Everything You Need to Know About the Rat Terrier Dog Breed

If you’re looking for a dog breed that’s full of energy, personality, and loyalty, look no further than the Rat Terrier. While not as well-known as some other breeds, Rat Terriers have a unique history, distinctive physical characteristics, and a temperament that makes them a beloved companion to many dog owners. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Rat Terrier dog breed.

History of the Rat Terrier Dog Breed

Origins and Ancestry

The Rat Terrier breed can trace its origins back to the 1800s in England, where they were bred to be excellent rat hunters. These dogs, known then as Feists, were brought to America alongside early settlers and farmers. The Feist breed was highly valued by farmers as they were excellent hunters and helped to keep the farms free from vermin.

Feists were known for their ability to catch rats and other small vermin that were a nuisance to farmers. They were small but agile, and their sharp senses and quick reflexes made them ideal for chasing and catching prey. They were also known for their loyalty and devotion to their owners, making them popular pets as well as working dogs.

Over time, the breed evolved and was crossed with other dogs, including Beagles and Whippets, to create the modern-day Rat Terrier we know and love. The breed was developed to be even more agile and versatile, with a strong prey drive and a friendly temperament.

Development in the United States

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the breed we know today began to take shape in America. Breeders specifically aimed to create a small, agile dog that could hunt vermin and protect farms. Rat Terriers soon became a mainstay of American agriculture, prized for their incredible hunting abilities and unwavering loyalty to their owners.

Rat Terriers were also used as watchdogs, alerting their owners to any strangers or potential threats on the property. They were highly valued for their ability to protect the farm and keep it safe from intruders.

During World War II, Rat Terriers were used as messenger dogs and to hunt rats in the trenches. Their small size and agility made them ideal for navigating through the trenches and delivering messages quickly and efficiently.

Recognition by Kennel Clubs

In the years following their development, Rat Terriers quickly gained popularity among dog lovers throughout the United States. In 1999, the United Kennel Club officially recognized the breed, followed by the American Kennel Club in 2013.

Today, Rat Terriers are beloved pets and valued working dogs. They are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and agility, and are often used in agility competitions and other dog sports. They are also popular therapy dogs, providing comfort and companionship to people of all ages.

The Rat Terrier is a breed with a rich history and a bright future. Whether as a working dog or a beloved family pet, these dogs have proven themselves to be loyal, intelligent, and loving companions.

Physical Characteristics of Rat Terriers

Rat Terriers are a beloved breed that make great companions for those looking for a small to medium-sized dog. They are known for their playful and energetic personalities, as well as their distinctive physical characteristics.

Size and Weight

As mentioned, Rat Terriers are a small to medium-sized breed, generally weighing between 10 and 25 pounds. Their size makes them ideal for apartment living and smaller homes. Despite their small stature, they are incredibly agile and athletic, able to keep up with their owners on long walks or hikes.

They stand around 10-18 inches tall at the shoulder, with a lean and muscular build that gives them the ability to move quickly and easily.

Coat and Colors

Rat Terriers have a short, sleek coat that is easy to care for. They shed minimally and only require a good brush every now and then to keep their coat looking shiny and healthy.

Their coat can come in a variety of colors and patterns, including white, black, tan, brindle, and tricolor. Some Rat Terriers even have unique markings, such as a patch over one eye or a spot on their chest.

Distinctive Features

One of the most distinctive features of the Rat Terrier breed is their upright, pointed ears. These ears give them a curious and alert expression, and are a defining characteristic of the breed.

They also have a muscular build, with a wedge-shaped head and a powerful jaw. This gives them the strength and agility to hunt small prey, which was their original purpose as a breed.

Overall, Rat Terriers are a unique and lovable breed with many endearing physical characteristics. Their small size, easy-to-care-for coat, and distinctive features make them a popular choice for dog lovers everywhere.

Rat Terrier Temperament and Personality

The Rat Terrier is a small but mighty breed that is known for its lively and affectionate personality. They are loyal and loving companions that make great family pets. Here are some more details about their temperament and personality:

  • Intelligence and Trainability: As highly intelligent and energetic dogs, Rat Terriers thrive on mental and physical stimulation. They pick up commands quickly and are eager to please their owners, making them easy to train.
  • Energy Level and Exercise Needs: Rat Terriers are known for their boundless energy and need for daily exercise. They love to run, play, and go for walks, but can also burn off energy through interactive playtime with their owners, agility training, or even obedience competitions.
  • Socialization and Compatibility with Other Pets: Because they were bred to hunt vermin, Rat Terriers may have a strong prey drive, so early socialization and training are essential. With proper training, they can be great with other pets and children.


Rat Terriers are small, but sturdy dogs that typically weigh between 10 and 25 pounds. They have short, smooth coats that come in a variety of colors, including black, white, tan, and brindle. Their ears are erect and their tails are typically docked.


Rat Terriers are generally healthy dogs with a lifespan of 12-18 years. However, like all breeds, they may be prone to certain health issues. Some of the most common health concerns for Rat Terriers include:

  • Patellar Luxation: This is a condition where the kneecap dislocates from its normal position, causing lameness and pain.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: This is a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness.
  • Hip Dysplasia: This is a condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, causing pain and mobility issues.


Rat Terriers have short, smooth coats that are easy to maintain. They don’t require frequent baths, but they do shed moderately, so regular brushing is recommended to keep their coat healthy and shiny. Additionally, their nails should be trimmed regularly and their teeth should be brushed to prevent dental issues.

Training and Activities

As mentioned earlier, Rat Terriers are highly intelligent and energetic dogs that need plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Training and activities are essential to keep them happy and healthy. Here are some training and activity ideas for Rat Terriers:

  • Obedience Training: Rat Terriers are eager to please their owners, making them easy to train. Obedience training can help them learn basic commands and manners.
  • Agility Training: Rat Terriers are quick and agile, making them great candidates for agility training. This is a fun and challenging activity that can help them burn off energy and build confidence.
  • Interactive Playtime: Rat Terriers love to play! Interactive playtime with their owners, such as fetch or tug-of-war, can help them bond with their owners and burn off excess energy.
  • Daily Walks: Rat Terriers need daily exercise to stay healthy and happy. Daily walks are a great way to provide them with physical activity and mental stimulation.

In conclusion, Rat Terriers are lively and affectionate dogs that make great family pets. With proper training, socialization, and exercise, they can thrive in a variety of environments. If you’re looking for a small dog with a big personality, the Rat Terrier may be the perfect breed for you!

Health Issues and Lifespan of Rat Terriers

Common Health Problems

As with any breed, Rat Terriers are susceptible to certain health conditions. These include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and allergies. However, with proper care and regular vet check-ups, many of these issues can be prevented or managed.

Preventative Care and Regular Checkups

Preventative care is vital for keeping Rat Terriers healthy and happy. Regular check-ups, vaccines, and parasite prevention are all important aspects of health maintenance.

Expected Lifespan

Rat Terriers have a relatively long lifespan for a smaller breed and can live up to 18 years with proper care.


In conclusion, the Rat Terrier dog breed is a lovable, energetic, and loyal companion for those who love to stay active and engaged with their pets. From their rich history to their unique physical and temperament characteristics, it’s no wonder that Rat Terriers have become a favorite among dog lovers. By investing in their care and training, owners can enjoy a happy, healthy relationship with their furry friends for years to come.

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