Rat Terrier Dog Breed Temperament & Personality [Full Guide]

Rat Terrier Dog Breed Temperament & Personality [Full Guide]
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Ever seen a Rat Terrier in action? They're incredible to behold. These little dogs take off at the speed of light with razor-sharp focus and burrow into the ground before you can even call their names. This breed has been known to clear out rat-infested barns in the span of just a few hours.


These days, the Rat Terrier is more than a purposeful farm dog. They're serious competitors, devoted watchdogs, and beloved family pets. There are few things this small yet mighty breed can do — we're sure you'll fall in love!



Rat Terrier Physical Characteristics

Rat Terriers are short, well-built dogs known for their distinctive coat and exceptional hunting capabilities. The United Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club officially recognize two varieties of the breed: miniature and standard. 


The miniature Rat Terrier is identical to the standard Rat Terrier but is slightly shorter. A third, unofficial line of the Rat Terrier has recently developed. Known as the Decker Giant, it is larger than both the miniature and standard versions of the small dog breed.


The Rat Terrier's head has a blunt, wedge shape when viewed from the side. The small eyes are set wide apart and come in hues that vary between dark brown and hazel. Grey eyes appear in Rat Terriers with blue coats, but it's not standard of the breed. 


The ears can either be erect, tipped, or buttoned. Tipped ears fold over at the top. If the majority of the ear folds over, they are considered button. The Rat Terrier's tail may be of various lengths and naturally curves upwards. Though, a veterinarian usually docks a Rat Terrier's tail for show purposes. A recessive gene causes some Rat Terriers to be born with a bobtail (naturally short or missing entirely).



black and white small pup



Rat Terrier Size

Miniature Rat Terriers stand 10-13 inches tall, while the standard size can reach anywhere between 13-18 inches. Both varieties weigh 10-25 pounds. A Decker Giant Rat Terrier may stand 15-19 inches tall and weigh 25-35 pounds! Female Rat Terriers are slightly shorter than male Rat Terriers, but size differences among the breed are not too pronounced.



Rat Terrier Personality

The Rat Terrier is an intelligent, curious breed that loves to investigate all the sounds and scents that come their way. Digging, barking, and chewing are some of the Rat Terrier's favorite activities. They have loads of energy and will play for hours with anyone who gives them the opportunity. Their boundless energy makes the Rat Terrier a fun pet for children and families that like to stay active. Rat Terriers are very affectionate towards their family members, and they are considered the calmest of the terrier breeds.


Fun-loving and explorative, a Rat Terrier needs plenty of mental stimulation to keep their curious minds satisfied. If they get bored or lonely, they can become destructive. Rat Terriers are prone to separation anxiety (especially when they're young), so crate training is strongly advised. A Rat Terrier left to its own devices may chew the furniture or dig up the carpet, so be sure your schedule allows you to be close to them before adopting.


The Rat Terrier has an incredible hunting drive and will take off in a heartbeat if they catch any hint of their prey. So, unless you want to build your cardio and chase this dog for miles, it's best to keep them on a leash in unenclosed, outdoor spaces. Nonetheless, their energetic drive makes the Rat Terrier the best pest hunter and play companion anyone could ask for.



Rat Terrier Exercise

The Rat Terrier is a very active breed that requires a moderate level of exercise. A daily walk of at least 30 minutes is ideal, but young Rat Terriers under five years old will benefit from even more activity. Games that exercise your Terrier's muscles provide physical benefits and entertainment.


Try getting your Rat Terrier to play a game of tug-of-war or fetch; they are bound to be eager participants! These games will also satisfy your Rat Terrier's urge to chew. Hiding treats around your home and having your Rat Terrier find them will stimulate their hunting drive and serve as another form of exercise.


Rat Terriers are exceptionally athletic and excel in agility sports. If your Rat Terrier bounces off the walls no matter how much you exert them, consider training them on an agility course. Jumping over hurdles, running through tunnels, climbing seesaws, and hopping between poles are guaranteed to tire your Terrier (eventually). Who knows? They might get good at it and win a few medals someday.



Rat Terrier Training

Training a Rat Terrier is usually easy thanks to the breed's intelligence. However, their intellect can also make them stubborn and prone to boredom. To keep your Rat Terrier from wandering off, it's best to keep training sessions short and engaging. 


Rat Terriers respond best to positive reinforcement, especially praise. They are very sensitive, and the trainer's demeanor (whether negative or positive) influences them greatly.


Crate Training

Because Rat Terriers are prone to separation anxiety, crate training is an excellent idea. Crate training teaches your Terrier to tolerate being alone by helping them feel more secure. 


Begin training by establishing a comfortable crate in an area of your home where your dog feels safe. Then, when your Rat Terrier is in a relaxed mood, bring them to the crate and leave them alone for a brief period (about 10 minutes). You can gradually build up to longer intervals until your dog is comfortable being alone for a while. Your dog must develop a positive relationship with its crate, so it should never be used as punishment.



As with all dogs, early socialization is essential for reducing aggression. Rat Terriers are a friendly breed, but they can be wary of strangers and other dogs if they don't receive enough exposure at a young age. 


To ensure your Rat Terrier becomes well-adjusted, take them to public places when they are young and let strangers and other dogs interact with them. If you're adopting an older Rat Terrier, inquire about their prior experiences with people and dogs. This will give you an idea of how they will interact with others outside of your family.



Rat Terrier History

The Rat Terrier is an all-American breed made to hunt farm pests. The breed officially formed in the 1800s when English settlers brought their working dogs over to protect their crops. A whole assortment of breeds went into making the Rat Terrier line, including: 


  • Smooth Fox Terrier
  • Old English White Terrier
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Whippet
  • Beagle
  • Italian Greyhound


The Rat Terrier excelled at hunting small game and rodents, earning it immense popularity as a farm dog in the 1900s. When the invention of rat poison in the 1940s helped farmers keep their rodent populations at bay, Rat Terriers fell out of favor for a brief period. The breed made a comeback in later decades because of their athletic abilities and friendly natures.


Rat Terriers dominated agility courses and flyball competitions, and their intelligence even made them practical contraband search dogs for police efforts. The United Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1999, and the American Kennel Club followed suit in 2013.



fab terrier wearing a pink sweater



Rat Terrier Health Problems

The Rat Terrier is prone to developing some health problems, so you must regularly bring them to the vet for preventative care and checkups. It's always a good idea to inquire about any health conditions that run in your Rat Terrier's family line before adoption. Routine veterinary care and vaccinations are the best methods for preserving your pet's health. Also, they may save you a fortune down the road!


Demodectic Mange

Rat Terriers with a weakened immune system are more at risk of demodectic mange, a skin condition caused by Demodex mites. All dogs have some Demodex mites, but the mite population grows out of control in dogs with suppressed immune systems. The mites cause your Terrier extreme itchiness and will make them scratch excessively. 


Symptoms include: 


  • Red patches
  • Itchiness
  • Bald patches 


Medicated creams and shampoos may treat this condition. Topical CBD products for dogs can also help soothe the irritation and discomfort that associates with skin problems. 



Due to their small size, Rat Terriers are prone to becoming obese. Excess weight can cause a host of secondary health issues like joint problems, metabolic dysfunction, and digestive disorders. Always balance your Terrier's food and activity levels to ensure they don't consume more calories than they burn.


Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is an orthopedic condition that affects your Rat Terrier's knee caps (known as the "patella"). The condition occurs when the knee cap dislocates, slipping out of its normal position. Though this is not usually painful for your dog, it will inhibit their movement, and they will be reluctant to put any weight on the affected leg. Signs of a luxated patella include: 


  • Lameness
  • Hopping on three legs
  • General lethargy


Veterinarians may correct patellar luxation through surgery.



Rat Terriers are prone to jaw deformities that result in an incorrect bite — this is known as malocclusion. Your Rat Terrier may grow out of its misaligned bite, but if the bite is still incorrect after 10 months of age, it's likely to stick with them. 


This condition doesn't always affect the dog's health or comfort, so it may not need correction. If the bite irritates the roof of your pet's mouth, some teeth may need to be pulled. Surgery may also be able to correct malocclusion.



Rat Terriers experience epilepsy — a neurological disorder that causes seizures — at a higher rate than other dog breeds. Epilepsy is typically genetic, so if cases run in your Terrier's direct family line, there is a higher chance your Terrier will have it. 


Seizures are caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain. The excessive activity overwhelms the neurons and causes a temporary lapse of control, manifesting as muscle spasms or other symptoms depending on which brain region is affected. Epilepsy is treated with medication, and CBD capsules may ease some of your dog's discomfort.



How to Care for a Rat Terrier

Rat Terriers are a hardy breed that makes excellent companions. Maintaining a balanced diet, adequate exercise, and proper hygiene goes a long way in keeping your Terrier healthy. These dogs are sure to be your friends for many years if you take good care of them.


Nutrition and Feeding for Rat Terrier

The amount of food your Rat Terrier needs depends on its weight, age, and activity level. For a dog that weighs less than 10 pounds, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of food daily will be enough to keep them healthy. 


If your Terrier weighs between 10 and 15 pounds, 1/2 to 1 cup of food will suffice. For Terriers that weigh 15-30 pounds, somewhere between 3/4 cup to 1.5 cups of food is a recommendable standard.


As with most dogs, it's best to feed your Rat Terrier twice a day. Leaving food around all day for your Terrier to snack on leads to weight gain, so keep feedings reserved just for mealtimes, and don't be too generous with the treats! 


If you can feel (but not see) your Rat Terrier's ribs when you press lightly on their sternum, then they are at a good weight. Their waist should also be visible; your Rat Terrier shouldn't look like a perfect rectangle with legs. Always make sure your dog's food intake matches their activity level to prevent excess weight gain.  



rat terrier playing with yellow ball



Coat Color And Grooming

Rat Terriers traditionally have a "pied" coat pattern. "Pied" refers to a pattern of large patches of color over a white base coat. You'll find splashes of chocolate, fawn, black, apricot, red, blue, or tan over a white coat. The amount of white visible on a Rat Terrier's coat can vary between 10% and 90%, but a Rat Terrier is never a solid color.


Grooming a Rat Terrier is a breeze since their coats are so short. You can get away with brushing your Terrier once a week with a soft bristle brush to remove loose hair. This breed sheds all year, and they have two special shedding seasons in the spring and fall. Bathe your Rat Terrier as needed.


Make sure you brush your dog's teeth every day to prevent periodontal diseases. Trim their nails about every two weeks and check their ears often for signs of infection. Never trim your Rat Terrier's whiskers! Whiskers are essential for your dog's sensory input.



Children And Other Pets

Rat Terriers are very patient and playful with children! Their boundless energy makes them the perfect companion for any wild child that loves to play. Since the Rat Terrier is small, you won't need to worry about this pooch injuring your child by accident. 


Rat Terriers are usually friendly with other dogs, but they will respond with aggression if provoked. Socialization reduces any dog's aggressive tendencies, so always make sure your Rat Terrier gets plenty of exposure to other dogs and people when they are young. Because Rat Terriers have such a strong prey drive, they should not be trusted around other small pets. A Rat Terrier will also see a cat as prey unless it's trained otherwise.



Rescue Groups

New Rattitude is a non-profit rescue that rescues neglected, abandoned, or surrendered Rat Terriers all over the United States. Their volunteer members maintain a private foster network to care for these Terriers and ensure they receive excellent veterinary care. New Rattitude started in 2008 and has rescued hundreds of Rat Terriers since.


Similarly, Rat Terrier ResQ was established in 2007 to rescue neglected Rat Terriers on a national level. They evaluate all their rescued dogs' personalities and match them with the perfect family. Rat Terrier ResQ has rescued hundreds of Rat Terriers since its founding, and more are yet to be saved!



Breed Organizations

The Rat Terrier Club of America helped get the Rat Terrier recognized by the AKC through their breeding and petition efforts. Today, the club still maintains breed standards by hosting special shows and sustaining a standard-compliant breeder network.


The American Rat Terrier Association is the Rat Terrier breed club associated with the UKC. Similar to the Rat Terrier Club of America, the ARTA holds its own shows and registers breeders. They celebrate their best-performing Terriers by listing the winners of agility, obedience, rally, and various other competitions on their website.



More About This Dog Breed

The average lifespan for a Rat Terrier is 15-18 years. They are currently the AKC's 96th most popular dog breed. Although they are small, Rat Terriers pack a whole lot of punch. There's no way you'll be bored with one of these dogs. Between their insatiable curiosity and limitless energy, there is always going to be something to do!

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