Meet the Breed: The Russell Terrier



  • Height: 10"- 12”
  • Weight: 14-18 pounds
  • Historical function: Fox hunter, Vermin controller.  
  • Modern function: Companion, working dog
  • AKC classification: Terrier

Physical Characteristics:

The Russell Terrier is a muscular yet lithely-built dog that is slightly longer than it is tall at the shoulders. The expression is alert and intelligent. The skull is flat. The eyes are brown and the nose is black. The ears are small triangles that are set high and fold forward. The jaws are strong and the bite can be scissor or level, with the scissor bite being preferred. The tail may be docked to around 4 inches. The coat may be smooth, broken or rough. The coat is predominantly white (over 51%) with varying patch colors that may be tan, black or brown. 

Smooth-coated Russell Terrier

History of the Breed:

The Russell Terrier originated in England from the Reverend John Russell's fox-hunting terriers. The Russell Terrier was further developed in Australia. Its small size was suitable for being carried on horseback in terrier backs when the Australian terrain became too difficult. The Russell Terrier was recognized by the AKC in 2012. 

Some thoughts about classification

There is much confusion over the differences between the Jack Russell Terrier, the Russell Terrier, and the Parson Russell Terrier. As far as can be determined by the author of this post, after surveying several sites, the most common distinction is that the Russell Terrier is officially recognized by the AKC, is shorter and slightly rectangular, whereas the Parson Russell Terrier (also recognized by the AKC) has longer legs, and has more of a square build. To further confuse things, the Parson Russell Terrier used to be known as the Jack Russell Terrier by the AKC from 1997-2003.

The Jack Russell Terrier name is owned by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America and other affiliated international Jack Russell Terrier clubs. The JRTCA petitioned and won a lawsuit stating that the Jack Russell Terrier name was already used to describe a broader group of working terriers. Additionally, the Jack Russell Terrier should not be recognized by any kennel club or all-breed registry because the JRT should be bred for its working ability rather than a narrow visual standard. When club breeders start breeding for appearance, the working ability is compromised. The JRTCA feels that both the Russell Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier are both just variants accepted within the Jack Russell breed.   


The Russell Terrier is a fearless, confident, highly intelligent and devoted dog that is always ready for action. This is a highly active dog that rarely tires. This dog is not recommended for beginners or for children under age 6. 

  • Best suited for: Active families that are willing to invest in providing training, supervision, and activities for this working dog. 
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog prefers to be with his family and must have a securely fenced yard (not chain link.) Can do okay with apartment living with sufficient exercise, but does best with at least a medium-sized yard. 

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: Easy-care coat needs occasional brushing and bathing. The smooth coat sheds the most. Rough coats may need hand stripping. 
  • Exercise needs: Daily long walk or jog. Requires lots of chew toys and toys that challenge this intelligent dog mentally. 
  • Life expectancy: 15+ years.
  • Health concerns: Generally healthy but may be prone to dislocated knee caps.  

Breed Club Links: The American Russell Terrier Club, Inc. Perfect Pairings: Doggie Agility Obstacle Course for Smaller Dogs

Have any stories about a Russell Terrier? Please share!

Rough-coated Russell Terrier photo by trazomfreak.

Smooth-coated Russell Terrier photo by Vidar Hoel.

This entry was posted by Mary.
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