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Rat Terrier Information: Breed Facts, Traits & More

In this Rat Terrier breed guide, we take you through everything you need to know about this intelligent and active dog. They are tons of fun but let's find out why they will keep you on your toes!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: September 9, 2021 | 13 min read

Rat Terrier standing on hill

The Rat Terrier is a dinky little doggo full of all the canine charm and fun you could dream of! But don’t let their angelic face and size fool you – this pup is cheeky (read, super-naughty), and they always think that they’re right. They are also super inquisitive and often find themselves in trouble. If you can accept their delightfully devilish character, you are sure to find a bestie in this little pup.

Be sure to research the breed before welcoming one into your home. Because as you might have already guessed, they’re not the canine character that everyone is looking for.

Once you’ve had a Rat Terrier in your life, you probably won’t be without one again!

Rat Terrier
    • weight iconWeight10-25 pounds
    • height iconHeight10-18 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan12-18 years
    • color iconColorsBlack, White, Tan, Red, & More Mixed Colors
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Rat Terrier with a rat
This Terrier was originally created to assist farmers with their rat infestations.

American-born and bred, the Rat Terrier is the result of mixing other dog breeds, including the Fox Terrier, Bull Terrier, Manchester Terrier, and many more. Like a handful of dog breeds, he has a long-winding history that canine historians cannot agree on. This dog does not shy away from his role as a rat exterminator – and he is one of the best around!

By the 1910s and 20s, farmers across America began to mix the original Rat Terrier with other breeds to enhance their hunting skills. Farmers in the Midwest bred them to Whippets to increase their speed in catching jackrabbits. And farmers in Southern and Central America bred them to Beagles to increase their pack mentality and scenting ability.

Some historians believe that Former President Teddy Roosevelt named the Rat Terrier breed itself, but this is not entirely true. He had the short-legged variety. In the 90s, the short-legged strain was recognized as a breed in its own right and aptly named the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier. But many people still confuse the two today.

There are two sizes of Rat Terriers – miniature and standard – which we’ll go into more detail about below. The miniature is believed to have come from the introduction of the Toy Fox Terrier into the breed. Currently, both sizes are a relatively rare breed in America. They are ranked by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as the 86th most popular dog out of 200 breeds.

Temperament

Rat Terrier playing with a ball
This playful dog is always up for a game of fetch, to chase the neighbor’s cat, or tug of war.

This breed might be small, but he is full of cheeky terrier character. They have super high energy, so he needs an active family. The AKC describes him in three words as friendly, lovable, and inquisitive. So, if you are looking for a comical, pocket-sized pooch to make you smile, you can count on this guy. If you are searching for a docile and laidback pup, the Rattie is definitely not the one for you.

This is great for entertaining the kids, and thanks to their small size, they pose no threat when it comes to accidental bumps or knocking them over. Their insatiable energy and zest for life are infectious and lovable.

With his high prey drive and aloofness with strangers, this is a yappy little dog. Barking is either something that you are looking for in a dog or not. It makes them awesome little watchdogs who will alert you to everything. Or it can make them a royal pain in the butt, especially if you have noise-sensitive neighbors or tenancy noise-level restrictions.

Despite being aloof with strangers, they are incredibly affectionate with their families. After a long day of chasing furries and long walkies, they love nothing more than to curl on your lap for evening snuggles. They also can mirror your mood and supply extra cuddles on days where you feel down. Although they are stubborn dogs, they love to please their master and receive praise.

Size & Appearance

Rat Terrier running in grass
There are two varieties of Rat Terrier, the miniature pup and the standard.

A small-sized dog, this pup usually measures between 10 and 13 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. And the standard variety stands between 13 and 18 inches tall. Both varieties weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.

Despite being small dogs, they are sturdy in their appearance. They were born to work thanks to their powerful but compact frame. They are proportionate in their build, and their neat coat gives them an air of elegance too.

Some are born with a natural bobtail, and those born with full-length tails are often docked for working purposes. Their erect, bat-like ears are a key feature in their cheeky appearance.

If you plan to compete with in the show ring, they must conform to the Rat Terrier breed standard. Certain features are not allowed in the show ring, such as blue eyes, brindle or merle coats, an absence of fur, or not measuring between 10 and 18 inches tall. If you are only looking for a pet Rat, deviations from this aren’t an issue. However, you might want to ask for proof of lineage as these deviations might indicate they are not a pure bred.

Coat & Colors

Two Rat Terrier in various Colors standing in grass
They have a short, smooth, and shiny double coat.

Coats are almost always straight in appearance, although some may have a slight wave along the backline. Some Rat coats are slightly harsh to the touch, whereas some have a fine coat. Being born with a “no coat” results from a genetic defect. These pups were used to create the American Hairless Terrier breed.

The most popular and traditional color is black, white, and tan. Other colors include red, sable, apricot, fawn, lemon, silver, blue, chocolate. Each coat comes in various pied patterns, which means patches of one or more colors combined with white. It’s worth saying that if you plan on showing your pup in the show ring, there are strict rules about colors. These are listed in the breed standard.

Exercise Requirements

Rat Terrier playing with a ball
While small, this Terrier has high energy needs for such a small pup.

Rat Terriers need at least 45 minutes of exercise every day. The miniature version will suffice with a little less. So, if you’re on your search for a lap dog, this breed is not the one for you. Instead, it would be best to consider rehoming these guys with an active family who can meet their energetic personalities come rain or shine.

They will also need mental stimulation throughout the day to keep their busy minds occupied. Otherwise, you can be sure that they’ll get up to mischief! Be that digging through to your neighbor’s garden or chewing up your expensive sofa. Thinks brain games and challenging puzzle toys, and interactive playtime with balls and squeaky toys.

This working dog shouldn’t be off leash in an uncontained area because there is a high chance they won’t come back. They’ll disappear down rabbit holes faster than you can call out their name! A high-quality escape-proof harness that fits them well will prevent them from fleeing, so be sure to invest in one. It will also protect their little necks.

Living Conditions

Rat Terrier sleeping on bed
Make sure that you Rat proof your home with dug-in fences and block off any escape routes.

The Rat Terrier is more than happy to live in small apartments, as long as you exercise them well. But equally, they will happily live in larger homes too. Their dinky frame makes them very adaptable to all kinds of living spaces. But it also means they can escape easily too.

Their small size means that they can live with small children. But, you need to be sure that you train your children to interact respectfully and sensibly with dogs. These dogs don’t like to be fussed over unless it’s on their terms. Young, excitable children might view a Rat as a cuddly toy, which is why many families choose to invite this working dog into their life when the kiddos are a little bit older.

When socialized well, this breed is happy to live with other dogs. However, they usually get along better with dogs the same size or larger than them. Slow and careful introductions will be needed, especially if they are yappy and fiery pups. This pup isn’t the best option for households with other pets, such as cats, rabbits, or mice. Your new pup might see them as their next hunting challenge, which won’t go down well!

Training

Rat Terrier jumping over agility course obstacle
It’s important to establish the rules as soon as you bring them home.

The Rat Terrier is a relatively intelligent dog. Which means that they’re easy to train, right? Well, not exactly. Although they quickly learn tricks and like to please their owners, they are very headstrong and stubborn dogs. Meaning if they aren’t in the mood to learn new training or obey your commands, you can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t.

They are best suited to owners with previous doggy training experience or those who don’t expect a super obedient pup.

Consistency is key with these dogs. Make sure that the whole family knows and sticks to the rules. If dad is sneakily allowing Fido on the sofa when moms away, you’ve got no chance of creating an obedient doggo.

Positive reinforcement training is the best dog training method to utilize. If there is nothing in it for them, your pup will not give you the time of day. Thankfully, they are motivated by treats, toys, and a little bit of praise. Make training sessions short and fun to keep them interested.

Socialization is crucial. Not only does it create a polite dog who can interact with other pups and humans. But it also goes a long way to prevent something called ‘small dog syndrome’ and them feeling the need to be overprotective. The critical period for socializing your pup is 3 to 12 weeks, so it’s important to begin immediately. Taking them to secure doggy parks and puppy training classes is a great way to socialize them.

Health

Rat Terrier face up close
This Terrier is typically a healthy breed who enjoys a lifespan of 12 to 18 years.

With an average lifespan of 12 to 18 years, this breed enjoys one of the longest in the canine kingdom! But you have to keep your pooch healthy to ensure a long life together. It is crucial to feed them the best quality nutrition, keep them physically and mentally fit with regular exercise, and stay current on vaccinations and health checks.

The national breed club recommends that breeders screen their dogs for the following health conditions as they are the most common. When working with a breeder, be sure to see the relevant health certificates. Although the below list is not exhaustive, it is a great place for potential owners to start their health research.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a common condition in many dog breeds, including this one. Parents can pass along hip dysplasia to their young, as it can be an inherited condition. Asking your breeder for their parent’s hip scores is essential– always look for fair or better scores. Symptoms of hip dysplasia include struggling to sit, stand, and climb, an uneven gait, and general mobility issues.

Eye Conditions

Eye conditions are another common concern in dog breeds. The most common eye-related issue found in this breed is distichiasis. This occurs when the eyelashes grow inside of the eyelids, irritating and damaging the eye. Other concerns such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and glaucoma are also found in the breed. Symptoms include light sensitivity, bumping into things, and pawing at their eyes.

Cardiac Concerns

A few cardiac conditions are found in this Terrier’s bloodline, but dilated cardiomyopathy is most common. Dogs with this condition have a weaker heart due to thinner walls and valves, meaning the heart does not work as efficiently as it should. If left undiagnosed, it can lead to heart failure. Exercise intolerance, fatigue, coughing, rapid breathing, and fainting are symptoms to look out for.

Patella Luxation

This is another skeletal problem that affects the knee joint. The knee cap becomes loose and essentially becomes dislocated. This is a painful condition and needs veterinary attention to correct. Look for symptoms such as an abnormal gait, kicking out with the affected leg, and not wanting to move.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

This occurs when the head of the femur spontaneously begins to degenerate, and it is mostly seen in smaller breeds. The head of the femur creates part of the hip joint, which is why it is commonly mistaken for hip dysplasia. This can lead to small fractures and arthritis. Symptoms include general pain and lameness in one leg, and affected dogs need medical therapy and pain relief.

Nutrition

Rat Terrier eating a bone
They don’t eat a huge amount of food, so your monthly food bill may not be so high.

A typical Rat Terrier will eat between half and one and a half cups of food a day, depending on their size, age, and activity levels. It’s important to split this into at least two different meal sittings. Of course, miniatures will eat much less than standard-sized dogs.

High-quality nutrition can go a long way to keep your dog healthy, so always pick the best quality food that your budget allows. Feeding your dog an age-appropriate kibble is also important, especially during the puppy stage, as they have different nutritional needs at different stages. Feed them puppy kibble up until the age of one, and senior kibble typically after eight. In between, adult kibble for small-sized dogs will be the best option.

Grooming

Rat Terrier in water
This is a great option for dog lovers who don’t love dog hair.

The Rat Terrier has a short and sleek coat that sheds moderately during the seasonal changes but lightly the rest of the year. And because they are so small, the small amount of hair they shed will be much less than, say, a larger dog like a Doberman.

This dog should be brushed once a week with a hound brush throughout the year. This will remove dirt and debris from their coat and keep them looking glossy. You should also use a softer bristle brush or a deshedding tool during the warmer seasons to remove the dead hair. Depending on your pup’s lifestyle and how dirty they get, a bath once every month or two will be enough to keep them smelling and feeling their best.

Ratties have small and compact mouths, meaning their teeth are more prone to periodontal diseases. It would help to brush their teeth at least three times a week with toothpaste formulated for dogs. Trim their nails once a month to keep them short. Otherwise, they’ll become painful for your pup.

Introducing your working breed to his grooming schedule from a young age will make things much easier for you in the future. If he doesn’t like teeth brushing, it’ll be difficult to catch him! Make it a pleasant experience and keep them entertained by licking mats smothered in doggy-friendly peanut butter or toys in the tub.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Rat Terrier Puppy on bed
Always research breeders before you meet them, looking for reliable and independent references.

The Rat Terrier is a relatively rare dog breed in America, meaning you might have to travel to find a responsible breeder. But the extra traveling will be worth it when you find a happy and healthy pup! A great place to start your research is on the AKC’s Rat Terrier breeder list.

The average starting price for this breed is between $700 and $900. Before handing over any money to a breeder, it’s important to meet them in person first. Get a feel for them and their business, and if you feel comfortable, you might put down a reserve for a future puppy. Once the pups are born, be sure to meet them in person before finalizing the payment.

Sadly, some irresponsible breeders out there will breed unhealthy dogs and neglect them of their basic needs just to maximize their profits. This is why it is important to research any breeder you choose to work with. If you find one at a lower price than those listed above, view this as a warning sign that something might not be right.

You will also need to spend money on everything that puppies need, from crates to collars, toys to puppy training, and much more. Some of these things will need to be replaced when they grow out of them, too. Plus, you also need to account for medical and insurance expenses. Although they might be small pups, owning any dog is a significant expense over their lifetime.

Rescues & Shelters

Rat Terrier Rescue
Rescue is another option, but don’t expect to find them easily at shelters.

Not everyone wants to invite a bouncy puppy into their home. Just remember that Rat Terriers are more rare than Pitties or Labs. So you might have to wait a bit longer for one to turn up.

You have two main options here. First, head out to your local rescue shelter. Be sure to speak to the staff as they might know of an incoming pooch or one in a nearby shelter that you don’t know about. Secondly, the Rat Terrier Club of America lists breed-dedicated shelters and other useful Rat-specific adoption information.

As Family Pets

Some highlights of the Rat Terrier. They are:

  • A small-sized dog who can live in homes of all sizes.
  • Very active breed with much more energy than the average small dog. These guys are not lap dogs by any stretch of the imagination.
  • A busy family who can exercise them daily and keep them mentally stimulated at home. Without adequate exercise and stimulation, they will become destructive and naughty.
  • Affectionate with their family and love to snuggle in the evening.
  • Vocal, curious, and aloof with strangers, making them awesome watchdogs.
  • Intelligent but very stubborn creatures, meaning training can be challenging.
  • Able to live with children if your kids are dog-savvy. Older kids would be best.
  • Known to have a high prey drive, they will keep rodents out of your home and yard. But this also means they cannot live with cats or other small furry creatures, and their recall is unreliable.

Final Thoughts

The Rat Terrier is a relatively rare dog breed. You’re likely to have the only one in the neighborhood. But that isn’t because they’re not worthy of a place in the family home – far from it! Sure, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. But they are fun, energetic, and affectionate companions that are also as cute as they come!

As long as you are ready for the hurricane that is the Rat Terrier, and you can look past their stubborn and naughty ways, you might be onto a winner. They need much more exercise than many people expect, and they will chase all furries that come into their yard. These Terriers can be difficult to train, but once you’ve cracked it, they’ll be your best friend for life.

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