Jack Russell and Parson Russell terriers: how to tell the difference

Jack Russell and Parson Russell terriers: how to tell the difference

A huge number of today’s most popular dog breeds have origins and ancestry in other breeds, which can make tracing your dog’s breed family tree very interesting. Selective breeding, deliberate outcrossing and shared geographic origins are just some of the factors that can connect separate breeds and lead to shared traits and similarities between different types of dogs – and this can make it hard for the average dog owner to tell some very similar breeds apart.

When it comes to dogs from the terrier grouping, the Parson Russell and Jack Russell terrier breeds are two that have a reasonable amount of crossover in terms of their history and similarities – and these are two breeds that many people find a challenge to tell apart, unless you happen to own a dog of one breed or the other or know both breeds quite well.

Both of these small, feisty terriers make for excellent pets with the right care and management, and the Jack Russell is one of the most popular small terrier breeds in the UK – but can you tell a Parson Russell from a Jack Russell, and do you know how they differ?

In this article, we will look at the Jack Russell and Parson Russell terrier breeds side by side, and share some tips on how to tell the difference between them.


Both today’s Jack Russell terrier and the Parson Russell too can trace their modern breed origins back to one man – Parson John Russell, who lived in the early 1800’s and selectively bred dogs with the goal of producing the perfect hunting terrier – a dog that would be able to keep up with foxhounds on the chase, but still be small enough to get down into burrows.

Whilst the Parson Russell dogs that resulted from this endeavour did not achieve recognition for Reverend Russell during his lifetime, after his death, breed clubs named the type of dog that he had produced the Parson Jack Russell terrier, but World War Two led to a decline in breeding and dog ownership, which saw the effective end to further development.

After the Second World War, small terriers of this type were simply known as Jack Russells, and only in the 1980’s did terrier enthusiasts once again begin to express an interest in the origins of the dogs and their core breed traits, at which time the Kennel Club was lobbied to recognise the Parson Russell as a separate breed to the Jack Russell.

The Parson Russell formally gained KC recognition in 1997, as a variant of the fox terrier breed.


When it comes to sizes, the Parson Russell terrier is a slightly taller, larger dog, with females reaching around 33cm high at the withers and males up to about 36cm. Jack Russells, on the other hand, top out at around 30cm for both males and females, and are often much smaller.

The Parson Russell weights between 5-8kg with the Jack Russell averaging 6.4-8kg, which indicates that while the Parson Russell is taller, the Jack Russell tends to be rather more stocky and muscular, as is reflected within their similar weight range despite the breeds’ difference in height.

Coat and colour

Both breeds can have a variety of different coat textures, being smooth, rough or broken, which is a combination of both types of fur in one coat. They also share a common range of colours and patterns across both breeds, although the Jack Russell colouration always includes white, with either tan, black or both.

The Parson Russell can be seen in a wider range of colours including all of the above, as well as pure white, tan and white, or lemon and white, as well as mainly black.


The Parson Russell terrier is a slightly taller, leaner and leggier dog when compared to the Jack Russell, with finer bones and less muscle, although they are also very lean, wiry and strong dogs for their size.

The Parson Russell dog’s chests are comparatively deep for their size, and they have an alert, upright stance that makes them appear to stand up very straight, a trait that they share with the Jack Russell.

Core traits

Both the Jack Russell and the Parson Russell breeds are very high energy, lively and energetic dogs that need lots of exercise and stimulation, and that can become unruly and badly behaved if improperly managed.

Both breeds are very smart and tenacious dogs that are good at problem solving, and very persistent when something catches their attention! The Jack Russell is perhaps slightly more energetic and outgoing than the Parson Russell, but there’s not much in it, as the temperaments of both breeds share a lot of things in common.

They both have a strong prey drive and a propensity to dig, and like to be at the middle of everything that is going on, either at home or with other dogs in the dog park.

If you are trying to tell the two breeds apart, the taller height, leaner build and wider range of colours displayed in the Parson Russell can help to give the game away, but nonetheless, the two breeds remain easy to confuse if you don’t know what you are looking for!



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