Rat Terrier

The Rat Terrier is a small dog breed that is famous for ridding the White House of a vermin infestation during the presidential term of Theodore Roosevelt. Feisty and energetic, this dog is highly intelligent and is the ultimate farm dog. 


This Terrier was developed in the United States to be a farm dog and hunter. Breeders in different parts of the American regions in the early 20th century used various breeds to create the present-day Rat Terrier. 

A jackrabbit problem in the Midwest led to breeding with Whippets and Italian Greyhounds. The resulting traits included speed and versatility to be able to chase down rodents.

Breeding with the Beagle earned the dog a strong sense of smell. Toy Fox Terriers were added to the mix resulting in toy-sized Rat Terriers.

Many farmers kept the Rat Terrier in their homes to kill vermin but when rat poison became available there was a decline in numbers. An avid hunter named Milton Decker produced a large Rat Terrier to help him hunt and retrieve. 

Decker Rat Terriers were feisty and tough enough to hunt large game like deer, wild pigs, cougars and bears. 

The first hairless Rat Terrier was born in 1972 and this dog was later named the American Hairless Terrier which is available in miniature and standard sizes. 

The United Kennel Club recognized this breed in 1999 and the American Kennel Club followed in 2012.  

Physical Characteristics

Newborn Rat Terriers are born with erect ears and eventually begin to drop. The ears can stay dropped or pop back up in the next few weeks. 

The Rat Terrier’s coat is short-haired with smooth, dense and shiny fur. All coats on this dog have white markings and come in the following colors:

  • White
  • Black with tan
  • Black with rust
  • White and black
  • White and tan
  • Red
  • Lemon
  • Blue
  • Chocolate
  • Orange  


This breed is small and sturdy. He is often misidentified as a smooth-haired Fox Terrier or Jack Russell Terrier. There are four variants based on size:

  • Decker – 22 to 40 pounds (9 to 11kg) with a height above 16 inches (40cm) 
  • Standard – 18 to 22 pounds (8 to 9kg) with a height between 13 to 16 inches (33 to 40 cm)
  • Miniature – 10 to 18 pounds (4 to 8kg) with a maximum height of 15 inches (38cm)
  • Toy –  5 to 10 pounds (2 to 4kg) with a maximum height of 12 inches (30cm)

Character & abilities

The Rat Terrier is a versatile breed with a desire to please. He is wary and doesn’t like strangers. If not well socialized, he can be aggressive to new people and other animals. 

This fearless breed is a terrier and exhibits behaviors like stubbornness and love for digging. Around his family, this terrier is perceptive and responsive. 

When raised together, the Rat Terrier is fond of children and exercises patience with them. He makes an excellent companion as he will frequently sleep under the covers with the children. 

Trainability & Intelligence

This small dog is stubborn and intelligent. He needs to be enrolled in a puppy training class and introduced to various situations where can meet new people, other dogs and all sorts of different stimuli. 

It is important to walk the Rat Terrier on a leash. This natural hunter has a strong prey drive and will run off to chase perceived game. He should not be allowed to play in a yard without a secure high fence as he could always jump or dig his way out of the home.

In the eventuality that this Terrier runs off, it is advisable to make sure he always wears a dog collar, tag and is microchipped with current information to make sure he is reunited with his family.

Exercise Needs & Nutrition

As a working breed, this terrier requires lots of exercise. He is happy when he is kept busy, especially around a farm. When the Rat Terrier doesn’t get regular adequate stimulation, he can easily develop destructive behaviors to entertain himself. 

How much the Rat Terrier eats depends on his size, age, metabolism and level of activity. He needs high-quality dry dog food that is formulated to provide wholesome nutrition. To avoid excess weight gain, an adult terrier should be fed twice a day and not have a full dog bowl available to him at all times. 


The Rat Terrier is a low maintenance dog. The short coat needs weekly brushing to remove dirt and loose hair. This breed sheds a lot in the spring, fall, after whelping or heat cycles. Baths can be given as needed.

Living Conditions & Adaptability

Because of his love for digging, this terrier needs to be assigned spaces where he can safely do so. It is easier to do this than training him to stop digging. 

Even though the Rat Terrier loves being outdoors, he is not meant to spend his life in a kennel. He loves people and living with them will create and foster an essential bond. 

This prey driven dog is quick on his feet and will chase after animals like hamsters, chinchillas and mice. He will get along with them when they are raised together.


Generally a healthy breed, it is important to note that some Rat Terriers might develop any or all of the following health concerns:

  • Food, contact and airborne allergies
  • Patellar luxation
  • Malocclusion
  • Demodectic mange

A Rat Terrier has a lifespan of 13 to 18 years.


The Rat Terrier is an invaluable companion for any home. He is an excellent farm dog who can eradicate rats and other vermin. This intelligent dog has an instinct to bark and requires a lot of space to exercise. He is therefore not suitable for living in an apartment.  This terrier needs a firm and kind experienced owner and is not ideal for novice dog parents. 

The team at All The Small Dog Breeds has compiled small dog breed descriptions detailing their different traits and facts. We are dedicated to providing a clear understanding of each breed’s characteristics and needs to assist in the process of choosing a furry friend that best suits your home and lifestyle. 

Choose a reputable breeder or visit your local animal shelter to meet your new family member. 


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