Judging the Parson Russell Terrier

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier

 

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier | This article is unlike what you may be used to reading, since it is written neither by the parent club education committee nor by a longtime breeder.

Although I have never bred, owned or shown Parson Russell Terriers, it is a breed that I am very familiar with and have been watching and learning about since way before it was accepted into AKC and became the Parson Russell Terrier. My study of the breed includes having evaluated almost 100 eight-week-old Parson litters and watching many of those puppies grow up. On a more general-background note, I have been an AKC judge for 31 years and I am currently approved to judge the Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding Groups, a number of Hound Breeds, Junior Showmanship, and Best in Show.

Of all the breeds I judge, I hear more complaints about the quality of Parson Russell Terrier judging than most other breeds combined. It is easy to blame judges when exhibitors see dogs winning that are so widely varied in type, make and shape, coat, color, and soundness. However, I would argue that the judges are not entirely to blame. The parent club, breeders, exhibitors, and judges all own the challenges of judging the Parson Russell Terrier.

First and foremost among the challenges is that, from the current Parson Russell Terrier standard, it is very difficult to determine exactly what is required for breed type. In this regard, it appears that breeders are as confused as judges, and if the breeders are left to interpret things to their liking instead of to specifications within the standard, what is a judge supposed to do? When there is no consistency in the dogs being bred and shown, the judge is the one who shoulders the blame when placements seem to be all over the map. In the case of the Parson Russell Terrier, the blame may, in part, live in the breed standard.

I believe that the most misunderstood piece of this standard is under Size, Substance, Proportion.

Size is pretty clear-cut: At the highest point of the shoulder, 14 inches for dogs and 13 inches for bitches; slightly larger or smaller is acceptable on an otherwise well-balanced, quality dog. This appears to be what most breeders are breeding for and what you usually see in the show ring.

Substance calls for the bone to be medium, in order for the dogs to do their job. Too heavy-boned and they appear coarse and may lack agility in their work; too light-boned and they appear racy, unlike the hard-working Terriers they are meant to be. I think most breeders are doing a good job here as well.

Proportion includes skull and foreface, head and frame, height at withers and length of body. It is the height-to-length aspect that seems to be the hardest to understand, both by breeders and by judges.

“The height at withers is slightly greater than distance from the withers to tail, i.e. by possibly 1-1½ inches on a 14 inch dog.” So, if you have a 14-inch dog, the standard calls for a measurement from the withers to the tail to be 12½-13 inches. But there is still the area in front of the withers to either the prosternum or point of the shoulder (this is not addressed in the standard) and the area from the tail to the ischium (point of the buttocks) to be added into the mix. Subtract the 1-1½ inches then, and you have a dog that is close to being rectangular—not off-square but actually longer than tall. It also would make a difference if you are measuring from the highest point of the withers or from the end of the withers, where the back begins, but again, that specific is not addressed in the standard. The Sealyham Terrier illustrated standard addresses this as a square within a rectangle, which is a perfect description.

The above-mentioned numbers are the exact measurements in the standard under Size, Substance, Proportion; BUT under Neck, Topline, Body, it says: “In overall length to height proportion, the dog appears approximately square and balanced.” Almost every picture in the Introduction to the Parson Russell Terrier is an example of a square dog. And you blame judges for not understanding your breed? Who is to blame here? The judges, the breeders, the parent club, AKC? I know the PRTAA works very hard on their judges’ education, but these kinds of contradictions make judging the breed all that much more problematic.

 

Judging Parson Russell Terrier
Proportions should be longer than tall (close to rectangular), off-square or square.

 

Another area of total confusion is in the grooming. Remember, Parsons are supposed to be medium-boned. Why, then, are so many exhibitors and/or their handlers grooming the dogs to look like they are heavy-boned? Forget for a moment the fact that they should never be heavy-boned; the standard specifically states that “sculpturing is to be severely penalized.” Also, the standard says, “Whether smooth or broken, a double coat of good sheen, naturally harsh, close and dense…” I guarantee that you cannot see a good sheen or a harsh natural coat when it is full of chalk and hair spray. Furthermore, “a clean outline with only a hint of eyebrows and beard if natural to the coat” is a far cry from trying to duplicate the furnishings of a Wire Fox Terrier. Soft, silky, wooly coats are to be faulted because these types of coats would provide little protection to the dog while working; however, a judge cannot identify these faults readily when the coat is full of products. Of course, all dogs have shortcomings, and it is the exhibitor’s job to minimize the appearance of shortcomings. But it is the breeder’s job to breed for strengths. Hiding unacceptable coat types in the ring does not eliminate them from the gene pool. The blame here lays with the exhibitor or handler, not the judge.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Overgroomed vs. Correct

If the best dog is over-groomed, do you want it to win in spite of the grooming or should it lose to an inferior dog that is shown in a nature state? The more dogs that are groomed literally to a fault and win, and are then advertised for those wins, the more the over-grooming is ignored by other judges, and the more the competition think they need to over-groom in order to win. Then the new people who are coming into the breed see what is winning, so they think that is what the breed is supposed to look like. Over time, this cycle leads the breed away from what is required for its original purpose. Remember, the original purpose of the breed defines type. Both coat types should have the same silhouette from a distance, but the over-groomed Parsons no longer have that silhouette.

 

Judging Parson Russell Terrier
Head Overly Groomed vs. Correct

If the best dog is over-groomed, do you want it to win in spite of the grooming or should it lose to an inferior dog that is shown in a nature state? The more dogs that are groomed literally to a fault and win, and are then advertised for those wins, the more the over-grooming is ignored by other judges, and the more the competition think they need to over-groom in order to win.

Speaking of coat types, we are seeing fewer and fewer smooth-coated Parsons in the ring. Breeders tell me that they cannot win with them because their heads look so different without the furnishings. I feel this problem does lie with the judges. The furnishings may make the dog look cuter, but cute is not part of the standard. If we always examine the head with our hands and actually wrap our hand around the muzzle, we soon realize that it is just as easy to judge the smooth as the broken. So, judges, have a hand around the muzzle, not a hand in eliminating the smooth coats from the gene pool.

Also, the standard says teeth large with complete dentition in a perfect scissors bite. So please, judges, pay attention. We don’t need to open the entire jaw, but we do need to make sure that the mouths are staying correct. When we judges don’t pay attention to mouths, then the exhibitors stop worrying about them. This is another area where judging can influence what breeders are doing. The Parson Russell Terrier is a working Terrier, and their teeth are tools of their trade. So watch those mouths carefully because bites and missing teeth can become a serious problem in a breed very quickly and can be very difficult to correct.

The chest is a critical aspect of type in the Parson. It is supposed to be athletic, not heavy-chested, in appearance. It is supposed to be of moderate depth and narrow, not slab-sided; the ribs are supposed to be oval, rather than round, and not to extend below the elbow. The chest must be flexible and compressible. Spanning is, to quote the standard, “a significant factor and a critical part of the judging process. The dog cannot be correctly judged without this procedure.” There is no excuse for any judge not to span each and every Parson in his or her ring. Most exhibitors will tell you that only about one in five judges adhere to this part of the judging process, and that is totally unacceptable.

Any judge who does not know how to span correctly, or is uncomfortable spanning a dog, should contact any member of the Parson Russell Terrier judges’ education committee, who would be more than happy to provide guidance. (Hint: An average man’s hand is the size of a CD, so compare yours.)

Another challenge seems to come from the breed’s name. The breed that is now known as the Parson Russell Terrier was originally called the Jack Russell Terrier when the breed club was founded in 1985 in the US. They wanted to use the name “Parson,” but it was copyright-protected in the US at the time and consequently unavailable. The Parson is the breed that was developed and bred by the Reverend John Russell in England in the 19th century. Jack Russell Terrier is still the name used among the working-Terrier folks, but the Jack Russell Terrier can come in quite an assortment of sizes and shapes, since the dogs’ working ability is the most important part of the standard to them. In 1990, the Kennel Club in England recognized the breed as the Parson Jack Russell Terrier, and in 2000, the AKC accepted the breed into the Terrier Group under the name of Jack Russell Terrier. Later, the name was changed worldwide to the Parson Russell Terrier. To add to this name shuffling, AKC has now accepted a Terrier breed called the Russell Terrier, which is the shorter, longer version of John Russell’s ideal Terrier. So, although a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a Parson by another name could be another breed-type from the same original stock.

The breed has been around since the 1800s and was bred strictly to be a working Terrier, no matter what name it is known by. So, above all, we must remember that a Parson Russell Terrier is a versatile worker, both above and below the ground, who trailed hounds and bolted foxes from dens. To function as a working Terrier, these dogs must possess the characteristics needed for their job. In judging the breed, prioritizing by function is absolutely necessary. A written standard is a blueprint that allows the dog to do the job for which it was created. So, if the standard is what describes type, a dog that is not able to perform the work for which it was created lacks type.

The breed has been around since the 1800s and was bred strictly to be a working Terrier, no matter what name it is known by. So, above all, we must remember that a Parson Russell Terrier is a versatile worker, both above and below the ground, who trailed hounds and bolted foxes from dens. To function as a working Terrier, these dogs must possess the characteristics needed for their job. In judging the breed, prioritizing by function is absolutely necessary.

The structure of a Parson Russell Terrier has nothing out of the norm from any generic working dog: Good angles, good balance of bones, good straight legs, and strong joints; all of the pieces fit properly together to create a sound, balanced working Terrier. If the dog is made right and is in good condition, its topline will be correct both standing and moving, and the dog will move soundly. If something is wrong with the topline (the slight arch over the loin is the muscling on a good-conditioned dog, never a rise in the spine) or if the dog is not moving correctly, something is wrong with its structure. Don’t forget the cat foot with good, thick, tough pads that protect the dog from stones, burrs, and other hazards while working.

This is a breed that has a temperament to do the job for which it was created. At the same time, the Parson is a great family pet and gets along with other dogs. Many times, they are required to work with other dogs and this is why dog-aggressiveness is a disqualification. So again, judges, please pay attention to this aspect, as we are seeing more and more dogs that are dog aggressive. Sparring is not acceptable.

All of us need to remember that purpose is the key to all aspects of all breed standards, and “sound” means physically, mentally, and functionally.

Of all the breeds I judge, I hear more complaints about the quality of Parson Russell Terrier judging than most other breeds combined. It is easy to blame judges when exhibitors see dogs winning that are so widely varied in type, make and shape, coat, color, and soundness. However, I would argue that the judges are not entirely to blame. The parent club, breeders, exhibitors, and judges all own the challenges of judging the Parson Russell Terrier.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
(A version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of SHOWSIGHT.)
By Pat Hastings

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  • Pat Hastings has been involved in the Dog World since 1959. She has been a breeder, an exhibitor, a professional handler, an active club member, a judge, an author, and an educator. She has chaired many shows, including National Specialties. She is the author of four best-selling, award-winning books and is the producer of the very popular “Puppy Puzzle” DVD. She is a highly respected educator in the Dog World and has always endeavored to teach by example, to approach all aspects of the Sport with respect, common sense, and personal integrity. She has presented seminars around the world for over 30 years. Pat is a great believer in the value of mentoring, and her years of dedication to the sport of dogs have led to her being awarded both the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America and the America Kennel Club Lifetime Achievement Award in Conformation.

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