The Rat Terrier Dog Is From The USA – The Breed For You?

Rat Terrier Dog

The Rat Terrier Dog is Friendly and Affectionate

The Rat Terrier breed is a small terrier developed in the USA to keep the rat population under control on farms and country homes. They are loyal, friendly and affectionate with their family, and they come in 2 sizes – Miniature and Standard.

A Rat Terrier dog standing on grass
Rat Terrier Dog

Rat Terrier Dog – Temperament

The Rat Terrier is intelligent but stubborn, yet playful and good with children. They are sensitive dogs, and need early socialization to introduce them to sights and sounds around the home and out on streets and parks.

This is a good-natured breed that is naturally inquisitive, and they love games that simulate them having to find something – a result of their breeding to find and kill rats. They have a strong prey drive, and will chase any small animals they come across. They should not be trusted with small family pets such as mice, guinea pigs, gerbils or rabbits, for example.

Rat Terriers are high-energy dogs, and need a decent amount of exercise every day, as well as human contact. They love being part of a family, and are patient with children. They are one of the calmest of the Terrier breeds.

A Rat Terrier Dog standing in a grass field
Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier Dog
Breed History

King Henry VIII’s flag ship, the Mary Rose, had a problem with rats. A small dog that was brought aboard was adept at finding and killing rats, and did his job well. It’s thought that this particular dog was a mongrel, but this is the first record of  a dog used for rat catching.

Rat-catching dogs were bred and kept by the working class British in the following centuries, partly to control rats in factories and farms, and partly for the ‘sport’ of rat-baiting.

When British migrants arrived in the USA, some brought their rat-catching dogs with them. In the early 20th century, descendants of these dogs became very popular on farms and country houses in America for eliminating rodent infestations. They were bred to be fast and brave.

The use of pesticides and development of modern farming methods led to a reduction in the rodent problem, and after the 1950s the popularity of rat-catching dogs declined. However a hard core of Rat Terrier enthusiasts continued breeding programs, resulting in the modern-day Rat Terrier dog.

The Rat Terrier has had a long history of refinement with a very large gene pool. This means that it does not suffer from genetic problems, and is a robust breed with few issues. Their calm nature and affectionate temperament combined with small size has made them useful as service dogs visiting hospices and as companions for those with depression.

The Rat Terrier dog was recognized as a breed in 2010, and in the Terrier Group by the American Kennel Club in 2012.

Vital Statistics


  • 10-13 inches (miniature)
  • 13-18 inches (standard)


  • 10lbs to 25lbs

Life span

  • 12 to 18 years


The coat color is generally ‘pied’, which means a main color with patches of a different color. The Rat Terrier is generally white with black or brown patch coloring.

The head of a Rat Terrier Dog close up
Rat Terrier

Ease of Training

This is a very intelligent breed, and can be trained easily by professionals. Many police departments in America have found that they can train this breed much more quickly than other breeds as contraband search dogs. Their small size allows them to get into spaces that larger dogs would find difficult. Some dogs have been trained in as little as 3 weeks!

The Rat Terrier dog can do very well in obedience trials, agility tests and other canine sports. But this is a sensitive breed, and they must be trained in a consistent and patient manner. We have a page on the best dog training books HERE.

Three Rat Terrier puppies facing the camera, against a dark background
Rat Terrier puppies

While professional dog trainers may find the Rat Terrier quick to train, the rest of us may find this breed to be a little stubborn. A good dog training book combined with some help from a local dog trainer will make the job much easier.


This is an alert dog, ready for any sign that a rodent or other small animal may be around. They are permanently on guard. They are also suspicious of strangers, and so make very good watch dogs. They will alert you very quickly to anything unusual going on. If your Rat Terrier starts barking, you had better go see what’s up!

On the other hand, they do not make good guard dogs, as they are simply too small to intimidate or deter an intruder, let alone take action. Although they will try to defend you all their heart, they are simply not big enough to protect you. If you need a dog for protection, look for a bigger breed.

A brown and white Rat Terrier dog standing on grass
Rat Terrier coloring


Grooming is a breeze with the Rat Terrier dog. They have a short, dense coat that requires minimal care.A weekly brushing with a soft dog brush or mitt is all that’s needed, with the occasional bath if they get muddy.

They do shed seasonally, ie. at the start of summer, when they shed their winter coat and retain a finer coat for warmer weather. A dog comb at this time will remove the dead hairs and reduce the loose hairs around your home.

A Rat Terrier dog standing in a green field
Rat Terrier coloring

Health Considerations

With a long history of development and breeding, and the benefit of a big gene pool, the modern Rat Terrier is healthy and robust. Some dogs can reach the age of 18 years, although around 15 years is more usual. Most dogs die of old age rather than any genetic condition.

The National Breed Association does recommend screening for certain conditions, which include;

  •  Hip dysplasia
  •  Patellar luxation
  •  eye disorders
  •  Cardiac disorders.

Famous Rat Terrier Dogs

I couldn’t find any – but please let me know if you are aware of any famous Rat Terriers, using the Contact Me link!

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