Rat Terrier Breed Information Guide – 15 Things to Know About Rat Terriers

The rat terrier is also known as the American Rat Terrier, RT, Ratting Terrier, Rat, Decker Giant, or Rattie. It combines seven breeds, including the Smooth Fox Terrier, Bull Terrier, Old English White Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Italian Greyhound, Whippet, and Beagle. As a member of the terrier breed, the rat terrier is a digging escape artist who is lively, feisty, energetic, funny, incapable of being boring, and vermin-chasing. Rat terriers are highly active dogs and vastly intelligent dogs that are perfect for active families who love teaching dogs new tricks.

Even though the rat terrier doesn’t have the most appealing name on the long list of many dog breeds, it is a very kind and loving dog breed.

Compared to other dog breeds, the American rat terrier is the new kid on the block. They were bred in recent history to help farmers get rid of common rodents and pests that terrorized their farmlands and barns.

Like any other dog breed, we always recommend getting to know the rat terrier before bringing one home. While this breed may be a perfect companion for many, the RT may or may not be the best breed for you. Here are 15 things you should know about the Rat Terrier before bringing him home.

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Most rat terriers are white with black and brown markings. They are one of the dog breeds that can proudly claim to be made in the USA


1. It was developed by crossbreeding different types of breeds

This American breed was bred as a result of working with seven different types of breeds. They included; the Smooth Fox Terrier, Bull Terrier, Old English White Terrier {now extinct}, Manchester Terrier, Italian Greyhound, Whippet, and Beagle.

Due to the need for a farm and hunter dog that could catch prey and pests, breeders started adding new strains to the rat terrier breed in the 1910s all through the 1920s. Farmers needed to create the optimal pest hunter.

In the Midwest, farmers wanted to control the jackrabbit problem. So they bred rat terriers to Italian Greyhounds and Whippets to produce a dog that was more versatile and quick-footed to help eradicate jackrabbits.

Whippets and Italian Greyhounds were added to make the rat terrier faster and better at controlling the jackrabbit challenge.

While in the Central and Southern American regions, breeders bred the RT to the Beagle. The result was a more pack-oriented dog with a strong sense of smell. Using the Beagle gave the rat terrier superior pack hunting abilities.

The rat terrier became a common sight among farmers between the 1910s – 1940s. However, when the farmers started using poison to cut down rodent populations, the breed was no longer widespread by the 1950s.

Thanks to a few breeders who had sustained the breed, they re-emerged in the late 1970s. They then made a massive comeback in the 1990s. They ranked high in competitions and became American’s favorite again.

Musician Laurie Anderson even made a documentary about Lola belle, her beloved rat terrier.

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Rat terriers are cute dogs that will act as cute cuddly companions for as long as they are loyal to you. They are active, smart, and fun-loving

2. They come in two sizes; standard and miniature

The Decker Giant is a small and sturdy mutt, ranging between 13-16 inches in height. Their standard build should suggest that the pooch is capable of farm work and ratting – agile, quick, and powerful, yet also elegant.

They are slightly longer than they are tall, with no significant shortness in their legs. Standard ratties should stand between 13-18 inches, while the miniature ratties should range between 10-13 inches.

Depending on whether they’re standard or miniature, their weight ranges from 10-25 pounds. Either way, rat terrier remain compact dogs despite their size.

3. They have a typical terrier temperament

Like a typical terrier, rat terriers are energetic, smart, but stubborn, bossy, and quick to bark. They exhibit all the behaviors as well as the stubbornness of typical terriers.

For instance, they tend to dig, which is an inherent trait in terriers, and that’s why rat terrier will spend a significant amount of time digging in the garden or backyard.

Their desire to dig combined with their high prey drive could mean that your rat terrier might occasionally leap over or dig under any fence. Spunky terriers love being in charge, and they’ll take advantage of any chance available to them.

4. They require proper and early socialization

As with every terrier breed, the American rat terrier needs proper and early socialization. You are going to have to expose him to many different sights, people, experiences, and sounds when they are still young.

They have a general dislike of strangers and are less likely to warm up to visitors if the owner is not present. Hence, without proper socialization, they can be fin with their owners and family but very aggressive with strangers and other animals.

Socialization will help make sure your rat terrier companion grows to become a well-rounded dog. A great place to start would be enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class.

You could also take him to busy parks as regularly as possible, invite visitors over regularly, taking him on leisure strolls to meet your neighbors, and take him to stores that allow dogs. These simple routines will help polish the terrier’s social skills.

5. They have a long lifespan

The rat terrier generally has a long lifespan. The average lifespan of a well-bred rat terrier is between 16-19 years.  This means that the American rat terrier will grow up with your children.

Hence, a rat terrier would make a great companion for a small kid looking to grow up with a canine companion as a best friend.

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Rat terriers will get along with kids in the household as well as other animals as long as they have grown up together. Otherwise, they don’t quite warm up to strangers. However, with a lifespan of about 18 years, a puppy rattie can grow up as a kid’s companion all through first 18 years.

6. They are prone to certain health problems

Ratting Terriers are generally healthy dogs. However, like all dog breeds, rats are prone to disease. Not all ratties will get all or any of these health problems, but you should be aware of them if you are looking to bring a rat terrier home.

You can always minimize some severe health concerns in rat terriers by looking for a reputable rattie breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices and who screens the dogs for common conditions and diseases.

In Decker Giants, you should expect to see health clearances for hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, and von Willebrand’s disease from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. You should also ask to see health clearances certifying the eyes are healthy from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation {CERF} and for thrombopathia from Auburn University.

Rat terriers may also be prone to dog breed-specific health conditions like patellar luxation, heart concerns, allergies and skin conditions, dental concerns, epilepsy, and deafness.

7. They require training

Crate training is essential for rat terriers, especially if you intend to leave the puppies out when they reach adulthood. Rat terrier puppies are more likely to explore and get into habits they should, such as digging or chewing things that could potentially harm them.

It’s not advised to leave you rattie companion tucked away in a cage all day long. In fact, he should be locked in a crate for more than a few hours except when he’s asleep.

When crate training the American rat terrier, take their high intelligence into account. They are stubborn dogs, and so you may need different training techniques.

Rat terriers owners need to be firm and experienced when it comes to crate training terries because they can quickly swarm all over you.

They easily get bored, so short, fun, and varied training sessions are recommended for rat terriers. Top training priorities should be good leash manners, basic obedience, and emergency recalls.

Rat terrier owners have to train their rats not to lead during walks because they have an innate drive to hunt down prey. Ratties have a hard time resisting the natural urge to hunt down rats, squirrels, and other small prey while on walks,

Hence you have to train them to follow your lead while still providing them with the opportunity to sniff around. Unfortunately, this means that rat terriers are not ideal for off-leash dogs.

Owners set on walking with their ratties off the leash should train them to be highly focused and obedient on not allowing them to have the lead while walking.

Because rats love to keep their owners happy, they will respond well to positive training methods. With enough positive reinforcement and treats, you can teach your RT obedience, lots of tricks, and agility.

Rat terriers are generally great training companions because they are very sensitive and intuitive to what their owners want.

8. They are wonderfully patient with kids

Although terriers that are not used to being around kids should be supervised, most rat terriers are known to be patient with kids, even those who aren’t from the household.

American rat terriers are very fond of their owners and kids in the family; in fact, they make excellent family dogs. However, most terrier can be intolerant and territorial when it comes to harsh treatment or rough play from kids.

On the other hand, they can do well with children if they are raised with them. However, older kids are a much better match for RTs than babies and toddlers.

Homesteads with children should teach them how to approach and touch rat terrier. Supervision is advised when there is any interaction between terrier and children.

9. They like other dogs

Rat terriers get along with other dogs in the homestead. However, there may be a few disagreements with other dogs in the household regarding sleeping and food arrangements.

Ratties don’t spar with other dogs and are not aggressive towards them. They also like to play with other dogs, so rat terrier owners should be on the lookout for aggressive or dog-reactive dogs.

If an aggressive dog provokes a fight with a rat terrier, they will likely return the threat.  They tend to be size-blind and territorial when they have to defend their top-dog status.

The same can’t be said for other small animals. Rat terriers are prey-driven; hence, living with small animals like rabbits and hamsters can be a challenge. However, ratties that are raised with cats can co-exist together.

10. They are wonderfully low-maintenance pooches to groom

These dogs have a short and smooth coat with dense, shiny fur. Rat terriers are seen in several colors, including black with rust or tan, white, black and white and tan, lemon, red, blue, orange, and chocolate. Generally, they have white markings.

Rat terriers are one of the most low-maintenance dog breeds to groom. They only require weekly brushing. Use a rubber curry mitt or soft brush to remove any loose hair. You may have also come across the hairless terrier.

When it’s spring and fall, shedding is more substantial for rats. The same is also noticeable after heat cycles or whelping.

Ratties should only be bathed only when needed. Their teeth should be brushed at least twice or thrice a week to remove bacteria and tartar buildup. Daily brushing is recommended when you want to prevent bad breath or gum diseases.

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Because of how heavy and fast they shed, you should make a habit of examining his coat and brushing at least weekly. Also accept that they find great pleasure in barking, digging, and investigating.

Rat terrier owners should accustom them to being examined and brushed when they’re puppies. Even though dogs are touchy about their feet, handle their paws as frequently as possible.

It helps to fill their grooming sessions with rewards and praises for positive outcomes. Making them accustomed to grooming will lay the groundwork for easy vet visits and other handlings they may need when they’re adults.

11. They suffice well with a high-quality dry dog food

Average weight rat terriers can comfortably suffice with ½ – 1 ½ cups of high-quality dry food per day. The food should always be split into two meals.

How much adult rat terriers are fed depends on their age, size, build, activity level, and metabolism. Make sure to buy high-quality foods because the quality of dog food does make a big difference.

Rat terriers owners should know that ratties have a tendency to be territorial with their food around other people and pets.

Owners with children should teach their kids never to touch or remove food while terriers are eating.

12. They need regular exercise

Rat terriers are high-energy dogs, and they need at least 40 minutes of exercise daily to help them burn off energy and keep him calm.

This breed is not favorable for people looking for laid-back pets due to their high energy levels and temperaments.

They need a lot of exercise because they were bred to work all day on farms. If they don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation, their sharp little minds tend to turn devious to amuse themselves.

However, because rat terriers love to roam and chase things around, they should either be supervised or on a leash when outdoors. They are not suitable for being outdoors all the time, and they need to be secured within a sturdy fence.

Rattie owners should know that even fences are not significant challenges for these quick-digging and high-jumping breeds. They can jump very high; hence, a 5-6 foot fence can suffice. Owners should also expect to find their lawns and gardens excavated by these rats as they take any chance to dig.

They have the drive and intelligence to figure out their key to freedom. Owners should put a tag or a collar on their rat terriers at all times. You should also consider microchipping him because if he dares to run, it will be challenging to catch him.

Rat terriers can also adapt to living in city apartments as long as they are given the outlet they need for their intense energy level.

Without enough exercise, terries can become destructive or keep barking excessively. However, with enough mental stimulation and exercise, these canine companions are more than willing to cuddle up in your apartment with you.

13. They are an American Original

Even though there are some versions of rat terriers that were created in Manchester, these dogs were initially bred in the USA.

It is believed that President Teddy Roosevelt originally coined the name’ rat terrier’ thanks to Skip, his favorite terrier companion who loved sitting on his lap and accompanied him on hunting trips. Another type of terrier was even named after Teddy Roosevelt.

14. They are born with erect ears

American rat terriers are born with erect ears. However, their ears may start drooping around the same time they start opening their eyes.

The ears may stand erect, remain tipped, or semi-erect, or they may fold over into a button carriage. However, their ear carriages may fail to stabilize until they reach adulthood.

15. There is a New York Rat Pack

We all know about the rat problem in the Big Apple. The same way rat terriers were used for hunting rats and rodents in the countryside; they have also been used for years to control the rat problem in New York.

There is a group known as RATS to stand for Ryder’s Alley Trencher-fed Society, a pack of eight or so hunting dogs and their owners. They meet every once in a while for a nighttime hunting mission in the alleyways of New York.

A New York City resident back in 1996, wrote a letter to the New York Times editor, suggesting that RTs had become the best solution is eradicating the swarm of rats that had overwhelmed the Brooklyn neighborhood.

In the letter, the author cited that rat terriers had cleared a barn of 2500 rats in the neighborhood in just 7 hours.
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