Rat Terrier

A Highly Energetic Watchdog Who Enjoys Children but May Chase Anything That Moves!

As with all Terriers, the highly intelligent Rat Terrier is a chaser and will pursue anything that moves! That includes most obviously rodents, but also means birds, balls and cars. Although this dog is a very playful companion, it is imperative to keep it in a secure place or on leash to protect its safety. Extremely high energy, this is a breed that needs to stay engaged in desirable activities to avoid channeling its drive into destructive behavior. An excellent watchdog, the Rat Terrier will bark at strangers but otherwise is a sensitive, gentle pet that will relish the attention of every member of your family, especially your children.


With its ancestry in England in the early 1800s, the Rat Terrier was a result of cross breeding the Manchester Terrier and the Smooth-haired Fox Terrier. Bred primarily to exterminate rodents in British barns in the 19th century, it was brought into the U.S. in the 1890s by English immigrants. The breed was then crossed with the Beagle, Whippet, and Italian Greyhound in order to produce a dog with a lighter coat, speed, additional stamina and tracking abilities. The breed became highly popular in the United States when President Theodore Roosevelt purportedly took several Rat Terriers with him on his hunting trips, which were often highly publicized. Eventually, the various breeding combinations led to two sizes of the American Rat Terrier: a long-legged and short-legged version, the latter of which became known as the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier.

On American farms in the 20th century, Rat Terriers were held in high regard as efficient and loyal killers of vermin, and were cherished hunting companions because of their speed and ability in pursuing game. During the time period from the 1920s to 1940s, Rat Terriers were one of the most popular of all dog breeds, but that distinction took a sharp decline after the 1950s due to the growth of commercial farming and widespread use of chemical pesticides. However, those who were loyal to the breed pressed forward to maintain the bloodline. The Rat Terrier was officially accepted into the AKC Terrier Group in 2013.


Generally weighing between 10 and 25 pounds with an adult height of 13 to 18 inches at the shoulder, the Rat Terrier is a muscular dog with significant strength, frequently described as "compact but meaty."

This dog is characterized by an alert expression with ears typically standing erect. However, ears can also be tipped or button (folded over). The Rat Terrier in fact is a very intelligent dog and its face and ears reflect its radar-like attention. Coat colors vary widely, but most Rat Terriers have at least some white in the coat. Black tricolor is the classic coloring of the breed, which is black tanpoint with piebald spotting. Piebald or 'pied' simply means unpigmented areas of the coat usually seen as a spotted pattern, often white. Other colors often seen in the breed are tan, chocolate, isabella (pale gray or cream), lemon, apricot, and blue. While two or three colors (bicolor or tricolor) are standard, white should always be present as well.


Families with small children who desire a playful pet will find the Rat Terrier a good fit, as will individuals who want a loyal companion and have the time to play and exercise. Independent at times and occasionally stubborn, the Rat Terrier is perceptive, clean, requires little grooming and loves to be active, playing chase or engaging in any lively activities with its owner. Rat Terriers are natural hunters and may be a threat to rodent-like pets, but will get along famously with other dogs and cats in the family.

Agile and athletic, this breed is clever, curious and an insatiable explorer, so it's important that your pet is kept in a fenced-in area or on a leash. Otherwise, you may look up to see your dog has taken off to parts unknown, in pursuit of whatever has caught its attention.

Full of energy, the Rat Terrier is independent but at times humorous, and may keep you entertained for hours on end. While the Rat Terrier can have a stubborn streak, it is also attentive and obedient when expertly trained early in its life. Getting along well with your own cats and dogs, it may still chase other cats, and may instinctively try to conquer your hamsters, gerbils, or other pets that are similar to rodents.

Proper Environment

A gentle dog, the Rat Terrier is ideal in almost any living environment, as long as the owner makes time for play and exercise. A fenced-in yard is important if your pet will live outdoors. Territorial but not aggressive, the Rat Terrier has a calm temperament and generally is not a habitual barker.


With a life span of about 13 to 16 years, the Rat Terrier is prone to very few health problems. Some of the issues that are found with this breed include allergies (primarily of the skin and coat); luxating patella (knee problems); hip or elbow dysplasia; mange; and Legg-Calve-Perthes syndrome, a form of osteochondritis in which loss or growth of bone mass may lead to a degree of collapse of the hip joint.


In general, the Rat Terrier is a low-maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. Because it has a single coat which is short and fine, brushing and bathing only have to be done occasionally. Brushing with a stiff bristle or rubber brush only once in a while is usually sufficient, as Rat Terriers are generally clean by nature. Bathing should be done only once or twice a year unless your pet becomes excessively dirty. Because of the tendency toward allergies and skin problems, over-grooming should be avoided. In colder climates it is a good idea to dress your puppy in a sweater to keep it warm when outside.

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