Rat Terrier – Lively, Affectionate, and Active Companions!

are rat terriers smart

The Rat Terrier is a hunting dog breed. It was originally bred to keep as a farm dog. Rat Terriers keep lands clear of all sorts of rodents and vermin. They can effectively catch prey such as rats, rabbits, snakes, etc.

American president Roosevelt is said to have coined the term first after his Terrier cleared the White House of all rats. It is an American breed that rose to fame between 1910-1940s and resurfaced again in the 1970s.

Rat Terriers have compact, muscular bodies with erect ears and an always alert face. They need lots of exercise and activity to channel excess energy.

They also need mental stimulation so that they don’t get bored. Like other dogs, they can develop negative habits if their needs are not met.

Rat Terrier

About the Breed

rat terrier

Rat Terriers come in all sorts of colors. They have a short, shiny, and smooth hair coat with pied patterns. They come in two sizes, miniature and standard. Miniatures are 10-13 inches tall at the shoulder, and standard rat terriers are over 13 inches to 18 inches at the shoulder.

Rat terriers are known for their high energy levels and drive to hunt. They are quick enough to catch fast rodents. Although they are not people pleasers, they can be very playful, loving, and affectionate towards their family members.

Their hunting instincts keep them alert at all times. Rat terriers have the habits of typical Terrier breeds, like digging. They are notorious for digging below the fence to escape. They can also jump high. So, it is suggested that owners keep a 5-6ft high fence around their property.

It is also suggested that Rat Terrier dogs have their specified area where they can dig all they want.

A Rat Terrier makes an excellent family pet. It is suitable for families with large lands or fenced backyards so that they can run all they want. However, they are great for apartments too -as long as owners are willing to take them out for running and exercise.

Rat Terriers are escape artists. They need to be kept in collars and leashes. Do not risk losing your grip on the leash, or else you will end up with a dog trying to hunt other animals in the neighborhood.

A Rat Terrier can be stubborn and hard to train. Hence, it is suggested for people who are experienced with training high-energy dogs.

Also, if you are uncomfortable with barking or live in a quiet neighborhood, think twice before adopting. They are known to bark a lot owing to their hunting instincts. Their barking can be identified as a distinct ‘yipping’ sound.

Rat Terrier History

rat dog

The Rat Terrier is a mixture of at least seven other hunting breeds. They were bred as hunting dogs to keep the farms clear of all sorts of pests, especially rats and rabbits. The parent breeds include smooth Fox Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Old English White Terrier, Bull terrier, Italian greyhound, Whippet, and Beagle.

Italian Greyhounds and Whippets were included by breeders in the Midwest to add speed and make them faster. It was necessary to control the jackrabbit problem. Beagles were added to the gene pool to increase their pack-hunting abilities.

The Rat Terrier breed rose to fame in the 1900s. By the year 1910, the breed was the most popular farm dog in America. They stayed famous until the 1940s but then fell out of favor as farmers started using poison to control pests.

The origin of the breed name is still well debated. It is commonly believed that president Theodore Roosevelt called his terrier ‘Rat Terrier’ as he cleared rats in the White House. But, the president’s dog had short legs and is now known as Teddy Roosevelt’s terrier.

The Teddy Roosevelt Terrier is also an offshoot of the Rat Terrier but with short legs and is an accepted standard breed.

The breed also has other variations. Fox Terrier offspring that were too big for their breeding programs were introduced into Rat Terrier breeding programs. Hence, producing toy or miniature rat terriers.

Two other variations include the Decker Rat Terrier and the Hairless Rat Terrier. The Decker Rat Terrier is named after the owner, who introduced exceptional hunting skills into the breed. They are larger with the ability to retrieve from water. They are big, feisty and used for hunting pigs, deer, and even bears.

The American Hairless Terrier was bred in 1972 from a hairless female Rat Terrier. They are small dogs with a miniature variation also.

Facts about Rat Terriers

Here are a few interesting facts about Rat Terriers.

miniature rat terrier
  • Rat Terrier is loving and playful, but they are not very keen on pleasing their owners. So, it is understandable fact that they don’t do well with strangers. If you have lots of visitors, you will need to train the dog or find a way to keep it at a distance.
  • The Rat Terrier is highly intelligent. They have a mind of their own. Hence, it can be quite difficult to train them.
  • They are not suitable for first-time pet owners. Because of their intelligence, they do not listen to instructions well, and a lot of positive reinforcement is required.
  • They have the instinct to dig. They tend to dig holes around the fence, so it is important to keep it high and blocked at the base.
  • They are not recommended for homes with other pets, especially small animals. Their hunting nature knows no bounds, and even the most well-behaved dogs lose control when they see small animals.
  • Rat Terrier puppies are born with erect ears. They drop after a few days and then take a few months to become erect again.
  • The dog appeared in a movie along with Shirley Temple in 1930. They were still very famous around that time.
  • They need at least 40 minutes of exercise daily. The exercise needs to be high energy as well, such as running.
  • Mental stimulation is required to avoid boredom. When bored, they indulge in destructive habits such as chewing on furniture and excess barking. Lots of play along with treats can work wonderfully for them.
  • Do not keep the dog off-leash. They tend to escape or chase small creatures such as squirrels. They are also incredibly fast for a human to keep up with.
  • Originally bred as a hunter, Rat Terrier is now gaining popularity as a working dog.

Facts at a Glance

  • Group: Hunter farm dogs
  • Origin: United States of America
  • Size: 10-13 inches for miniature and 13-18 inches for standard rat terrier
  • Weight: 10-25 pounds
  • Color: Variety of colors with pied coats (large patches of color)
  • Coat: Short smooth and shiny
  • Temperament: lively, affectionate, highly active, and intelligent
  • Life Span: 12 to 18 years
  • Group: Terrier Group
  • Shedding: low
  • Energy level: high
  • Exercise needs: high

Rat Terrier Appearance

rat dogs

Rat Terrier has a compact yet elegant body shape. Its body is longer than it is tall with a smooth and shiny coat. It has perky ears and an alert face of a hunter. The American Kennel Club accepted the breed to appear in dog shows in 2010. Rat Terrier Club served as the parent club to represent Rat Terriers.

The AKC accepted and registered the Rat Terrier as a breed in the year 2013.


The Rat Terrier is a small to medium-sized dog breed. They have two types, miniature, and standard. The miniatures are 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder, whereas the standard breed is 13 to 18 inches tall according to the AKC site.


Depending upon their age and size, they can range in size from 10 -25 pounds. In appearance, they are well built, neither too bony nor too bulky. Their strong smooth muscled legs and light body make them swift runners.


They have short hair that is dense, thick, and shiny. The coat is easy to maintain with weekly brushing.

Coat Color

They come in a multitude of colors. The Rat Terrier is never in one solid color. They have a combination coat with white, black, tan, orange, and brown color. Their coat is pied in appearance. It means they have large patches of colors on their body in combination with white.

Rat Terrier Temperament and Personality

fox terrier rat terrier

Rat Terrier dogs are intelligent, inquisitive, and stubborn. They are great with their family members and have an amusing touch to their personalities. They are good with kids as well. However, they should never be left alone with the kids without adult supervision.

The dogs are hyperactive and impulsive, so if kids provoke them, there can be some harm done. Kids should be trained and educated on how to behave with dogs. There should be none of ear-pulling or harsh poking to avoid bites or scratching.

Rat Terrier’s temperament with other dogs is surprisingly good. They are keen on playing with other dogs. Agile and aggressive dogs should be kept at a distance because Terriers may agitate them with their drive to prey.

Rat terrier dogs take some time to warm up to strangers. Early socialization of puppies is essential to help them get along with other people.

Rat Terriers are prey-driven hunters. So keeping any sort of small animals, such as hamsters, bunnies, or chinchillas is a no-no. They will be seen as prey and attacked impulsively. Many don’t suggest keeping cats as well, but well-trained dogs may do okay once they warm up to them as a family.

Rat Terrier Health

black rat terrier

Rat Terriers are generally healthy dogs. They are prone to some health problems as all other dogs. As a dog owner, you must be aware of all the possible health problems so that you are well-equipped if something happens in the future.

If you are considering adopting or buying a Rat Terrier puppy, certain tests have to be run. All responsible Rat Terrier breeders make sure they run these tests through their breeding stock.

Both parents of the puppy must show clearance for some health conditions. They include clearances for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hip evaluation, and patellar luxation by the orthopedic foundation for animals (OFA).

Other tests are included to screen Legg calve Perthes disease, von Willebrand’s disease, primary lens luxation (PLL), and cardiac diseases.

An ophthalmologist evaluation is required to certify that both eyes are normal. All tests and clearance results for the parents can be confirmed on OFA official website.

Here are some details of the common health conditions that can affect Rat Terrier dogs.

Bone and Joint Problems

Rat Terriers are prone to a joint condition known as patellar luxation. In this condition, the knee cap slides off its location. You may find that your dog hops between strides and jerks the leg to put the kneecap back in position.

This condition usually happens in one leg only. The treatment includes arthritis medications. Watch out for early symptoms because delay can cause permanent damages that may require surgery.

Other joint problems include hip and elbow dysplasia. The joints become stiff, and you can notice visible limping or lameness in the legs. These are all classic arthritis symptoms. The Rat Terrier also has difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying position. Surgery may be required in severe cases.

A condition known as Legg calve Perthes is common in young dogs and Rat Terrier pups of almost six months. the head of the leg bone becomes brittle and fractures. it is really painful for the pups and requires surgery.


Rat Terriers are prone to allergies. Like in all other dogs, the symptoms appear as skin itch and rashes. They are known as atopy and Rat Terrier dogs are affected by it. The rash appears in skin folds, the face, or paws.

There might be hairless patches of skin and dogs appear to scratch their faces often. The disease onset is between one and three years of age. It may worsen over the years if not treated in time.


All dogs have microscopic Demodex mites passed to them from their mothers. The mites live in the hair follicles of dogs. In some dogs, such as the RT dog breed, the immune system might be suppressed, resulting in the overgrowth of these mites.

The symptoms include hairless lesions, which may or may not be itchy. This condition can result in secondary infections, which can be detrimental to Rat Terrier’s health.

Dental Diseases

Purebred dogs such as Rat Terriers are prone to a dental condition called malocclusion or bad bite. An overbite is a jaw malformation where the top jaw and teeth extend past the lower jaw. This can be highly uncomfortable as the lower teeth can poke the roof of the mouth. It also makes catching prey harder.

An underbite is a condition where the lower jaw extends past the upper jaw. If the conditions are not self-corrected. The Rat Terrier might need surgical intervention. However, it should not be performed until the dog is mature and fully grown.

There can be a misalignment of teeth as well where mature teeth come before the puppy teeth have not yet fallen out. Sometimes dogs need braces or tooth extraction to fix the problem.

If proper dental hygiene is not followed, tartar can build up. It can result in gum infection which is dangerous if the infection is passed into the bloodstream. It can result in the infection of vital organs such as kidneys, lungs, and heart.

Heart Diseases

Rat Terrier dogs are prone to a heart condition known as mitral valve disease. In the golden years of this dog breed, the heart valves may become weak, causing blood leakage around the valve causing strain.

It is diagnosed if a heart murmur can be heard. Yearly tests will be required afterward, and medications will be prescribed. A good way to avoid the disease is by keeping weight gain in check and avoiding obesity.

Rat Terrier Training and Care

Rat Terriers are highly intelligent dogs. They need constant mental stimulation to keep them entertained. Their boredom can result in destructive habits, which may cost you in terms of furniture fixes or visits to the vet.


rat terrier puppy

Rat Terriers were bred to be on the farm all day. Hence, they are charged with energy. They are highly active and need a lot of exercise. They should be engaged with active play for at least 40 minutes a day in a fenced area.

A Rat Terrier has a strong prey drive, so an off-leash dog is expected to chase small animals in open spaces. This can result in the dog escaping and running away from you. Engaging them in dog sports and ball-chasing activities can do wonders. They can also play well with dogs their size or bigger. Socialization and training is the key.

Having a fence around your property is the most important when it comes to outdoor play. They can also jump high, so the fence should be at least 5-6 feet high.

Don’t over-exercise young puppies. Their bones and joints are prone to dislocation and injuries when in the growing stage.


rat terrier life span

Rat Terrier dogs are very stubborn, and due to their intelligence, they can be hard to train. Training needs to happen from a young age. They should be able to get along with strangers and other dogs.

Training Rat Terriers can be fruitful if kept interesting and rewarded. You might have to keep switching your games to keep them interesting.


Even though a Rat Terrier has a short hair coat, it needs to be kept clean. Brush your Rat Terrier only once a week to remove loose hair. Although Rat Terrier’s short, dense coats do not shed much, they have a heavier shedding period in fall, spring, and during the heat cycles.

To control the shedding, it is advised to frequently brush using a shedding tool, soft brush, or rubber curry brush.

Rat terrier’s ears have to be cleaned regularly to remove any debris. Clean any wax buildup in the dog’s ears with a cotton stick. You should regularly check your dog’s ears for signs of infection.

Rat Terrier Diet and Nutrition

A Rat Terrier’s diet and nutrition depend upon the size and age of the dog. Smaller RTs need about a quarter cup of dog food. Whereas a larger than 20-pound dog would need about 2 cups of dog food.

Always buy high-quality dog food that includes protein and fiber content. Avoid overfeeding as it can cause obesity which is a root cause of canine cardiac disease.

Adopting a Rat terrier

rat terrior

If you are planning to adopt or buy a Rat Terrier, we suggest that you check the animal shelters first. Being a pure breed, an American Rat Terrier might be harder to find in the local animal shelter. You can take the help of the National Breed Club or Rat Terrier club to search for breed-dedicated centers.

Before bringing a Rat Terrier dog home, you must make sure that your house is terrier friendly. You must be a patient person with experience in training other breeds. These pups have high energy demands that are the responsibility of the owner.


Do Rat Terriers Shed?

Rat Terriers have short, dense coats that do not shed much. If you use a soft brush to comb, it will catch all loose hair. They do have a shedding season. They shed lots of hair in fall, spring, and during the heat cycle.

How Big Does a Rat Terrier Get?

Rat Terriers can range in size from miniature to medium. Miniatures are 10-13 inches in height, and medium Rat Terriers are 13-18 inches. They can weigh anywhere between 10-25 pounds.

Are Rat Terriers Smart?

Rat Terriers are highly intelligent and smart. This means that they have a brain of their own and stubborn personalities. They should be trained from an early age to follow instructions, or else they might not listen to you at all.


Rat Terrier is an incredibly smart breed. They were originally bred to be farm animals and keep properties clear of rodents and vermin. The name was coined when President Roosevelt’s terrier (now known as teddy Roosevelt terrier), cleared the president’s house of all rats.

They are now bred as family pets and watchdogs. Their energetic personalities need lots of mental stimulation and exercise to eliminate negative behaviors. Monthly grooming by professionals is recommended to keep their ears and nails clean and to wash away any debris built on the skin.

These energy balls will keep you entertained all day long. It is your responsibility to take them for walks daily. But NEVER forget the leash, or you too will end up getting a good run chasing your dog around the block!

Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell is a pet lover and a passionate pet writer. He has worked as a professional writer for over 6 years, with a focus on creating compelling content for pet-related brands. His work has been featured in major publications. When he's not writing, Cody can be found playing with his two dogs (a labradoodle and a cocker spaniel) or cuddling his cat.

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