The Parson Russell Terrier--an earthworking breed

by Liz McKinney

        The Parson Russell Terrier is a breed that has been maintained as an earth working terrier since the 1800s. In light of this we must examine the PRT, its roots and its function at is was in the 1800s and as it remains a working terrier in its country of origin by the professional working terrier men in the registered and organized hunts today.

       This breed entered the AKC under the name of the Jack Russell Terrier. The name was changed to Parson Russell Terrier in April 2003, but remains the same terrier as it was prior to the name change. The British roots of this terrier, both in registration and in bloodlines, can be found in the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain (JRTCGB) years before the Parson Russell Terrier club in England was formed. In fact, the founders of the PRT club came out of the JRTCGB, broke away from that club and founded the stand alone club that sought and was granted TKC recognition for this breed.

       The breed standard of the JRTCGB (the predecessor of the modern day PRT club) is 10” to 15” with the average size of 12.5” at the withers for a very good reason. The terrier men and women in England have long worked this terrier in the earth to red fox. That is the breed’s history, its function, its purpose for being. The Reverend John Russell, credited as the progenitor of this breed, lived in the south of England in Devonshire where the size of the earths were and still are such that a terrier must be on the small size to be able to enter. To this day the PRTs used in the area where the Rev. Russell lived and hunted are 12.5” and under terriers to be able to get into the earth to get to the fox.

        Anyone who claims that any breed of earth working terrier gets to his quarry by “digging and forcing his way in” just does not understand earth work as anyone who has regularly worked red fox either in America or England will attest . A terrier MUST be of the size to enter the earth quickly and pursue the fox in his den without hesitation and without a remarkable time lapse. If he cannot enter quickly and get to the fox in short order, he will never be able to get to his quarry. It would, in short, be an exercise in futility. The wild fox is not going to patiently wait on the terrier to find him. This is not a game with an obedient, domestic fox.

        English earths are deep and intricately woven with many tunnels and side tunnels, and accordingly a terrier that must dig and force his oversize body through the earth is a useless terrier for the purpose of hunting. Try conjuring a picture in your mind of a mounted hunt waiting for hours upon hours for a large bodied terrier to dig and claw his way through hundreds of feet of tunnels underground looking for his quarry. Regardless of the flexibility of body or chest one cannot push a 17” or 18” chest through a 16” earth!

       It is also clearly a misunderstanding that this terrier must be of sufficient size to possess the strength to face a red fox. Facing a red fox does not take strength, but rather it takes brains and cunning. Never was this breed used to grab or kill its quarry in the ground. Instead, the Parson Russell Terrier was bred to worry the fox and to bolt it from its den so that the hunt could continue. In order to do that, this breed must be small enough to get to the fox in short order and to maneuver under ground in order to bolt the quarry. A PRT that kills a fox is a PRT that will not be allowed to remain in the hunt kennel. A PRT that injured a fox was one that the Rev. Russell culled immediately from his pack according to his own words (See A Memoir of the Rev. John Russell.)

        Let us all use some common sense. Try picturing a 14” terrier running all day with a pack of over 30” tall Foxhounds and then when the fox is run to earth by those hounds, the terrier must work, squeeze and dig his way into an earth too small for the terrier to easily enter to get to his quarry. Show us any breed of terrier that stands only 12” to 15” that can do all of this. It is literally impossible.

        And finally, the PRT club in England has opened its stud book specifically to allow the inclusion of the smaller, under 12” terrier because the size of the PRTs has become, on average, too large to be useful. With the size in the show ring clearly going up and up it won’t be long before the AKC is forced to do the same thing if the fancy cares at all about keeping this breed true to its roots so that it can enter and pursue the red fox and bolt that fox unharmed.