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AKC’s Next New Breed – The Russell Terrier

The Terrier Group at AKC shows will welcome a new contender on June 27, 2012. The Russell Terrier has been in the Miscellaneous class since January 2010, and since then, the small, sturdy dogs have been seen at many shows around the country.

The Russell Terrier breed descends from the working terrier stock that the Rev. John Russell developed in the 1800s to hunt fox in England, but the breed itself was developed in Australia. There and in FCI countries, the Russell Terrier is called the Jack Russell Terrier, however, in the United States, the Russell Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier are not the same; it is the Russell Terrier in the U.S. that follows the same type and size of the Australian Jack Russell Terrier.

The Russell Terrier is a small, hardy working terrier that originated in the 1800s in England, but was developed in Australia.

The use of the same breed names in different countries for similar – but different – breeds causes a great deal of confusion. Perhaps it is easiest to remember that the English Jack Russell Terrier is a small terrier not recognized by any of the world’s kennel clubs that does have a small, loyal following in the United States as well. The Australian Jack Russell, FCI Jack Russell and American Russell Terrier are the same breed.

The Russell Terrier was bred as a fox-hunting breed that worked its game over- and underground. Russells are bred to work in packs, and thus should not scrap amongst themselves. Their hardy and fearless nature and their true working ability belie their small size. The American Russell Terrier Club often makes the statement that it wishes to “keep this wonderful old working breed true to its heritage.”

The Russell Terrier, left, is a rectangular breed, while the Parson, right, is square. Photos courtesy of the American Russell Terrier Club.

The Russell Terrier and the AKC’s Parson Russell Terrier do indeed descend from the same stock, but today’s breeds are distinctly different in height, leg length and shape. The Parson is taller, 13 to 14 inches, and of a square shape, while the Russell is shorter in height, 10 to 12 inches, with a rectangular shape.

The body proportions of the Russell Terrier call for the depth of body, measured from the withers to the bottom of the chest, to be equal in length to the foreleg from the top of elbow to the ground. Thus, depth of brisket to length of leg is a 50:50 ratio, and the brisket must never extend below the elbow.

The rectangular Russell Terrier’s depth of brisket to length of leg is a 50:50 ratio.

When observing the front of the Russell Terrier in profile, the chest, or prosternum, protrudes in front of the point of the shoulder. A Russell should never exhibit the “flat” front of the Fox Terrier where the sternum does not protrude in front of the forelegs. The Russell also does not move the same way as a Fox Terrier, but instead gaits with “unrestricted motion exhibiting equality of reach to drive.”

An unusual and interesting aspect of the Russell Terrier standard says, “The neck is of sufficient length to allow the terrier’s mouth to extend beyond its forepaws when working.” Thus, although short in stature, the Russell is not to have a short or “stuffy” neck.

This smooth Russell beautifully represents the depth of body to leg length proportions, as well as the blunt wedge shape to the head that tapers from the wide skull toward the muzzle.

Like the Parson, the Russell chest is to be spannable, meaning that average-sized hands, when placed behind the elbows and around the dog’s chest, will reach all the way around with the thumbs meeting at the spine and the fingers meeting underneath the chest. The chest must also be compressible, meaning that when the hands are around the chest, it will feel somewhat elastic when gently squeezed. These qualities, of course, relate to the dog being able to first fit into a foxhole underground, and, once there, have the flexibility to maneuver through tight spots and bend through twists and turns.

The topline is level, front legs are straight, angles are balanced front to rear and hind legs when viewed from behind are parallel. The stifles and short hocks are “well angulated,” in keeping with the requirement that the breed move with reach and drive.

The broken-coated Russell might look like a smooth from a distance, but will usually have furnishings on the face, with a coat of intermediate length.

The Russell tail may be docked or left natural, but it is to be set on the end of a level topline that does not slope downward. When moving, the tail is carried straight up or with a “slight curve forward.”

The “blunt wedge” head of the Russell derives from a skull of “moderate width” that decreases in width to the eyes, and then narrows further to the blunt end of the muzzle. The length of muzzle is “slightly shorter” than the length of the skull, with a well-defined stop. The dark, almond-shaped eyes have a “keen expression of alertness.” In head shape and proportion as well as eye, the Russell is much like the Parson. The Russell’s ears are “small ‘v’-shaped button or drop ears.” The Parson standard calls for only a ‘v’-shaped drop ear.

In color, the Russell is to be predominately white, at least 51 percent, with tan and/or black markings. Neither tan nor black is preferred in any of the three coat types: smooth, broken or rough. The smooth coat is, as expected, a short, coarse coat with an undercoat. The broken coat is of “intermediate length,” usually with furnishings on the face. The rough coat is a longer, harsh, dense coat with an undercoat.

The rough-coated Russell has a longer, harsh, dense coat with an undercoat.

All in all, this diminutive breed is to be a sturdy package of lively, active working Terrier. It is called “a spirited and game hunter,” and is intelligent, playful and affectionate. The breed standard specifically says that “their intensity for life is one of their most endearing traits.”

The American Russell Terrier Club has a very useful “Amplified Guide for Judges and Breeders” and a great deal more information about the history, temperament, health and many other aspects of the breed available on its website.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • Debbie R Pearson November 23, 2012 at 9:36 PM

    what a cute dog! i am mobile dog groomer and would love to own one. i live in seattle washington, do you know of a breeder in my area?

  • Guido May 2, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    In the land of origin (GB) you wil rarely find the low legged type. The almost square type Parson Russell Terrier is the only recognized bij the UKKC. The FCI Jack Russell low legged australian type are mostly not working (over here). They only go to shows. The parson Russells are often used for huntig on Red fox and Wild Boar

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