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Our Jack Russell Terrier history lesson would appear to begin in 1795 with the birth of John (aka Jack) Russell. But thanks to modern scientific research, it's now possible to seek the origins of our little dogs even further back into the past.
It seems that humans began to form a (somewhat) symbiotic relationship with wolves hundreds of thousands of years ago. We were useful to them because they could scavenge what was left of our hunting efforts. They were useful to us because we were eventually able to figure out how to use them to make hunting easier. And so the story of the relationship between humans and dogs began to unfold.
As civilization developed, new strains and breeds of dog came about through a process of selective breeding. Dogs with certain traits and characteristics were bred with other similar dogs to create pups with distinctive qualities. A chihuahua, for example, does not just come about naturally in the wild. It is the result of generations of breeding small dogs with big eyes and big ears.
The first terriers seem to have been bred some time in the 14th or 15th Century. The word terrier derives from the Latin "terra," which means earth - a reflection of the use of the dogs for hunting and rat control. The specialty of a terrier is its ability to "go-to-ground" - to get into small holes and corner or drive out prey. In the 15th Century, fox hunting began to become a popular sport in Europe. This set the stage for the development of the Jack Russell Terrier.
The Beginning of Jack Russell Terrier History - The New Terrier
Then along came Jack Russell in 1795. Russell was born in Devonshire, England and was interested in hunting and animals in general from an early age. As a clergyman and keen hunter, he gained the nickname of "the Sporting Parson." Arguably the most important moment in Jack Russell Terrier history came when Russell was at Oxford and discovered Trump, the bitch that was essentially to become the mother of the Jack Russell Terrier breed. As legend has it, Russell spotted Trump riding on the back of a milkwagon (some versions of the story have her walking behind the milkman). Regardless of the details, Russell was smitten with the dog and struck a deal for her.
Russell preferred terriers that were mostly or totally white. Trump herself was predominantly white. There's a very practical reason for this - as with most characteristics of the Jack Russell - that relates to hunting. A white terrier is easier to see against dirt than a terrier that is mostly black or brown. The next big event in Jack Russell Terrier history was the breeding of Trump with a black and tan terrier (Note: this breed is now extinct). This is how Jack Russell created the familiar JRT look that we know and love today.
Jack Russells were bred to hunt foxes. They had to work well with hounds and be able to run long distances without tiring. They also had to small enough to squeeze into a fox hole and pin the fox down while the hunter caught up. They had to be courageous enough to face the fox in an enclosed space, but not so aggressive that they would attack the fox - killing the fox was not their role. The reason for the Jack Russell Terrier's breeding explains a lot about the way modern JRTs act: why they are easily able to get along with other dogs, why they are so tenacious and strong-willed, why they are impossible to exhaust, and why they are endlessly digging up the back yard!
JRTs and the Kennel Club - Jack Russell Terrer History in the Making
Jack Russell Terrier history took a turn with the foundation of the Kennel Club of Great Britain in 1873. Jack Russell was a founder member of the club - however, he refused to register his own dogs under it. The reason is based in the difference between show-quality and working-quality dogs. Russell believed registration would lead to breeders striving to breed more and more beautiful show-quality dogs, in accordance with a breed standard, which, over generations, would start to erode the hunting instincts of the Jack Russell Terrier. This is the source of the split between the Parson Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier: in short, Parsons are show dogs and can be registered with the Kennel Club, while Jack Russells are working dogs and cannot. Kennel Club recognition is to this day a contentious issue for JRT enthusiasts.
The history of the JRT plays a big part in the way they should be trained. Because they are so unique, they need a unique training style. To learn all the essentials you need to know to get results when you train your Jack Russell, check out my Jack Russell training ebook.