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  • by Karen Cummings

Jack Russell Terriers -- Jekyll and Hydes of the Dog Kingdom

What better dog could you ask for than one that is a feisty little watch dog, keeps all types of vermin from the immediate area better than a cat, yet can still be picked up and carried under the arm or cuddled in a lap, and is loving and loyal on top of that?

Well, according to the owners of Jack Russell terriers -- the dog that handily fits the description -- you couldn't ask for a better dog. "Once people have owned a Jack Russell, " said Paul Ross, owner and breeder of Jack Russells at his Foxwarren Kennels in Conway, "they won't settle for anything else."

The question quickly arises: Well, exactly what is a Jack Russell terrier? They are not a breed recognized by the American Kennel Club, yet have been steadily growing in popularity in the United States, and are undoubtedly the most popular dog in Britain.

The first New Hampshire Jack Russel;l show was held on August 25 and 26 [1984] at the Baird Hill Kennels owned by Crow and Elizabeth Dickinson, and at the Ross' Foxwarren Kennels. But, to the untrained eye, a look at all the dogs romping around the property, those days would hardly give clues as to exactly what a Jack Russell should really look like.

It did give a good clue as to what they should act like, however. In addition to the normal conformation competitions, Jack Russell fanciers like to pit their dogs against one another in competition to show the true working nature of their charges. "It's one of the few 'working' dogs left," explained Paul. "They were bred to go on the hunt and they still do that today -- many have full work weeks where they go hunting every day. Most of the dogs in the United States today are maybe only a generation removed from being a working dog."

The original Jack Russell terrier was, in truth, the original fox terrier bred to go on the sporting fox hunt. The breed was first developed nearly 200 years ago by an English parson who had a good eye for a well-formed dog. For centuries, The English countryside had been producing terriers, so-named for their propensity for "going-to-ground" or entering and digging up the earth in pursuit of their prey. Russell, born in 1795, had grown up in North Devon, which was an area known for its working terriers, and even as a teenager, he had developed a reputation for his knowledge of good hunting dogs.

The Jack Russell and the fox terrier parted ways after the death of the parson in the late 1800s, when the latter dog was bred primarily for show the former continued to be bred as a working dog. In striving for good form, the fox terrier became larger and bigger chested, and now has an appearance distinctly different than its forebear.

Although some hunt scenes often picture a pack of hounds leading the chase, the terrier was also an integral part of the fox hunt. "There was usually a man in charge of all the working terriers," said Paul, "and he trained them to follow the fox underground and either drive him back up to the surface unharmed, or to continue barking until the huntsmen could dig them both out and resume the chase."

It was a dangerous job, and many a terrier was lost when trampled underfoot by the horses or trapped underground. "The dogs have no concept of their size," added Paul, and will go after anything, so in those days, their life expectancy wasn't very long." Since the sporting part of a fox hunt is the pursuit rather than the kill, a terrier was valued if it would corner its quarry and yet not harm it. "In northern England where they keep sheep," Paul explained, "they might want them to kill them, but in the southern part, their job is just to follow the fox into its den."

Throughout Saturday's action at the New Hampshire Jack Russell show, the dog's working background was evident. The morning was devoted to a go-to-ground exercise, and the afternoon was spent with a series of races. Known for their tenacity and inexhaustible energies during the hunt, the Jack Russell terriers are required to exhibit these qualities during all of the contests.

In the "go-to-ground" exercise, the terriers have to run through a 30-foot trough and bark and scratch and otherwise act appropriately ferocious toward the caged animal at the end of the trough (in this case a rat). Winners are determined by the speed at which they reach their quarry and by the amount of time they keep up their barking. "On the hunt, Jack Russells were said to bark for hours at a fox in its den," said Paul. "This enabled the huntsmen to locate them and dig them out."

Saturday's go-to-ground winner go so into the competition that when his time as up his owner had to pull him out of the trough by the scruff of the neck, at which time he planted a quick like on her face as he looked for approval. "These dogs are very aggressive in the field," explained Elizabeth Dickinson, who organized the show for the benefit of the Gibson Center, "but they are friendly and loving in their own environment."

Obviously, the most entertaining and exciting part of the day was watching the races. Consisting of straight runs, hurdles or a steeplechase in pursuit of a fox tail down a 150-foot chute, the races seemed just as much fun to the dogs participating as to the spectators.

Racers were required to squeeze through a small tunnel in a wall of hay bales at the end of the run. Emerging victorious required speed on the part of the little dog as well as the interlligence to follow the fox tail as it quickly disappeared through the hole in the hay. "These dogs aren't designed to be racers," said Elizabeth, "but since they were required to keep up with the horses on the hunt, they love to run and so races have just evolved as part of a Jack Russell shows."

And run they do. A maximum of five dogs at a time are placed in the starting boxes, and to stir them up, a fox tail is waved in front of their noses just on the other side of the gate. On either side of the chute, their fellow Jack russells are barking furiously and straining at their leashes in an attempt to get at the elusive fox tail themselves. As soon as the gate goes up, if the dogs aren't sidetracked by an owner or another dog (fights during the race are common), they are off as fast as their little legs can carry them in pursuit of the fast moving fox tail. Tumbles as they dive for the tail or headlong crashes in the hay bales happen, too, but the game little dogs are quick to jump up and give it another try time and again.

Though decidedly similar in spirit, these dogs remain quite diverse in appearance. Just as all the contestants at Jack Russell shows have evolved because of the requirements of their historic job, so has the correct appearance of the dog been dictated by these same requirements. "The original Jack Russell dog was never under 13 inches," said Paul. "If it was less, it couldn't do its basic job of following the fox and keeping up with the horses and hounds."

The dog should be no more than 50 percent marked, and the more white, the better. The hunters could see a lighter dog more easily from a distance or spot it quickly when searching for it underground. Their coloring was also important to keep the hounds from mistaking it for the fox.The dogs were also bred so their ears folded over to prevent dirt from getting into them.

One of the most important requirements that may havbe been forgotten in the breeding of the hard-working dog is that the dog needed to be small enough to chase a fox into its lair. A fox has approximately a 14-inch chest so it should be possible to span the chest of the Jack Russell terrier with a person's two hands at the widest point on the dog, directly behind his front legs. Over the years, dogs of all different conformations have been passed off as Jack Russells. "There are a lot of mongrels out there that people are selling as Jack Russells," noted Paul.

The majority of Jack Russell enthusiasts are happy that the breed has remained primarily a working dog and as yet has not been recognized by the Kennel Club and become a show dog. Despite this, they also wish to establish some standards for the breed and are beginning to do so through the Jack Russell clubs that have been established here and abroad.

The dog is still desirable in a variety of sizes, but it should be no smaller than 10 inches at the shoulder and no larger than 15 inches. "At the first national show in the United States last year, said Elizabeth, "the English judge picked the dogs that were the true type of Jack Russells. They were not the fat-chested, bow-legged, long-backed dogs that many consider to be Jack Russells, but more balanced." A "balanced" Jack Russell should be essentially square, with its shoulder height equal to the lenght of his back. "People are beginning to realize that the short-legged type are not the original," said Paul, "and are starting to breed for the longer, straighter leg."

Adding to the confusion at a Jack Russell dog show is the fact that the breed has three different coats. the most common at this weekend's show ere the short-haired variety, but the rough-coated version, bearing a distinct resemblance to Hollywood's Benji, was spotted among the others. Though he obviously had the same termperament and spirit as his short-haired brother, only his size and intelligent brown eyes revealed their relationship. The third variety, the broken-coated Jack Russell, is a cross between the two, and is said to have been the favorite of the founder of the breed, Parson Jack Russell himself.

The First Annual New Hampshire Jack Russell Terrier Show proved to be a huge success -- more than 90 dogs were preregistered for the event. "Though I wouldn't have said it this weekend, I'm looking forward to having another show next year and hope that even more people and dogs come to compete and see what the Jack Russell is all about."

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