long as you get it early on. Be calm but stick to the rules you set, keep sessions interesting, short and fun and remain patient and consistent. Avoid being harsh or using physical punishments as it will lead to defensive biting and snapping rather than any real success. Early socialization is also important to ensure your dog adjusts to different people, sounds, places and situations well, and grows into a confident dog with no timidity or shyness, and not too much aggression. </p >

How active is the Parson Russell Terrier ?

This breed tends to be very active and needs to be homed with owners happy to be active with it. While it is small so its needs are easier to meet it is still not a lap dog content to stay at home all day. It will need to be outside at least a couple of times a day for a couple of moderate length brisk walks that total about 45 minutes a day. Then it will need additional play time with toys and games but also outside with you playing active games like flyball. Its size may suggest to you that it can adapt to an apartment but it is best with a home that has a yard. That yard needs to be well fenced though as it jumps high, can climb and loves to dig so can escape if it wants to chase something. If it does not get enough physical and mental stimulation it becomes difficult to control and destructive. Make sure when walking it is on a leash, but when you are somewhere safe like a dog park you can give it a chance to run free. Again this is not a dog that is happy to stay in a yard and in the home, it thrives on being on the go. </p >

Caring for the Parson Russell Terrier

Grooming needs

Parsons are moderate in terms of their grooming and maintenance needs. There are is a lot of misinformation out there that says this is a low shedding dog, but in fact it sheds a fair bit and is at least an average shedder if not more. You will have lots of white hairs about the place and will need to vacuum daily and brush regularly to keep up with it. This is not a breed for people with allergies or for people who do not want dog hair on their clothing or furniture. It also has seasonal heavy shedding times and when bathed too often that can lead to more shedding too. Use a brush or rubber mitt when it is time to brush and you can also try out a soft rubber horse curry. Those with broken coats will need stripping a couple of times a year if you are showing them. If you are not it can be trimmed or clipped but that will affect the coat’s texture. </p >

Other needs include checking for ear infection once a week for signs like irritation, discharge, wax build up or redness, and then giving them a wipe clean then too. Never inset anything into the ears though, just use a cotton ball dampened with dog ear cleanser solution or a damp cloth and wipe the areas you can reach. Its teeth should be brushed two to three times a week at least and its nails should be trimmed if they get too long. Some dogs wear their nails down naturally with activity, if yours is not one of them there are dog clippers you can get and it is something you can do yourself with a bit of homework and preparation. Dog nails are not like humans, you cannot just clip any how. There is a section of the nail in dogs that has live blood vessels and nerves in them. Cut that and it would hurt and bleed. If you are unsure have the vet show you how, or have them or a professional groomer do it for you. </p >

Feeding Time

The Parson Russell Terrier will eat about 3/4 to 1 3/4 cup of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into two meals. It can vary from one dog to another how much they eat depending on their level of activity, metabolism rate, health, age and size. </p >

How is the Parson Russell Terrier with children and other animals?

When socialized and raised with them, the Parson is playful, lively, affectionate and very good with children but it is best they be with older children not young ones like toddlers. This is because the older children have learned how to interact with them kindly and that this dog does not like to be handled roughly or tugged and pulled at. Especially make sure sure they are taught not to touch its food bowls and that this breed can be possessive of its toys and belongings. Make sure you supervise any young children and any children that come visiting. </p >

Parsons vary when it comes to how they are around other dogs. It is not a good idea to leave two or more together unsupervised as they are likely to get into a fight over the toys they are playing with. It can play well with them with socialization and training but some are more dominant and that can make them more aggressive especially with strange dogs. In general as long as the other dogs do not challenge it, it will go well but being quite brash and fearless, if it feels it is being challenged it will not back down, whatever breed is doing that challenge. With other animals it can get along with them but not with small animals that run away a lot, as that triggers its prey instincts and it will want chase and seize. </p >

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Parsons have a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years. There are several health issues to be aware of that can be common to this breed. These include eye problems, deafness, patellar luxation, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and Von Willebrand’s disease. </p >

Biting Statistics

In examining reports of dog attacks against people that caused bodily harm in the US and Canada over the last 35 years, there is no mention of the Parson Russell Terrier. However there is mention of the Jack Russell Terrier and since these breeds are often mistaken for each other it is worth noting the statistics for it too. There have been 5 incidents causing bodily harm to a person, 3 of those were children. 2 of the 5 attacks resulted in maimings, meaning the victims were left with permanent scars, disfigurement or loss of limb. Unfortunately 2 of the 5 resulted in death. 5 attacks means just 1 attack every 7 years which is actually not bad. This is not a dog to be concerned about when it comes to aggression towards people but then all dogs regardless of size or breed can have off days. Make sure you socialize and train it, choose a dog that is properly suited to your lifestyle and experience, and give it the attention and exercise it needs. </p >

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Parson Russell Terrier puppy will cost you around $600 for a pet quality dog from a decent breeder. Since this breed tends to be kept more for dog shows that will cost more especially if you want to use a top breeder. Whatever type you opt for it is important to find a decent breeder who knows what they are doing. Avoid making a quicker purchase from less trustworthy sources like puppy mills, back yard breeders or pet stores, you have no real knowledge about its background or health and these places do not treat their animals kindly for the most part. Another option when looking for a new pet is to look to rescues or shelters, while you may not find a show quality dog there may be Jack Russells or mixes that win you over. Adoption then would be around $50 to $400. </p >

If you find your puppy or dog and are ready to bring it home there are some items you need for it. A crate, carrier, bowls, leash and collar for a start and these things will cost about $120. Then there is a need for a visit to the vet for some tests, procedures and such. Initial health needs like a physical exam, deworming, blood tests, shots, micro chipping, spaying or neutering will cost about $260. </p >

There are also ongoing costs like food, health care, miscellaneous costs and such. To feed a Parson you should be using a good or better quality dog food. For dry dog food and dog treats you will pay $75 a year. For basic health care like shots, flea and tick prevention, check ups and pet insurance you will pay $435 a year. Then other miscellaneous costs like various items, basic training, license and toys it will cost about $195 a year. If you have a rough coated Parson that needs stripping so more professional grooming this will cost an additional $300 or so. This means the annual total estimate is between $705 and $1005. </p >


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The Parson Russell Terrier is a sturdy, energetic, stubborn, rowdy small dog. One that needs experienced and active owners, not a lap dog for inactive people. It needs early socialization and training and it needs to kept stimulated or it will become less pleasant to live with. Owners should also have a sense of humor for the times when it gets up to mischief or when it finds some way to avoid doing what you have told it to. With the right people though it is charming, funny, loving and devoted. </p >

Featured Image Credit: Kristyna Mrazkova, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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