Rat Terrier

Table of Contents

The Rat Terrier is a small to medium-sized American breed known for its versatility and lively personality. Originally bred for farm work and hunting vermin, they have a strong prey drive and are highly skilled in catching rats and other small game. Rat Terriers are characterized by their smooth, short coat, which comes in various colors and patterns, and their erect or half-erect ears.

This breed is known for its intelligence, energy, and affectionate nature. They form strong bonds with their families and are known for being good with children. Due to their hunting heritage, they are active and enjoy both physical and mental challenges. They adapt well to different living environments but require regular exercise and stimulation to prevent boredom and maintain their health. Consistent training and socialization from a young age are important for this breed.

Breed Snapshot

Life Expectancy:

12 to 18 years



Maintenance Level:


Shed Level


Best For

The Rat Terrier is well-suited for active individuals or families who can meet their needs for exercise and mental engagement. They adapt well to different living environments, including apartments, provided they have enough physical activity. Intelligent and trainable, they are ideal for those who enjoy interactive dog activities. While they are good with children, their strong prey drive means they should be monitored around small pets. This breed thrives with owners who appreciate an energetic and sociable canine companion.

Rat Terrier Traits

Breed Characteristics

The Rat Terrier is known for its agility, intelligence, and strong prey drive, reflecting its origins as a hunting and farm dog. They are energetic, affectionate, and highly trainable, making them excellent companions for active owners. With a compact and muscular build, they exhibit a keen alertness and sociability, balanced with a playful and loving nature.


Exercise Needs
Health Issues
Barking Tendencies
Grooming Needs
Shedding Level
Training Needs
Good With Kids
Good With Cats
Good As A Service Dog
Good For Apartments & Small Homes
Biting Tendencies
Energy Level
Good With Other Dogs
Sensitive to Cold Weather
Sensitive to Warm Weather
Good For First Time Pet Parents

Breed Appearance

The Rat Terrier features a compact, muscular build with a smooth, short coat that comes in various colors and patterns. They have a distinctive appearance with erect or half-erect ears, an alert expression, and a slightly tapered muzzle. Their size can vary, but they generally present a balanced and agile stance, reflecting their heritage as efficient hunters and farm dogs.

1. Ears
Erect or half-erect, adding to their alert and keen expression.
2. Eyes
Small to medium in size, dark and expressive, often reflecting their intelligent and curious nature.
3. Nose
Typically black, well-defined.
4. Height
Ranges from about 10 to 18 inches at the shoulder, depending on the specific type.
5. Coat Length
The Rat Terrier has a short, dense coat.
6. Coat Color
Their coat comes in a variety of colors and patterns, including black, tan, chocolate, blue, gray, and red, often combined with white in piebald, tuxedo, or brindle patterns,
7. Tail
Typically docked, but natural tails are also common, carried in a slight curve.
8. Weight
Typically, Rat Terriers weigh between 10 to 25 pounds, varying based on their size classification (miniature, standard, or decker).

Rat Terrier Temperament

The Rat Terrier is an energetic, intelligent, and affectionate breed, known for its strong prey drive and tenacious nature. They are loyal and form close bonds with their families, thriving on interaction and activity. This breed requires consistent training and early socialization, and they excel in environments that provide ample physical and mental stimulation. Their alertness also makes them effective watchdogs.

  • Energetic and Active: Rat Terriers are known for their high energy levels, requiring regular physical and mental exercise to stay content.
  • Intelligent and Curious: They possess a keen intelligence, are quick learners, and display curiosity about their surroundings.
  • Affectionate and Loyal: Known for their loyalty and affection towards their families, they form strong bonds and are good companions.
  • Independent and Tenacious: Their independent nature and tenacity, a trait from their hunting background, can sometimes make training a challenge.
  • Social and Friendly: With early socialization, they are generally friendly and can get along well with children and other pets.
  • Alert and Watchful: They are vigilant and can be good watchdogs, often alerting their owners to any unusual activities.

Understanding and catering to the Rat Terrier’s temperament is crucial for a harmonious relationship. They thrive in environments where they can be physically active and mentally engaged, making them well-suited for active families or individuals who enjoy an energetic and interactive companion.

How to Care for a Rat Terrier

Caring for a Rat Terrier involves providing them with ample exercise and mental stimulation to match their high energy levels. Regular grooming, consistent training, and socialization are key to managing their spirited nature. They thrive in environments where they can be active participants in family activities and require a diet tailored to their energetic lifestyle. Regular veterinary check-ups are also essential to maintain their health.

Grooming a Rat Terrier is relatively straightforward due to their short coat. Regular brushing, occasional baths, and routine nail trims are sufficient to keep them in good condition. Attention should also be given to their ears for cleanliness and to their teeth for dental health. Their active nature might necessitate more frequent cleaning to remove dirt and debris from outdoor activities.

Regular Coat Maintenance

  • Brushing: Regular brushing, at least once a week, to maintain their short coat and reduce shedding.
  • Bathing: Occasional baths with a mild dog shampoo to keep their coat clean and healthy.

Nail and Ear Care

  • Nail Trimming: Routine nail trimming is necessary to avoid overgrowth and splitting.
  • Ear Cleaning: Regular ear checks and cleaning to prevent wax buildup and infections.

Dental Hygiene

  • Teeth Brushing: Frequent teeth brushing to prevent dental issues and maintain oral health.

Proper grooming of a Rat Terrier is crucial for their well-being and involves a routine yet straightforward care regimen focusing on coat maintenance, cleanliness, and overall health.

Training a Rat Terrier requires consistency, patience, and the use of positive reinforcement techniques due to their intelligent but sometimes independent nature. Incorporating a variety of engaging activities, such as agility or obedience training, helps keep them interested and mentally stimulated. Early socialization is crucial to ensure they develop into well-behaved and sociable adults.

  • Understanding Their Learning Style: Recognize their intelligence and eagerness to learn. Rat Terriers respond well to positive reinforcement and can be quick learners.
  • Consistency and Positive Reinforcement: Use consistent commands and positive reinforcement techniques, like treats and praise, to encourage desired behaviors.
  • Early Socialization: Socialize them early with various environments, people, and other animals to develop well-adjusted behaviors.
  • Training Challenges: Address their independent and sometimes stubborn nature with patience and persistence.
  • Advanced Training and Activities: Consider agility training or other dog sports, as Rat Terriers excel in these activities and it provides an outlet for their energy.

Training a Rat Terrier involves understanding their energetic and intelligent nature, using positive reinforcement, and ensuring early socialization and variety in activities.

A balanced diet suited to the Rat Terrier’s size and energy level is essential. Feed them high-quality dog food in controlled portions to prevent obesity, a common concern in active breeds. Ensure they always have access to fresh water, and use healthy treats moderately, especially as part of training. Regular veterinary consultations can provide guidance on any specific dietary needs or changes, particularly as they age or if health issues arise.

Balanced Diet for High Energy

  • Nutritional Needs: Tailor their diet to match their high energy levels and active lifestyle.
  • Quality Dog Food: Choose high-quality dog food appropriate for small to medium-sized active breeds.

Portion Control and Feeding Schedule

  • Monitor Portions: Carefully control portions to prevent obesity.
  • Feeding Frequency: Stick to a regular feeding schedule, usually two meals a day.

Treats and Supplements

  • Healthy Treats: Use treats judiciously, primarily during training.
  • Supplements: Consult with a vet for any supplements, especially if there are specific health concerns.

Regular Veterinary Check-ups

  • Diet Adjustments: Routine veterinary visits are important for monitoring their diet and overall health, making adjustments as needed for their age or health status.

A well-balanced diet and close monitoring of food intake are crucial for maintaining the health of an active Rat Terrier, along with regular vet consultations for dietary guidance.

Regular and vigorous exercise is essential for a Rat Terrier, including daily walks, playtime, and opportunities for mental stimulation such as interactive games or agility training. Their high energy and intelligence demand ample physical activity and mental engagement to keep them healthy and prevent behavioral issues. Adapting exercise routines to their individual needs and energy levels will help in maintaining their overall well-being and happiness.

Regular Physical Exercise

  • Daily Walks and Runs: Essential for maintaining their physical health and managing their high energy levels.
  • Play Sessions: Engage in active playtime, including games like fetch or tug-of-war, to provide both exercise and mental stimulation.

Mental Stimulation

  • Agility Training: Rat Terriers excel in agility and other dog sports, offering a great way to combine physical and mental exercise.
  • Interactive Toys: Use puzzle toys to challenge their minds and keep them engaged.

Adapting to Their Energy

  • Varied Activities: Include a mix of activities to cater to their energetic and intelligent nature.
  • Indoor and Outdoor Exercise: Balance outdoor exercises with indoor activities for days with limited outdoor access.

Regular, varied, and engaging physical and mental exercises are crucial for the Rat Terrier’s health and happiness, aligning with their active and curious nature.

The ideal environment for a Rat Terrier should cater to their high energy and intelligence. A home with a yard is beneficial for them to exercise and play, but they can adapt well to apartment living if they are given sufficient daily exercise and mental stimulation. Safe and engaging indoor and outdoor spaces where they can explore and play are essential.

In addition to physical space, Rat Terriers thrive in a social environment where they can interact frequently with their owners. They form strong bonds with their families and should not be left alone for extended periods. Providing a variety of toys and interactive games can help keep them mentally stimulated. A comfortable and quiet resting area is also important for their relaxation and well-being. Overall, ensuring a loving, engaging, and safe living space is key to their happiness and health.

Rat Terrier Health

Rat Terriers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they have certain health concerns to be aware of.

Common Health Issues

  • Patellar Luxation: A condition where the kneecap dislocates, common in small breeds.
  • Dental Issues: Due to their small mouths, they may be prone to dental problems.
  • Heart Conditions: Some may be predisposed to heart diseases.

Preventive Health Care

  • Regular veterinary check-ups for early detection and management of health issues.
  • Keeping up with vaccinations and routine parasite control.

Diet and Exercise

  • A balanced diet and regular exercise are vital for preventing obesity and maintaining overall health.

Monitoring and Early Detection

  • Be vigilant for signs of discomfort, changes in behavior, or health issues.

Proactive healthcare and regular vet visits are key in maintaining the health of a Rat Terrier, along with a proper diet and exercise regimen.

Rat Terrier Breed Comparison and Consideration

The Rat Terrier is well-suited for active individuals or families due to their high energy and need for stimulation. They adapt to various living environments but stand out from more laid-back breeds due to their strong prey drive and independence. Ideal for those willing to engage in regular exercise and training, Rat Terriers are perfect for owners looking for an energetic and sociable pet.

Comparison with Similar Breeds

Rat Terrier vs. Jack Russell Terrier:

  • Jack Russells are generally more hyperactive and intense, while Rat Terriers are slightly calmer but still active.
  • Rat Terriers tend to be more adaptable to various living situations than the more demanding Jack Russells.

Rat Terrier vs. Chihuahua:

  • Chihuahuas are smaller and less active, making them suitable for more sedentary lifestyles, unlike the energetic Rat Terrier.
  • Rat Terriers require more exercise and mental stimulation compared to the more lap-oriented Chihuahuas.

Rat Terrier vs. Beagle:

  • Beagles have a stronger scent drive and are often more vocal, while Rat Terriers are more focused on agility and quickness.
  • Rat Terriers may be easier to train due to their high intelligence.

Considerations Before Choosing a Rat Terrier:

  • Energy Levels: They are ideal for active owners and not suitable for sedentary lifestyles.
  • Living Environment: Adaptable to apartments if sufficiently exercised.
  • Training Needs: Requires consistent and patient training.
  • Socialization: Early socialization is important due to their strong prey drive and independence.

When considering a Rat Terrier, it’s essential to evaluate if you can meet their needs for high energy and stimulation, provide consistent training, and engage in regular socialization.


They are energetic, intelligent, and affectionate, known for their strong prey drive and tenacity.

They require significant daily exercise, including walks, play, and mental stimulation.

Yes, especially when raised with them, but interactions should always be supervised.

They shed moderately and require regular grooming to maintain their coat.

They are generally healthy but can be prone to conditions like patellar luxation and dental issues.

They typically range from 10 to 18 inches in height and weigh between 10 to 25 pounds.

They are intelligent and can learn quickly but may exhibit independence, requiring consistent and patient training.

They can adapt to apartment living if they receive enough exercise and mental stimulation.

Top Takeaways

The Rat Terrier is a dynamic and versatile breed, ideal for active individuals or families who can provide the necessary exercise and mental stimulation. Their intelligence and eagerness to engage make them excellent companions for various activities, including agility and obedience training. While adaptable to different living situations, they thrive in environments where they can be an integral part of daily activities and have space to play and explore.

Their strong prey drive and independent nature call for consistent training and early socialization. Despite their energetic disposition, with proper care and attention, Rat Terriers can be loving and loyal pets, fitting well into a range of households. Their moderate grooming needs and general robust health make them a relatively low-maintenance choice for a family dog.

Top Rat Terrier Names

For a Rat Terrier, consider names that match their lively and spirited personality. Here are some suggestions.

Female Names











Male Names











Scroll to Top