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Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography
The Rat Terrier began as a variety of the Smooth Fox Terrier. Infusions of Italian Greyhound, Whippet, Beagle, Miniature Pinscher, and Chihuahua were used to create an efficient ratter for farms, as well as a competent hunting companion for the farmer. Like his cousin the Toy Fox Terrier, he’s playful, silly and fearless. He comes in two sizes: Miniature and Standard
One of the breeds that can proudly claim to be made in the USA, the Rat Terrier was bred to be an all-purpose farm dog whose job it was to kill rats and other vermin and hunt small game.
The Rat Terrier is cheerful and sensitive. Although he definitely has a terrier personality, he’s calmer than some terrier breeds such as the Jack Russell and enjoys lap time with his people. He likes to “talk,” and is always willing to share his opinion with you.
Life with a Rat Terrier is never dull. Smart, active and fun-loving, he doesn’t want to miss out on anything exciting. This makes him a great companion, but it also means he can become bored and destructive when no one is home to keep him entertained. He is also prone to separation anxiety, so it’s essential for him to receive plenty of socialization, early crate training, and practice being alone in a crate or dog-proofed room.
Despite his small size, this dog needs plenty of training and exercise, plus a dog-proofed home, to keep him out of trouble. If your Rat Terrier is less than two years old, you can’t expect to leave him on his own in the house. Locking him in a room won’t work; he’ll just chew his way out, so plan to use a dog crate, tall baby gates and exercise pens to keep him confined, and make sure they’re not near any drywall or linoleum that could be chewed.
Like all terriers, the Rattie takes great pleasure in digging, barking and investigating. He’s generally not yappy, but if he doesn’t receive enough attention, he can become a nuisance barker. He’s generally friendly toward other dogs, but although he might not start a fight, he won’t back down from one either.
He’s smart and learns quickly, but is also easily bored. Keep training sessions short and fun or he’ll rapidly lose interest. Agile and athletic, the Rat Terrier excels at dog sports, especially agility, flyball and rally. He can also be a super therapy dog.
Because of his small to medium size, ranging from 8 to 25 pounds, the Rattie fits well in many types of homes, but if you live in an apartment or condo, his potentially noisy nature and high activity level should give you pause if you won’t be home during the day to keep him entertained. Rat Terriers love attention and do best with people who can spend a significant amount of time with them daily. They can be a good choice for families with older children and other pets.
The Rat Terrier’s smooth coat is easy to groom with a quick weekly brushing to remove dead hairs. During shedding season in spring and fall, you’ll want to brush him more frequently to keep loose hairs under control. He also needs regular nail trimming, ear cleaning, and dental hygiene, plus the occasional bath if he rolls in something stinky.
Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Rat Terrier needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Rattie who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
One of the breeds that can proudly claim to be made in the USA, the Rat Terrier was bred to be an all-purpose farm dog whose job it was to kill rats and other vermin and hunt small game. In the early 20th century, this was one of the dogs you were most likely to see on a farm.
Like so many Americans, the Rat Terrier has a highly diverse background. His ancestors include Fox Terriers and various other types of terriers, Beagles, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds, and dogs known as feists. The Whippet and Italian Greyhound blood added speed, while the Beagle brought in scenting ability and a pack mentality. The result was a dog with speed, versatility, “nose,” and a great disposition. President Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of Rat Terriers, and they were among the many pets he and his family brought to the White House.
For many years, Rat Terriers were simply farm dogs and pets. They faded in popularity as more people moved to cities and fewer lived in rural areas. Fortunately, they weren’t completely forgotten and in 1999 the United Kennel Club recognized Rat Terriers as a distinct breed. In the American Kennel Club, the Rat Terrier belongs to the Miscellaneous Class, the final step before AKC recognition.
The Rat Terrier stands out for his outgoing, cheerful temperament. His great desire is to be with his people, and he’s adaptable when it comes to activity. If you like to go out hiking, he’s right there with you. He’s equally happy to watch hockey with you all afternoon. The Rattie generally isn’t much of a barker, but he is vocal and will “talk” to you frequently by grousing, grumbling, and mumbling, as well as by using his paws to get your attention.
Rat Terriers are active, intelligent and clever, and they love their people. When they’re bored or left alone for long periods, they have the potential to do a lot of damage. If you plan to get a Rattie, you need to make sure you can give him the activity and companionship he needs to stay happy. Food puzzles, stuffed Kong toys and hide-and-seek games with his daily ration of food are all great ways to keep his brain and body busy when you aren’t around to keep him company. When you are home, engage him with walks, play, and training, all of which provide fun, structure, self-confidence and, most important, wearing out.
Leaving a Rat Terrier puppy on his own is just asking for trouble. You’ll come home to find the furniture rearranged, your clothes or other items chewed beyond recognition, and curtains or blinds pulled down or torn. Locking him in a laundry room or bathroom just means he’ll chew his way out, or at least do a lot of damage in the attempt. Use a dog crate, baby gate or wire exercise pen to keep him confined. Choose one that allows him to see out but is difficult to climb. That usually means one that’s extra-high or that has vertical instead of horizontal bars or slats. And think about what’s nearby. The athletic Rattie can use a piece of furniture as a launching pad to escape over a baby gate.
Routine and structure are important to Rat Terriers. This is not a dog who likes change. Ratties often become bonded to certain toys or blankies and will always want to have them nearby.
The active little Rattie is a great friend to children who will throw a ball for him, teach him tricks, and otherwise spend time with him. It’s not unusual to see Rattie and child sleeping together under the covers. This relationship works best when the dog is raised with children from puppyhood. If you don’t have kids but plan to, borrow some frequently from friends or relatives so your Rattie gets used to the high-pitched screams and quick movements that are part and parcel of life with kids.
Rat Terriers are pack oriented, so they usually get along with other pets, including cats, especially if they are raised with them. If you work during the day, it can be nice for your Rattie to have another pet to keep him company. Be careful with pocket pets such as hamsters and gerbils, though; a Rat Terrier may well view them as snacks rather than compatriots.
The Rattie is a fantastic travel companion. Long-distance truckers often bring them along, and so do people who travel in RVs. If you’re going by air, he’s small enough to ride in a carrier under the seat in the cabin.
Train a Rat Terrier with patience and positive reinforcement; praise and treats are the way to win his heart. He’s very smart and will learn quickly. Keep training sessions fun and interesting. Activities in which he’ll excel include agility, flyball, rally, and tracking, as well as being a therapy dog.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 to 10 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. A young Rat Terrier will test you to see what he can get away with.
If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
The perfect Rat Terrier doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing, and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained, or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Rat Terrier, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
That said, Rat Terriers are pretty healthy little dogs. Like most small dogs, they can have issues with luxating patellas: a mild to severe dislocation of one or both knees. Mild cases may cause intermittent lameness; severe cases may require surgery to correct. Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have OFA patella certifications.
Rat Terriers may also be prone to demodectic mange, which is considered to be a heritable disease in some forms, and deafness has been reported in the breed.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for genetic defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Rat Terrier Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Ratties can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip (including Legg-Calve-Perthes), patella (knee), and heart evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). PennHip certification of hips is also accepted. Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), OFA elbow evaluations, and the results of a congenital deafness evaluation based on the BAER test.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If a breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses irresponsible breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Rat Terrier at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Rat Terriers have short, easy-care coats. Brush them weekly or more often with a soft bristle brush or rubber curry brush. The more often you brush, the less loose hair you’ll have floating around your house. Rat Terriers shed moderately year-round and they have a heavier shedding season in the spring and fall. An occasional bath is all he needs to stay clean.
Be sure you don’t trim your Rattie’s whiskers, and don’t let a groomer do so. Whiskers are an important tactile aid for the Rattie.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Small dogs are prone to periodontal disease so brush the teeth frequently (with a vet-approved pet toothpaste) for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Rat Terrier and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Rat Terrier Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the RTCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for breeders to sell puppies only with a written sales contract.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the RTCA. So are breeders who claim that black and tan, brindle, merle, albino, or two-tone dogs without any white are “rare” and worth more money. Same with Rattie pups that are hairless, have long hair, or have broken or wire coats. All of those things are faults in the breed, and some are related to health problems, so don’t get suckered.
You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Rat Terrier puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Rat Terrier might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Rat Terrier in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Rat Terriers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Rat Terrier. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Rat Terriers love all Rat Terriers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Rat Terrier Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Rat Terrier rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Rattie home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Rat Terrier, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Rat Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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