Breed Profile: Rat Terrier

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance but energetic, family-friendly breed that loves the outdoors, you’ll find it in the rat terrier.

Rat terriers are active dogs. By: photogramma1
Rat terriers are active dogs. By: photogramma1


Rat terrier (miniature and standard)



Physical Description

The rat terrier is a small to medium-sized companion pet and hunter of small animals and vermin. This dog breed is loyal and active, close to family members and sometimes wary of strangers.


The muscular and compact dog has a coat with usually more than one color — it may include a variety of colors and patterns. The colors and patterns appear as large patches on the short coat in colors of blue, fawn, tan, black, chocolate, apricot, red or lemon. Some coats have three colors, also known as being tri-spotted.

Ears are triangular and erect when the dog is alert. The tail can vary in length from short to long, and this difference is a natural one. Although some kennel clubs recognize only two variations of the rat terrier, others list three sizes (the toy classification is the one not typically recognized):

  • Toy: Up to 8 inches tall and weighs 4 to 6 pounds
  • Midsize or Miniature: 10 to 13 inches tall and weights 6 to 8 pounds
  • Standard: 13 to 18 inches tall and weighs 10 to 25 pounds

Life expectancy is around 18 years but may be even longer because of the breed’s excellent health and lack of hereditary diseases.


The rat terrier’s origin traces back to 1820 in Great Britain. Closer to the 19th century the original dogs, believed to be smooth fox terrier and Manchester terrier crosses, were brought to the United States. Many other breeds were believed to be involved in rat terrier crosses before or after the breed’s appearance in the United States. These breeds include:

Fun fact: One line of rat terriers believed to have been bred with dogs owned by President Theodore Roosevelt are called Teddy Roosevelt terriers.

Between 1910 and 1930, the rat terrier became one of the most popular dogs to be kept on a farm. To keep up with growing small animal and vermin infestations, the rat terrier was crossed with faster breeds and Beagles. The rat terrier’s speed and scent abilities increased as a result of the crosses.

The breed was cleared to participate in American Kennel Club events in 2006 and was later added to the Terrier Group.



Rat terriers were originally ratters, as their name implies. Although some still work on farms, they are also companion pets who may compete in conformation, agility and obedience trials.


Active, playful and loyal, this family-oriented breed can be wary of strangers but is usually friendly. They can also be feisty and fearless, and they need an outlet for exercise and burning off energy. They are good with children and likely to follow their family members. They are intelligent and easy to train.

Most rat terriers enjoy water and swimming and are hardy hunters. Adult rat terriers adjust well to new families if free from abuse or behavioral problems, but each dog should be evaluated individually. They are easy to house-train and remain active most of their lives. Rat terriers generally get along well with other dogs.

The breed club recommends against getting more than one puppy at a time because it is possible that the puppies will bond to each other and not the family member.

Exercise Needs

The rat terrier may be smaller than other dogs, but don’t let the size fool you. They are very active and energetic. Daily walks or jogs of 30 minutes are recommended, although they would enjoy much more. They are active indoors, so apartment living is possible (you should still provide outdoor exercise every day). Yards should be secure because this breed tends to dig.

Grooming Requirements

Grooming a rat terrier is extremely easy. They only need an occasional brush through the short coat to remove dead hair. Regular grooming, such as teeth and nail maintenance and ear cleaning, should be performed regularly. This breed does shed minimally — excessive shedding should be followed by a blood panel at the veterinarian’s office to rule out health problems.

Common Health Problems

There are few notable health problems with this breed other than normal canine ailments, although each individual dog’s health may vary. Reported health issues include elbow and hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, eye problems and allergies. Some of these dogs are sensitive to demodex mange and anesthesia.

Is the Rat Terrier the Right Dog for You?

If you are looking for an active, energetic, family-friendly dog, the rat terrier should be one of your considerations. Exercise needs are high, but grooming and health problems are substantially lower than with other breeds. If you have small animals or rodents, you will need to take extreme care around a rat terrier because of their high prey drive. If it sounds like these requirements are what you are looking for, the rat terrier might be a good fit for your household.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Rat terriers can end up in shelters and rescues. Start searching for an adoptable dog first. If you’re set on going to a breeder, make sure the chosen breeder is reputable and not a puppy mill operator.

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