Rat Terrier Dog Breed: A Pet Parent Guide

Rat Terrier Dog Breed: A Pet Parent Guide

Rat Terriers Are Hardly Terrifying

Ranked as 86th out of 197 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Rat Terrier is a tough, yet elegant, small-sized dog breed with an enormous personality.

This complete guide will review the breed’s history, personality, lifestyle requirements, and more. Learn why Rat Terriers were used for farm work, and how they got promoted from being farm dogs to loving companions in the blink of an eye.

Breed Basics

Breed Group Terrier Group
Temperament Friendly, inquisitive, lovable
Life Span 12-18 years
Weight 10-25 Ibs
Height 10-13 inches (miniature); 13-18 inches (standard)
Colors Black, chocolate, grey, apricot, bicolor or tricolor
Origin United States

Rat Terrier History

The Rat Terrier is popularly known as a dog of many talents. However, the Rat Terrier is also a dog of many breeds. Perfected in America during the 19th century, the Rat Terrier is a blend of several ancestors – the now-extinct Old English White Terrier, the Smooth Fox Terrier, the Whippet, the Manchester Terrier, pinches of Italian Greyhounds, Bull Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Beagles.

The original Rat Terrier’s history starts in England, where the breed was developed to exterminate rodents and hunt small game. According to written records, a Rat Terrier named Billy from Suffolk, England, freed his owner’s barn from rodents by killing 2501 rats in just 7 hours.

Because of their outstanding exterminating skills, they were later on for pit fighting, where they were pitted against several rats. When British immigrants started colonizing America, they brought their Rat Terriers with them.

They also brought Beagles, Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, and Bull Terriers. These dogs began mixing with the Rat Terrier and ultimately gave birth to the Rat Terrier we now know, love and respect.

Rat terrier dog breed: a pet parent guide

Rat Terrier Appearance

The Rat Terrier is a compact and sturdy, small to medium-sized dog with an overall look that radiates confidence, elegance, and fitness. The head is proportional to the body. The adorable dog has oval, small, and wide-set eyes, and triangular ears. Rat Terriers puppies are born with erect ears which usually drop down by the time the puppy opens its eyes. Sometimes the ears get erected later on and sometimes they stay dropped.


Standard Rat Terrier males and females are 13-18 inches tall (33.4-45.7 centimeters) and weigh about 10-25 pounds (4.5-11.3 kilograms). Miniature Rat Terriers are about 10-13 inches (25-33.4 centimeters) tall at the withers.

Coat and Color

The Rat Terrier has a single-layered coat that can be short, smooth, or dense.  The coat can come in a plethora of colors and color combinations, including white, white, and black or tan, black with tan or rust.

Rat Terrier Grooming and Maintenance

It takes minimal effort to maintain the Rat Terrier’s coat and keep it healthy. This dog sheds minimally throughout the year and more intensely twice per year during shedding seasons.

Usually, the Rat Terrier needs weekly brushing and monthly bathing. During the shedding season, the brushing frequency can be increased to a few times a week. To speed up the process, it is advisable to use a rubber curry brush or a shedding tool

The ears are prone to wax buildup and require weekly checking and cleaning. As in all small dogs, tartar accumulation can be an issue unless the teeth are brushed more than three times per week. Finally, monthly nail trimmings are necessary to keep the nails short and prevent cracking and splinting.

Rat terrier dog breed: a pet parent guide

Rat Terrier Temperament and Personality

The Rat Terrier is true to its Terrier ancestry – it is exceptionally smart and fun-loving, yet stubborn and independent. Unaware of its diminutive size, this tenacious, fearless, and alert dog makes an extremely good watchdog.

The Rat Terrier is a kid-friendly dog which makes it the perfect family companion, and extremely adaptable which makes it suitable for both house and apartment living. It is also suitable for dog owners of all ages – single professionals from families to senior citizens.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Rat Terrier has a propensity for digging, barking, escaping and chasing smaller pets.

Training your Rat Terrier

Rat Terriers are extremely intelligent, but they are also Terriers, which means they are stubborn and can make the training process a real challenge. Most Rat Terriers respond to training efforts if the training sessions are kept short, fun, and mentally stimulating. They prefer positive reinforcement training techniques and frequent bribes in the form of tasty treats.

The most basic and universal training all Rat Terriers must receive is obedience training. This is mostly due to their escaping tendencies, strong prey drive, and the ability to run really fast.

Socialization is also mandatory. It should be extensive and starting from an early age. Bred to exterminate rodents, Rat Terriers have an extremely potent prey drive, and if the opportunity presents itself, they will disregard all commands and initiate a fair chase.

Rat Terrier Exercise Requirements & Energy Level

Bred to be a hard-working dog, and having the Terrier genes deep-wired in its genetic code, the Rat Terriers need about 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day.

Ideally, Rat Terriers should be left to run but always in a fenced area. Considering their escape artist skills and the strong prey drive, letting them off-leash in an unfenced area can be hazardous. Alternatively, they enjoy swimming. If neither option is available, they need several vigorous walks in the park or around the block.

With go-all-day stamina and highly biddable, Rat Terrier can be exercised for dock diving, agility, fly-ball, and doing parlor tricks. These canine sports serve as good energy outlets and offer the Rat Terrier and the owner a bonding opportunity.

Rat terrier dog breed: a pet parent guide

Common Rat Terrier Health Issues

The average lifespan of the Rat Terrier varies between 12 and 18 years. Despite its relatively long lifespan, the Rat Terrier is predisposed to several breed-specific conditions. The most frequently reported major issues include orthopedic conditions like hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and Legg-Calve-Perthes, heart problems, and eye conditions.

Rat Terriers are also prone to environmental and food allergies, demodectic mange, and the three forms of incorrect bites – undershot bite, overshot bite, and wry mouth.

Health Concerns

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club

  • Cardiac Exam
  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Legg-Calve-Perthe Radiographic

Diet and Nutrition Needs: Feeding your Rat Terrier

The Rat Terrier’s nutritional needs vary based on its age and lifestyle. However, an adult, moderately active Rat Terrier should eat between ¼-cups and 2 cups of high-quality, protein-rich, dry kibble. Rat Terriers are prone to overeating.

If they are physically active, this does not seem to be a problem. However, for Rat Terriers with more sedentary lifestyles, overeating can lead to obesity and increase their already high risk of heart problems and joint issues.

To avoid obesity, it is best advised to monitor the Rat Terrier’s appetite and feed as instructed on the kibble package. Alternatively, if feeding a homemade diet, it is advisable to get a canine nutritionist’s approval.

Tips for Adopting and Raising a Rat Terrier

Purebred Rat Terriers can cost between $300 and $4000, but the usual purchase cost is around $425. The expenses of pet parenting a Rat Terrier for the first year are roughly between $1200 and $1500. After the first year, the annual costs will be around $800.

Deciding to get a Rat Terrier is a considerable commitment in responsibility, time, and money. However, the love and attention the Rat Terrier gets, they tend to give back tenfold.

The Rat Terrier is known as the Houdini of the canine world. Crafting escape plans is something this small dog breed enjoys. Plus, if they starts to run, there is no chance of catching they. Therefore, all Rat Terriers must be obedience trained. Just to be on the safe side, they must also always wear a collar and a tag with the owner’s info. Finally, escape-proofing the backyard is a must.

Rat terrier dog breed: a pet parent guide

Rat Terrier FAQs

Q: Are Rat Terriers good pets?
A: Yes. Rat Terriers are extremely good family pets. They are adaptable to all living arrangements and fond of children. All in all, Rat Terriers are excellent pets.

Q: Are Rat Terriers aggressive?
A: Generally speaking, Rat Terriers are not aggressive. They are friendly and not naturally wary of strangers. However, if not properly socialized they can be aggressive towards other smaller pets.

Q: Do Rat Terriers kill rats?
A: Rat Terriers are skilled, tenacious, and efficient rat exterminators. They are capable of killing a large number of rats in a very short period of time.

Q: Do Rat Terriers like to cuddle?
A: Contrary to popular belief, Rat Terriers are not strictly work-oriented dogs. They are loving, affectionate, and make perfect snuggle buddies.

Official Resources: Breed Clubs, Rescues & Helpful Links

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