Rat terriers were originally bred to hunt rats and other rodents on farms. After farmers switched to poison to control their rodent populations, the need for these dogs declined. By the 1950s, the Rat Terrier was a hard breed to find. Thanks to breeders resurrecting the breed 20 years later, though, they are a more common sight today.
13 – 16 inches
10 – 25 pounds
13 – 18 years
Fawn, blue, black, white, brown, red
Active families, those looking for a small, energetic dog
Energetic, lively, feisty, curious, stubborn
As they’re quick and agile, it’s hard to keep up with a Rat Terrier. They make quality watchdogs, as they are ever-alert. Their hunting instincts are still with them today, leading to their extremely high prey drives. They’re fast and they will bound after anything furry that runs by, so keeping this dog on a leash when not in fenced-in areas is necessary.
A Rat Terrier is often mistaken for a Jack Russell Terrier due to their similar size and appearance. The Rat Terrier has a smooth, glossy coat. Their muscular bodies are compact and stocky. Their coat colors can be any combination of black, brown, white, and red. They are sturdy, active dogs that crave human companionship and make loving additions to homes. Let’s learn more about them!
Rat Terrier Characteristics
Rat Terrier Puppies
When choosing a Rat Terrier puppy, always make sure the breeder whom you purchase from is reputable. The puppies should have their first vaccinations and a veterinary exam. The breeder should be able to give you a written guarantee that their parents were health tested before breeding. They should answer any questions that you have and be willing to let you see the puppies before you hand over any money.
Adopting your Rat Terrier from a shelter or rescue group may get you an older dog, but these facilities do get litters of puppies from time to time. The adoption fees are usually much less than the breeder’s price and these will include all their vetting and a spay or neuter surgery.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Rat Terrier
The Rat Terrier is intelligent, playful, and stubborn. They are wary of strangers, so they take a while to warm up to new people. They are fearless and bold, not hesitating to investigate every sound and movement.
They love human companionship. Rat Terriers are affectionate with their family members. They shy away from new people but can and do eventually come around.
Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪
Rat Terriers make great family pets because they are intuitive and will respond to how you’re feeling. They want to please their owners. They get along well with kids if they are properly socialized. They also tend to love the children in their family, but this doesn’t mean they will like or even approach other children. Since this breed tends to be stubborn, training and socialization are important to make sure they fit in well with your family dynamic. They’re also active dogs that love to play. They’ll love to go on walks or chase a ball in the yard.
Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?
Rat Terriers can be dominant and sometimes aggressive toward other animals, especially if they are not socialized. Early socialization will help them get along well with other pets in the home. They generally like and want to play with other resident dogs. But even if a Rat Terrier is best friends with your cat, it doesn’t mean they will like any other cat that they encounter. They like their household members. Everyone else is a stranger.
Rat Terriers have high prey drives and should not share a home where small animals are loose. Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, or any other small, furry creatures will trigger this dog’s instinct to chase and destroy. Small animals should always be kept away from this dog or not be in the home at all.
Things to Know When Owning a Rat Terrier
Food & Diet Requirements 🦴
Your dog’s age, weight, and activity level will all affect the amount of food that they need each day. A young, highly active dog will need more food than an older, less active dog. Puppies need more food than adults.
On average, your Rat Terrier will need 1.5 cups of food per day, divided into two meals. A high-protein kibble filled with vitamins and minerals will be enough to sustain them. This dog is prone to gaining weight, so treats should be offered in moderation. Their food should be measured precisely. If you have questions about how many calories your dog needs each day, your vet can help you come up with a healthy diet plan.
Rat Terriers need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day to stay happy. They are active dogs, so they will happily take as much playtime or exercise time as you can give them. If this breed doesn’t get enough exercise to be content, they can become destructive. Physical and mental stimulation are requirements for this breed.
Training your Rat Terrier should begin as soon as you get your dog, no matter what age they are. The younger you can start training them, the better. However, these dogs are smart and can learn at any age.
Obedience classes and socialization will help your Rat Terrier be well-rounded. These dogs are stubborn, though. It may take a while for them to do what you ask of them if they don’t feel like doing it. Knowing this, you can use proper training methods and positive reinforcement. Rat Terriers love praise, and eventually, their need for this will override their stubborn streak.
Grooming your Rat Terrier is simple because they are low-maintenance dogs. Their short coats just need to be brushed once a week. They don’t require frequent bathing — only when they are dirty or starting to smell.
Brushing their teeth at least twice a week will help cut down on their plaque buildup, which can lead to dental diseases. It will also reduce bad breath!
Regular nail trimming every 4–6 weeks is necessary to prevent paw injuries or trouble walking.
Health and Conditions 🏥
Male vs. Female
Male Rat Terriers are dominant and territorial. They are also affectionate, loyal, and playful.
Females are more stubborn and independent, preferring to be near their families but not directly next to them. They are also less affectionate than males.
Training, socialization, and how they’re raised will determine a dog’s personality and temperament. These are generalizations, but each dog has their own unique personality. These statements won’t apply to every male or female Rat Terrier.
3 Little-Known Facts About the Rat Terrier
1. The Rat Terrier breed is a product of seven other breeds.
Farmers were determined to create the best rat hunter they could, so they started selecting different dog breeds to throw into the mix. The Rat Terrier wound up with seven different ancestors: the Smooth Fox Terrier, Old English White Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Bull Terrier, Whippet, Italian Greyhound, and Beagle. Each breed lent unique characteristics, like pack hunting ability and speed, to make the Rat Terrier the best ratter that the farmers could have.
2. They are avid diggers.
Rat Terriers dig as much as they can. If you leave them unattended in a yard, they will dig wherever they have the opportunity. They can even dig enough to escape under a fence, so they should be watched when they are outside.
3. It took a while before they were recognized as a breed.
Even though Rat Terriers have been around since the 1950s working on farms, the American Kennel Club did not officially recognize them as a breed until 2013.
Rat Terriers are sturdy, strong dogs that were originally used to control the rodent populations on farms. Today, they are family companions. Even though they are highly active and can be stubborn at times, they are smart, loving dogs that enjoy being around their people.
This is a high-energy breed with a love of digging, so make sure your fenced-in area is secure, and always keep an eye on your pup when they’re outside. If you’re not in an enclosed area, your Rat Terrier should always be on a leash. They have high prey drives and will bolt after anything that moves.
While these dogs love their families, they take a while to warm up to strangers. Even so, they make wonderful companions with fun personalities.
Featured Image Credit: Tanya Consaul Photography, Shutterstock