rat terrier: breed facts & temperament

Rat Terrier: Breed Facts & Temperament

Friendly, lovable, and inquisitive; these are just some of the things that pet parents can say about their Rat Terriers. An American original, the Rat Terrier is a smooth-coated, compact, and tough rodent exterminator that will stop at nothing until all the rats in its territory are gone. While it has the work ethic of a Rottweiler, this small breed of a dog knows how to have fun with its happy-go-lucky attitude and playful demeanor. Could this be the dog you’ve been waiting for so long? To find out if it is, keep on reading.

History of the Rat Terrier

No one knows exactly who bred the very first Rat Terrier, although there are some stories about the name being coined by no other than Theodore Roosevelt himself. What we do know about the very first rodent-hunting dog is that of ‘Hatch’, a mongrel brought onboard Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, to help control the growing rat population inside the ship. The Mary Rose was sunk in 1545 in the Battle of the Solent and was re-raised in 1982. This is how dog historians were able to identify the presence of a dog aboard the ship. It is for this reason that the modern Rat Terrier is believed to be a descendant of these early rat-hunting dogs.

In the 19th century, British working-class immigrants arrived in the US with their rat-hunting mongrels. They were called mongrels because the dogs couldn’t be classified into any of the breeds at the time. Whatever the case, these dogs were favored for their speed and agility, fully capable of hunting and controlling rodents and other vermin like squirrels and hares.

By the last decade of the 19th century, many of these rat-baiting dogs were crossbred with Italian Greyhounds, Beagles, and Whippets. The Greyhound and the Whippet greatly improved the speed of the Rat Terrier while the Beagle gave it remarkable scenting ability as well as sporting a pack mentality. This gave the Rat Terrier amazing speed, an impeccable disposition, an exceptional sense of smell, and equally remarkable versatility.

rat terrier breed

One of the biggest fans of the Rat Terrier was President Theodore Roosevelt. These dogs were cherished by American farms in the second to the fourth decade of the 20th century. They are revered as efficient vermin killers and loyal hunting companions. By the 1950s, their numbers had started to decline because of the growth of commercial farming. However, loyalists of the breed were able to maintain the Rat Terrier’s bloodline ensuring the future of the modern-day Rat Terrier.

These small dogs are not only very efficient hunters; they are also very skilled caregivers. Modern Rat Terriers have now found a role that only a handful of dog breeds can perform with the utmost efficiency – that of a service dog. Rat Terriers are now serving in hospice care, assisted living environments, and as a therapy dog for people with depression. They are also now used by law enforcement agencies especially in contraband search.

It was the United Kennel Club that first recognized the Rat Terrier as a dog breed in 1999. The American Kennel Club took more than a decade to recognize it as a breed in 2010, although the organization has already allowed Rat Terriers in companion events and competitions since 2006.

The Rat Terrier has clearly come a long way from being a hunter of rats and other vermin. Its calm temperament and affectionate nature make it a good family pet as it is a model working dog.

Quick Facts

Feisty, lively, funny, and energetic are just some of the traits that you really have to keep in mind when talking about the Rat Terrier. Here is some other important information that you may want to remember:

  • The Rat Terrier is currently AKC’s number 96 most popular dog breed. It’s not a Labrador retriever, but at least it’s still in the circle of 100.
  • This dog comes in two sizes: Miniature and Standard.
  • Miniature Rat Terriers can be as short as 10 inches or as tall as 13 inches. A Standard Rat Terrier, on the other hand, maxes out at 18 inches. The cut-off height between the two is at 13 inches.
  • The Rat Terrier can be as light as 10 pounds or as heavy as 25 pounds.
  • It has a relatively long lifespan compared to other dog breeds at 12 to 18 years.
  • It has a dense and shiny fur while its coat is typically smooth yet short. It can come in different colors such as white, blue, lemon, red, chocolate, and orange. It is also possible to get a combination of colors like white and tan or black and black with rust or tan.
  • It is well-known for its digging habits. When combined with its high prey drive, you can almost expect that the Rat Terrier is a little Houdini who will either dig under or leap over your fence.
  • Its compulsion to chase is immeasurable. This is a dog that should never be walked off-leash.
  • Small as it may be, the Rat Terrier requires plenty of exercise because of its high energy levels.

Related Post: Dog Leashes

rat terrier dog

Things You Should Know

There is no doubt that the Rat Terrier can be a great family pet. After all, it was bred by families of the good ol’ US of A. However, many of the individuals who have tried bringing home a Rat Terrier eventually gave it up for adoption for the simple fact that they couldn’t meet the needs of the dog. To save you from such an experience, you’d better read and understand these important things that every wannabe Rat Terrier parent should know.

  • Training

The little Rattie can be a joy to train simply because it is intelligent and very easy to teach. It responds well to positive reinforcement techniques so you should brush up on the tricks of the trade especially on the use of praises, dog treats, and other rewards. However, it is crucial to keep the training sessions relatively short as too long can make it really boring. Also, make it a point to keep things very interesting. Some of the activities that a Rattie can excel in can include tracking, agility, rally, and flyball. And if you want it to be a therapy dog, then you’ve got to brush up on your training techniques as well.

Related Post: Dog Agility Tunnel

If there’s one tip we can give you related to the training of a Rattie it would be to gradually introduce new training sessions. Ratties don’t like their world to be rattled by very frequent changes. They want stability. As such, you’d have to wait for it to fully master one trick before introducing another one. Otherwise, you’ll be given a sample of how destructive an intelligent mind can be.

  • Feeding

The Rat Terrier is a small yet high energy dog so it needs high-quality, calorie-dense food. This is important since you’d want to supply your little Rattie the right amounts of calories that will sustain its energy levels. A dog food that is calorie-dense is preferred since you will have to feed your Rattie 3 to 4 times a day instead of the usual 2 times a day for medium and large sized dogs.

The reason is quite straightforward. Since Ratties have very high energy levels, they get to consume their calories a lot faster than other breeds of dogs. If, for instance, a medium-sized dog will use up its calorie reserves within 10 hours, a Rattie can finish it up in about 6 hours. As such, it needs to feed more frequently. This is also to help prevent hypoglycemia which can lead to generalized weakness and seizures.

Now, if your Rattie happens to be a couch potato, then giving it a calorie-dense diet may be counterproductive. That is why it’s important to consider your pet’s activity levels as well as its age, weight, and life stage whenever determining the amount of food to give.

  • Exercise

They may be small, but Ratties have energy levels the size of Mount Fuji. They are like your lithium-ion batteries; small and compact yet very powerful. If you don’t give them activities that will help them spend this energy, then you’ve got to be ready about the storm they’re going to bring into your home.

We mentioned in the preceding section that Ratties are little Houdinis that love to dig under the fence or even leap over it. What we are simply saying is that the Rattie will always try to find a way to utilize its high energy. It can bark incessantly, chew on your carpet and furniture, dig in your backyard, and even scratch on things that dogs normally don’t scratch.

Exercising the Rattie shouldn’t be difficult. Sometimes you only need to play vigorously with them for about an hour or so and you should be done. Of course, daily walks would be preferred as this also gives them the chance to explore their surroundings and socialize with other people and other dogs.

  • Socialization

Ratties got a pack mentality, a trait they got from Beagles. Being pack animals, they get along pretty well with other pets in the household even cats. It also loves playing with kids and there’s no other game that it loves more than fetch. Teach a kid how to toss a ball and the Rattie will happily run after it and fetch it for your little one.

However, do understand that the Rat Terrier has a very strong prey drive. As such, it is not really advisable that it be left alone in the company of young kids. Even well-trained Ratties can sometimes forget not to chase smaller pets and even small children once the prey drive kicks in. This is a very important piece of information you should never forget.

  • Grooming

Good news for those who hate daily brushing of a dog’s coat. The Rattie doesn’t require daily brushing; only weekly. This is due in part to its short and easy-care coat. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t shed. As soon as Spring and Fall set in, expect to see lots of hair in your home. Be ready with the vacuum cleaner.

You May Also Like: Vacuum for Pet Hair & Dog Hair

The rest of its grooming needs is routine care. Clip dog’s nails every two weeks. Brush the Rattie’s teeth every other day. Don’t forget to check and clean its ears with an appropriate dog ear cleaner.

  • Health

The Rattie shares many of the diseases found in small breeds of dogs. These include patellar luxation, demodectic mange, and hereditary deafness. Some may also be affected by Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, hip dysplasia, eye disorders, and cardiac problems.

We strongly advise you to get a Rat Terrier if you…

  • Have a basic understanding of positive reinforcement dog training methods
  • Have at least 60 minutes of free time every day to spend with your dog to exercise or to play
  • Can take your Rattie to the dog park or some other place where it can socialize with other dogs
  • Have children older than 5 years of age
  • Will not leave the Rattie alone at home without someone else to look after it

We don’t recommend getting a Rat Terrier if you…

  • Live in a house without a secure fence
  • Have someone in your family who has allergies to pet dander
  • Don’t have a clue about the importance of socialization and training of Rattie puppies
  • Have kids younger than 5 years old

rat terrier temperament


Ratties are four-legged dynamos. They have this cheerful temperament and outgoing personality that is quite infectious in the dog world. Its desire to be with its human family is intense. As such, it should never be left alone for so long; lest, you turn this little angel into something less desirable. It is clever and intelligent. How else can it hunt vermin in American farms in the 1920s through the 1940s if it doesn’t have the cognitive ability to track and hunt its prey? This makes it especially easy to train, but only if you use the correct training methods and to keep the training sessions short and interesting.

The Rat Terrier is a small yet truly affectionate dog that is revered for its work ethic and love for its human family. It is an excellent companion for individuals who can appreciate a highly energetic dog.


  1. Rat Terrier, AKC
  2. Rat Terrier, Vetstreet

Leave a reply

Please enter your name here
Please enter your comment!