Rat Terrier

If Teddy Roosevelt thinks highly of the Rat Terrier, then there’s  probably something special about the breed. This small, high energy, made in America breed, was a reliable rat trap from the 18th to the 20th century.

Although the breed may have a vicious side when on the hunt, that’s hardly the case when at home. In fact, the Rat is just a sweet and loving cuddle buddy around family.

So how long has the Rat been around and what makes this breed a great addition to your home?

Here is what you need to know about the Rat Terrier.

History

Some breeds don’t look or play the part with regards to their name. Other breeds are deceptive and just carry some obscure name. When it comes to the Rat Terrier, it’s quite straight forward as to what this breed did.

That said, while the breed is a product of the United States, their real beginnings come from England. It is likely that the Manchester Terrier as well as the Smooth Fox Terrier  are responsible for the Rat Terrier. Later on, farmers and breeders would cross the Rat with other breeds to improve their performance. After creating the breed in 1820, in England, most people would call the Rat, “Tyce.”  The American meaning of the word, Tyce, symbolizes a small down with two or more descendants or a mutt.

And from the get go, the breed was a force to reckon with, at least in terms of killing rats and other vermin. The breed was so good, that, according to America Pet Registry, set a record for killing over 2500 rats during a competition. Clearly, if you had a need for exterminating rats and other vermin, the Rat Terrier was the dog for the job.

Yet, the breed was more than just a ratter by all accounts. Indeed, their stock would rise, once word got out about how versatile they could be. They could also serve as excellent watch and guard dogs. In addition, people then began to find what dog lovers know today: the breed is an excellent companion, especially during hunting expeditions.

It was around 1890, that the breed began to appear in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of Teddy Roosevelt, the stock for the breed would rise exponentially due to the warm praise from Roosevelt. Roosevelt had several Rat Terriers kicking around his home and he would gloat about how effective of ratters the breed was. In the late 19th century, it was common to see the Rat Terrier around a farm. 

Unfortunately, however, the breed’s popularity wouldn’t continue forever. Due to the industrial era and inventions, the breed found it hard to remain relevant. In addition to the changes in rural areas, it was the stigma of dog fighting. Thanks to the brutal ritual of dog fighting, the Rat Terrier had a reputation.

Fortunately, things would change and turn around quickly thanks to devout breeders. While it certainly took a while, the Rat would gain recognition in 2013. According to the American Kennel Club, the breed is the 96th most popular breed in America. Today, they enjoy a relaxing role as companion with their family. However, if you want something to chase away vermin, this breed is still a viable hunter.

Size

The AKC classifies the breed as a small breed. However, they do have two different size classes. Those are; Standard and Miniature. For a standard male, the dog should stand between 10 to 13 inches, where a Miniature should stand between 13 to 18 inches. A standard female should stand between 13 to 18 inches and a Mini should range between 10 to 13 inches.

With regards to weight, both male and females should range between 10 to 25 pounds.

Personality and Temperament

The Rat Terrier is one of those breeds that may be small but really comes in as a big package. They have quite a vibrant personality and aren’t afraid to showcase it. Like a true ratter, they carry no fear and aren’t afraid of a challenge. This is a curious breed willing to explore and look into matters. They are confident and alert. When on the job, the Rat is quite the force.

With their high energy needs, the Rat Terrier certainly enjoys staying active. They’ll go for fetch, or participate in obedience, rally or agility. As a true Ratter, this breed prefers to stay busy and desires plenty of physical and mental stimulation. 

Easy to train and eager to please, the Ratter is quite smart and enjoys a challenge. A versatile dog, that can will prove they can do it all. In fact, they are game for just about anything. You can use them as a hunting companion or you can utilize them as watchdogs. And if that’s not your thing, then the breed has no problem being a sloth at home.

And at home, they are loving and loyal. You can depend on this breed to be there for you and your family. They are excellent with children and fairly tolerant of them as well. It may surprise you to know that the breed is pretty good with other dogs. Typically, those dogs are those they grow up with. They may be fearless but they are definitely friendly even with strangers.

All in all, a great family dog that has bountiful potential as a working dog. Put them out in the farm, or take them to the dog park, the breed has no trouble assimilating. Children love this breed and the breed will love and look out for the children in return. Overall, it’s quite easy to see why so many people had an infatuation with the breed a couple centuries ago.

Health

A Rat Terrier is typically healthy. And if all goes well, you can expect to get quite a while out of the breed. The life expectancy for the breed is between 12 to 18 years.

Now, while the breed is generally healthy, there are some items to be wary about. You can erase many of those fears when you buy from a reputable breeder. This breeder should be able to provide you with the proper documentation you need to make a good purchasing decision. In addition to the health clearances, you’ll want to schedule routine visits with the veterinarian. 

There is a low possibility for the breed to encounter Hip Dysplasia. This disorder is the malformation of the hip joint, which leads to rubbing against the joint due to the loosening. This can cause lameness and other issues involving pain. According to the leading authority on these issues, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the Rat ranks 173rd on their list. Out of the 614 evaluations, the breed had a 2.8% dysplastic rating. This puts them in the neighborhood along with the Collie and Eurasier.

Elbow Dysplasia is another concern. This is the abnormal development of the elbow which will cause lameness, pain, and possibly osteoarthritis. The OFA ranks the breed 95th on their list along with the Portuguese Water Dog and Brittany. The Rat Terrier has a 1.8 dysplastic rating out of 390 evaluations.

An out of place kneecap, or dislocation of the kneecap is Patella Luxation. The OFA ranks the breed 43rd among the Affenpinscher and Bichon Frise. Out of the 1300 plus evaluations, the breed had a 3.6 dysplastic rating and a normal rating of 96.4%.

Legg Calves Perthes is another problem this breed may contend with. This typically affects younger dogs between the ages of 5 to 8 months and it consists of the degeneration of the femur bone in the hinds. Pain, lameness and discomfort are all symptoms of this disorder.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy may be an issue this breed could experience. This progressive and degenerative disease affects the rods and cones of the retina. Eventual blindness may occur and typically the disease begins with night blindness. 

Other issues that may impact the breed are; Primary Lens Luxation, heart diseases and epilepsy. Consult your veterinarian to find out more and way to prevent these issues from occurring with your Rat Terrier.

Care

The Rat Terrier makes a better pet when the breed is around family. They don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time. Certain dogs do better than others with separation. This could lead to separation anxiety, which could further lead to destructive behavior due to boredom. Surround your Rat with love, attention or at the least another companion.

Needs early socialization and training to help ward off any of those terrier aggressive traits. This will help them later on as adults integrate with other dogs and children. They do have a proclivity of prey drive so be watchful around smaller animals like birds or mice. Especially mice. Enthusiasts of the breed will tell you that you have to introduce this breed to as much new situations and beings as possible early on.

Yet, ultimately, this breeds needs a consistent, loving  home with someone who is fair yet firm. Depending on their role, they will require plenty of exercise but at the least an hour per day of walks. A leash is necessary to avoid confrontation with other dogs. They may showcase a bit of a territorial streak.

As with most breeds, you should check their ears for debris or bacterial buildup. Trim their nails regularly to prevent overgrowth. Bathe as you see necessary.

Feeding

Just as any dog should have a high quality formula with meat as the first ingredient, so shouldn’t the Rat Terrier. Clearly, healthy protein sources and quality caloric intake is par for the course to keeping a healthy Rat Terrier. Not all dogs eat the same and depending on their age, activity and metabolism levels, your Rat will eat accordingly.

However, most owners see success feeding their Rats between 1/4 cup to 1.5 cups of top quality dry kibble. The reason for such a fluctuation has more to do with their wide range of weight. You can break those meals up into two per day to help reduce the chances of Bloat or obesity.

For a moderate working Rat Terrier between the weight of 10 to 25 pounds: 654 to 1300 calories per day will suffice. Likewise, for a dog with typical energy requirements: 392 to 780 calories will do the trick.

As always, you should provide your Rat Terrier with fresh drinking water.

Coat

A Rat Terrier has an easy to care for coat. They do shed but do so heavier in certain seasons. There will be some regular grooming but it’ll be fairly easy to maintain. Their coats are shiny and smooth and lies close to the body.

According to the American Kennel Club, the Rat Terrier has 18 acceptable options for coat color: White, chocolate and tan, white black and tan, white and tan, white and silver, white and red, white and lemon, white and fawn, white and chocolate, white and blue fawn, white and blue, white and black, white and apricot, red white and sable, black and white, black tan and white, black white and tan, blue white and tan.

There are nine acceptable options for their coat markings: Badger markings, blanket back, Irish marked, piebald, sable, white markings, spot or patched, tan points, white markings with tan points, solid, white mask with white markings.

Fun Rat Terrier Facts

  • The United Kennel Club gave the Rat Terrier recognition in 1999.
  • The Rat is the AKC’s 178th breed.
  • After arriving in the United States, there’s a possibility that breeders bred the Rat with Whippet or Italian Greyhounds, for speed and the Beagle, for their talents as hunters.
  • It was a century ago, when the miners would use the Rat Terriers as a gambling prop to see how many rats they could kill.

Closing Words

History will tell us that there is probably no better breed for killing or chasing away rats than the Rat Terrier itself. But with time, changes occur, and the breed had to evolve.

From then and on, the breed’s popularity took a hit. However, since the AKC’s decision to grant recognition to the breed in 2013, there seems to be hope in promoting the breed into more households. Once the word gets out about this feisty, fun loving and loyal little rat dog, it’ll only be a matter of time until they return to their popularity graces.

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