Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier

The Rat Terrier is a livewire—this energetic, intelligent, and stubborn breed will keep you on your toes. They're fairly new to the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a breed, but the type—known as a feist terrier—is hundreds of years old. The modern version of the Rattie became popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s, mostly on farms as ratting dogs to keep vermin under control. Rat Terriers come in two sizes: miniature and standard—they're recognized under the same breed standard and are distinguished by height after six months of age. It is rumored that President Theodore Roosevelt gave the Rat Terrier its name when his two feist terriers rid the White House of a rat infestation.

Other Names

The Rat Terrier is also known as the American Rat Terrier and Ratting Terrier, and is nicknamed Rattie or Rat.

Physical Description


The Rat Terrier's short, smooth, shiny coat is easy to maintain. It comes in any variation of pied—patches of color—and white.


Average Height: 10-13 inches


Average Weight: 10-25 pounds

Breed Standard & History

Sturdy and compact, the Rat Terrier's build should suggest a dog capable of ratting and farm work—quick, agile, and powerful, but also elegant. She is slightly longer than she is tall, with no shortness in the legs. Standard Rat Terriers stand at least 13 inches, but no more than 18, while miniature may be between 10 and 13 inches. Any size outside these parameters is disqualified. Her expression is intelligent and alert, her wide-set eyes in shades of dark brown to hazel. Grey eyes are allowed for the blue coat color, but otherwise considered a serious fault. Erect, semi-erect, tipped, or button ears are allowed as long as the shape and carriage match—the ears must not be cropped. A long, docked, or naturally bobbed tail are all allowed, carried nearly erect but never over the back or in a ring. The Rat Terrier has a short, smooth, shiny coat with whiskers intact. Hairless dogs are disqualified. Any pied patterning is allowed. This dog is energetic, yet obedient. – AKC Breed Standards

Dogs similar to the Rat Terrier were kept as early as the 1500s. The remains of a ratting dog from the flagship of Henry VIII resemble the modern terrier type. 'Feists,' early descendants of the Rat Terrier, were used for hunting small game, rodent control, as farm dogs, and as companions. The feist was brought to the USA and mixed with a variety of breeds—possibly including Beagle, Italian Greyhound, and Whippet—to create the modern Rat Terrier. In the first half of the 20th century, the most common farm dog was the Rat Terrier type. One dog famous amongst Rattie fanciers holds the record for killing the most rats—over 2,500 in one day. When poison and trapping became more common as a form of pest control, the Rat Terrier's domain shifted from farm to home, as companion animals.

The AKC recognized the Rat Terrier in 2010.

AKC Breed Category

Terrier Group


General Temperament

The Rat Terrier has a typical terrier temperament—energetic, bossy, smart but stubborn, and quick to bark. Though they can be well-behaved, it takes early and consistent obedience training to prevent the big dog in a small body attitude terriers often possess. Spunky Rats love to be in charge, and they will take advantage at any opportunity. They're also affectionate and playful with family and enjoy being near their people whenever possible.

Family Life

Are Rat Terriers Good with Kids? Most terriers, including Rat Terriers, can be territorial or intolerant when it comes to rough play or harsh treatment from children. If raised with kids, Rat Terriers may do well with them—but older children are a better match than toddlers or babies.

Are Rat Terriers Good with Other Pets? Rat Terriers tend to get along with other dogs in the household, but they may be territorial and try to gain top-dog status—regardless of which pet is larger. The Rattie's high prey drive makes living with critters like mice, rats, or rabbits a challenge, but they may be able to live with cats if raised with them.


Though not a guard dog, the protective Rat Terrier will bark to alert of people and other animals approaching. They may be suspicious of strangers and may take time to accept newcomers, but if properly socialized they are not likely to be aggressive.

Energy Levels

Rat Terriers have lots of energy and require plenty of exercise to prevent undesirable behaviors like chewing, digging, and excessive barking. Outlasting a Rattie is an achievement few can claim.

Specific Concerns

  • The Rattie has a terrier 'big dog, small body' personality.
  • She is intelligent, but stubborn.
  • She is an escape artist, likely to wander, and should wear her personalized dog collar with your contact info on it, as much as possible.
  • She has a lot of energy.
  • Her prey drive is strong and she has a tendency to chase.
  • She may chew, dig, and bark.

She needs early, continued socialization to prevent shyness or aggression towards new people.



Rat Terriers can adapt to most living situations, including city apartments, if they have an outlet for their intense energy. Without enough exercise, they may become destructive and bark excessively. But with enough exercise and mental stimulation, they're more than willing to cuddle up inside with their people.


Time spent outdoors should be on-leash and supervised, as Rat Terriers are known to roam and love to chase. They're quick, so if a Rat takes off you'll have a hard time catching her. This breed is not suitable for living outdoors full-time, and should never be left unsupervised. Fences are often no big challenge for the high-jumping, quick-digging breed. Gardens and lawns may be excavated by Rat Terriers, as they take any opportunity to dig.


At least 40 minutes per day of exercise is necessary to help the Rat Terrier burn enough energy to be a calm, well-behaved companion. Even with exercise, this breed's energy levels and temperament may be a challenge for someone looking for a more laid-back pet.


This speedy, high-energy breed has plenty of stamina for long play sessions and romps outdoors. Their impressive endurance can be a problem if they escape—catching a Rat Terrier on the lam is nearly impossible, so activities should always be supervised, and the dog kept either leashed or in a fenced area.

Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: Ratties may be able to run between two and three miles, if well-conditioned and healthy.
  • Hiking Miles: A long day on the trail may be no big deal to the energetic Rat Terrier. A leash or a fail-proof recall are necessary so the Rattie's prey drive and propensity to wander don't get her into trouble.


The general recommendation for how much high-quality dry dog food to feed an average weight Rat Terrier is ½ to 1½ cups per day, split between two meals.

Rat Terriers may guard their food or be territorial around other pets or people. Children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.

Alone Time

Exercise, and a crate or secure dog-proof space, are the keys to preventing destructive behaviors and excessive barking when a Rat Terrier is left home alone. They may be able to stay home alone for five to eight hours with enough exercise, mental stimulation, and attention.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

13-18 years


The Rat Terrier's coat is short and easy to care for. Weekly brushing—maybe more during seasonal shedding—and occasional baths keep the coat in good condition. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting or cracking, or breaking a nail. Terriers may be sensitive about having their paws touched, so get your Rattie used to it early.

Common Health Issues

Though generally a healthy, long-lived breed, Rat Terriers may be prone to breed-specific health concerns, including:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Patellar luxation
  • Allergies and skin conditions
  • Heart concerns
  • Epilepsy
  • Eye diseases
  • Dental concerns
  • Deafness

You can minimize serious health concerns in a Rat Terrier by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.



Intelligent—yet stubborn—Rat Terriers benefit from early training and socialization. They can be well behaved, but they're also master manipulators, so establish a leadership position before your Rattie claims it. Short, fun, varied training sessions work best for this easily-bored breed. Basic obedience, good leash manners, and an emergency recall should be top priorities. Introducing spaces where a Rattie is allowed to dig may save your flower beds from unwanted excavation.

Advanced Training

Agility and Earthdogging are popular Rat Terrier sports, and they are great ways to burn off the breed's abundant energy. They are smart enough to learn advanced obedience and tricks, but they're also stubborn and may decide to ignore your requests if they've got something more interesting to check out.

Rat Terriers have been trained for police departments—their small size lets them fit into tight spaces, and their keen noses allow them to expertly sniff out drugs, explosives, and people.

Sporting Dog Training

As former small game hunters, Rat Terriers may be good—though uncommon—hunting companions. Earthdogging exercises may harness the Rattie's prey drive in a non-hunting capacity.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Rat Terriers.

Explore Other Breeds

A Decker or Decker Giant is a large, terrier-type dog developed in the 1970s from the Rat Terrier owned by Milton Decker. His goal was to develop a quality hunting dog. Though the strain shares many similarities with the standard and miniature Rat Terriers, the type is outside of the weight requirements specified in the breed standard. The AKC does not recognize the Decker, but the National Rat Terrier Association maintains a Decker Hunting Terrier Registry. A Decker Terrier is not simply a large version of the Rat Terrier—in order to register, a Decker's bloodline must be traced to the original Deckers bred by Mr. Decker.

The American Hairless Terrier is a hairless terrier-type dog developed when a Rat Terrier without hair was born in a litter of otherwise-coated puppies. The owners of the hairless puppy decided to develop a hairless Rat Terrier, which led to the creation of the American Hairless Terrier. The hairless gene in this dog is recessive, which distinguishes it from most hairless breeds with a dominant hairless gene. This means that some litters may produce puppies with coats, as well as hairless puppies. In order to prevent health concerns and issues related to inbreeding, hairless and coated varieties may be bred to maintain a vast gene pool. Hairless/hairless pairings produce about two out of three puppies without hair, while hairless/coated pairings produce an average of half coated and half hairless.

Rat Terriers are born with erect ears that droop around the same time their eyes open. Their ears may then stand erect, or remain semi-erect or tipped, or fold over in a button carriage. Ear carriage may not stabilize until the dog reaches adulthood.