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Rat Terrier: The Ultimate Guide

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A Rat Terrier is an American dog breed that has an extensive background as a farm dog and hunting companion. They share lots of their ancestry with small hunting dogs that are known as feists, and they are amazingly perceptive and intuitive.

If you have been thinking about bringing a Rat Terrier home with you, you have probably been left wondering what you need to know about the breed.

Rat terrier

There are many things to consider when you bring any animal into your home, and Rat Terriers are no exception.

This is why we have created this ultimate guide to Rat Terriers to help you find out everything you need to know about them before you bring one into your family.

We will look at their personalities, health, and more to help you decide if this is the right breed of dog for you. Just keep reading to find out more.

Rat Terrier Key Facts

Before we get into our extensive guide that contains everything you need to know, we will highlight some of the key things you will need to consider if you want to get a Rat Terrier.

This includes how much they will cost in the long run, how much exercise they need, and more.

Average Lifespan

It is common knowledge that small dogs typically live for longer than big dogs. The Rat Terrier will live on average for between 12 and 18 years.

They are smart and curious dogs that love to run and play; these qualities will keep them active for most of these years.

Minimum Exercise (Per Day)

A Rat Terrier will typically have high amounts of energy, which means that you will need to spend at least 40 minutes a day exercising them. If you don’t, they can become destructive as this is their only way of releasing their energy.

They also need a good amount of mental stimulation to keep them occupied throughout the day.

Coat Length

Rat Terriers typically have a short coat length, and their coats are typically dense with smooth and shiny fur.

It can also come in many different colors, including white, black with tan or rust, white with black or tan, red, lemon, blue, chocolate, or orange. All of these dogs will usually have white markings.

Minimum Cost (Per Month)

You can expect to pay at least $50 a month to care for a Rat Terrier.

This cost will include food, treats, insurance, and other small costs you may encounter. However, the cost can be higher than this each month, which is something to be mindful of.


The Rat Terrier is a well-muscled dog that has a deep chest, strong shoulders, solid neck and powerful legs. They have a compact body, and their ears can either be upright or tipped, but they are carried erect when the dog is alert.

These dogs can be born with a short or full-length tail, each being left in its natural state.

The coat colors that you can expect from this dog include pearls, sables, chocolates, red and white, tri-spotted, solid red, black and tan, blue and white and red brindle.

Breeders concerned with working dogs are not as fussy about the specifics of the looks.


The Rat Terrier dog is classed as a small dog.

Average height

The Rat Terrier breed is typically between 10 and 18 inches tall.

Average weight

Rat Terriers will typically fall between 10 and 25 pounds when it comes to their weight.


Rat Terriers are intelligent, wary, and stubborn, which are characteristics that have benefits and challenges. They can make a great family pet, and they are amazingly perceptive and will intuitively respond to your moods.

These dogs also have a burning desire to please, they love praise, and they will follow you around the house.

They were originally bred to work all day on a farm, and due to this, they require a lot of daily exercise.

If they don’t get all of the exercise that they need, they can easily turn mischievous and start to display destructive behaviors, as this is their only way to burn off excess energy. 

Apartment Living

Rat Terriers can live in an apartment, which is much easier with their small size. However, they are very active, so you will need to ensure that they are getting the recommended amount of daily exercise.

They can also be quite active indoors, which is something to keep in mind. 

Good for Novice Owners

Rat Terriers tend to have a mind of their own, so you might find it difficult to train them if you do not have any previous experience with owning and training a dog.

They can end up becoming hard work if they are not properly trained, which is why they are not typically recommended for first-time dog owners.

However, if you have done your research and are planning on leaving the training to the professionals, then you might still be able to get along fine with a Rat Terrier.

Sensitivity Level

Rat Terriers are known for being sensitive to their owners emotions as they are highly perceptive. More often than not, they will pick up on your mood, which can even influence their behavior. 

Tolerates Being Alone

Some Rat Terriers will tolerate being left alone very well, but others will not. It all depends on how people-oriented they are and how much they are in need of a companion.

Those in your company always will not enjoy being left alone for more than a few hours. However, not all Rat Terriers will have separation anxiety after being left alone.

Tolerates Cold Weather

Rat Terriers are not very tolerant of cold weather, which is why they should never sleep outside in the cold, even in a sturdy dog house. They aren’t suited for cold weather and don’t enjoy it much.

Tolerates Hot Weather

Rat Terriers have most of the traits that they would need to be able to stay comfortable in warm temperatures, so they are very tolerant of hot weather.

They have a short and usually light-colored coat and big ears that help them to radiate heat into the environment.

Affectionate With Family

Rat Terriers are a lively and affectionate breed that loves to spend most of their time with their families. You can expect them to want to be in your company all of the time, and they will most likely follow you around the house.

These dogs will show affection for the family in many different ways.


These dogs are relatively easygoing, which is why they are often great with children. They can adapt well to almost any situation and they have lots of patience for gentle children.

Dog Friendly

The majority of Rat Terriers will get along well with other dogs, but the same can’t be said for other animals.

Due to their history with hunting, they have quite a high prey drive, and they will chase after smaller animals, like cats and rabbits. Although, as long as the other dog is welcoming, your Rat Terrier should get along with them just fine.

Friendly Toward Strangers

They generally dislike strangers, and they will take some time to get used to new people to whom they are introduced. They are unlikely to warm up to strangers if you are not present.

If they are not properly socialized, they will usually be fine with family, but they could become aggressive to strangers and other animals. These are fearless dogs, which can be a great trait, but it is scary if they are aggressive.

Health And Grooming

Rat terrier

While it is important to be aware of your dog’s temperament and other needs, it is equally important to be aware of their overall health and grooming requirements.

The last thing you want is to be met with any unexpected future surprises, so we will explain everything you need to know about their health and grooming below.


Rat Terriers will shed moderately all year round, but they will have a heavier shedding season in the spring and fall time.

They typically have short coats that are easy to care for, but you can brush them weekly or more often than this with a soft bristle brush or a rubber curry brush. The more often that you brush them, the less hair you will have floating around your home.


Rat Terriers are not typically known for drooling, but this can happen if they know that they are about to get food. For example, if you are preparing their dinner, they might start to drool in anticipation.


Something that you will be glad to hear is that the Rat Terrier is a low-maintenance dog when it comes to grooming, and they will only require weekly brushing with a soft brush or a rubber curry mitt in order to remove any loose hair.

Shedding tends to be heavier in the spring and fall, as well as after whelping or heat cycles. You will only need to bathe them when they are dirty or when they smell.

You will need to brush your Rat Terrier’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurks inside their mouths. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.

You will also need to trim their nails once or twice a month if they are not naturally being worn down through walking.

Trimming their nails will help to prevent painful tears and other problems.

If you hear their nails clicking on the floor, they are too long. Dog toenails have blood vessels in them, and if you cut too far you can cause bleeding, so it is really important to consult with a vet before deciding to cut your dog’s nails.

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They will show you how to do it properly and tell you whether it is necessary. You can also take them to a groomer, who can do this for you.

You will also need to check your Rat Terrier’s ears on a weekly basis, looking out for redness or a bad odor, which can both be signs of an infection. When you are checking their ears, you should wipe them out with a cotton ball and a gente eat cleaner.

This will help to prevent any infections. You should never insert anything into the ear canal, only clean the outer ear.

When you are grooming your dog, it is important to keep an eye out for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Their eyes should be clear with no redness or discharge.

A thorough weekly examination will help you to spot any health issues early on.

General Health

Rat Terriers are generally healthy little dogs, but there are some health conditions that they may be more likely to develop, which we will explain in more detail below.

Common Health Problems

  • The two most common health problems for Rat Terriers are Patella Luxation and Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, which will usually require surgery to fix.

Potential For Weight Gain

Rat Terriers don’t typically gain weight easily. They usually have the opposite problem. It is not uncommon for a Rat Terrier to be underweight, which you should be mindful of.

You may need to increase their food portions to help them put on some extra weight.


These dogs are usually easy to train as they are eager to please and highly intelligent. However, you should keep in mind that they need early socialization when they are young to ensure that they grow up to be well-rounded dogs.


Rat Terriers are very intelligent, which is a great trait to have when it comes to training as they pick things up more easily than other dogs would.

Potential to Bite

Rat Terriers are generally not aggressive, especially towards people that they know. However, if they are not properly socialized, it can lead to aggression toward strangers and possibly even biting.

Tendency To Bark Or Howl

Rat Terriers are known for their yapping and barking, especially if there is something that they want, or they see something that they are unfamiliar with. They have also been known to ‘talk’ to get your attention.


The Rat Terrier breed was originally created by crossing the Manchester Terrier with the Smooth Fox Terrier in Great Britain in the early 1820s. This breed later made its way to the United States in the 1890s, and it grew quickly in popularity.

American breeders further modified the breed by crossing the Whippet and the Beagle. They did this to bring in more bulkiness and stronger herding instincts with the speed and agility of the Whippet.

They also wanted to introduce the red color of the Beagle, as well as blue and brindle colors.

Rat Terriers have had many variations of the breed, and the smallest Rat Terrier actually got its name from President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Smooth Fox Terrier was crossed with the Chihuahua to create a short and stocky Teddy Roosevelt Terrier.

These hard-working and hearty dogs were the best breed to palace on farms to get rid of pests like rats. In fact, they were so good at getting rid of rats that they gained the name Rat Terrier, which we are familiar with today.


A Rat Terrier will typically cost around $700. However, the average price can range between $500 and $1000.

Rat Terrier Fun Facts

  • Rat Terriers have a high prey drive and a love for digging, and they often dig under fences to try and escape.
  • They have lots of energy that will need to be burned off through exercise, or they may become destructive.
  • Rat Terriers also need lots of mental stimulation to keep them entertained. Otherwise, boredom can often lead to barking and chewing.
  • These dogs will take their time to warm up to strangers
  • They have a compulsion to chase, which is why they are not the best dogs to be let off the lead.
  • These dogs have been known to talk with a mumbled ‘rararara’ sound to try and get your attention.
  • This is a dog breed that has faced many adaptations throughout their long history.
  • These dogs are very easily distracted and will take off after anything that catches their attention.
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About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.