Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

If you are looking for a farm dog and an excellent watchdog this is the breed! Sometimes people mix it up with either a Fox Terrier with a smooth coat or a Jack Russell, but the Rat Terrier has its own unique and wonderful traits. Prepare yourself to forgive some bad habits of his, and in return you’ll get a lot of love and affection.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Terrier Dogs
Height:1 foot, 1 inch to 1 foot, 4 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: since there are several strands, the weight is not yet defined
Life Span: 13 to 18 years

The Rat Terrier is a pretty intelligent dog that will always find a way to freedom. His hunting traits will make him chase after everything that moves. This dog is not to be let off leash, and make sure if you ever let him, that the area is well-fenced. He may look little, but he is very fast and can jump really high.

If you plan on taking Fido to live in a place where noise is not tolerated, then this is not the dog for you. This little guy tends to bark while doing his research or at strangers. Also, make sure that you have enough time for his daily exercise, before you bring this breed into your home. If you let them get bored or not spend the energy they have, you will find your home a mess one day. They tend to be destructive if they are bored.

When you buy a puppy you should know that they have the ears up, but after a while their ears drop down. However, it is possible that the ears to go back up or stay down through their whole life.

Main Highlights
  • It takes time to loosen around strangers! If you have a lot of visitors, be patient with them, they take some time, but after that they are loveable.
  • Digging and jumping! They are very keen on digging holes and jumping over fences.
  • They have a lot of energy! An individual of this breed demands at least an hour a day of exercise, if you don’t give this to your dog, they can cause damage in your home in order to spend the energy.
  • Don’t let them be bored! If a Rat Terrier gets bored, he will start chewing on things and barking at anything.
  • Eager to chase after things! Not a good choice to let him off the leash. Even if they are well trained, if they see a squirrel, they would chase after it!
  • You might have seen him alongside Shirley Temple in the movie “The little colonel”.
Breed History

This breed was made as a result of combining Manchester Terrier, Bull Terrier, Fox Terrier and Old English White Terrier. They were designed to live on farms and chase after prey and pests and catch it, during the 1910-1920s. For instance, in the Midwestern area, they had a jackrabbit problem and they used the breed to help to control it because this was the only breed that was able to outrun the fast-moving rodent and catch it.

Other characteristics left from their ancestors are:

  • They get a strong sense of smell from Beagles. They were bred with the Beagles and the result was a pack-oriented dog.
  • Rat Terriers also have a toy-sized strain that was made of Toy Fox Terriers that were thought to be too big.

There is a story that President Theodore Roosevelt gave the name to the breed, by calling his dog, which was catching rats in the White house- Rat Terrier. However, the appearance of his dog back then isn’t the same as today’s Rat Terrier. In fact, the dog that was described to have short legs, that Roosevelt owned, is accepted today as the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier. It is a strain of the breed Rat Terrier, but with short legs.

Before the 1950s you could see the breed often on farms, but then people started using poison for rodent control and the number of individuals declined. Only a few breeders managed to sustain the Rat Terriers until the 1970s, when it re-emerged.

The strain of Decker Rat Terrier is currently gaining popularity. They were named after the owner, Milter Decker, who thought that his dog had terrific qualities and wanted to keep and continue them. He managed to produce a large Rat Terrier, which had set ears. The dog is used for hunting deer, wild pigs, cougars and even bears, and he even retrieves from the water. He is feisty and strong but preserves all the characteristics of a delightful companion.

The strain of the Rat Terrier which is without hair, was introduced after 1972, when a hairless female individual of the breed was born. From her they developed the breed that is today recognized as the American Hairless Terrier. They can be in two sizes- standard and miniature.


Since the AKC doesn’t recognize the breed, there are no defined sizes. But, to generalize, here are the sizes based on each strain:

  • The Rat Terrier should be around 13-16 inches high, but there is no specific weight defined.
  • The Decker Terrier ranges from 22-40 pounds and it should be around 16-17 inches high.
  • The Miniature should weigh around 10-18 pounds and around 15 inches high.
  • Toys from this breed should be between 5-10 pounds and not more than 12 inches high.
Personality and Character

Stubborn, wary and pretty intelligent, they are dynamite. They are very warm and affectionate to loved ones, but not to strangers. Expect them to become aggressive towards other animals and strangers if they are not properly socialized. They are an absolutely fearless breed, which sometimes is a very good trait — except if they become violent.

The breed was designed to be all day at the farm, so you should know that they demand a lot of exercise. If a Rat Terrier doesn’t spend his energy and get tired, he can become devious just to amuse himself. They are good as family pets and you will be amazed how responsive they are to your moods. They will please you and praise you, and give you all the love they have! Also expect to be followed around the house all the time.

If the breed isn’t socialized in the early stage, when they are young, you will end up with an aggressive, disobedient dog. It is good for them to be exposed to various sights, people, experiences and sounds so they grow up as well-rounded dogs.

Health and Potential Problems

They are a generally healthy breed, but there are some conditions that they are prone to. You need to be aware of those conditions before you buy a Rat Terrier. When you buy a puppy, make sure that you get all the needed health clearances for the parents of the puppy.

Here are the conditions you should be aware:

  • Allergies: all dogs can have allergies, so this breed is not an exception. Dogs can have food allergies that can be treated just by eliminating the food that causes the allergy; contact allergies, usually caused by some topical substance like flea powders, bedding, shampoos and similar things. Inhalant allergies are triggered by allergens that are airborne, likely pollen or dust. Treatment for allergies is different, depending on the kind of allergy.
  • Incorrect Bites: also known as malocclusion, the jaw is a bit deformed and misaligned. Incorrect bites can be: overshot bite- the upper jaw is more extended over the lower jaw, causing difficulties while eating, also the teeth on the mandible can bite into the upper gums; undershot bite- when the lower jaw is more extended than the upper jaw; wry mouth- mouth gets twisted, this happens when one side is growing faster than the other.
    Sometimes any of these can correct themselves while the young dog is growing up, but if it doesn’t by the time the dog is almost a year old, it is unlikely to happen. Sometimes surgery is required however, you should wait after the puppy finishes with growing up.
  • Demodectic Mange: also called demodicosis, it is a condition which is instigated by the Demodex A mother can pass on her puppies after they are born. These mites can be found in the hair follicles, usually not causing problems however, if the Rat Terrier’s immune system is compromised, a demodectic mange can develop. It can be seen as localized patches of scaly, red, balding skin. The patches usually can be seen on the neck, head and forelegs. You should immediately take the dog to the vet if you notice something like this.
Care Features

A Rat Terrier should be crate trained since he is young if you wish to let him live outside when he is an adult. All puppies explore, they chew on stuff that can be harmful to them and tend to get into things they shouldn’t. If you don’t want to pay bills all the time for fixing things and going to the vet, make sure you train your dog well.

Even if trained, the Rat Terrier shouldn’t be put in the crate for the whole day. The dog should be able to spend the nights there and few hours a day if needed. They are not a breed that should be left their whole life in a cage or kennel, they’re people dogs.

Feeding Schedule

A Rat Terrier should eat the suggested daily amount of food in one or two meals a day. Thus:

  • For dogs that are less than 10 pounds, you should give 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day of quality food.
  • From 10-15 pounds, they should get 1/2 to 1 cup per day
  • 20-30 pounds 3/4 to 1.5 cups per day,
  • from 30-40 pounds 1.5 to 2 cups per day.

Nonetheless, every dog is an individual and the daily quantity of food you give depends on few facts like, the activity of your dog, the build, the metabolism, age and so on. So, if your dog is active, you should satisfy his energy needs with more food. If it’s a couch potato, pour less food in his bowl, so it doesn’t have weight problems.

If you are not sure about something, you should always contact your vet for some advice.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Rat Terriers have short, smooth coat, with dense and shiny fur. It can be in quite a few colors also mixtures of colors, like white, black combined with rust or tan, black and white or tan, blue, lemon, chocolate, orange or red. Also, some ticking (intermittent spots) can be seen as well as dark colors. However, every individual of this breed has white markings.

If you’re looking for a low upkeep dog, this is it. They only need weekly brushing with a rubber mitt or a soft brush, in order to remove the loose hair. They shed more in fall and spring time, also after heat cycles and whelping. They should be bathed only as necessary.

Teeth need to be brushed too! Two or three times per week is enough, to prevent bacteria build up and remove tartar. If you have the time for daily brushing, even better!

Nails need trimming one or two times a month, if your dog doesn’t naturally wear them down. Be careful not to cut the nails too far, because they have nerve endings and blood vessels and it can hurt your dog if you manage to cut those and next time they wouldn’t let you do it. If you are not able to do it yourself, go to the vet or the groomers.

Ears can easily get infected, so check them once a week for redness and bad odor. Also, you can wipe them with a cotton ball, which can be dampened in ear cleaner, to prevent infections.

If you want all of this to go smoothly and without problems you should begin adapting your dog when he’s just a puppy. Also, their paws need to be frequently handled, because they are sensitive about their feet. After every activity of this kind make sure that you praise them and give them treats, so they remember it as a positive experience.

Every time you groom your dog examine him for sores, signs of inflammation or rashes. When you check the eyes, they should be clear and without any discharge or redness.

Children And Other Pets

Most Rat Terriers are very patient with children and even children who are not a part of the family. However, Rats that are not used to being with kids, should not be left unsupervised. They are very affectionate and fond of their family and they expect the same back. Anyway, kids should be thought how to act with dogs, how to approach them and how to interact.

Rat Terriers like other dogs, although sometimes there can be some disagreements regarding sleeping arrangements and food. Generally, they are not aggressive and wouldn’t quarrel with other dogs. They would rather play with every dog they see, so you need to be on the lookout for aggressive dogs, because if the aggressive dog provokes a fight, the terrier will not stay calm. Unfortunately, like every Terrier they are not aware of their size and would not care if the aggressor is twice their size.

Regarding other pets in your home, be careful, they may be chased. This breed is prey-driven and would chase after fast moving animals like rats, hamsters, chinchilla and something similar. If they are raised with other pets, they will do fine and will get along.

If you are not looking for a show dog and if you need a farm dog that will help you with guarding your home, this is the breed you need. The Rat Terrier will help you for sure with a rat or mice problem and can be a good hunting dog if trained. They are energetic and playful dogs that will amaze you with their unique character.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.