Breed At A Glance


Intelligent, trainable, active, crave attention, “laid back” terrier, pest controller, guard dog

Life Expectancy
15 -18 years

Average Height
10 – 18”

Average Weight
10 – 25 lbs

Coat Color
Bi- or Tri-color in white, black tan

Coat Length/Texture
Short and soft single coat

Shedding Propensity
Heavy year round

Also known as American Rat Terrier, Ratting Terrier, Decker Giant, Feist, Teddy Roosevelt Terrier

General Temperament

Rat Terriers are sometimes mistaken for Jack Russell Terriers at first glance, and they do share a similar feisty, energetic temperament. This athletic and intelligent breed is happiest in a rural or suburban environment where they can have a chance to run and chase smaller animals, though they can adapt to apartment life if given enough exercise and toys to keep their interest. They become quite attached to their human companions and will be very protective of their home territory, though they are not described as “yappy” dogs. They are willing to learn and easily trainable, but that training must be consciously maintained and implemented by their owner throughout the dog’s life. Rat Terriers are generally good with children and other pets, particularly those within the family, but they can be snippy with unruly chidren and are likely to take off after animals outside of it’s family (such as the neighbor’s cat, a squirrel, or any other small animal). Just as training and socialization are necessary for this breed to minimize this behavior, children should be taught the proper way to interact and respect the dog. Although they may be shy around visitors, they are generally friendly towards them. But a Rattie will defend it’s home and family if necessary, in whatever way it can. This breed shares it’s strong prey instinct and love of digging holes with it’s terrier cousins. They are also excellent jumpers Suburban backyard fences will therefore need to be both tall (5-6 feet) and buried deep, and checked regularly to keep the dog from escaping the safety of their home and chasing after something that catches their eye. They also possess a pack mentality, and are usually happier if they can spend most of their time around either their human companions or other pets. If left alone for long periods of time, a Rattie can become quite mischievous! Extensive socialization and obedience training is required with this breed to avoid potential bad habits.

Breed History

Rat Terriers were developed by British Migrants in the U.S. using several of the most common European terriers of the 1800’s, including English White Terriers, Manchester Terriers, and Bull Terriers. Later, other breeds such as Smooth Fox Terriers, Beagles, Whippets, and Italian Greyhounds were added. The breed gained in popularity as a vermin and small game hunter, both above ground and below, eventually becoming the most commonly used breed on American farms in the early 20th century. As commercial farming took the place of family-owned farms, the Rat Terrier nearly died out by the 1950’s. Luckily, those loyal to the breed maintained their breeding programs. Nevertheless, the Rat Terrier is now considered a rare breed.

Body Structure and Composition

The American Kennel Club recognizes two size divisions of Rat Terriers: miniature (under 13 inches) and standard (over 13 inches). Both standards describe the dog as compact, hardy, and well-muscled. Individuals are usually slightly longer than they are tall, with a level back and a proportionately wide chest. Tail length can vary in this breed, but it is never ringed or carried over the back. The v-shaped ears are usually erect when the dog is at attention, and may be folded or semi-erect when the dog is related. Some Rat Terrier owners prefer to dock their pet’s tail during puppyhood, leaving it to be less than 3” once the dog reaches maturity. This is not a medically necessary procedure, but is often done if the dog will enter the show ring, particularly in the United States. Many other countries have banned the process, along with ear cropping.

Medical Information

The dichotomy of the Rat Terrier’s breeding history provides for a unique perspective on it’s health. The variety of breeds included in it’s inception gives the Rattie a genetic diversity unseen in most other breeds. On the other hand, the current rarity of the breed means fewer individuals are available for breeding programs, which can increase the possibility of many different genetic disorders. The most common medical issue that affects this breed is allergies and other skin problems, which can be a result of diet, environment, or physical contact with an allergen. Incorrect bites or other teeth problems also commonly affect this breed. Some individuals may suffer from luxating patellas (kneecaps), though this problem frequently affects other small breeds as well. When purchasing a pure-bred Rat Terrier, it is important to locate a reputable breeder who can adequately document the health history in the dog’s lineage. Rat Terriers have a low percentage of body fat, and therefore may be sensitive to anesthesia.

Anecdotal Information

Some believe that the Rat Terrier was given it’s name by President Theodore Roosevelt, who coined the phrase after he was given a black and tan dog named skip, but this was more likely a Manchester terrier. Author John Sanford is a lover of the breed and often refers to Rat Terriers in his novels. Rat Terriers often excel at dog agility trials.

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