Meet The Rat Terrier: An Adorable and Energetic Companion

Last Updated on April 23, 2023

The Rat Terrier, affectionately known as the Ratting Terrier, American Rat Terrier, or Decker Giant, is a lovely companion dog for any family.

There’s a lot to love about this doggo and if you’re looking to learn more about this small dog breed, then keep on reading.

An American Rat Terrier standing near a field with flowers
Source: @tmi_rottapojat / IG

Origin: How did the Rat Terrier come to be?

The Rat Terrier was born and raised in America. It was developed in the early 1900s and was widely popular on farms in the 1910s and 1920s. 

This Rattie was bred for one purpose, and that was to be a hunter. What did they hunt? Well, their name says it all.

These little dogs were bred to hunt rats and other small vermin, keeping them away from the farm crops.

In addition to taking care of the rat infestations, they were also watchdogs, guardians of hen houses, and childhood playmates.

It’s also believed the Rattie got its name from President Theodore Roosevelt. Skip, Teddy Roosevelt’s dog, solved a rat problem at the White House, thus giving Skip the Rat Terrier’s name.

So, how did these farm dogs come to be?

They were developed by crossbreeding different terrier breeds, including smooth Fox Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and the Old English White Terrier.

In other parts of the US, such as the Midwest, Ratties were bred with Whippets, Italian Greyhounds.

Small dogs are known as Feists produce quicker pups to hunt small games such as jackrabbits and squirrels.

In Central and Southwest America, they were bred with Beagles and a little bit of Chihuahua to improve their hunting skills.

In 2012, this breed was recognized in the Terrier group by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

What does a Rat Terrier look like?

Cute male black tricolor purebred Rat Terrier dog
A purebred American Rat Terrier

As stated in AKC’s breed standard, Rat Terriers are sturdy, compact, and well-balanced.

When looking at this pup from the front or profile, their head is a smooth, blunt wedge. Their eyes are oval-shaped and far apart from one another.

This dog breed has a strong, flexible body with its ribs looking oval from the front. They have a broad chest with a level topline.

The shoulder blades are well laid back, equal in length to their upper arms. The forelegs stand straight and parallel to one another with oval, compact feet.

The Rattie’s hindquarters are well-balanced, with the front legs with the hind feet being smaller than the front paws.

Size: are Rat Terriers considered small or medium dogs?

There can be more than one type of Rat Terrier, depending on what they’re bred with. There’s a standard Rat Terrier and a miniature one.

The standard rattie dog will grow to be about 13 to 18 inches (33 to 46 cm) and weigh about 10 to 25 pounds (5 to 11 kg).

a standard Rat Terrier standing on a grass field
Source: @tmi_rottapojat / IG

The miniature Rattie will be 10 to 13 inches (25 to 33 cm) and weigh 4 to 6 pounds (2 to 3 kg).

A Miniature Rattie standing in a tree stomp
Source: @whatsuptuckerpup / IG

There are other variants of this tiny pooch, as well.

A Toy Rat Terrier is smaller than a miniature Rattie, weighing in at 5 to 10 pounds (2 to 5 kg) and growing no more than 12 inches tall (30 cm).

a Toy Rat Terrier smiling and wearing a fabulous bandana
Source: @kral_the_toyfox / IG

A Decker Rat Terrier is larger than a standard Rattie dog, weighing 22 to 40 pounds (10 to 18 kg) and growing 16 to 19 inches (41 to 48 cm).

A Decker Terrier on a walk
Source: @kral_the_toyfox / IG

The Decker is a hunting dog that hunts wild pigs, deer, cougars, and bears. They can also retrieve in water.

There’s also an American Hairless Rat Terrier, which came from a coated standard or miniature Rat Terrier with little to no hair but is considered a different Terrier breed.

a close-up image of the wondering eyes of an American Hairless Rattie
Source: / IG

In terms of size, there isn’t a difference between male and female Rat Terriers, other than their personalities.

Males are typically more dominant and affectionate, whereas females are more stubborn and independent.

No matter what variant of Rattie you bring home, they’ll reach a full-grown size between 8 and 10 months of age.

Given their size, they’ll adapt well to apartment living. But these pups will need ample space to release their energy and exercise.

Otherwise, they tend to become vocal and get destructive if they get bored.

Coat: What colors are Rat Terriers?

Besides coming in different sizes, Rat Terriers have one kind of coat. They have a short coat that’s smooth and shiny.

Ratties also come in a variety of coat colors, including black tan point with piebald spotting (black tricolor), chocolate, tan, blue, isabella (pearl), creeping tan (calico), lemon, and apricot.

The coats may be bicolor or tricolor that always has some white present.

Other Rat Terrier’s coat colors may include:

  1. Black and White
  2. Black, Tan, and White
  3. Black, White, and Tan
  4. Blue, White, and Tan
  5. Orange
  6. Pied (one or more colors with large white patches)
  7. Red, White, and Sable
  8. Rust
  9. White
  10. White and Apricot
  11. White and Black
  12. White and Blue Fawn
  13. White and Chocolate
  14. White and Fawn
  15. White and Lemon
  16. White and Red
  17. White and Silver
  18. White and Tan
  19. White, Black, and Tan
  20. White, Chocolate, and Tan

Blue-colored Rats have a recessive blue dilution gene.

Coat Markings

The Rat Terrier also has plenty of coat markings, like badger markings, blanket-back, Irish marked, piebald, sable white markings, spotted or patched.

White markings, tan points, and white mask and white markings, solid or ticking (intermittent spots, usually visible in white parts of the coat or underlying skin).

Can Ratties be brindle? They can, but it’s currently not allowed by the breed standard. Merle patterns are also rejected as they may cause health problems.

Rat Terrier VS Similar Breeds

Rat Terriers are often confused with other breeds, especially other Terrier breeds.

a Jack Russell Terrier standing outdoors
A Jack Russell Terrier puppy standing in the middle of a road

This pooch gets confused with the Jack Russell Terrier, but the two pups have different profiles and don’t look too much alike, other than being a small size.

Rattie dogs are also calmer and friendlier than Jack Russell Terriers.

a portrait of a strong Toy Fox Terrier
A tri-color Toy Fox Terrier

The Rat Terrier also gets confused with the Toy Fox Terrier, but this dog breed is smaller than the Rattie and is more territorial and Terrier-like.

Temperament: are Rat Terriers good family dogs?

The Rat Terrier is a lovely companion dog who is feisty, friendly, affectionate, energetic, and athletic. Plus, they make an excellent watchdog.

This doggo makes a great family pet for any household. They’ll love to cuddle with you on the couch or to run around in an enclosed yard with the kids.

Yes, Ratties are wonderful with kids, young or old. Train and socialize them as soon as possible to ensure they treat kids and everyone else well.

If they aren’t trained or socialized early, they may develop aggressive tendencies.

With proper socialization, they’ll be wary of strangers initially but will eventually warm up to them. Rattie dogs will also do well with other dogs, cats, and pets.

With a high prey drive, you will need to be careful about smaller pets and rodents such as hamsters or guinea pigs. Your pup will need to be taught not to “hunt” them.

Luckily, the Rat Terrier will not get depression or separation anxiety and won’t be too clingy. You can leave them alone at home for a few hours without worry.

This pooch is not a big barker, but they can become vocal if they get bored enough.

When letting your Rat Terrier outside the yard, always keep an eye on these. They’ll get into things they’re not supposed to and enjoy digging.

Plus, they love a good chase. If they find a squirrel, they’ll go after it. They’re escape artists and will leave the yard to chase something if they feel the need.

This is why they should be microchipped, have a collar and tags on them in case they get out. They’re fast, too, so catching up to them will be tough.

Rat Terriers are smart cookies. They’ll be easy to train and potty train, but it will require some work. They have a stubborn streak, so crate training will be a must.

Check out this video of Rat Terriers while hunting for rats!

How to care for your Rat Terrier

The Rat Terrier has average maintenance.

While they’re easy to groom and have an ideal temperament, they’re escape artists and can have a mind of their own with their high prey drive and high energy levels.

This doggo can tolerate heat but not extremely hot weather. They can’t, however, tolerate the cold and will need extra care during the winter months.

Exercise: Keeping your Rat Terrier in shape

While this pup can adapt to apartment living, Rat Terriers prefer a house with a fenced-in yard that gives them plenty of room to romp and run around.

With their high energy levels, they’ll need ample space to release that energy.

To ensure your Rattie gets the exercise they need, you’ll want to spend about 40 to 60 minutes per day, allowing them exercise and playtime.

an active Rat Terrier jumping over a hurdle
A Rat Terrier leaping over an agility trial

You can take your Rat Terrier on daily walks for 20 minutes along with hikes, games of fetch, and dog sports such as obedience and agility.

They’ll need mental stimulation as much as physical stimulation to keep them sharp and not get bored too often.

Grooming: Do Rat Terriers shed a lot?

Luckily, the Rat Terrier is easy to groom.

However, they are not hypoallergenic and are average shedders. They shed year-round but will shed more seasonally during the fall and spring months.

To keep the shedding at bay, brush your doggo a couple of times a week with a soft brush to remove loose hair.

During the off-season, you can get away with brushing your Rat Terrier once a week.

In addition to brushing, you’ll want to trim their nails regularly and brush their teeth at least two or three times per week to remove tartar build-up.

Rat Terriers do not have an odor, so you’ll only need to give them a bath as needed.

Of course, they do love to dig, so if they get into anything they’re not supposed to, then you might need to give them an extra bath with dog-safe shampoo.

You can always bring your pooch to a professional groomer once every couple of months to ensure they get a thorough, healthy cleaning.

Feeding: How much food does a Rat Terrier consume?

Feeding your Rat Terrier varies from pup to pup and will depend on their age, weight, and metabolism.

Discuss your puppy’s dietary needs with your vet to ensure you’re creating the best nutritional diet for your furry friend and keep obesity at bay.

a Rat Terrier licking after eating

A good rule of thumb is that puppies under six months of age should have three to four meals a day. Adults six months and older should have two meals per day.

Since Rat Terriers come in a few different sizes, the weight will play a factor as well.

Ratties under 10 pounds (under 5 kg) will need ¼ to ½ cup of food per day. If they’re between 10 and 15 pounds (5 to 7 kg), they’ll need ½ to 1 cup of dog food daily.

If your pooch is between 20 and 30 pounds (9 to 14 kg), ¾ to 1.5 cups of food will be good, and dogs between 30 and 40 pounds (14 to 18 kg) should have 1.5 to 2 cups of dog food per day.

You should never feed your doggo anything that is toxic to them, such as chocolate or grapes. To ensure they get the best nutrients, do not feed them table scraps or other human food.

Health: Do Rat Terriers have health problems?

a Rat Terrier wearing a blue UFO collar
Source: @misadventuresofhamish / IG

Like all dog breeds, the Rat Terrier does have a few health concerns that you’ll need to be mindful of.

Some of these health concerns may be:

Hip dysplasia, cardiac disorders or cardiac abnormalities, eye disorders, allergies, incorrect bites, demodectic mange, pancreatic issues, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s Disease, or thrombopathia.

Another health issue could be Patellar Luxation. This occurs when the kneecap is loose and most often affects small dogs.

They may also get Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, which is an orthopedic disorder that can occur in young dogs, especially small breeds.

It’s a degenerative disease that affects the hip joint, not allowing it to get enough blood.

This disease is painful for dogs and will need surgical treatment to ensure your pup can still use the affected limb.

Other health conditions that can affect them are skin conditions, dental concerns, epilepsy, and deafness.

There are health screenings and tests you can have done to ensure your pooch remains healthy.

These screenings may be a cardiac exam, patella evaluation, Legg-Calve-Perthes Radiographic, primary lens luxation (PLL), ophthalmologist evaluation, or clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF).

You can also go through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to get clearance for a hip evaluation, hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, and von Willebrand’s Disease.

Heart failure is the primary cause of death for the Ratties. However, regular trips to the vet will ensure you have a healthy dog and can nip any possible concerns in the bud.

The average lifespan of a Rat Terrier is 12 to 18 years, but it’s possible they could live longer.

With a proper diet, ample exercise, and regular trips to the vet, you’ll be able to boost your doggo’s longevity.

The oldest Rat Terrier was named Jake, who lived in Davenport, Iowa. He lived to be 21-years-old.

How much do Rat Terrier puppies cost?

Rattie puppies on a soft couch
Source: @marvelterriers / IG

Owning a purebred Rat Terrier isn’t as expensive as you’d think. The first year will be a little costly, but each year after that will be less expensive.

Depending on where you purchase your puppy, the price will vary. However, Rat Terrier puppies are typically $500 to $1,100, with the average being $700.

Expect to fork out about $3,285 for the first year.

This includes costs such as buying supplies and accessories like a crate, dog bed, collar, leash, toys, dog food, vet and medical bills, training, grooming supplies, and more.

Each year after that, you are likely to spend $1,000 yearly on your pooch.

You most likely won’t be finding this purebred pup in a pet store or puppy farm. Your best bet will be a reputable breeder.

Rat Terrier breeders

Before settling on a breeder, you need to do a bit of research on them. You want to ensure you’re getting your Rattie from a good breeder who’s fair and cares about the dogs.

Remember, an established breeder will not sell you the puppies before they are eight weeks of age and will let you meet the puppies and the parents in advance. Plus, they’ll love to meet you as well.

When checking for a reputable breeder, excellent places to start are the AKC Marketplace, and the Rat Terrier Club of America has breeders listed by state.

Rat Terrier rescues

Of course, you can also adopt a Rat Terrier who doesn’t yet have a home. Reach out to a local animal shelter near you and ask if they have purebred Rat Terriers.

Or, you can check rescues. Going through a rescue that’s specific to the Rat Terrier breed will not only give dogs a loving home, but you’ll feel good about it, too.

There are a few rescues to look into, such as the Rat Terrier ResQ in Arkadelphia, AR, New Rattitude in DeWitt, MI, and Ratbone Rescues in St. Petersburg, FL.

Curious about Rat Terrier mixes?

Did you know that you can mix the Rat Terrier with other breeds? Mixing dog breeds may result in a healthier animal. It may improve a breed’s lifespan and give them traits they wouldn’t normally have. 

Rat Terrier Jack Russell Terrier Mix 

A Jack Rat Terrier outdoors on a gloomy day
Source: @furdogruffer / IG

Also known as the Jack Rat Terrier, this doggo has super high energy levels with both the activity levels combined from its parent breeds.

This dog is sweet, loyal, intelligent, and playful. They’ll be good with kids but maybe too much to handle, so they’ll need to be supervised.

The Jack Rat Terrier has a lifespan of 12 to 18 years, and they’ll increase in size and weight to about 13 to 18 inches (33 to 46 cm) tall and weigh 20 to 26 pounds (9 to 12 kg).

Rat Terrier Chihuahua Mix

a Ratchi chilling on a wooden bench
Source: @hurley_the_ratchi / IG

Also known as the Rat Cha, this mixed breed is a popular designer dog with medium energy levels, thanks to the Chihuahua parent.

This pooch is affectionate, a lapdog, and a great companion. They have a life expectancy of about 13 to 18 years.

The Rat Cha will grow to be about 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) tall and weigh about 10 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kg).

Who should get a Rat Terrier?

a Mini Rat Terrier puppy wearing a snap collar
Source: @wonderdog_lexie_ / IG

Rat Terriers are a great pooch to bring home. They’re a great companion dog who will do well with a novice owner but do better with an experienced dog owner.

If you have the time to properly train, socialize and exercise this doggo each day, be sure to add this pooch to your list of possible pets.

Already have a Rat Terrier at home? We’d love to know what your Rattie is like. Let us know in the comment below!

Further reading: similar breeds to the Rat Terrier

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