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Jack Russell Terrier - the hunting dog

Jack Russell Terrier – The Hunting Dog

Although my darling Jack Russell Kala is above all my trusty companion, life partner and a house pet without any real experience in hunting (just like me) I still observe a lot of her hunting instincts in everyday life.

I’ve come to understand that that’s just how Jack Russell Terriers are by nature. For that reason I decided to write this short article on the subject of their extraordinary working abilities.

Bred for hunting

Jack Russell Terriers were bred specifically for hunting since the mid 19th century. The father of the breed, reverend John Russell, was an avid hunter. He especially enjoyed foxhunting and recognized the need for a small, agile, fearless dog that will chase foxes in their underground burrows and flush them out in the open. JRT’s conformation today shows that they are still primarily a working breed.

They have a limber, balanced compact body with short straight legs and small chest. These are all physical attributes perfect for chasing and cornering prey that tends to burrow and go to ground when threatened e.g. foxes, badgers, marmots, raccoons, etc. Over the years special emphasis was made on their coloring.

Predominantly white coat helps hunters easily distinguish them from the prey and thus prevent unfortunate hunting accidents.

Relentless pursuers

In addition to being physically fit for the task at hand their fearless attitude and stubborn personality make them relentless in the pursuit of prey. They have lots of stamina and can even jump five feet in the air which in combination with their excellent burrowing skills means that they can overcome almost any obstacle.

Their strong prey drive can sometimes be a hindrance in “normal”, household circumstances when they will often see cats, and other smaller animals as prey. This is one of the reasons why they are popular with farmers who keep them around as excellent pest control.

Their unwillingness to end the chase can sometimes land them in quite a bit of trouble – there are known cases of Jack Russell Terriers staying in underground burrows for days on end in pursuit of their prey. In such circumstances lack of food and water can ultimately lead them to extreme exhaustion and unfortunately death.

As I’ve mentioned before their digging skills are extraordinary but unfortunately sometimes even that isn’t enough to get them out of a tight spot. That’s why experienced hunters and Jack Russell owners carry basic digging equipment with them when going in the wild.

They use it to dig out and ultimately help save their four legged companions if they become stuck underground or stubbornly refuse to let go of the quarry in question.

One of the reasons many JRTs have docked tails, even today, is that such practice prevents various injuries and infections that they might gain moving through the thick underbrush, underground or during the struggle with other animals.

Crucial role in the hunt

Their primary role was to enter underground dens, burrows, nooks and crannies where the prey tried to hide and rest far away from the danger. Many other dog breeds that were developed for hunting are not physically and psychically up to the task.

They are too large to enter small holes, too bulky to traverse underground mazes or simply don’t have enough spunk to meet the prey head on in small, claustrophobic spaces. Jack Russell Terriers meet all the criteria to go where no one else dares, do the job, and do it well.

Working JRT’s are trained to sniff out the prey, pursue and engage it underground with the goal of flushing it out to the surface where the hunting party may continue the operation. If they are unable to do so they’re well equipped to deal with the prey on their own terms and retrieve it back on the surface.

All purpose hunting dog

Although they excel in aforementioned roles there are reported instances of hunters using them for hunting all kind of different prey. Some where trained to be excellent retrievers – even when hunting waterfowl. Their fearless nature is well known so it’s no surprise that there are even instances of them treeing bears.

JRT’s proud heritage as a working dog hasn’t waned over time as it has in many other breeds. They are still used for various hunting and varmint control duties and many breeders wish to keep it that way instead of them becoming simply pets and show dogs.

Their superb physical abilities, natural curiosity and playfulness make them excellent companions for all those that are inclined to a more active lifestyle.


  1. Chantal Pretorius

    is it normal for a jack russel to hunt a dove down and eat it?

    • Hi Chantal, hunting anything is normal for a JRT. Some of them eat their prey and some of them do it just for the pure fun of hunting. Cheers, Ana

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