“Beyond being a farm dog, Rat Terriers have proven themselves to be a versatile, multipurpose breed with a playful, happy-go-lucky attitude. They are an all-in-one dog ‐ able to do virtually anything they are trained to do ‐ and they are easily trainable and exceptionally intelligent. They excel in conformation, agility, obedience, rally obedience, terrier racing, earthdog, barn hunt and lure coursing. They are capable of hunting rodents and vermin above and below ground. They make fine therapy and service dogs. And they are loyal friends and companions ‐ especially for families.” ‐ The Westminster Kennel Club
Rat Terriers are wonderful companion dogs! But before adopting a Rat Terrier, please take the time to learn about them. There is far more to a Rat Terrier than those endearing Rattie ears! You will be happier if you choose a dog for temperament and other characteristics that fit your household and lifestyle than solely for its appearance. Read up on the breed before moving forward with adoption.
Socialization: Rat Terriers are very people-oriented and make faithful, loving companions who bond well with their humans and are highly eager to please. For the most part, they are friendly with strangers but they can be quite cautious in new situations so usually do best with repeated exposure to new people and new circumstances. While many Rat Terriers are excellent with children, their small size and lean structure do put them at risk for mishandling. And many rescued Ratties who came from challenging backgrounds are very apprehensive about the erratic movements and noises pre-schoolers can make.
Courage: Rat Terriers run the gamut from shy and fearful to daring and fearless, but most fall close to the middle, being inquisitive and cautiously adventurous but prudent and sensitive.
Trainability: Because Rat Terriers are people-oriented, eager to please, and very intelligent, they are generally easy to train and well mannered. Their lithe little bodies tend to make them great competitors at Agility or Flyball.
Leadership: Rat Terriers do best in households with confident, positive, consistent human leadership. Their intelligence and playfulness, combined with their innate caution, can sometimes lead to overprotection of their people or their territory if they are led to think that such behavior is their “job.” Rat Terriers can benefit greatly from obedience training classes to help them bond with and communicate with their families.
Energy Level: Rat Terriers are peppy and nimble, and can be very energetic; however, they are usually not considered hyperactive, and they do spend a great deal of their time napping or just lounging beside their people. A Rat Terrier will often tailor its energy level to the energy level of the household where it lives. Of course younger dogs in any breed will have a higher energy level than older dogs.
Exercise: Rat Terriers need a good amount of daily exercise, and should be taken on a daily long walk or jog, lasting at least 20-30 minutes a day. (But most of them, especially those under 5 years old, would enjoy and benefit from much more!) They are generally tug-of-war and fetch enthusiasts, and will continue as long as you’re willing to participate. Simply going for multiple “potty walks” or having a fenced yard is not an acceptable alternative for structured exercise, and a Rat Terrier who does not get enough exercise is more likely to exhibit behavior problems (such as inappropriate chewing) from boredom.
Play: Rat Terriers enjoy challenging games and outdoor romps. They are playful, inquisitive, and lively. They like stuffed toys and will gleefully and quickly “kill” the toy and pull all its stuffing out, leaving bits all over the house or yard. Many Rat Terriers love to dig. Many love to wrestle with you or with other dogs. Rat Terriers should be provided with plenty of toys and play opportunity or they risk getting depressed and lethargic.
Prey Drive: Because Rat Terriers were bred as ratters, most of them do have a naturally high prey drive and love to chase squirrels or other small “intruders.” This strong instinct means they may not be a good choice for homes with pet rabbits, hamsters, or guinea pigs, and they can’t be considered safe off leash outside a fenced area, even if they are well trained and obedient. Some Rat Terriers are not trustworthy with cats, although others do recognize cats as members of the family rather than as prey.
Noise Level: Rat Terriers are generally not “yappers,” despite the stereotype for their small size. They are alert and excitable, however, so they do make good watch dogs.
Grooming: Yes, Rat Terriers do shed. Fortunately, their hair is short and fairly thin… but it DOES show up on your black pants. An occasional brushing, along with regular nail trims, meets a Rat Terrier’s grooming needs.
Health: Although they are fine boned and not overly muscular, Rat Terriers are hardy dogs. The most common health problems are allergies, luxating patellas (unstable kneecaps), and malocclusions (misaligned teeth). Weight can also be a problem for little Ratties as they should be very lean dogs. Please visit our page on Rattie Weight to see what a Rat Terrier should (and should NOT!) look like.
Some good Internet sources for more information about Rat Terriers are:
America Kennel Club (AKC) Dog Breeds – Rat Terrier