If you've wondered about the difference between the Jack Russell terrier and the Parson Russell terrier, here's the answer: not much. Both are named after the same person, the Reverend John Russell, original developer of the breeds. The Parson Russell is a hunting dog, bred to work. Training the Parson Russell requires patience.
Parson Russell Terriers
The original Parson Russell was a man of the cloth and one of the most avid fox hunters in 19th century England. The terriers bearing his name were developed as fox hunters. Not the foxhounds who chase the quarry, but the game terriers who could locate a fox "gone to ground" and show a hunt member where to dig for it. Barking and digging a lot is part of the terrier gene pool, so if that's something you can't deal with in a dog, you're better off without a PRT or JRT. On the other hand, if you want an active, affectionate companion, he fills the bill. These smart, athletic, intense little dogs require a job. A bored PRT is a destructive PRT.
While it's important to train any dog, it's absolutely crucial to train a PRT. The Parson Russell has a true bent for mischief -- at least that's what you'd call it. PRTs live to hunt, although that might not be practical in modern life. They're fearless and determined. You'll have to PRT-proof your back yard, because these little guys will make every effort get out if they spot prey -- whether it's a squirrel, rabbit or the neighbor's cat. Because of the Russell's prey drive, any such critter can easily end up dead. PRTs can dig under a fence or climb one if necessary, and they won't let an invisible fence faze them. No small shock will deter a PRT in pursuit. Take your puppy to an obedience class early on. He'll learn quickly and enjoy the experience, because it's a work endeavor and a chance to bond with you.
Earthdog competition allows a PRT to do what he does best. Training starts with introducing him to quarry -- in the case of Earthdog, caged rats. Competitors dash down tunnels of varying complexity to locate the caged quarry. As he progresses through the Earthdog stages, the dog's task become more complex and your role as handler becomes more complicated. PRTs earning the title of Master Earthdog must investigate an unscented den -- a place obviously without quarry -- simply because you direct him to, then he must find the entrance to an active den and work it within a specified time.
While you can train a Parson Russell terrier for obedience and agility competitions, those are competitions most purebred dogs can enter. Other trials exist only for terriers and other dogs bred to hunt, such as the dachshund. Such trials include racing, both on the flat and over "fences," or a canine version of steeplechase. Your dog competes against like-aged Parson Russell and Jack Russell terriers, chasing a lure. All dogs are muzzled for racing, for their own and their handlers' protection. Another PRT-suited competition is muskrat racing, which involves chasing a lure into water. Events like a barn hunt feature a mock stable, where PRTs can practice locating prey. Of course, you can always ask farmers whose barns are infested with rats whether your PRT can practice on-site.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.