Parson Russell Terrier: A Ball of Energy

Parson Russell Terrier
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Dogs are man’s best friend. They are here to protect and engage their owner. The Parson Russell Terrier, however, surpasses all expectations. Cousin to the famous Jack Russell Terrier, the Parson Russell have their own unique brand of fun and excitement to offer.

The Parson Russell Terrier is best known for their agility and intelligence. If you need a companion while hiking, these dogs will gladly accompany you. If the children want to spend the whole day in the field playing, the Parson Terrier will not run out of energy. Climate change is not a problem for this dog. Their adaptability is unrivaled among all breeds.

If the above traits are what you seek in a dog, you are in the right place. Learn more about the Parson Russell Terrier in this article. Any question you have about the dog including health issues, cleanness, and temperament will be answered. If you already own a Parson Russell Terrier, you will learn how best to live with him or her.

Breed Characteristics

Parson Russell Terrier puppy lying on green blanket

  • Adaptability: High; this dog will survive any climatic conditions; their ability to adapt to new environments makes them perfect for new dog owners

  • Trainability: Moderate; the dog’s hyperactive nature means a lot of patience is needed during training

  • Health and Grooming: Good; this breed is not prone to illnesses; their short fur means the dog does not require regular grooming

  • All Around Friendliness: Moderate; the dog is very friendly with children, but adult supervision is required because the dog is very territorial and doesn’t tolerate manhandling

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance

Dog Breed GroupHunting Dogs
Height Males: 13-15 inches
Females: 12-14 inches
WeightMales: 13-17 pounds
Females: 13-17 pounds
Lifespan8-15 years

The Parson Russell Terrier was developed around 1800 by Reverend John Russell. Russell trained this breed specifically for fox hunting. This breed’s high prey drive and general agility made it perfect for chasing foxes for long distances. The breed was also trained to dig foxes from underground without killing them.

The Parson Russell Terrier is very similar to the Jack Russell Terrier. The difference lies in the longer hind legs of the Parson Terrier.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Parson Russell Terrier was recognized as the official name of this breed. Previously, Parson Jack Russell was the name used to refer to this breed.

The Parson Russell Terrier is a very friendly breed. This dog is very comfortable among the children. Their playful nature makes them an ideal dog to have around children. However, young children should not be left with this dog as their hyperactive nature may lead to accidental bodily harm.

It is not advisable to leave the dog alone for a long time as they can easily suffer from boredom.

The Parson Russell Terrier is a very territorial breed. Thus, it will not tolerate strange dogs. The dog also has a high prey drive, hence, will constantly chase after small animals. Train the dog to co-exist with other dogs you own. Small animals such as cats and rodent should be kept away from the dog as they will be harassed constantly.

Main Highlights

Parson Russell Terrier with a black patches on coat

  • The Parson Russell Terrier is identical to the Jack Russell Terrier. The only distinct feature is the longer hind legs.

  • The Parson Russell Terrier originated from Oxford, England, in the early 1800s.

  • The dog takes its name from Reverend John Russell who was the first to train this breed. Reverend John Russell preferred this dog due to their ability to hunt fox without killing them.

  • The first Parson Jack Russell Club was founded in the early 1980s.

  • The name Parson Russell Terrier was officially recognized in 2003.

  • The Parson Russell Terrier is an energetic and playful dog.

  • The dog cannot live in an indoor environment without regular exercises.

  • This dog is fond of barking, especially if they spot a rodent or a small animal.

  • The Parson Russell Terrier is a very good jumper, hence, must be restrained with a tall fence.

  • This is a very intelligent dog—able to learn tricks and games very quickly.

  • The Parson Russell Terrier can adapt to any climate and is also appropriate for a first-time owner.

  • The breed is generally a healthy breed, but common dog diseases such as deafness, cataracts, primary lens luxation, obesity, and patellar luxation should be monitored.

  • The dog does not require a lot of washing and grooming because they have short fur, which does not shed often.

  • The Parson Russell Terrier requires two light meals a day.

  • This breed has a life expectancy of 9-15 years.

  • Very young children should not be left alone with this dog because of their aggressive and playful nature. The Parson Russell Terrier is very friendly towards children, but they will not tolerate any form of mistreatment.

  • The dog is extremely territorial and will not tolerate strange dogs.

Breed History

Parson Russell Terrier playing with a stick

The origin of this breed can be traced back to the early 1800s when Reverend John Russell purchase a terrier from a milkman while studying in Oxford. He named the dog Trump.

Reverend John Russell was a hunting enthusiast—and in particular, fox hunting. He needed a dog capable of running with foxhounds. The dog was required to flush the fox from underground without killing it. Although unconfirmed, it is suspected that Reverend Russell bred the dog with a Devon Terrier to create the Parson Terrier.

After the death of Reverend Russell, the popularity of this dog increased due to its hunting capability. However, there was lots of crossbreeding with Dachshunds and Corgis, which not only changed the dog’s looks but their temperament as well. Most of the crossbreeds had the killer instinct which Reverend Russell had worked so hard to avoid.

For a long time, the Parson Terrier was used for hunting small rodents and fox hunting. This dog was not popular among the nobles in England as they could not get into small game hunting. As forests began to clear, the hunting of deer and other big games became a problem. The nobles had no choice but to turn to small game hunting, which helped popularize this dog.

Breeding of the Russell Terrier continued until World War II. The war prevented activities such as hunting, thus reducing the need for these dogs. It is important to note that at this time, these dogs were all known as Jack Russell Terrier. The Parson Jack Russell Club was not founded until the 1980s.

In 1999, the Kennel Club finally agreed to recognize the Parson Jack Russell Terrier breed. Today, the Parson Russell Terrier can be found around the world. The dog can usually be found participating in intelligence and agility competition. Their high-energy characteristic means they have to be kept busy at all time.


Parson Russell Terrier standing on grass

The Parson Russell Terrier weighs about 13-17 pounds. The dog has a flat skull with a moderate chest cavity. The size of the chest is very important in this breed because a big one would prevent the dog from entering foxholes. Their muscular body structure helps them to cover long distances without rest.

The Parson Russell Terrier has an average height of 12-15 inches, and the height is proportional to the weight of the dog. This breed has V-shaped ears that tend to droop.

The difference between male and female Parson Russell Terriers is not very distinctive. While their sizes do not vary much, the males can be isolated due to their more territorial characteristic.

Personality and Character

Parson Russell Terrier running

The Parson Russell Terrier is a very energetic dog. These dogs are known to climb fences and run out of your home the moment you leave the gate open. This is not a dog you would want to keep indoors as their thirst for adventure can lead to a lot of destruction.

See Also: Best Indoor Dogs

If you are in need of entertainment and amusement, then this dog will suit you. This breed was originally meant for fox hunting and digging them from underground. Thus, expect this dog to do a lot of digging especially if left unattended in the backyard. Owners have complained of the dog’s tendency to dig themselves out of the compound.

This dog is also notorious for hunting rodents. Smaller animals such as cats are also not spared. When taking the dog for a walk or playing in the park, take care that they don’t harass other people’s pet. Letting them roam unattended is a big no as they can quickly run into trouble because of their adventurous nature.

The Parson Russell Terriers are very popular in TV shows and circus because of their energetic performance. They are also very intelligent; hence, when well-trained, they can perform numerous tricks that will keep people entertained. Their cute appearance also makes them very popular with children.

The key factor when keeping a Parson Russell Terrier is providing enough exercise options. Those with limited time to do this are advised against keeping this dog. An hour-long walk every day is the minimum requirement for this dog.

This dog can adapt to any climate and is, therefore, suitable for most people. Because of their eagerness to interact and please, they are a good choice for first-time owners. These dogs do not like being left alone. Hence it is important that there is someone close by at all times.

Because of their high prey drive, Parson Russell Terriers tend to bark a lot, especially when they spot small animals. With good training, however, this can be suppressed.

See Also: How to Train a Dog Not to Bark

Health and Potential Problems

Parson Russell Terrier playing on grass

Under good care and management, Parson Russell Terriers can live for an average of 9-15 years.

The Kennel Club breed scheme classifies these dogs as category one breed. It means they are not prone to many diseases and generally require little maintenance to keep them healthy. However, there are still some health issues that you need to watch out for.

#1: Hereditary Deafness

Deafness is one health condition that affects most dog breeds. Inability to hear may affect the dog’s performance as well as making them susceptible to other dangers. Before purchasing a Parson Russell Terrier, it is important that you check for hereditary deafness.

BAER testing is the most recommended mechanism to tell whether the dog has any ear defects. Sometimes it is hard to tell when a dog has a hearing problem until it’s too late. To prevent this, it’s recommended that you take the dog for BAER testing every once in a while. The exercise will not only save you money but also ensure you do not lose the companionship of your dog due to illness.

There are several ways in which you can tell whether your Person Terrier has a hearing problem. The most obvious is when your dog does not respond to his/her name. Dogs have a very good hearing, so even when they are far away or in a noisy place, their lack of response should not be ignored.

If your dog does not react to unique and familiar noises such as a doorbell, other dogs barking, or a stranger’s voice, have the dog checked. Similarly, dogs that have a tendency to get startled easily usually have a hearing problem.

If your Parson terrier has been diagnosed with hearing problems, the following practices are essential for survival. First and foremost, ensure you maintain eye contact when touching the dog to avoid scaring him/her. Teaching your dog hand signals is also important to maintain the dog-owner connection. Finally, be extra vigilant to protect your dog from deaf-related dangers.

See Also: How to Train a Deaf Dog

#2: Primary Lens Luxation

PLL causes the lens to detach and float in the eye. As a result, the condition usually causes a lot of pain for the dog.

It is therefore important to have regular eye check-up to ensure your Parson Russell Terrier doesn’t have this disease. Checking the history of the dog before purchase will also prevent any future problems.

#3: Patellar Luxation

Knee dislocation or patellar luxation is a common condition in dogs. It occurs when the kneecap disintegrates from the thigh bone. Other breeds are more prone to this condition than the Parson Terrier; however, this breed can also be affected.

While the condition may not cause the dog a lot of suffering, it will hinder their movement. The condition can be distressing to the Parson Terrier breed which has a lot of energy and hence spends a lot of time on the move. Genetic malformation is the main cause of this condition.

#4: Cataracts

Cataract is a condition that causes cloudiness in the eye lens. The affected eye usually has a cloudy white appearance which can cause partial or complete blindness.

The condition is usually inherited and thus hard to detect without knowing the precise history of the dog. However, other causes such as electric shock, diabetes mellitus, and old age can lead to this disease. Once the condition appears, it is important that you take the dog to the vet for a check-up.

Surgery is often necessary in extreme cases although this depends on the health condition of the dog and their age. If the condition is detected early, eye drops can be used to control the disease. Regular eye checkups are important.

If your dog becomes blind due to this condition, don’t panic. Special training can be given to help compensate for the loss of sight by using other senses such as smell.

See Also: Toys for Blind Dogs

#5: Obesity

The Parson Russell Terrier breed is very active and energetic, hence obesity is not common. However, there are reported cases which are mainly due to assumptions that this dog cannot become obese.

Just like any other dog, the Parson Terrier can easily become obese if feeding is not monitored. Heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes, and a short lifespan are some of the effects of obesity in dogs. It is advised that one should consult an animal nutritionist for advice on the best type of food and the amount that is suitable for your dog. Regular exercise is also paramount to combat this condition.

See Also: Overweight Dog: Signs and Solutions

Care Features

Parson Russell Terrier wearing red collar

The Parson Russell Terrier is an outdoor dog. Exercise is, therefore, a must, and should be done on a regular basis. This dog is very playful. Hence you will have little trouble introducing them to games. The dog will also do very well in children’s games.

However, when let loose, care should be taken to ensure the dog is in a controlled environment. Failure to do so may cause you to have trouble locating the dog once their prey drive kicks in. When walking this dog in public places, always keep them on a leash to avoid interfering with other people’s privacy. Also, the dog will not be caught easily once they manage to break loose.

Ensure that the dog has something to do even when left alone in the backyard. Introduce games that will keep the dog occupied throughout the day. If possible, provide a companion dog who can be a play partner.

Training this dog is essential in order to provide avenues to keep them engaged. Because of their energy levels, training should be fun and interesting. Otherwise the dog will easily get distracted. Dog sports that focus on intelligence, agility, and speed will suit the Parson Russell Terrier.

For an owner who is living in the countryside, this dog can be a great companion to go for long walks and mountain hikes. A visit to the woods will also do the dog a lot of good as they are very curious and like to explore.

Feeding Schedule

feeding Parson Russell Terrier

The Parson Russell Terrier requires high-quality food. Two meals per day are recommended—maybe even three if your schedule allows it. Puppies that are between 3-6 months old should be fed three meals in a day. Puppies are susceptible to bloat. Hence great care should be taken while feeding them.

Your veterinary should advise you on the best food both in quantity and quality that will suit your dog. Always ensure you provide clean water which should be available the whole day. Most importantly, maintain hygiene and cleanliness with the dishes to avoid diseases such as diarrhea.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

Parson Russell Terrier having different coat colors

The Parson Russell Terrier is an outdoor dog, therefore, can easily pick up parasites. Cleaning of this dog is therefore important to avoid diseases both to the dog and human beings. Regular brushing is also recommended to keep the coat healthy although this dog doesn’t shed much.

Parson Terriers do not have long fur. Hence they do not need a bath often, but when you do bathe them, use recommended shampoo when washing the dog as some can cause itching and skin diseases.

See Also: How to Choose a Right Shampoo for Dogs with Skin Allergies

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Parson Russell Terrier wanting to play

The Parson Russell Terrier can become great friends with your children. This is the sort of dog that will encourage your children to spend more time engaging in outdoor games.

However, it is not recommended that you leave the Parson Terrier with very young children without adult supervision. At the very least, the children should be taught how to handle the dog because while the Parson Russell Terrier is not aggressive, they will not tolerate any form of manhandling.

You should also train the dog from an early age on how to relate to the children. Any undesirable behavior should be stopped early.

The Parson Russell Terrier should not be kept together with smaller pets such as cats or rodents. Their high prey drive means they will constantly harass those pets. These dogs are also very territorial hence they do not mingle well with other dogs.

Since they are not afraid to stand their ground, they constantly get into fights with other dogs. Always keep the dog under leash when in the presence of new dogs—especially those of the same sex—to avoid unnecessary fights and injuries.

Wrap Up

Parson Russell Terrier's face

The Parson Russell Terrier is among the friendliest and most fun-loving dogs you can encounter. This dog will entertain your children all day long. On top of that, the Parson Russell Terrier will keep you company on your hiking adventures. The dog is also excellent for small game hunting.

For those of you who spend a lot of time outdoors, this is the best dog for you. They will keep you engaged. This dog has a lot of energy to spend, therefore, ensure you exercise them regularly. Avoid keeping them indoors for too long. Otherwise, they will keep themselves busy by disorganizing your house.

Note that the Parson Russell Terrier is an excellent jumper, so high fences are paramount. This dog is also fond of digging, thus, do not give them a reason to engage in this behavior.

Tell us what you think about the Parson Russell Terrier. Do you think this is the right companion for you? Do you have any experience with this breed that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments section below. Check out our list of sports dog names if you decide to adopt an energetic and sporty Parson Russell Terrier.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.