Rat Terrier

Table of Contents

rat terrier portrait
Meet the Rat Terrier – the pint-sized powerhouse that's here to steal your heart and show you what true 'rattitude' means! With their spunky personalities, boundless energy, and a knack for mischief, these lively companions are the perfect blend of playfulness and loyalty.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

Rat Terriers are the perfect match for those who love an energetic, intelligent companion. They are fantastic for families as they adore playtime and cuddles, but can also adapt well to individuals who enjoy active lifestyles. If you’re seeking a loyal, spirited friend with a knack for keeping you on your toes, a Rat Terrier is your ideal choice!

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMERat Terrier
OTHER NAMESAmerican Rat Terrier, Ratting Terrier, Rattie
ORIGINUnited States
BREED GROUPTerrier Group
BREED SIZESmall
HEIGHT10-18 inches
WEIGHT10-25 lbs
LIFESPAN12-18 years
LIVING SPACESmall
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSLow
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYHigh
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK85th
rat terrier standing in a park
Photo: Annette Shaff

Appearance

The Rat Terrier is as charming in appearance as it is in personality. These delightful dogs have a compact, muscular build that screams athleticism and agility. Their size varies, but they usually stand 10 to 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 10 to 25 pounds. Despite their smaller stature, there’s nothing ‘small’ about their spirit or energy levels!

Their bodies are well-proportioned, showcasing their strength and speed in every stride. The Rat Terrier’s tail is often docked, but when left natural, it’s carried jauntily, adding to their playful demeanor.

One gaze into their eyes and you’ll see an alert, inquisitive expression that’s hard to resist. Their eyes, usually dark in color, are full of life and curiosity. This breed is known for its perky ears that stand erect when they’re excited or intrigued. They add to the terrier’s overall lively and energetic appearance.

Now, let’s talk about one of the most striking features of Rat Terriers – their coat. It’s short, smooth, and shiny, with dense fur that feels as good as it looks. You might also notice a slight wave down their backs, which adds a unique touch to their appearance.

The coat comes in an array of colors and combinations, including white, black with tan, and more, making each Rat Terrier a distinct work of canine art.

The Rat Terrier’s face is expressive, always ready to engage with the world around them. Their snouts are strong and well-defined, ending in a black or brown nose. Their heads are slightly rounded and proportionate to their body, adding to their balanced look.

In essence, the Rat Terrier is a bundle of joy wrapped in a beautiful, vibrant coat. They’re a testament to the saying “good things come in small packages”.

rat terrier standing in the forest at sunset
Photo: Tatyana Consaul/Getty Images

Temperament

Rat Terriers are incredibly intelligent. They have a knack for understanding their human’s emotions and are quick to pick up on new commands or tricks. Their smart minds are always at work, whether they’re solving a puzzle toy or figuring out how to get that extra treat from your pocket!

One of the most endearing traits of a Rat Terrier is their unwavering loyalty. They form deep bonds with their families and are always ready to shower their loved ones with affection. Whether it’s curling up next to you on the couch or greeting you with excited tail wags after a long day, their love knows no bounds.

Despite their smaller size, Rat Terriers are full of vivacious energy. They’re always ready for an adventure, whether it’s exploring a new trail or chasing a squirrel in the backyard. This playful energy is contagious, and they’re sure to keep you smiling with their antics.

Don’t let their playfulness fool you, though. Rat Terriers also know when it’s time to chill. They can be quite the cuddle bugs, loving nothing more than snuggling up with their favorite humans. Their affectionate nature makes them wonderful companions, always ready to lend a comforting paw or a listening ear.

Rat Terriers have a strong instinct to protect their family. They’re naturally wary of strangers and might take some time to warm up to new people. However, once they recognize someone as a friend, they’re as warm and welcoming as can be.

While they’re generally sociable dogs, Rat Terriers also value their independence. They’re not afraid to explore on their own and are often described as having a ‘big dog’ personality in a small dog’s body. They’re confident, self-assured, and aren’t easily intimidated.

Rat Terriers are also known for their stubborn streak. While this can sometimes make them a bit challenging, it’s also part of what makes them so unique. They’re not just followers; they have their own ideas and aren’t afraid to stand their ground.

rat terrier standing on a rock in the forest
Photo: Tatyana Consaul/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

Rat Terriers are versatile and adaptable, able to thrive in a variety of environments. Whether you live in a bustling city apartment or a spacious country home, these dogs can fit right in, provided they’re given plenty of love and attention.

Ideal Owner

The ideal pet parent for a Rat Terrier is one who embraces an active lifestyle. These dogs have a lot of energy to burn and would love to share in your daily walks, hikes, or even just a fun game of fetch in the backyard. They also appreciate mental stimulation, so a pet parent who enjoys interactive playtime and puzzle toys is a perfect match.

Other Pets

In terms of other pets, Rat Terriers can get along well with fellow canines, especially when raised together from a young age. However, their strong prey drive means they might not be the best companions for smaller pets like hamsters or rabbits. And while they can be sociable, they also value their personal space, so it’s important that any other pets respect this.

Physical Environment

When it comes to physical environment, Rat Terriers prefer a space where they can run and play freely. A home with a secure yard is ideal, but they can also adapt to apartment living as long as they get regular exercise and mental stimulation.

Climate Adaptability

Climate-wise, Rat Terriers are fairly adaptable. Their short, dense coat can handle a range of temperatures. However, in very cold climates, they might need some extra protection like a warm doggy coat. Similarly, in hot climates, it’s important to ensure they have plenty of shade and fresh water to keep cool.

rat terrier playing on the beach
Photo: Annette Shaff

Grooming

Grooming a Rat Terrier isn’t just about keeping them looking their best, it’s also an important part of their overall health and happiness. Luckily, these dogs are fairly low-maintenance when it comes to grooming, making them an excellent choice for those who prefer a more hands-off approach.

Coat Care

Let’s start with their coat. Rat Terriers have a short, dense coat that’s relatively easy to care for. A weekly brush is usually enough to keep their fur looking shiny and healthy. For this, a soft bristle brush or a rubber grooming mitt will do the trick. The aim is to remove any loose hair and distribute the natural oils in their skin, giving their coat a lovely shine.

While Rat Terriers aren’t heavy shedders, they do have shedding seasons in the spring and fall. During these times, you might need to brush them a bit more frequently to manage the extra loose hair. However, outside of these seasons, their shedding is pretty minimal.

When it comes to bathing, Rat Terriers don’t need frequent baths. Unless they’ve rolled in something smelly or gotten particularly dirty, a bath every few months should suffice. Use a gentle dog shampoo to protect their skin and coat, and make sure to rinse thoroughly to avoid any residue.

Dental Care

Now, let’s talk about dental care. Just like humans, dogs need regular dental care to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Brushing your Rat Terrier’s teeth at least once a week can help prevent dental disease. Use dog-friendly toothpaste and a soft toothbrush designed for dogs. Dental chews can also be a great addition to their dental care routine.

Nail Trimming

Don’t forget about their nails! Rat Terriers have sturdy nails that grow quickly. Regular nail trims are necessary to prevent overgrowth and the discomfort that can come with it. If you can hear their nails clicking on the floor, it’s time for a trim. Use a dog nail clipper or grinder, and if you’re unsure, your vet or a professional groomer can show you how to do it safely.

Ear Care

Lastly, pay attention to their ears. Rat Terriers have perky ears that can be prone to dirt build-up. Check their ears weekly and gently clean them with a dog-specific ear cleaner if needed.

rat terrier with a ball in his mouth
Photo: Annette Shaff

Exercise

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, a Rat Terrier needs about an hour of exercise each day. However, they’re always ready for more if you’re up for it. Their exercise can be divided into a couple of brisk walks or jogs, and some playtime in between.

Rat Terriers love engaging in activities that stimulate both their body and mind. Fetch is a favorite game for many, as it combines running, jumping, and problem-solving all in one. They’d also enjoy a good game of tug-of-war or even hide-and-seek with their favorite toys.

If you have a secure backyard, let your Rat Terrier loose for some free play. They’ll enjoy the chance to explore, sniff around, and maybe even chase a squirrel or two. Alternatively, dog parks can offer a great opportunity for socialization and off-leash play.

In addition to physical exercise, Rat Terriers also need mental stimulation. Puzzle toys, training sessions, and interactive games can keep their sharp minds busy and satisfied.

Dog Sports

For those interested in dog sports, Rat Terriers make excellent competitors. Their speed, agility, and intelligence make them naturals at events like flyball and agility trials. These activities provide a fun and exciting way to bond with your Rat Terrier while giving them the exercise they crave.

rat terrier lying on grass
Photo: Clay Kraze/Pexels

Training

Training a Rat Terrier is an exciting journey filled with plenty of rewards. Known for their intelligence and eagerness to please, these dogs take to training quite well, making them a joy to work with.

Start with basic obedience training. Teaching your Rat Terrier commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and ‘leave it’ forms the foundation of good behavior. They’re quick learners, so with consistent practice, they’ll master these basics in no time.

Rat Terriers are also excellent candidates for advanced training or dog sports due to their agility and speed. Activities like agility courses, trick training, or even flyball can be a fantastic way to challenge them mentally and physically.

Keep in mind, Rat Terriers have a bit of an independent streak. They appreciate variety and can get bored if training becomes too repetitive. Switch things up to keep them engaged – use different training methods, teach new commands, or introduce new toys.

Remember, positive reinforcement is key. Rat Terriers respond best to training methods that involve rewards, praise, or play. Harsh corrections or punishments aren’t effective and can harm your relationship with your furry friend. Instead, use treats, verbal praise, or a favorite toy to reward them for their success.

Socialization is another important aspect of training. Expose your Rat Terrier to different people, environments, and situations to help them become well-rounded dogs. Puppy classes, trips to the park, or playdates with other dogs can be great social experiences for them.

Lastly, be patient and consistent. Training takes time, and every dog learns at their own pace. Celebrate small victories along the way and remember, the goal of training is to strengthen your bond and enjoy your time together.

rat terrier playing in the snow
Photo: annapowa/Pixabay

Diet & Nutrition 

Feeding your Rat Terrier is more than just filling their bowl; it’s about providing the right nutrition for a happy, healthy life. These energetic dogs need a balanced diet that fuels their active lifestyles.

What to Feed & How Much

Dry kibble is often a popular choice for Rat Terriers. It’s convenient, easy to store, and comes in a variety of flavors and formulas. Look for a high-quality brand that follows AAFCO guidelines, ensuring it contains the right balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and essential vitamins and minerals. You might also consider smaller kibble sizes, which are easier for these smaller dogs to chew.

Wet food can be another option or a tasty supplement to kibble. It’s highly palatable and a good source of hydration. Some pet parents even explore raw diets, but always consult with a vet before making this switch to ensure your pup gets all the nutrients they need.

The amount of food your Rat Terrier needs depends on their age, weight, and activity level. Generally, adult Rat Terriers eat around 1 to 1.5 cups of food per day, divided into two meals. Puppies and more active dogs may require more. Always follow your vet’s recommendation or the feeding guide on the food package.

Treats

Treats are a wonderful training aid and a way to show your love, but remember, they should make up no more than 10% of your Rat Terrier’s daily caloric intake. Opt for healthy options like carrot sticks or small pieces of lean chicken.

Water

Don’t forget about water! Your Rat Terrier should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. This is especially important during hot weather or after exercise to prevent dehydration.

rat terrier walking outdoor
Photo: annapowa/Pixabay

Health

When it comes to the health of Rat Terriers, these sprightly dogs generally enjoy a long and healthy life span of around 12-18 years. However, like all breeds, they can be predisposed to certain health conditions. Here are some common issues:

Patellar Luxation: This condition, common in small dogs, occurs when the kneecap dislocates or moves out of its normal position. Regular veterinary check-ups can help detect this early.

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. While it can occur in any breed, it’s less common in smaller dogs like Rat Terriers.

Allergies: Rat Terriers can be prone to both food and environmental allergies. Symptoms can include itching, redness, and digestive issues. Your vet can recommend treatments or diet changes as needed.

Dental Diseases: Like all small breeds, Rat Terriers are prone to dental diseases. Regular teeth cleaning and dental check-ups can help prevent this.

Heart Conditions: Some Rat Terriers can develop heart conditions, such as heart murmurs or heart disease. Regular vet exams can help detect these conditions early.

Despite these potential health issues, remember that many Rat Terriers live long, healthy lives. The key is regular veterinary care. Regular check-ups, vaccinations, and preventative treatments for things like fleas, ticks, and worms are all crucial parts of keeping your Rat Terrier healthy.

A balanced diet also plays a significant role in their overall health. Feeding them high-quality, nutritionally complete dog food can help keep their skin, coat, teeth, and body healthy.

rat terrier relaxing on a couch
Photo: DeniceBreaux/Getty Images

History

The Rat Terrier’s story begins in the 18th century when working-class British migrants brought their terriers to America. These dogs were bred for rat-baiting, an occupation that gave the breed its unique name.

Over time, these British terriers were crossed with other breeds like the Smooth Fox Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and even the old English White Terrier, creating the energetic, versatile breed we know today as the Rat Terrier.

Rat Terriers quickly became popular on American farms, where they proved invaluable in controlling rodent populations. Their keen senses and quick reflexes made them excellent hunters, while their friendly disposition made them beloved family pets.

One of the most famous Rat Terriers in history was owned by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt. His trusty Rat Terrier, named Skip, is often credited with helping to popularize the breed. In fact, some stories suggest that it was Roosevelt himself who coined the breed name “Rat Terrier” after his own terrier managed to rid the White House of a rat infestation.

In recent years, Rat Terriers have found a new niche in popular culture. Their intelligence, agility, and charismatic personalities make them great candidates for roles in movies and TV shows. They’ve also gained a reputation as excellent competitors in dog sports like flyball and agility trials.

The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Rat Terrier as a breed in 2013, a testament to the breed’s growing popularity and recognition. While they might not be as well-known as some breeds, Rat Terriers have steadily climbed the ranks of the AKC’s list of Most Popular Dog Breeds. As of now, they hold a respectable position in the top 100.

Despite their humble beginnings, Rat Terriers have certainly come a long way. From the farms of early America to the silver screen, and even the White House, Rat Terriers have proven time and again that they’re more than just ratters – they’re loyal companions, skilled athletes, and beloved members of families all over the world.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Rat Terrier breed in the United States is the Rat Terrier Club of America (RTCA). This club plays a key role in promoting the breed, setting standards, and educating the public about Rat Terriers. For more information, you can visit their official webpage.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Rat Terrier’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

rat terrier puppy walking in a park
Photo: Nina Sidneva/Getty Images

Acquiring

Bringing a Rat Terrier into your life is an exciting journey! Before you bring your new furry friend home, make sure you have all the essentials: a comfortable bed, food and water bowls, toys, grooming supplies, and of course, high-quality dog food.

If you’re planning to buy a Rat Terrier, ensure you choose a reputable breeder. Ask for health clearances and meet the puppy’s parents to get an idea of your potential pup’s temperament and health.

Alternatively, consider opening your heart and home to a rescued Rat Terrier. There are many lovely dogs waiting for their forever homes. The American Kennel Club and the Rat Terrier Club of America can help connect you with rescue organizations.

Whether you choose to buy or rescue, remember that the goal is to provide a loving, safe, and happy home for your new companion. Enjoy the journey!

FAQs

Are Rat Terriers good pets?

Absolutely! Rat Terriers are known for their loyalty, intelligence, and energetic nature. They’re good with families and love to be involved in all aspects of family life. However, they do require regular exercise and mental stimulation due to their active nature.

Why are they named Rat Terriers?

The breed was primarily used for rat-baiting and controlling vermin on farms, which is how they got their name. They were incredibly efficient at this task, hence the name ‘Rat’ Terrier.

How rare are Rat Terriers?

While not as common as some breeds, Rat Terriers are steadily growing in popularity, especially in the United States. They currently sit within the top 100 on the American Kennel Club’s list of Most Popular Dog Breeds.

What two dogs make a Rat Terrier?

Rat Terriers are a mix of several breeds. The primary contributors are likely to be the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Manchester Terrier. However, other breeds like the Bull Terrier and the old English White Terrier also played a role in their development.

Are Rat Terriers good with kids?

Yes, Rat Terriers can be great with kids. They’re generally friendly and playful, and their high energy levels can match well with active children. However, as with any breed, it’s important to supervise interactions between dogs and young children.

Do Rat Terriers need a lot of exercise?

Rat Terriers are active and energetic dogs that require about an hour of daily exercise. Daily walks, play sessions, or even dog sports can help keep them healthy and happy.

Are Rat Terriers easy to train?

With their keen intelligence and eagerness to please, Rat Terriers can be relatively easy to train. They respond well to positive reinforcement methods and enjoy the mental stimulation that training provides.

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