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Rat Terrier Dog Breed Info: Pictures, Personality & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Rat Terrier Dog

Height: 13 – 18 inches
Weight: 10 – 25 pounds
Lifespan: 12 – 18 years
Colors: White, black, mixed with brown, tan, blue, red
Suitable for: Active families with or without yards, farms, anyone with a rodent problem
Temperament: Energetic, Affectionate, Loyal, Intelligent, Playful, Fearless, Aloof, Stubborn

Rat Terriers aren’t named for their small size, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Instead, they’re named after the vermin that they were bred to hunt on farms. In fact, some people believe that Theodore Roosevelt named the breed after his dog took care of a pest problem at the White House. Whether he’s responsible for naming the breed or not is disputed.

This is a small breed, standing 13-18 inches in height and weighing no more than 25 pounds. But a smaller version also exists; the Toy Rat Terrier. This tiny dog weighs just five to 10 pounds and stands no taller than a foot!

Originally bred as hunters for farms that had too many rodents, the Rat Terrier is a muscular and athletically built breed. They’re very fast and can run farther than you might expect. Plus, they’ve got loads of intelligence to outsmart their prey.

When you combine these traits, you get a stubborn but smart dog with a strong prey drive and boatloads of energy. They need plenty of exercise, at least 40 to 60 minutes each day. But they don’t necessarily need a yard if you can provide enough structured exercise for them.

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Rat Terrier Puppies

rat terrier puppy
Image Credit: Lisa Turay, Shutterstock

Rat Terrier jump Image Credit: Mark Herreid, Shutterstock[/caption]

Temperament & Intelligence of the Rat Terrier 🧠

Brimming with energy, the Rat Terrier is always ready to go. They were made to hunt all day and that endurance never left the breed. Daily exercise is necessary to get rid of all that excess energy.

If you don’t provide your Rat Terrier with an outlet for their energy, you can expect to start seeing destructive behaviors. They’re known diggers, but that’s just the start. And since they’re very intelligent, they are quite the escape artists.

You’ll need a secure yard if you expect to keep your Rat Terrier outside without your supervision. Even then, it’s best to make sure your Rat Terrier is microchipped and wearing a collar and tag. If there are any weak points to the perimeter, your Rat Terrier will find them and exploit them.

But despite all that, they are popular pets because they’re also very lovable. Since they’re pack-oriented animals, they become very devoted to their family.

They’re quirky and fun dogs that can keep everyone entertained with their energetic antics. But they don’t trust strangers and are always alert, so they can make excellent watchdogs as well as close companions.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

Rat Terriers can do very well with families. They need a lot of exercise, so having multiple people around who can all play with your Terrier or take them on walks is a great way to ensure that the dog gets plenty of physical activity.

Because they’re such pack-oriented dogs, Rat Terriers can bond with everyone in the family and will get along fine with every family member. Their distrust is mostly pointed towards strangers and visitors who they can take a while to get accustomed to.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

Though the Rat Terrier is a small breed, they were bred for hunting even smaller animals. Because of this, they have a very strong prey drive and will likely chase and attack any small animals they see.

Even if your Rat Terrier is well-trained, it might have a hard time fighting the urge to run off after a squirrel. This is why they don’t do well as off-leash dogs.

When it comes to pets in the home, it’s unlikely that your Rat Terrier will tolerate them. Even if socialized early, the strong prey drive is hard to overcome and your Rat Terrier will still have the instinct to hunt and kill other animals.

rat terrier
Image Credit: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock

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Things to Know When Owning a Rat Terrier:

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Rat Terriers aren’t very large dogs, but they are very active. They need high-quality food to replenish their lost energy stores each day, but they won’t require too much of it.

A reputable dry dog food with plenty of protein will be sufficient for any Rat Terrier. But because of their small size, it’s easy for one of these dogs to overeat and become overweight very quickly.

It’s up to you to measure your dog’s food and ensure you’re not providing too much. You’ll want to weigh your Rat Terrier to determine how much you should be feeding it.

With this breed, it’s best not to leave food out all the time. Instead, split their feeding into two times each day; once in the morning and once in the evening.

Exercise 🐕

When it comes to exercise, the Rat Terrier is pretty high-maintenance. Yours is going to need plenty of physical activity; about 40 to 60 minutes each day.

This could be structured playtime, long walks, jogs, hikes, or having your pup accompany you on whatever activities you’re participating in. Just as long as your Rat Terrier gets enough exercise to wear out its massive energy reserves.

Should you fail to deplete those energy reserves, you can expect your Rat Terrier to expend that energy in other, less constructive ways. In fact, they can turn downright destructive.

But that doesn’t mean that Rat Terriers need a ton of room at home. They’re pretty small dogs, so they don’t have major space requirements. A yard is nice, but not a requirement with this breed.

Many people have even had luck raising Rat Terriers in apartments. But if you’re going to go this route, you’ll need to ensure that they get all their exercise met in structured sessions since they won’t have much space to release the energy themselves.

And don’t forget about their shrill bark! It might turn some of your neighbors against you!

rat terrier
Image Credit: picsbyst, Shutterstock

Training 🦮

These are very smart dogs. They have plenty of intelligence to be trained. Remember, they were bred as hunting dogs.

But they’re also known for being stubborn. Incredibly stubborn. This stubbornness can make them quite difficult to train, especially for a novice dog trainer. If you’ve never trained a dog before, you’ll have fun with a Rat Terrier as your first.

That said, they’re absolutely trainable. It’s best if you begin early on in their life. If you allow your Rat Terrier to reach adulthood before working on obedience training, you’ll have a much harder time.

As a puppy, your Terrier will be much more accepting of the training. Just remember to continue some basic training up into adulthood to keep your Rat Terrier well-behaved and help nip the stubborn streak in the bud.

Grooming ✂️

They may be high-maintenance when it comes to exercise, but Rat Terriers are rather low-maintenance in regards to their grooming and maintenance requirements.

This breed has a short coat that’s sleek, shiny, and dense. It needs very little. Brushing their coat once each week is that all that’s required, with bathing performed only rarely when it’s needed.

They shed, but not an excessive amount. It’s heaviest twice a year around spring and fall. During these times, you might need to brush twice a week to get rid of the loose and dead hair.

Like other dogs, you’ll need to do routine checks of your Rat Terrier’s nails and ears. Nails need trimming once or twice per month unless your dog naturally wears them down through activity. Ears can be wiped clean with a damp cloth unless redness, foul odors, or excessive buildup are present.

Health and Conditions ❤️

One of the advantages of mixing breeds is that the offspring are thought to inherit less of the medical concerns that might be prevalent in either parent breed.

The Rat Terrier is a mix of quite a few breeds. As a result, it seems that the breed has become quite hardy.

There are no major health concerns that are known to regularly affect this breed. However, there are a few minor health concerns that you should keep an eye out for.

Malocclusion: This is the term for a misaligned bite. It can be caused by a jaw that’s out of alignment or the wrong size for the dog’s mouth, or it can be caused by teeth that are out of place and won’t allow the mouth to close properly.

Many breeds are susceptible to malocclusion. In some cases, it’s not a major concern and the dog will be able to function just fine. These dogs have a functional bite.

In other cases, the malocclusion can cause the dog to have a non-functional bite. This is when the malocclusion is affecting the dog’s ability to eat or causing pain. In these instances, surgical intervention is necessary to correct the dog’s bite.

Patellar luxation: This is when the kneecap can move out of its proper position. It can cause limping, skipped steps, and strange sitting posture, which can all be indications of the issue. Luckily, it’s usually caught pretty early in the dog’s life.

At its worst, patellar luxation can cause osteoarthritis and lameness. It can also cause a ruptured cruciate ligament, which happens in about 15%-20% of dogs that are diagnosed with this condition.

Demodectic mange: Also called Demodex or red mange, demodectic mange is the most common form of mange in dogs. It’s caused by a mite called Demodex Canis, hence the name.

This parasitic skin disease doesn’t usually affect dogs with the Demodex Canis mite though. It only becomes an issue when the dog’s immune system becomes compromised, which is when the demodectic mange sets in.

Thankfully, demodectic mange isn’t contagious to other animals or humans. These mites are passed only from mother to offspring, and it happens immediately during or shortly after birth.

Demodectic mange will cause your dog to lose its hair, though it’s not terribly itchy. It can be treated with topical medication, shampoos, and oral medication if it’s bad enough.

Serious Conditions
  • None

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Male vs Female

Male and Female Rat Terriers have noticeably different demeanors.

Males are much more dominant. You’ll need to display dominance early and often. Even still, a male Rat Terrier may test you from time to time. Females are often quite stubborn and independent, but they rarely ever display dominant behaviors.

Likewise, males are very territorial and the females aren’t so much. If you have a male, expect it to mark its territory constantly as you take it for walks. It will also have a very high sex drive that can lead to some embarrassing situations for you as your dog humps your guest’s feet with vigor.

But the males also tend to be more affectionate than their female counterparts. The females aren’t very physically affectionate, preferring to show their love for their family members in other ways.

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Hardy dogs with few health concerns, a long lifespan, and athletic bodies, the Rat Terrier was bred to be the perfect dog for hunting rats and small rodents. They’re still great for that and have even been the local pest control for the White House during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency.

But today, most of these dogs find their homes are with loving families where they fit right in. Their pack mentality and intelligence make them great companions, even if their stubbornness can make them a bit difficult to train.

Just keep in mind, Rat Terriers are a very high-energy breed. They may not need a lot of space at home, but they will require lots of exercise. Make sure you have the time to devote 40-60 minutes to exercising your dog every day before you add a Rat Terrier to your household.

Do you like Terrier breeds? Check out some other interesting ones below:

Featured Image Credit: Emily Ranquist, Shutterstock

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