Why Is the Rat Terrier Such a Good Family Pet?
One of the calmest of the terrier breeds, rat terriers thrive on human companionship and make good family dogs (though they may be reserved around strangers). They are not known as “yappers” but will alert their owners to strangers.
They are sensitive and intuitive and respond best to praise and other positive training methods. So, if you’re looking to add a rat terrier to your family, they’re an excellent choice for pretty much any household. Read on to learn more about this charming breed.
Rat Terrier Breed Overview
A small- to medium-sized American dog breed, rat terriers were traditionally used on farms and for hunting. They have a smooth and shiny coat and a compact build. They stand just a little over a foot tall and weigh up to 25 pounds.
Their short, smooth coat comes in a variety of pied colors (white with large splotches of color), including tri-colored, spotted, red and white, blue and white, and black and tan. While rat terriers have been around for over 100 years, the breed has only officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2010.
One thing that stands out with this breed is that rat terriers not only like to bark, but they’ll also “talk” using a “ra-ra-ra” to get attention.
They’re Good Pest Controllers
The rat terrier was developed as a working dog to hunt and catch pests, such as rats, on farms. The breed descends from other terrier breeds, including the fox terrier, bull terrier, Manchester terrier and old English white terrier.
In the 1910s and 1920s, new traits were introduced — for example, Midwestern farmers needed to control jackrabbit populations, so dogs were crossbred with whippets and Italian Greyhounds. In the American Southwest, beagle lines were introduced to improve hunting abilities and encourage a pack mentality. A miniature rat terrier was introduced in the 1920s when rat terriers were bred with toy fox terriers.
While considered quite common when they were first introduced, the rat terrier is now considered a rare, small dog breed. Their popularity waned as farmers began to use poison to control pests in the 1940s and ’50s.
These Are Intelligent and Active Dogs
Rat terriers are so intelligent that they’re often used as police contraband search dogs, and they can be trained in as few as three weeks.
With intelligence, though, often comes a very real need for engagement and activity. Rat terriers need daily walks and benefit from active games such as fetch in a fenced area. These dogs should not be allowed off-leash in open spaces since their strong prey drive will make the temptation to chase smaller animals practically impossible to resist.
Bred to hunt rats, they love to tunnel and dig and are also fast and high jumpers. Trying to stop a rat terrier from digging is an exercise in futility, so it is a good idea to provide them with an area where it is OK to do so.
But Their Intelligence Can Be Challenging
These dogs demand attention (many owners will tell you these dogs let you know by wrapping their paws around your limbs), and they can be destructive when bored. Early training is important, so they don’t get the idea that they are the boss.
You may find it helpful to change things up periodically, as they sometimes get bored by routine or are distracted. They are good problem solvers, so fences should be made secure to prevent escape. In fact, fences need to be higher than their size would suggest and should also extend below ground to keep them from digging underneath.
Lastly, since they are bred to hunt rodents, it’s a good idea not to have other animals sharing their living space. For instance, they won’t understand that hamsters, guinea pigs and the like are family.
They’ve Appeared in Films
One of the most famous rat terrier appearances was when Shirley Temple tucked one into bed in “The Little Colonel.”