Country Life’s Favourite Dogs: Jack Russell

Favourite Dog: Jack Russell
Vital statistics (top trumps)

Loyalty 9/10

As every Jack Russell owner knows, the best – and bravest – things come in small packages. Physically, these are among the most diminutive dogs we’ll be featuring in this series, but they think big, and are totally unafraid of animals 10 times their size. You can expect David and Goliath-style standoffs with much larger dogs on walks, and in the USA, they have even been known to chase mountain lions up trees.

Smooth-haired or wire-haired, with black-on-white or white-and-tan markings, Jack Russells are always full of character and bounce. They’re whip-smart, athletic and vocal, never shy in making their feelings known. Unsurprisingly, given their working roots – and bred more for their temperment than their looks – they’re also terrific diggers. New owners can kiss goodbye to the exquisitely landscaped garden they’ve worked so hard to maintain – it’ll be covered with mounds of earth soon enough.

Owners also must get used to this breed’s propensity for disappearing down rabbit holes; many an expedition has led to a jack russell disappearing for hours, or indeed days, inside a warren. Widely considered to be some of the best ratters the world has known, they can easily make up for any damage done to the formal garden with some sterling work ridding outbuildings of pests.

The jack russell gets its name from the Reverend John Russell, a sporting parson from Devon who made it his mission to breed a hard-working terrier capable of flushing out foxes in the early 19th century. He had a keen eye for potential, and bought the dog who would lay the foundations for the Jack Russell’s bloodline, Trump, from a milkman while he was still a student at Oxford.

Ever since, there has been a degree of controversy over breed standard. The Kennel Club admitted the leggier Parson Russell terrier in the 1980s, but their shorter, stockier cousins remain unregistered. Despite their lack of an official rubber stamp, Jack Russells are recognised in plenty of other quarters – including Hollywood. In 2011, animal actor Uggie’s scene-stealing performance in The Artist triggered a campaign for him to be awarded an Oscar. He went on to win the Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Robustly healthy and long-lived, Jack Russells boldly go where few other breeds have done. Bothie, known as ‘The Polar Dog’, travelled to the ends of the Earth with his master Ranulph Fiennes as part of the Transglobe Expedition. In fact, these doughty little dogs are so adventurous that they sometimes take themselves off on solo trips. In 2008, a Jack Russell called Jarvis caught the ferry home by himself from the Cornish side of the Plymouth sound after getting lost on a walk. And in 2012, Frankie the Jack Russell walked two miles from his Kent home to the nearest station and boarded the 7.22 service to St Pancras – despite never having been on a train before.

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** Correction: Ralph Fiennes was changed to Ranulph Fiennes on Feb 18 2014.