Ask any Jack Russell owner about their dog, and they’re bound to tell you something to make you smile. I spoke to several, and each story seemed less probable than the last. There was the one about the Jack Russell who went to stay with a non dog-owning bachelor friend and, when lunch appeared, jumped on the table and helped himself to foie gras. There was the one who was last seen talking to the bin men-four days later, he was returned from 40 miles away.

Another travelled, unscathed, from one end of London to the other. When I rang the owner of a notorious West Sussex Jack Russell, I was told that he had met a sticky end, but his legend lives on: ruined shoots when he locked himself in the gamekeeper’s truck, run-ins with the law-‘someone took him to the police station for chasing a cat’ and ratting in the dining room of the local prep school. As Dennis’s owner told me, in the choked tones of the newly bereaved: ‘He made me laugh every day.’

That’s the thing about Jack Russells: they’re always forgiven. Somehow, their twinkle and swagger defy rebuke, so the odd mishap with some chickens or a joint of beef is quickly forgotten. One besotted owner laughs as he recalls finding the remains of Sunday lunch in a bathroom.

Why do these annoying little dogs yappy, disobedient, destructive-elicit such devotion? Is it their reluctance to be pigeonholed? Indeed, despite their reputation for anarchy, Jack Russells are one of the most versatile dogs. Put one in Chelsea, and they’ll soon take command of the street; in the country, they excel at shooting, hunting, ratting and ferreting.

Jack russells

They’re also brave: George saved five children from two pit-bull terriers at a carnival in New Zealand, and was killed in the process. He was honoured this year with the veterinary charity PDSA’s Gold Medal. Jack Russells are also portable and companionable; they’ll befriend babies, aged aunts, royalty, actors. Prince Charles was devoted to Tigger, who lived to the age of 18, and The Duchess of Cornwall has Tosca and Rose.

Eddie (played by father and son Moose and Enzo) commanded more fan mail than any other character in the American sitcom Frasier, and Chalky regularly upstaged television chef Rick Stein-he even had his own merchandise and BBC obituary.

Legendary dogs and tall tails

Country Life readers relate Jack Russell tales

Tinker has had his teeth into roe deer, badgers, foxes, rabbits and countless cats; he’s ravished his grandmother twice, and has fathered scores of delightful whelps. He believes he is a cuddly lapdog, but he has a police record – Charlie Keen

Boris was notorious for chasing the postman. Ours was very tolerant, but, when he was on holiday, his replacement was too scared to get out of the van, so handed the mail over via the window. But Boris flew through his open window, still after his daily fix. I’ve never seen anyone jump out of a vehicle so quickly – Lulu Caudwell

Monty would stalk motorcyclists from the back
of my husband, Edwin’s, convertible. He would hide until they got past, then jump up and go mad. Once, he fell out of the car on a dual carriageway and cartwheeled down the fast lane like Sonic the Hedgehog. After stopping traffic, Edwin recovered Monty, amazingly, without a scratch on him – Hannah Pope

Benson used to live on the Wentworth estate in Surrey. Legend has it that his previous owners were watching a golf tournament there on tele-vision when Benson burst onto the screen, charg-
ing along the green in hot pursuit of the ball – Liz Hudson

Corki, my friends’ Jack Russell, came with me and my two well-behaved labradors for a visit to Studland Beach. Corki scattered a wedding party, ran into the sea, caught and killed a seagull, then disappeared. Two hours later, he was apprehended with his head down a rabbit hole. My labradors were both appalled and secretly impressed – Sue Donaldson

Max (about 10 months) is keen on cats, rolling in revolting things and seeing how high he can jump. His owner, Tilly, seven, wanted a Jack Russell so much that she saved her pocket money and is paying him off in instalments. The final payment is due in April – Nicholas Brett

Archie grabbed my daughter’s homework out of my hand and ripped it to shreds. Until then, we’d thought ‘the dog ate my homework’ was a feeble excuse – Jeremy Musson

Glenfeshie chases any bird, tail or rabbit and causes misery to footballers, but has a healthy respect for ferrets. He’s good on the hill, except when confronted with hill walkers with ski poles, which he will not leave alone – Crispin Holborow

Compiled by Susannah Glynn