The Jack Russell Terrier: Then IS Now!

by Pat Wilcox

        Over the past 12 months I have watched judge’s attempt to sift through the available educational material as well as their own preferences preparatory to judging this breed. While most judges are to be commended for finding the superior dogs presented to them, there do still seem to be questions as to what makes a JRT a JRT. Perhaps a short comparison of the JRTs of the 1880s and those of today will serve as the final piece in the judging puzzle

       It must be remembered that there is absolutely nothing outstanding about the JRT. No one criteria that can alert a judge to his breed winner. Yet there are distinctions that distinguish the JRT from his terrier kin. Briefly stated they are; his length of loin; his comparatively smaller chest circumference; his equal length of forearm and scapula; and above all, his slightly longer length of body as measured from the point of shoulder to the point of buttock.

       From the early 1860s to the mid 1880s both the soon-to-be-called Jack Russell Terriers and the Fox Terriers were all known as “Foxing Terriers”, al had the same job description, to bolt or hold the European Red Fox, hence the same conformation. In the 1880s while Reverend John Russell was developing his distinctive strain of terrier, several dogs appeared who were to have a dramatic effect on this emerging breed. Carlisle Tack (whelped in May of 1884), his dam, Lil Foiler who had John Russell’s strain of terrier on both sides of her pedigree, and, an early Fox Terrier, Ch. Dusky Reign.

       If one takes these historic dogs of the 1800s and overlays them on the dogs of today; it is obvious that the JRT of today, unlike the Fox Terriers, retains the proportions of his ancestors. These are the salient points that a judge of today should see in his winners. These current dogs retain the correct length of loin, length of forearm and scapula, and relatively small chest and body length seen in the old dogs. If dogs that lack these salient conformation points are rewarded, then the breed will be irrevocably changed.

        In 1899 CH Dusky Reign was whelped. He, in the minds of many, represents the demarcation between the Jack Russell Terrier and the Fox Terriers. While he had a demonstrably more elegant appearance, he still retained the longer loin, length of body, equal forearm and scapula, depth of chest and visible prosternum of today’s Jack Russells. Admiration for this dog was so great that his outline was used as part of the logo for the Parent Club of the Jack Russell, the JRTAA, until a just few years ago.

        Also visible on Dusky Reign is the often misunderstood, “loin slightly arched”. * No Jack Russell should be penalized in the ring today for this degree of arch. Where the "arch" cannot be seen, it must be felt.

        In the twenty years from 1880 to 1900 the Jack Russell Terrier type was set. Therefore the range of dogs you have before you may vary from the type seen in the current champions of sets A and B to that in set C. They are equally correct because they both retain the points of conformation vital to Jack Russell breed type; length of loin, length of body from point of shoulder to point of buttock, equal forearm and scapula and noticeable prosternum as well as comparatively small chest circumference.

       As an additional aid in understanding the proportions that are requisite to the Jack Russell, judges need to understand the phrase that appears in the standard, “in overall length to height proportion, the terrier appears approximately square and balanced”. * This is the square that results from the measurements of point of shoulder to point of buttock in relation the height from the withers to the ground. While this can be explained by a ratio or that, “the height at the withers is slightly greater than the distance from the withers to the tail, i.e., by possibly 1 to 1 ½ inches on a 14 inch dog”*, it is easier to visualize two equal lines and the square they create.        The word approximately is key here. The modern bitch in Set A may appear slightly longer than tall at the initial glance, but when eyeballed with the "square" in mind (example D) the integrity of the square is maintained. Notice too, how much lower to her topline the top of the square is due to her better layback indicating her body is more contained within the "square". The modern bitch in Set B and example E appears to be more square at first impression. Her more upright carriage and straighter shoulder accentuate the "square" appearance. Both fit the correct length to height proportion. The example D bitch, because of her better layback and visible prosternum, appears longer, yet she is more correct to the standard and, therefore, a better example of the breed.

        The Jack Russell is defined by his job and his ability to do his job is determined by his conformation, i.e., form follows function. As judges we must honor the function of the breed and do our utmost to find the best form as described by the standard. If we reward the dogs that are historically correct, then we will be rewarding the correct dogs of today. These qualities must not be ignored in favor of a “fancy” dog or a “cute” dog, for then the breed will be changed at our hands. What the Jack Russell Terrier was at the turn of the century and before is what he should be today. In this breed, history must repeat itself!

                     *   from the AKC Official Standard for the Jack Russell Terrier

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