Are Jack Russell Terriers Smart? – The Beautiful Mind Of A Dog

The Jack Russell is a great dog breed known for its high energy and bold behavior. This breed was bred for hunting so it developed many positive traits. But are Jack Russell Terriers smart?

Jack Russells are intelligent dogs. Because they are hunting dogs, they successfully developed a way to hunt in a pack and learn from their experiences. That said, there are many ways to determine the intelligence of a dog.

Are Jack Russell Terriers Intelligent?

Even though intelligence is subjective, there is reason to believe that Jack Russells are intelligent dogs. For one, these dogs are very good at finding solutions to some challenges that would confuse other dogs. They learn quickly and remember their past mistakes in order to make better decisions. This is the same for the Standard and the Wirehaired Jack Russell Terrier.

These dogs are also resourceful and adaptable. If they find themselves in a closed-off yard, they will find a way to escape it at some point. Learning never ends for the intelligent Jack Russell and they will find new and creative solutions even during their later years.

Besides being smart, these dogs are also filled with energy. Those two go in combination to create an excellent hunting dog. These dogs will also bark a lot, making them great watchdogs.

How Big Are Their Brains?

The Jack Russell Terrier’s Brainpower might be so high due to the size of its brain. The average size of a Jack Russell brain is around 4.2 cubic inches. Its weight is around 2.4 ounces.

This size is affected by the dog’s size, weight, environment, and activities. But genetics also play a great part. If we compare it to other dogs’ brains, we can say that it is similar to the brain size of Boston Terriers. It is interesting that these dogs were used for vermin control just like Jack Russells were.

Are They Easy To Train?

Jack Russells are clever dogs but they are also very independent and stubborn. On one hand, their high intelligence quotient (IQ) lets them learn a lot of commands, and they can do it quickly. On the other hand, their stubborn personality will make the training harder than it should be.

Once the dog decides it doesn’t want to listen to you, it will find something else to do and ignore you. This is where the experience of the owner comes in handy. A lot of persistence is needed to properly train Jack Russells. Dog obedience training and positive reinforcement training are important techniques for any dog owner.

The Stanley Coren Dog Intelligence Test

Stanley Coren a Ph.D. and canine psychologist, is known for his book called “The Intelligence of Dogs”. He uses the term “obedience and working intelligence” to measure the intelligence of dogs. This can be described as the time needed for a dog to learn a new command and how well it retains the training.

To count how smart are Jack Russell Terriers, we can look at:

  • The number of repetitions of the command needed for a dog to learn it. Jack Russells learned a new command in just 25-40 repetitions. They can learn a command in a little less than one hour.
  • The success of the dog to obey a command on the first attempt. Jack Russells could obey the command at the first attempt with a success rate of 50% and higher.

These two facts put the dog breed in 84th place out of 138 dog breeds tested. This makes the dog average compared to other dog breeds.

Reasons For The High Jack Russell Terrier Intelligence Level

Besides obedience and working intelligence, there are two more components that determine the dog breed intelligence. Stanley Coren describes these two as instinctive intelligence and adaptive intelligence. A downside to these is that they can’t be objectively measured.

Instinctive Intelligence

The reason why a dog can do the job it was bred for without learning how to do it is instinctive intelligence. Dogs can be bred for herding, pointing, retrieving, hunting, companionship, and more.

Jack Russells were bred for hunting foxes and other small vermin for years and they have the instinct to do so without anyone telling them to do it. They can use their high dog agility and small body to chase their prey even when it crawls through holes in the ground. They can also easily trap them and wait for as long as needed to catch them. This makes Jack Russell very intelligent compared to other dogs.

Adaptive Intelligence

This part of the intelligence allows a dog to learn from its surroundings and adapt to new situations. The dog should have the ability to learn from past experiences and understand emotions. Dogs that can do this are perfect companion animals.

Jack Russells are quick learners and can adapt quickly to any situation. They can get used to living in different spaces and in different temperatures. They can also pick up on clues and react accordingly. If you are about to leave the home, you will notice Jack Russells reacting with a high-energy attitude.

All that said, breed-specific intelligence is not a thing so not every dog from the same breed will have the same adaptive intelligence. But generally, Jack Russells have high adaptive intelligence.

Is The Jack Russell Terrier The Smartest Dog?

Jack Russell Terriers are not the smartest dog breed. Even though they are pretty smart on their own. These dogs score high on the obedience and working canine intelligence tests and are noticed to have high adaptive and instinctive intelligence. But there are some smarter dog breeds.

According to Stanley Coren, the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds are:

  • Border Collie
  • Poodle
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Papillon
  • Rottweiler
  • Australian Cattle Dog

These smart dog breeds can learn a new command in less than 5 repetitions and have a 95% success of obeying a learned command on the first attempt.

How To Train The Jack Russell To Be Smarter

Even though intelligence is largely hereditary, you can help improve Jack Russell Terrier’s cognition by doing a few things. Socializing and proper dog training are the way to go if you want to improve your dog’s intelligence. Mental stimulation for dogs is also important.


If you want your Jack Russell to have high intelligence, you need to start socializing early. You can begin socialization at around 3 weeks of the pup’s life. Start by introducing the dog to the closest family and move on to friends. In time, you can take the dog to a dog park and meet strangers and their pets.

Positive Reinforcement

One of the best tools an owner has when training their dog is positive reinforcement. This means giving a reward to a dog whenever it does something you command it to do. This reward can be something like a treat or a lot of praise. By giving a reward, the dog will know that it did something positive and will try to repeat the same thing the next time.

How To Test Your Jack Russells’ Intelligence

To test your Jack Russell Terrier’s mental capacity you can do a few tests at home. These tests require problem-solving abilities and retention abilities.

One way is to get three bowls and place them upside down on the ground. Put a treat under one bowl and let your dog see where it is at first. Then, distract the dog with something else and ask it to show you where the treat is. If it knows, then you can say it retains information perfectly.

Another way is to put a bowl of food in a room and put some obstacles that prevent the dog from getting the food. This can be made as a simple maze that your dog should be able to solve. Get a timer going and see how fast it can figure out the way to the bowl. The faster it is, the better its problem-solving skills are.

Jack Russell resting on a couch

So Are Jack Russell Terriers Smart?

Jack Russells are intelligent dogs. They have a long history where they were bred for hunting vermin during which they developed a lot of useful skills. These include things like adaptability, resourcefulness, and quick thinking. Their high energy combined with these abilities made them amazing hunting dogs.

But intelligence is very subjective and it’s hard to measure it correctly. That’s why the Ph.D. canine psychologist Stanley Coren developed a way to measure and rank the intelligence of dogs. By measuring obedience and working intelligence, he put Jack Russells in 84th place out of 138 dog breeds tested. That is an impressive number that shows that these dogs are truly intelligent.


Which dog has highest IQ?

The smartest dog in the world according to “The Intelligence of Dogs” by Stanley Coren is the Border Collie. This working dog is known for being a highly trainable workaholic that is easy to train.

How Smart is my Jack Russell Terrier Dog Compared to a Human?

Jack Russell Terriers are smart dogs and can be compared to a human of 2-2.5 years of age. It can be taught up to 165 words, including signals. For comparison, 2-year-old children know around 75-225 words.

Do dogs get more intelligent as they get older?

Most dogs will seem smarter and wiser as they age. This is due to the fact that they get more and more training, thus learning more commands to which they can respond. But senior Jack Russells might start forgetting more.

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