When I was a little girl, I dreamed of owning a dog. I prayed to God he’d send me one, I wrote poems and short stories at school about the fictional dog I didn’t have and coveted friends’ pooches, secretly renaming them and imagining what colour and design of collar I’d choose for them. I’d walk neighbours’ dogs, hoping that passers-by would think that they were mine. And…not counting a psychotic, sociopathic West Highland Terrier (don’t ever ever go there!) I didn’t have a dog I could truly call my own until now. Jamie, the ‘Westie’ was sadly, what many people believe is the dog-owning experience. To look at, very pretty, but a very complex and troubled dog who wasn’t much fun to own or be around. My parents bought him when I was nine and he was loved thoroughly by us all, but I was never sure how much of this was reciprocated by him! So this is a cautionary tale – get it wrong and a dog can be more a worry than a wonderful addition to a home.
Ben, a typical rough coated tri-coloured Jack Russell Terrier
I now have a dog of my own, a best friend. He’s a proper dog. The kind you imagine when you’re little. You know, a dog you can tell all your secrets to, cuddle up to and watch your favourite t.v. with when you’re feeling something less than active, and yet, a dog who’ll happily charge up and down dale with you, wherever and whenever you want to go with boundless energy when it’s needed.
Ben relaxing at home
Many people, linguists and anthropologists amongst them have explored the question if humans and animals can communicate. Notably, Noam Chomsky, researched the possibility of whether or not chimpanzees were able to understand isolated words, stripped of any intonation or gesture. His research asked the chimps to complete a series of tasks like placing a red triangle in a red triangular hole and recorded if they explicitly understood the words and concepts involved. The results were, perhaps not surprisingly, a bit inconclusive and many have strongly argued that animals only pick up on the pitch of sounds rather than the words themselves. But…here’s the thing, my dog understands so much of the communication in my house it’s truly unbelievable and often astounding. He’s truly perceptive, understands facial expression, can discriminate between work clothes, jogging clothes and riding clothes (and they are clean and washed, so it can’t be only the different smells!). And like many dogs, he understands what the heap of packed cases and bags heralds (and swiftly slinks off to seek solace in his basket). If I whisper sweet nothings in his little spotted ears, he mumbles back and looks at me with such tenderness in his eyes that he is, irrefutably, returning some linguistic affection. To say he is special to me is an understatement.
He is Ben, or Benny Boy and this is the part you really need to learn. He is a rough coated Jack Russell Terrier and is as close to a perfect family dog as you’ll ever find. The JRT is not too small and pathetic on the end of a lead to make any man look anything less than manly, not too big to load in the smallest of cars (mine’s a minuscule Fiat 500!) and let’s be honest, the waste matter is always embarrassingly in ratio to size of hound – so….even his little brown parcels are suitably small and I have to say, as inoffensive as dog excrement could ever be! But, most importantly, JRTs are just great bundles of fun. They are mini-people, who’ll sit cross legged and pull very close to human expressions, whilst taking in the world around them. Like sponges, they will become part of your life and if you let them, be involved with everything you do. I once read a scathing comment on Jacks as being like the ticket collectors or tax inspectors of the dog world, suggesting they’ve busy-body tendencies and I’d have to correct that. They’re just curious about the world around them and start from the heart-warming premise that everyone loves them. So if they do have a down side, it’s this presumption that is fine unless you come across someone who’s truly dog-phobic, as your little hairy pal just won’t understand a human’s seeming indifference. They won’t stop pestering them until they change their mind! When we have friends round for dinner, Ben has to sit with us. He doesn’t bark or insist to be stroked, but just wants to sit with us and enjoy the company. However, if ever we’ve had a guest who is not a dog-lover round, Ben will gravitate towards them and keep proferring his paw or just looking up at them gently, pleading for them to love him!
Before owning a JRT I wrote them off as snappy, yappy and unfriendly. How wrong could I have been? It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to his ‘Oliver Twist’ and I met this sweet little dog did I understand the great appeal of this breed. Not remotely yappy, Ben barks once if left on the wrong side of a door and once only. He never nips or bites anyone and as far as terriers being a troublesome lot, he’s almost saint-like! He loves to ‘borrow’ the odd shoe from my wardrobe if I’m out at work, and he’ll sometimes gather a circle of them and place them in his basket, a bit like Stone Henge, but never ever ever is there so much a pin prick of a bite mark on any of them. He is so tender and careful. Sponge, as I’ve already suggested is the word, we adore him, he is pampered and loved and he seems to mirror back that TLC by the paw load!
And..did I mention, he’s beautiful. Big brown eyes, a slightly cutesy bent tail, spotty ears and one large tan spot in the middle of his back. If you look at smooth coated or rough coated Jacks, you’ll see they all have adorably individualised markings.
Health-wise, at touching six, he’s been incredibly robust and healthy. The only common problem my vet has mentioned with the breed is the chance of arthritis in some older dogs, but I think that’s true of most breeds. Other than his annual vaccinations, the only visit Ben has ever made to the vet was for a ripped dew claw. And after an antibiotic shot, he chewed the problem off himself in the end!
….So, assuming you’ve heard enough – how do you choose the best JRT puppy?
The one thing I haven’t told you is Ben was one of two – Ben and Jerry (as in the delicious ice cream). We thought by getting two puppies they’d keep each other company and play happily on the occasions when we’re all out at work together. But no! Initially Ben and his black, tan and white sibling got on famously, but then Jerry became dominant and eventually made the wee one’s life truly miserable. We tried all sorts of things, but began to notice that Ben was afraid to even eat, so took Jerry back to the farm where we bought them and as he was a healthy, lovely dog, they were delighted to be able to re-home him from there. Importantly, don’t buy two dogs from the same litter. I do have friends with more than one Jack from different litters who get on famously. And be prepared to accept that if you introduce a JRT to your home, he will be your baby and very much an important part of your family. Don’t imagine he can be shut away in the kitchen when the guests come or worse, put alone in a dog cage. These are sensitive souls and they want to be a part of the action. An isolated dog will not make a happy little dog.
Before choosing, you must examine what your personality/family’s personalities are like. What do you do? Where do you live? and what sort of dog would suit your life? We are very loving, tactile and perhaps slightly erratically active! We have horses and spend quite a lot of time at the stables and outdoors, so needed a dog who could rough and tumble, but believe me, in the winter evenings, we like cuddling up on the sofa and doing very little. So for us, a dog who could be a bit chameleon like was what was needed. Ben’s brother, Jerry, incidentally was far more active and a bit hyper-active really, so selection is key. Ben was quite a tiny puppy and is still on the small side compared with other JRTs. He wasn’t as active in the litter as his brother, but was very alert, watching everything. So, my advice would be choose a puppy that is alert, interested and friendly, but not necessarily the JRT puppy that’s bounding around the most!
So finally, remember: JRTs are the uber dog because:
- They are the perfect size (not too weedy/small, not too large/take over your house/car
- They don’t smell (forgot to mention that! and easy to bath on that odd occasion they do!) – although do be aware that despite not having especially long hair, they do molt!
- They are real people – huge, huge fun – you want a friend? this is your dog!
- Once you’ve had one, you’ll never have another breed – I won’t!