Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The AKC Embraces the Jack Russell

Conformation for people as well as dogs!

Sometime in the late 1990s, following the appearance of Jack Russell Terriers in a host of TV and Hollywood productions ranging from “Wishbone” and “Frasier” to “My Dog Skip” and “The Mask,” the American Kennel Club decided to add the Jack Russell Terrier to its roles.

As they previously had done with the Border Collie, the AKC ignored the strong and vocal opposition of the large existing breed club, and quietly assembled a covey of show-ring breeders to serve as the nucleus of a new AKC-friendly breed club.

The “Jack Russell Terrier Breeders Association” (later called the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America, and now called the “Parson Russell Terrier Association of America”) petitioned for the admission of the Jack Russell Terrier into the Kennel Club and, despite the objections of the JRTCA, the breed was admitted in January of 2001.

The admission of the Jack Russell Terrier into the American Kennel Club was a contentious affair, with the JRTCA standing firm on its long-held rule that no dog could be dual-registered.

What this meant is that breeders had to chose whether to remain in the JRTCA or to “get in early” with the AKC in order to get their dogs registered before the breed registry closed.

Some of the breeders that chose the AKC did so because they thought they could then sell their puppies for more money, others were eager to be “big fish in a small pond” at the beginning of a new AKC-registered breed. Still others were anxious to attend more dog shows and performance events, arguing that individual dogs were the same no matter under whose auspices they were registered.

On this last point, those pushing for dual registration were correct as narrowly defined, but wrong in every way that mattered.

While it is true that individual dogs were not changed by admission to the Kennel Club, the AKC goal -- right from the beginning -- was to get rid of the wide sweep of variation that existed in the working world of Jack Russell Terriers.

Towards that end, the American Kennel Club breed standard stipulated that an AKC Jack Russell terrier could not be under 12 inches in height or over 15 inches in height, and that the “ideal” dog was 14 inches tall and the ideal bitch was 13 inches tall. Ironically, this breed description effectively eliminated about 40 percent of all the American Jack Russell terriers that had worked red fox up to that time!

More importantly, this narrow standard eliminated the small dogs necessary to “size down” a breed — something absolutely necessary in order to keep working terriers small enough to work.

Of course the American Kennel Club has never been interested in working terriers, and the breed club they created has shown no interest in work either.

Under pressure from the working Jack Russell Terrier community in England and the U.S., the British and American Kennel Clubs eventually decided to jettison the “Jack Russell Terrier” name to more easily identify the non-working show dog they favored.

Now called the “Parson Russell Terrier,” the AKC dog is quickly getting too big in the chest to work — not that many of the dogs are actually taken out into the field to try.

After just three years in the Kennel Club, the “Parson Russell Terrier Club” tried to modify the show ring standard so that the AKC dog no longer had to be spanned at all. Though this move was defeated, it was an early and ominous sign that the Parson Russell Terrier is more likely to end up as a show ring dog than the honest hunting dog from which it is derived.

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