Rat Terriers: Fun, Loyal, & Full of Energy. Care, Tips, & More

Let’s face it, Rat Terriers aren’t for everyone – they’re like a whirlwind in a compact package! But if you’re drawn to that feisty spirit, endless energy, and a whole lotta love packed into a small dog, you might be in for an amazing adventure.

These American originals, once prized for their vermin control skills on farms, are now adored family companions (though they may still hunt the odd backyard squirrel!). Rat Terriers are whip-smart, playful bordering on mischievous, and as loyal as they come.

Rat Terrier dogs
Rat Terrier dog

In this complete guide, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about the Rat Terrier breed. We’ll cover their personality, care needs, potential health stuff, and how to tell if this energetic little clown is the right fit for your life. Get ready to discover why Rat Terrier fans are hooked for life!

Unveiling the Rat Terrier

Packed with Personality

Think of a Rat Terrier as a big dog personality crammed into a compact, athletic body. They’re a bundle of contradictions – independent yet fiercely devoted, cuddly but always up for an adventure. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Brains & Brawn: These dogs are wickedly smart. They learn quickly but might also use that intelligence to outwit you if bored! Rat Terriers need challenges to keep them happy.
  • Playtime is Life: If you’re looking for a lapdog, this isn’t it. Rat Terriers crave playtime, walks, and mental games. Think of them as furry toddlers with endless energy.
  • A Touch of Sass: Rat Terriers have an opinion about everything (and aren’t afraid to voice it!). They can be vocal little dogs.
  • Loyal to the Core: They adore their people and will happily cuddle up after a busy day. Just don’t expect them to be aloof!

Looks that Charm

Rat Terriers come in a variety of sizes and colors, but they always have a few things in common:

  • Size Matters: Miniature Rat Terriers stand 10-13 inches tall, while standards are 13-18 inches. Both are sturdy but agile.
  • Smooth Moves: Short, glossy fur means easy grooming for these guys.
  • Color Combos: You’ll find them in classic black-and-tan, white with markings, or a whole range of colors. For a detailed breakdown of the breed’s appearance, visit the Rat Terrier Club of America (RTCA) website.
  • Those Ears! Perky, alert ears give them a perpetual look of curiosity.

Two Rat Terriers side-by-side

Rat Terrier vs. Similar Breeds

They’re often mistaken for other terriers, so let’s break it down:

  • Jack Russell Terrier: Similar energy levels, but Jack Russells tend to be leggier.
  • Fox Terriers: Both were bred for hunting, but Fox Terriers are often predominantly white.
  • Miniature Pinscher: Similar size, but Min Pins are more elegant than the sturdy Rat Terrier.

Life with a Rat Terrier

Training: Not Optional, But Super Fun

Rat Terriers are incredibly smart, which can be good and bad! The good news is they pick up training fast. But, they might also get a bit too clever for their own good if left unstimulated.

  • Positive is the Way: Skip any harsh training methods. Rat Terriers respond best to reward-based training, making it fun for both of you.
  • Gotta Start ‘Em Young: Socialization is KEY for this breed. Introduce your puppy to all sorts of people, places, and other polite dogs in a safe way.
  • Chase that Prey Drive: Remember, they’re wired to hunt small critters. Work on that “leave it!” command and practice recall outdoors in secure areas only.
  • Sports Stars: Rat Terriers excel at agility, barn hunt, and tracking. A great way to bond and channel their energy!
Rat Terrier leaping over agility obstacles
Rat Terrier leaping over agility obstacles

Exercise is Non-Negotiable

Think of exercise as your Rattie’s daily dose of sanity.

  • The Daily Minimum: At least a couple of brisk walks and active playtime sessions. Don’t underestimate how much they can pack into their small frame!
  • Boredom and Trouble: A bored Rat Terrier will find ways to entertain themselves – think digging, barking, or general household chaos.
  • Mind Games Matter: Puzzle toys, hide-and-seek games, and short training sessions keep their brains buzzing.

Made for Adventure, Adaptable to Apartments

Rat Terriers thrive with an active lifestyle. A big fenced backyard is ideal, but not mandatory:

  • Apartment Life Hack: If you’re committed to multiple daily walks, playtime, and mental stimulation, a Rat Terrier can adapt to apartment living.
  • Secure that Yard: They’re master escape artists, so fences must be high and checked for potential dig-out spots.
  • Neighbors Beware: They can be vocal, making apartment life trickier if they bark at every noise.

Caring for Your Rat Terrier Companion

Rat Terriers: Your Energetic Companion - Care, Tips & More

Easy Grooming, Big on Shedding

Rat Terriers boast a low-maintenance, short coat. But don’t be fooled – they shed more than you might think!

  • Brush Up: A weekly brushing with a hound glove or soft-bristled brush keeps shedding in check.
  • Bath Time: Only bathe your Rattie when necessary – frequent baths can dry out their skin.
  • Nail Trims & Ear Checks: Regular nail trims are a must, and check their ears for any redness or foul odors.

Fuel for the Fire

What you feed your Rat Terrier keeps them fueled for all their adventures.

  • Quality Kibble: Look for a high-quality food formulated for small, active breeds.
  • Watch Those Treats: Ratties are prone to putting on weight, so go easy on the snacks!
  • The Vet Knows Best: Your veterinarian can help you determine the perfect portion sizes.

Common Behavioral Challenges

Even the best Ratties can have their little quirks. Here’s how to handle them:

  • The Barking Bandit: Teach a “quiet” command and manage their environment to minimize triggers.
  • Chewing Craze: Provide plenty of appropriate chew toys. Bored Rat Terriers will find something to chew!
  • Separation Anxiety: Crate training and leaving them with interactive toys can help.
  • The Escape Artist: Supervise yard time and check fences for potential escape routes.
A Rat Terrier with an assortment of safe and entertaining chew toys
A Rat Terrier with an assortment of safe and entertaining chew toys

Rat Terriers with Children & Other Pets

  • Older Kids Are Better: Rat Terriers can be great with respectful children who understand their small size.
  • Early Socialization Helps: Proper introductions are key to success with other pets.
  • The Hunt is On: Ratties have a high prey drive, so cats and smaller animals might be seen as fair game.
  • Supervise & Advocate: Always supervise interactions with young children and other animals.

Keeping Your Rat Terrier Healthy

Hardy Dogs, Potential Problems

Overall, Rat Terriers are pretty healthy dogs. But, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues:

  • Patellar Luxation: A kneecap that slips out of place, common in small breeds.
  • Allergies: Rat Terriers can be itchy fellas, with allergies to food or environmental factors. For in-depth information on managing canine allergies, consult a veterinary resource or a scientific journal article.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: A condition affecting the hip joint in some toy and small breeds. Learn more about Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website.
  • Eye Issues: Certain eye problems can occur in the breed.
a veterinarian examining a Rat Terrier's legs and joints
A veterinarian examining a Rat Terrier’s legs and joints

Responsible Breeders Make the Difference

Choosing a reputable breeder drastically reduces the risk of your Rat Terrier inheriting health problems. Good breeders do health testing on their dogs to screen for issues common in the breed.

Preventative Care: Your Best Defense

Keeping those vet appointments is essential for your Rat Terrier’s long-term health.

  • Annual Checkups: Catch potential problems early and provide essential vaccinations.
  • Flea, Tick, & Heartworm: Keep those parasites away with preventative medications.
  • Dental Care: Brush their teeth regularly and consider professional cleanings.

Senior Rat Terrier Care

As your Rat Terrier ages, you may need to make some adjustments:

  • Twice-Yearly Vet Visits: Catch any age-related issues early on.
  • Joint Support: Talk to your vet about supplements or pain relief for arthritis.
  • Go Easy on Exercise: Walks may need to be shorter, but keeping them moving is still important.
  • Watch for Changes: Any sudden shifts in behavior or appetite warrant a vet visit.

The Joy of Rat Terrier Ownership

A Bond Like No Other

Rat Terriers form incredibly strong attachments to their people. They’re true companions in the truest sense of the word, always up for playtime or a cozy cuddle. Get ready for a whole lotta love packed into that pint-sized package!

Adventures, Guaranteed

From hiking trails to dog sports to just goofing around the house, a Rat Terrier is your ever-enthusiastic sidekick. Whether it’s conquering the agility course or chasing squirrels in the backyard, they bring an infectious energy to every activity.

A Commitment to Fun

Rat Terriers aren’t for the faint of heart. They need an owner dedicated to providing them with the attention, exercise, and mental stimulation they crave. In return, you’ll get a loyal, hilarious, and surprisingly snuggly best friend.

Finding Your Perfect Rat Terrier

A person smiling down at a Rat Terrier in a shelter environment

  • The Breeder Route: Research reputable breeders who health test their dogs and prioritize temperament.
  • Rescue Rocks: Don’t overlook rescues! Many Rat Terriers and mixes end up in need of loving homes.
  • Be Honest: Assess your lifestyle and activity level to ensure you’re a good match for the breed.
  • Ask Questions: Whether you go with a breeder or rescue, ask plenty of questions about the dog’s history and personality.

Bringing Your Rat Terrier Home

Finding the Right Match

Whether you’ve longed for a Rat Terrier since you were a kid or recently fell in love with the breed, it’s essential to find a dog that’s the right fit for your lifestyle and personality. Here’s how:

  • Reputable Breeders: Look for breeders who prioritize their dogs’ health and wellbeing. They should health test their breeding stock and be transparent about their practices. Ask for references and health history information on the parents. The Rat Terrier Club of America (RTCA) provides breeder referrals and outlines responsible breeding practices.
  • Rat Terrier Rescues: Rescue organizations often have Rat Terriers or mixes waiting for loving homes. Start your search for adoptable Rat Terriers on Petfinder or the ASPCA website.
  • The Meet & Greet: Always meet a potential dog in person before committing. Assess their energy levels, how they interact with you, and any potential behavioral concerns.

Puppy Proofing

Rattie puppies are boundless bundles of curiosity! Keep them safe by puppy-proofing your home:

  • Up and Away: Secure cleaning products, medications, and any potentially hazardous items.
  • Chew on This: Provide appropriate chew toys to avoid accidental gnawing on furniture or electrical cords.
  • Secure the Yard: Check for gaps in fences and remove anything a puppy might try to swallow.
  • Crate or Safe Space: A designated area for confinement when unsupervised can help with housetraining and prevent destructive habits.


Rat Terriers may be small, but their personalities fill a room. They’re spunky, intelligent, and incredibly affectionate. While not the right fit for every home, active owners who embrace their quirks will find boundless joy in these fun-sized bundles of energy.

If you provide them with the right training, attention, and care, a Rat Terrier will reward you with years of companionship, laughter, and a whole lot of tail wags.


Are Rat Terriers good family dogs?

They can be wonderful companions for active families with older children. However, their energy and prey drive need careful management, especially with small children and other pets.

How much exercise does a Rat Terrier need?

Rat Terriers require at least an hour of dedicated exercise daily, including brisk walks, playtime, and mental stimulation. Consider dog sports as an outlet for their energy.

Do Rat Terriers bark a lot?

They can be vocal dogs. Early training and minimizing triggers are key to managing excessive barking and preventing issues in apartment settings.

What’s the difference between a Rat Terrier and a Jack Russell Terrier?

Both are energetic terriers, but Rat Terriers are often stockier and come in more color variations, while Jack Russells tend to be leggier with predominantly white coats.

Can Rat Terriers participate in dog sports beyond agility?

Absolutely! Rat Terriers excel in activities like barn hunt, scent work, and tracking, which tap into their natural hunting instincts.

How do you manage a Rat Terrier’s prey drive in urban or suburban environments?

Strong recall training is essential for safety. Consider leash walking in all but securely fenced areas, and always supervise interactions with cats or other small animals.

Are there any surprising health issues to be aware of with Rat Terriers?

While generally hardy, Rat Terriers can be prone to patellar luxation (slipping kneecaps), allergies, and a condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, which affects the hip joint.

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