Breed Type: Terrier
Country of Origin: England
Popular Names: Parson Terrier, Parson, Sporting Parson
Height: (At the withers) Males 35 cm, Females 32.5 cm
Weight: 6 – 7.7 kg
Best suited as: Pet or show dog with an active owner or family. May be used to kill vermin
Lifespan: 13 – 15 years
The Parson Russell Terrier shared a similar ancestry with the Jack Russell Terrier until the early 1980s. The two are not the same breed.
Parsons are small, muscular little dogs with small chests and a high-set tail. They are square in that their bodies are about as long as they are tall. Their heads are flat on top. Compared to a JRT, the Parson Terrier is slightly taller, with a larger head and chest and an overall larger body.
The ears are small, moderately thick v-shaped drop ears. The tips point toward the eyes. The nose must be black. The eyes are almond-shaped and dark.
They come in a smooth or broken coat. A broken coat has some longer hair on the body, head, face, or legs, and usually has the appearance of a beard and eyebrows. Parsons never have rough or curly hair. They are white with black, tricolour, or tan markings. Most markings are on the head and at the base of the tail.
An important part of the show standard is that a judge’s two hands must be able to span the dog’s chest behind the elbows. The judge’s thumbs must be at the withers at the top of the spine and his or her fingers must meet under the chest. This determines whether the dog’s shape is correct.
In 1819, a university student named John Russell bought a terrier bitch he named Trump. Trump was likely a mix of Fox Terrier and Black-and-Tan Terrier. Russell graduated from Oxford and bred Trump with very specific requirements: it must have legs long enough to keep up with foxhounds; be strong enough to keep foxes at bay; a chest small enough to fit into a den; and a focused but fiery temperament. He made sure that the dogs he bred were consistent in temperament more than looks. Some of the breeds he mixed were Beagles, Fox Terriers, and Old English White Terriers. The end result was a dog exactly like the Parson Russell today, with a mostly-white body with black, tan, or tricolour markings on the head and rump.
After he died, two groups split: half wanted to keep the breed as it was, the other half wanted to give priority to working abilities and temperament rather than the physical appearance. This second group had bred other dogs into the Parson Terrier, which resulted in a dog with more variations in size. Those dogs became what are now known as Jack Russell Terriers.
The ANKC and NZKC are the only major kennel clubs that recognize Parson Russell Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier as separate breeds.
Parsons, like JRTs, are small dogs with big personalities. They are extremely intelligent, fearless, quick witted, sassy, stubborn, and mischievous. They are easy to train and love to learn new tricks.
They get along well other animals if raised with them, and as long as they receive constant socialization. They do exhibit many terrier traits like dog aggression, jealousy, possessiveness, excessive barking, rudeness to strangers, and willfulness. Proper training and ongoing socialization is essential to avoid these traits. Training must be positive-based reinforcement and varied. If you treat a Parson harshly it will result in either a stubborn dog or one that snaps or bites defensively.
A Parson Terrier should never be allowed off-leash in an unfenced area as the breed is likely to take off after small animals or even cars. It is practically impossible to recall one of these dogs when it is on the hunt.
These dogs love to dig and need supervision to make sure they don’t wreck your garden or dig under the fence to escape.
Care and Grooming
They need to be brushed once a week. This not only keeps the hair clean and neat, but also reduces the amount of flyaway hairs on your carpet, furniture, and clothing. Parsons should only be bathed when soiled. To maintain proper coat texture, they need to be hand stripped twice a year.
Other care requirements include monthly nail clipping as necessary and weekly tooth brushing and ear inspections. Clean the ears with cotton balls soaked in vet-approved ear cleanser to remove wax-buildup and dirt. Check for signs of infection or irritation.
These are not dogs suitable for apartment living. They need a lot of open space to run and frolic. When they are cooped up inside all day they tend to develop anti-social, destructive behaviours. Their yards must be fenced to prevent them running off.
They need daily walks in addition to backyard play. Other activities they enjoy include games of catch, flyball, agility and obedience competitions. They also make excellent cycling and jogging companions.
Most Parsons live to about 15 years. Eye health conditions to which they are prone include primary lens luxation, juvenile cataracts, posterior vitreous detachment, progressive retinal atrophy, and corneal dystrophy. Other health problems include patella luxation, cerebellar ataxia, von Willebrand disease, myasthenia gravis, and congenital deafness.
Always be sure to choose a dog from a reputable, conscientious breeder. Animals with health problems should never be bred.
Suitability As A Pet
These dogs do well as companions to highly active people with a fenced-in yard and large home. They can get along with respectful children if raised with them, but need constant socialization to get along with other animals and children. They can be cat aggressive at a moment’s notice and owners should consider keeping a cat-free home. Owners who add a baby to the family without first socializing the dog to babies and children could suffer jealous behaviours from the dog.
Novice dog owners should have no trouble training these little dogs.
Where possible, use these dogs as intended; they do well as vermin hunters on farms.
Parson Russell Terrier Organisations in Australia
West Australian Terrier Club Inc
Parson Russell Terrier Organisations in the UK
The Parson Russell Terrier Club
Parson Russell Terrier Organisations in the US
Parson Russell Terrier Association of America
Parson Russell Terrier Dogs for Adoption and Rescue
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