Critter Culture
Is a Rat Terrier the Right Dog for You?

Is a Rat Terrier the Right Dog for You?

Critter Culture Staff



When people want a smaller breed of dog, they may think about Jack Russell terriers or pugs. However, many pet owners may be missing out on rat terriers, known for their loyalty and energetic dispositions. If you are in the market for a dog, you should consider all the good points of rat terriers. They have a fascinating history and some traits you may find very desirable in a pet. Your life may never be the same after one of these warm and loving creatures becomes part of your family.


Rat Terriers Were Originally Bred to Kill Rats

Rat Terrier puppy StanRohrer / Getty Images

In the early part of the 19th century, rat terriers were called “Feists.” The breed was taken from Manchester terriers, bred for killing vermin, and Smooth Fox terriers, known for their intelligence and fearlessness. The mixture produced a very efficient hunting machine. Brought to the U.S. by British immigrants, rat terriers caught the attention of future President Theodore Roosevelt. He liked the dogs for their well-groomed appearance, intelligence, and ability to chase down and kill rats.


Rat Terriers are Multi-Breed Dogs

Rat Terrier and many breeds Judith Dzierzawa / Getty Images

Rat terriers have at least seven ancestors in their genetic makeup. Besides the Manchester Terrier and Smooth Fox Terrier, the rat terrier's genetic map of breeds include:

  • Bull terrier: strong, powerful, yet very warm and affectionate
  • Beagle: friendly and excellent hunters with a keen sense of smell
  • White English terrier: small, powerful, and muscular. The breed no longer exists.
  • Italian Greyhound: fast, quick, and loves people.
  • Whippet: greyhound-type dog once used for killing rats.


Rat Terriers are Getting More Recognition

Rat Terriers Westminster Kennel Club Desiree Navarro / Getty Images

The American Kennel Club--or the AKC--is one of the top sources for dog information. They recognize a wide range of pure breeds, but the rat terrier was not on their list until 2010. You may see more celebrities with rat terriers, too. Carrie Underwood is a proud rat terrier owner. In 2017, her dog Ace made the news when he underwent herniated disc surgery and went through extensive physical therapy.


Rat Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers Are Not the Same Breeds

Jack Russell Terrier pekkak / Getty Images

Both Jack Russell terriers and rat terriers are cute little dogs with energy. However, there are important differences between them. While the rat terrier was made for hunting rodents, the Jack Russell was bred to be a fox hunter.

The rat terrier can weigh as much as 24 pounds and stand 18 inches high. Jack Russell terriers are usually 17 pounds or 15 inches tall. Rat terriers adapt better to family life and kids, while Jack Russell terriers can be temperamental and intolerant of too much attention.


Did a Rat Terrier Really Kill 2500 Rats in Seven Hours?

Rat Terrier in Victorian Times duncan1890 / Getty Images

Many online sources mention a rat-killing record once set by a rat terrier. The dog supposedly killed 2500 rats within 7 hours. The event took place inside a barn in England during the 19th century. However, this incredible feat cannot be substantiated.

A letter to the editor of The New York Times recommended rat terriers as a safer solution to the Carol Gardens rat problem in 1996. The letter’s author, Michelle Weyher, explained that using rat terriers would be more feasible than spending $150,000 on rat poison. She referenced the legendary rat terrier who killed 2,500 rats.


Rat Terriers Love to Play

Cute little rat terrier puppy on red blanket with rawhide chew

Rat terriers have plenty of energy to run and have fun. Get the dog some balls, ropes, and other toys to play with. Rat terriers are very fond of people, so your dog will play as long as the kids want to. These dogs appreciate your love and attention and will give you back more than you can imagine.


Rat Terriers Come in Many Sizes

Small Rat Terrier LTuray / Getty Images

If you are thinking of getting a rat terrier, you have four basic sizes to consider:

  • Standard – 13 to 16 inches tall. Common weight is about 25 pounds
  • Decker Terrier – males can be as tall as 19 inches and weigh as much as 40 pounds.
  • Miniature – rarely reach more than 15 inches in height, and the average weight is about 14 pounds.
  • Toy – can weigh as little as five pounds and are usually less than 12 inches in height.


Rat Terriers Love to Dig

Small dog and owner play fetch with a wooden stick

Rat terriers like digging. In fact, they may do some damage to your yard if left to their own devices. To keep your terrier from escaping, bury chicken wire next to the fence.


Kids and Rat Terriers Can Get Along Well

Puppy with child ulkas / Getty Images

Are you looking for a family pet? Rat terriers have a great deal of patience. Kids give dogs plenty of attention, and rat terriers love it. Your dog will be the kids' constant companion. However, in the beginning, you should supervise your dog/child interactions. It's best to buy a puppy you can raise with the kids.


A Recent Rat Terrier Documentary Got Excellent Reviews

Rat terrier face profile

“Heart of a Dog” is about a rat terrier named Lolabelle, a beloved friend of Laurie Anderson. In the movie, Laurie talks about the animals her mother saw while on her death bed. Even though the animals appeared on the ceiling, they were quite real to Laurie's mom.

“Heart of a Dog” reveals Lolabelle’s talent of sculpting and painting. As a filmmaker, Laurie explored the 500 words rat terriers supposedly understand. However, she could never get past the beauty of the experience to discover those words.


What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Get your paws on the latest animal news and information