Jack Russell Terriers: Why this High Energy Dog is Not Suited for Couch Potatoes

When my wife and I were browsing the website of the dog adoption agency and both simultaneously said “That one!”, we had no idea what we were in for. Armed with our combined dog-owning history, an army of puppy appropriate toys, and a very substantial internet search on dog training, we thought we were ready to welcome this pint-sized bundle of joy into our home. We were wrong. The tiny tri-colored puppy we picked up from the shelter turned out to be a terrier. And not just any terrier – it turned out to be a Jack Russell.

Known for their boundless energy and their smart but stubborn nature, Jack Russell Terriers are not exactly known as being “beginner-friendly” dogs. In fact, if you ask me, I would tell you that they are probably only suited for experienced dog owners. But this should not deter you from adopting a Jack Russell! Quite the opposite! If you have experience in positive reinforcement dog training or are willing to learn, then you will acquire a smart, loyal, and playful friend for life.

In the beginning, it might be challenging to own such a high energy breed – even more so when they are still young and therefore extra energetic. We knew that puppy care comes with a lot of work but we didn’t anticipate quite how much work it would be to keep a Jacky puppy entertained. We went to the dog park every day, letting her run and play with other dogs for hours and yet when we came home she still wanted to play! It seemed like she had a boundless well of energy that never ever ran out. She could dig, run, play, and go for walks all day every day – but we definitely couldn’t!

Getting her to fall asleep was equally difficult: just imagine a game of whack-a-mole and then you will have an accurate picture of what it is like to try to put a Jacky puppy to sleep. Every night like clockwork, my wife and I sat at different ends of the living room, tossing a toy back and forth while the puppy was happily running back and forth. Often, it would take us more than an hour of play-time until she would finally settle down. Becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to provide adequate stimulation for our puppy, we turned to a dog trainer for help. We explained to her how we constantly exercise with the dog but it was never satisfied – and how we were beginning to feel like horrible dog parents.

As it turned out, we weren’t horrible dog parents but overly enthusiastic ones! The trainer explained to us that just because our dog has all that energy, doesn’t mean that she also needs to use it. Basically, in our efforts to provide our hyper-energetic puppy with all the exercise we thought she needed, we were never even giving her the opportunity to calm down. We slowly decreased our activities and lo and behold: we did less and because of that, she needed less. Or she needed fewer activities because we did fewer activities with her – whichever way you put it, it saved our lives (and nerves). Don’t get me wrong, she still got plenty of exercise, play-time, and running time – but not quite as much as we thought she wanted. Turns out, what she actually wanted was a break from all the overstimulation that, while being great fun, made it very hard for her get some peace and quiet.

Not teaching their puppy how to relax is a common mistake that quite a lot of dog parents make in the beginning, especially those who own a high energy dog like the Jack Russell. Nowadays, our dog still enjoys her daily walks and dog park visits, her pre-bed-time play-time, and running around the yard, but we make sure to give her plenty of time to just calm down and rest.

Jack Russell Terriers are a working dog breed – and they really enjoy to work. Treating a Jack Russell like a lap dog will only make it miserable in the long run. They need something to do because trust me, you do not want a bored or even frustrated Jack Russell on your hands! A Jacky lacking proper stimulation will wreak havoc. It is therefore highly important that you give all that energy an outlet that does not lead to destruction. A good way to keep your dog occupied is trick training as it stimulates the dog mentally as well as physically.

From the beginning, our Jacky puppy was exceptionally quick in picking up tricks. She mastered basic commands such as sit, down, stay, and, most importantly, no within her first week with us. We were happy she stopped chewing on our carpet, she was happy to have something to do, it was a win all around. But she didn’t just enjoy our daily training sessions, she needed them. Often, she would sit in front of the drawer we use to store her clicker and treats and whine until we would train with her. Now, almost two years in, she has learned well over 20 commands and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

We even enrolled her in some trick dogging courses just so we could find new things to teach her! She greatly enjoys demonstrating her talents when we have visitors, temporarily turning our living room into a circus arena. It is a delight to see her jumping through hoops, roll around on the floor or dance on two legs – and she greatly enjoys all the treats and the attention. But, even with such a highly motivated dog, it’s best to space out training into small, “digestible” chunks, especially in the beginning. You want to provide your dog with a fun way of “working out” and not drill them!

Owning a dog can be challenging – but those challenges get a magnitude more difficult if that dog is a Jack Russell Terrier. This dog breed surely isn’t suited for everyone. You need to be able to deal with the dog’s high energy, need to work, and intelligence. The trick to owning a Jacky is to make sure to meet their high demand for mental as well as physical stimulation. This working breed doesn’t want to laze around the couch with you, it wants to be challenged! Owning a Jack Russell can be an incredibly rewarding experience but you must be willing to put the work in.