Breed of the Week - Rat Terrier

Named by the perceptive Teddy Roosevelt, the Rat Terrier, also known as Feist, American Rat Terrier or Ratting Terrier, originated in Great Britain in 1820 as a cross between Fox Terriers and other European Terriers that include Manchester Terriers and Bull Terriers. They were then brought to the US during the 1890’s.

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt moved into a white house that was infested with mice and rats that seemed to be immune to traps and poison. Little did he know he was naming a breed when he set his favorite Feist on the case. This sporty little breed earned the name it has today by ridding the mansion of all its vermin.

During the next 30 years, Rat Terriers would be bred primarily on function. Farmers increased the speed and agility of these dogs to stop a rabbit epidemic that threatened crops around 1910 by crossing them with Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and Smooth Fox Terriers. In other parts of the country, hunters mixed the early Rat Terriers with Beagles to improve their tracking abilities. Over time, the Chihuahua, Toy Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terriers were bred in to decrease the size considerably, resulting in the “toy" variety seen today, and also new colors.

The Rat Terrier’s popularity soared through the 30’s and 40’s but by the 1950’s, the modernization of farming created less of a demand for them. However, the tenacious Rat Terrier held onto its following and through years of skilled and devoted breeding, a utility dog that both sports people and dog loving families were determined to keep by their sides, was produced. Despite hard times of near extinction, on January 1, 1999, the Rat Terrier was officially recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC). In 2006 the Rat Terrier, in both the Miniature and Standard sizes, became eligible for participation in the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service (FSS) Program.

Today’s Rat Terrier is a well mannered dog who is intelligent, alert, loving and inquisitive. They are most definitely a companion breed who loves affection and to always be at your side like a shadow. They learn quickly and love to please their owner. These terriers love their homes and families above all else and will put their work aside just to cuddle. They can be protective but not aggressive and lively but not hyper. It is not uncommon for a Rat Terrier to choose a special person and bond particularly close with them even though they are generous in their love for all family members. This breed is extremely alert to strange sounds, making them good watchdogs. They are good with children, especially if raised with them. Most do well in a multiple dog household and besides arguments over food or who gets the bed and even hoarding toys; they will co-exist peacefully with other family dogs.

“Breeders will tell you that while most dogs think they are human, Rat Terriers know they are!” –Alice J. Kane

This short haired terrier is blessed with a naturally clean appearance requiring only an occasional bath and a regular brushing to remove dead hair. Like most short haired dogs, they do shed seasonally.

Rat Terriers need a good amount of exercise. They are quite active indoors, but should be taken on a daily walk or jog for at least 20 to 30 minutes, although they would be happy to have much more. This breed enjoys outdoor romps and fun and challenging games that involve lots of jumping. Being natural hunters, they will dig and tunnel as well as take off after anything that is running. Rat Terriers are very good at obedience and agility trials.

The average lifespan of a Rat Terrier is 12 to 18 years. They have few known health problems, with hip and elbow dysplasia and eye problems being a rarity. Allergies are much more common along with bad or incorrect bites. Another problem that may occur is Demodex Mange. It is thought to be an inherited T-cell defect that allows this type of mite to proliferate.

Visit The Rat Terrier Club of America for more information about the breed.

Rat Terrier lovers can find gifts and apparel featuring their favorite breed on by selecting the Shop By Breed tab.

written by Alexis Esty