Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier looking forward

Quick Facts


10 to 25 pounds


10 to 13 inches (miniature)

13 to 18 inches (standard)

Average Lifespan:

12-18 years

Known For:

Happy, playful companions suitable for small children.


Welcome to the charming world of the Rat Terrier! Known for their intelligence, energy, and affectionate nature, these small to medium-sized terriers are a joy to have around. Originating from the United States, the Rat Terrier has won the hearts of many pet lovers, not only for its delightful personality but also for its storied history and versatility as a working dog. 


According to the American Kennel Club, the Rat Terrier is renowned for its agility, alertness, and capacity to be a vigilant watchdog, making it a popular breed among American households.

History and Origin

The Rat Terrier’s history is as diverse and fascinating as the breed itself. This American breed originated in the early 20th century, primarily designed as a farm dog and skilled vermin hunter. The breed was a mix of several terriers including the Smooth Fox Terrier, the now-extinct Old English White Terrier, and other European Terriers. 


These dogs were later crossed with Italian Greyhounds, Whippets, and Beagles, contributing to the Rat Terrier’s speed and exceptional hunting skills.


During the 1920s and 1930s, the Rat Terrier was a common sight on American farms. They were valued for their ability to control rodent populations and protect crops. The breed even got its name from its adeptness at hunting rats. 


President Theodore Roosevelt is often credited with naming the breed, as he kept a Rat Terrier in the White House to control the rodent problem.


As farming practices changed and the use of rodenticides increased, the need for Rat Terriers on farms declined. 


However, enthusiasts of the breed worked diligently to preserve it. In recent years, the Rat Terrier has experienced a resurgence in popularity and was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2013.

Breed Characteristics


Barking Tendency

Dog Friendly

Health Issues

Shedding Level









Cat Friendly

Exercise Needs


Social Needs








App. Friendly

Child Friendly


Energy Level

Stranger Friendly

Watchdog Instincts







Appearance and Size

Rat Terriers are compact, muscular, and elegant in appearance. They exhibit a harmonious build with a sleek silhouette, portraying agility and strength. Adult Rat Terriers typically stand between 10 to 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 10 to 25 pounds, with slight variations depending on the specific line or strain.


One of the Rat Terrier’s distinctive features is its coat – short, smooth, and shiny, fitting closely to the body. They can be found in a variety of colors and patterns, including black, chocolate, red, apricot, blue, fawn, tan, lemon, and white, often with pied patterning.


The Rat Terrier’s ears can be tipped or erect, and their expressive eyes convey intelligence and curiosity. Their tail can be docked or naturally long, adding to their charming appearance.

With their appealing looks and energetic demeanor, Rat Terriers are a sight to behold and a joy to have around, embodying the essence of a true terrier.

Personality and Temperament

The Rat Terrier is a bundle of joy and energy, showcasing a spirited and alert demeanor that endears it to many. Renowned for their intelligence, this breed is quick to learn and eager to engage in interactive play, making them an enjoyable companion for families. 


Their affectionate naure and loyalty to their owners are some of the many reasons why they are cherished pets.


These terriers are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings, which, coupled with their agility, makes them excellent participants in various dog sports. They are generally friendly but can be reserved around strangers, showcasing their protective instincts. Their alertness and vocal nature make them excellent watchdogs, ready to notify their owners of any unfamiliar presence.


However, it’s essential to note that Rat Terriers have a high prey drive due to their hunting heritage. They enjoy chasing smaller animals and might need a securely fenced area to play in safely. Early socialization and exposure to different environments, people, and pets are crucial in ensuring they grow up to be well-rounded individuals.

Health and Lifespan

Caring for the health of a Rat Terrier is a rewarding experience as this breed is known for its robustness and longevity. Rat Terriers have an average lifespan of 12 to 18 years, making them a long-term companion for those lucky enough to have them.


While they are generally healthy, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health conditions. Patellar luxation, hip dysplasia, and allergies are some of the issues that can affect them. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are paramount in ensuring your Rat Terrier stays in optimal health.


Dental health is also essential, so regular tooth brushing and professional cleanings are recommended. Maintaining their nails, ears, and coat is also vital in keeping them comfortable and happy.


The key to a healthy Rat Terrier is preventive care and prompt attention to any signs of illness. With love and attentive care, these little terriers will be your loyal and energetic companions for many years to come.

Care and Maintenance

Rat Terrier grooming

Owning a Rat Terrier is a delightful and engaging experience. Their energetic nature means they thrive on regular exercise and enjoy activities like running, playing fetch, and participating in dog sports. A daily walk and playtime in a secure area will keep them happy and healthy.


Despite their short coat, Rat Terriers do shed, so regular brushing will help manage this and keep their coat healthy. Bathing is only necessary when they get dirty. Regular ear checks and cleaning, nail trimming, and dental care are also essential in their grooming routine.


Nutrition is fundamental for the Rat Terrier’s well-being. A balanced, high-quality diet that is appropriate for their age, weight, and health needs will support their energy levels and overall health. It’s important to monitor their weight and adjust their food intake and exercise accordingly to prevent obesity.


Rat Terriers make wonderful pets for those who are willing to invest time in their care, training, and bonding. Their intelligence, energy, and affectionate nature make the effort truly rewarding, and they are sure to bring joy and companionship to your home.

Training and Behavior

Training a Rat Terrier can be a rewarding experience due to their high intelligence and eagerness to learn. These little dynamos are quick learners, responsive to commands, and adaptable, making them excellent candidates for obedience training and even dog sports. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as treats and praise, work well with this breed, as they are motivated by rewards and affection.


However, Rat Terriers can have a stubborn streak. Consistency and patience are key when training them. Establishing yourself as the leader of the pack early on is essential to prevent any potential behavioral issues. Due to their high energy levels and sharp minds, they benefit greatly from mental stimulation and diverse activities to prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behavior.


Socialization is also crucial for Rat Terriers. Exposing them to a variety of people, environments, and other animals at an early age helps in developing a well-adjusted and confident adult dog. This is especially important given their hunting background and tendency to chase smaller animals.

Rat Terrier and Families

Rat Terrier with people

Rat Terriers are known for their affectionate and loyal nature, making them excellent family pets. They form close bonds with their families and are often protective, making them great watchdogs. Their energetic and playful demeanor makes them a good match for families with older children who can engage in active play and respect the dog’s boundaries.


While they are generally good with children, it’s important to teach kids how to approach and handle dogs to ensure positive interactions. Rat Terriers can be reserved around strangers and may need time to warm up to new people. Early socialization can help them become more comfortable around guests.


When it comes to other pets, Rat Terriers can get along well with dogs and cats they have been raised with, but their high prey drive means they may chase smaller animals. Proper introductions and supervision are essential when interacting with other pets.

Adopting a Rat Terrier

Adopting a Rat Terrier can bring immense joy and companionship to your life. If you’re considering bringing one of these energetic and affectionate dogs into your home, start by researching reputable breeders or rescue organizations. The Rat Terrier Club of America and local animal shelters are good places to start your search.


Before adopting, consider your lifestyle and whether you can meet the needs of a high-energy and intelligent dog. Rat Terriers thrive in environments where they receive regular exercise, mental stimulation, and plenty of love and attention.


Ask questions about the dog’s health, temperament, and history, and spend time interacting with the dog before making a decision. Adoption is a long-term commitment, so ensuring a good match is essential for a happy and harmonious relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the temperament of a Rat Terrier?

Rat Terriers are intelligent, vigilant, and energetic. They are affectionate with their families and make excellent watchdogs due to their alert nature.

How much grooming does a Rat Terrier require?

They have a short, easy-to-care-for coat that requires minimal grooming. Regular brushing and occasional baths are sufficient to keep them clean.

Are Rat Terriers good with children?

Yes, they are typically good with children, showing both patience and playfulness. They enjoy being part of family activities.

What health issues can affect Rat Terriers?

They are generally healthy but can be prone to conditions such as patellar luxation, dental problems, and allergies.

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