By Avatar photoShiloh Nevada Last updated: 17th March 2023

Rat Terrier


Avatar photo Shiloh Nevada
Last updated: 17th March 2023

Rat terrier is an American breed with hunting and farming, sharing its lineage with fiests or the small hunting dogs of the time. Based on the size, rat terriers are classified into three divisions – miniature, standard, and large. The AKC, UKC, and other prominent breed registries only recognize the standard and miniature Rats. However, the Decker Giant, or Decker, the Rat terrier’s larger strain, isn’t acknowledged officially. It attained its name after breeder Milton Decker. He developed it to create a large dog for hunting and even as a companion.

What does a rat terrier look like

The Rat terriers of the present day have a versatile physical appearance, sturdy and tough yet elegant because of their prominent features. They have a smooth head, large, oval eyes, and v-shaped high-set ears, tipped, button, or upright. The Rats mostly have a natural bob or long tail by birth, thick near the base, tapering to the tip. They even have a smooth and shiny coat that mostly comes in a pied pattern, from white, black and tan, blue, white, and tan to white and blue.
Quick Information

Rat Terrier Pictures

Quick Information  

Other NamesAmerican Rat Terrier, Rattling Terrier, Decker Giant
NicknamesRat, RT, Rattle
CoatShort, smooth, closefitting, shiny
ColorWhite, black and tan; blue, white, and tan; white and chocolate; white and blue; white and blue fawn; white, chocolate, and tan; black and white; black, tan and white; black, white, and tan; red, white, and sable; white; white and apricot; white and black; white and fawn; white and red; white; white and lemon; and silver; white and tan
Breed TypePurebred
Lifespan12-18 years
HeightStandard: 13-18 inches; Miniature: 10-13 inches
WeightStandard: 10-25 pounds; Miniature: 10-18 pounds;
Large: Decker Giant
Litter Size5-7 puppies
Behavioral CharacteristicsLively, affectionate, alert, intelligent, loving, inquisitive, happy-go-lucky
Good with ChildrenYes
Barking TendencyModerate; but
Climate CompatibilityCan withstand heat due to their short coats but not exceedingly cold temperatures
Apartment CompatibilityHigh
Do they shedModerate throughout the year; but heavily during summer and winter
Are they HypoallergenicNo
Average Cost$900-$4000
Competitive Registration Qualification/ InformationAKC, UKC
CountryUnited States of America (USA)

History and Origin

The fact that these dogs served as ratters in the past is quite evident from their name. The farms of the yesteryears required an efficient dog to take charge of the rodents, which would otherwise cause immense damage to the grains. While breeding the rat terrier, farmers cared about their speed, one of the utmost criteria to catch vermins and hunt small games like hares and squirrels.

The rat terrier became popular in the 1890s in America, also bred with the Manchester terrier, Italian Greyhound, and Beagle. Their fame also continued in the 20th century, particularly between the 1920s and 1940s. However, the increased use of chemical pesticides and the commercialization of farming resulted in their decline during the 1950s. However, with the intense effort of the breed, enthusiasts took the initiative to maintain the breed’s bloodlines resulting in the Rat terrier of recent times.

Currently, the Rat is not just employed on farms but has even emerged as a great companion pet and a service dog mainly due to its calm and affectionate demeanor.

They have even made their mark as efficient search dogs to retrieve illegal or smuggled goods because of their intelligence. Their ability to learn quickly shortens their training time to less than three weeks, relatively uncommon in most other police dogs

The American Kennel Club recognized it in 2010 as its 178th breed, registering it under its Terrier group in June 2012. The Rat Terrier Club of America developed as AKC’s parent club in 2013. The UKC recognized it way earlier than the AKC on 1st January 1999.

Temperament and Personality

The rat terrier has a whole lot of positive traits associated with it, like obedience, keenness, devotion, and energy. These calm dogs do well with every family member of all age groups, from kids to seniors.

However, they display their reservedness towards strangers and alertness regarding their surroundings—no wonder the Rat terrier excels as an excellent watchdog.



Most Rat terriers are high on energy needing a good deal of outdoor and indoor exercise. A 30-45 minute walk daily with sufficient playtime within a fenced yard would help channel their energy well.

These ratters would mainly have an intense prey drive, not leaving the slightest opportunity they get to chase a squirrel or cat. So, putting the rat terrier on a leash while taking them out is an absolute mandate.


They have a short, dense coat that doesn’t need much maintenance. Brushing the Rat terriers once a week using a hound glove or brush with soft bristles would help maintain the glossiness and shine of their coat. However, during the shedding seasons, mostly in summer or winter, increase the brushing to about three times. Using a shedding tool or rubber curry brush would help remove dead hair. 

Other hygiene measures include cleaning their ears every week and removing the accumulated wax and debris to keep any infection at bay. Also, brush its teeth twice or thrice a week with toothpaste formulated for dogs, and trim its nails monthly or early if it gets long.

Health Problems

They are hardy and healthy but may suffer from hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, cardiac and pancreatic disorders, and Legg Calves Perthes Syndrome.


They may appear energetic, yet Rat terriers seem the calmest among most other terrier breeds. These dogs are also above average in intelligence, scoring 3 out of 5. Hence, training the Rat wouldn’t supposedly be too mammoth a task.

Socializing the Rat terrier puppies is a mandate so that they grow to be disciplined dogs. Acquaint them with different experiences and people right from the start to help them distinguish between the good and the bad. In this way, eventually, they wouldn’t consider every stranger a foe or a threat and would act accordingly.

Leash training is also a mandate keeping their immense prey drive in mind. Allow the Rat terrier to get used to the leash at first by getting it to see more of it. Then make it wear it for a short span. However, if the Rat is reluctant to do so initially, take it slow, as forcing it could worsen things to a great extent. Initially, practice inside, and once it is comfortable enough to wear the leash, then take it outdoors.


Like other terrier breeds, the Rat terrier also needs a high-quality diet, either homemade or commercially manufactured. When preparing their food at home, owners must ensure that they get their requirements of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat. A diet comprising cooked meat, vegetables, and rice would suffice. If you plan to give the RT a raw diet, consult the veterinarian about the same.

Interesting Facts

  • U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt played a significant role in popularizing this breed throughout the United States.
  • Jake, a Rat terrier, held the record of the oldest living Rat terrier for quite a long. Born in 1994, he passed away in 2015 after he had just turned 21.

12 responses to “Rat Terrier”

  1. Laurie McEvoy says:

    I have a 4 month old rescued Rat Terrier puppy. We love her so much but she has a scary habit! She eats absolutely anything that she finds on the ground, I’m so afraid she’ll eat something harmful. I’ve been correcting her as we’re walking, shouting NO, Drop it, but she only tries to swallow it faster. I have to stick my fingers in her mouth to get the object out. I would welcome any advice.

    • TJ Houston says:

      The only way you can even hope to have a chance of getting them to do what you want them to is to use reverse psychology. You have to never lie to them. If you say you are going to give them something then you better do it. If they start biting on you and won’t stop, take a second and try to think of what it was that you promised them. Then say, do you want the big bone or whatever their favorite treat is that you promised them. You have to immediately get up to get it, then they will stop biting you and go back to being your loving little angel.

  2. Lynn Prevatt says:

    Why does my rat terrier (about 7 yrs old) want to sit on me all the time or at least have her front paw on me?

  3. Nancy says:

    My dog Maggie is absolutely my best friend. I was glad to see in the temperament section the comment about the rat terrier sleeping with family members. So, it’s not just me after all. She does tend to hog up the center of the bed, but she doesn’t mind at all when I tell her to shove over and give me more room. Apparently I’ve been feeding her a little too much.

  4. Peggy snow says:

    My rat terrier is such a loving dog he is 12 weeks old but I can’t get him to quit biting I give him toys and vet approved bones but my arm gets bit the most and he jumps so high and bites my pants attacks my socks. I keep telling him no and Will tap his nose but nothing works. I can’t let my grand kids around him.what can I do to stop the bitting

    • Jennifer Wellhausen says:

      More exercise!! If we run our dog or go for a long walk she doesn’t “bully” us. That’s what we call it. Also for our dog, she does this usually around dinner time. Just like a cranky baby. Lol. She does like her deer antler and beef bones. We work on redirecting to her toys. If she has a toy in her mouth there is less biting.

    • TJ Houston says:

      With a lot of patience. You have to not physically react to it, that’s what they thrive on. Mine was about a year old decker rat rescue that had been returned more than once. I voice train. Buy it lots of soft toys, they love the fuzzy feel and later tearing apart some to see what the squeaker is all about. When he would bite on me I would yell out in pain and say don’t bite daddy, bite the toy, and then put the fuzzy toy in his mouth. Did I say you have to have a lot of patience with this breed because they are off the charts smart and curious about everything and their eyesight appears to be great, along with their nose and ears. Oh yeah, they are hunting dogs, bred for one thing, to be efficient killing machines, then they threw a little beagle in to be more people friendly.
      They are definately not a herding dog or a retriever and they are not for everybody. For those who are able to work their way into the heart of a Rat Terrier, you will find riches beyond your imagination, they are pure gold.

  5. TIMOTHY Simon says:

    I have a 10 month O rat terrier mix , I love her so much, she makes me very happy. I love her so much She is my all in all, I think God every day for my Fenda.

  6. Serena says:

    I rescued what I thought was a jack russell but am now sure is a rat terrier. So intelligent but previous owner didn’t socialise or basically do anything. … he’s afraid of loud noise and mostly aggressive to big dog any hints or tips? He could be so much more

    • Sergey Uhanov (Certified Veterinarian) admin says:

      Hi Serena,
      Generally, whining, shaking, or pacing is a sign your dog is scared. If your dog starts showing any of these signs of anxiety, distract him with a game of tug or fetch, or play music that can block the scary noises. Find a recording of the noise that your dog fears, whether it is exploding fireworks or thunder. Play it low so that it does not bother him. Reward him with a treat for calm behavior. Practice by raising the volume slowly and keep giving him the treat.
      For inter-dog aggression, you should try to prevent and control the problem. Make sure your Rattie is adequately exercised so that it can burn his excess energy and maintain his healthy state of mind. You should keep your dog away from potentially aggressive dogs or victims in situations where this behavioral issue is likely to occur.

  7. John Burdick says:

    Just saying… I’m 70. I grew up at the edge of a small town. I was the youngest of eight children when my father died when I was just two. We had a rat terrier. That dog made all the difference in the world. Named him Stinker. We lived next to a field where we had a milk cow. One day I observed first hand Stinker located a rats den out in the field. He rounded up and killed eight rats in a very short period of time. I was amazed. My brother and I would go to the woods a lot which was about a mile from home. This was back when your mother would say ok just be back before dark. I wouldn’t anymore do that with my kids for nothing now. We would say “Stinker, you want to go to the woods?” And he would run like a bullet halve way down the block then back to us as though he was telling us to hurry up. He was the best dog I ever had. Just saying. Thanks for listening.

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