7 Things to Know Before Getting a Rat Terrier

Updated on: Feb 4, 2022
7 Things to Know Before Getting a Rat Terrier

A spectacular dog breed with a straightforward and memorable name, the Rat Terrier is a special pet. These hyperactive little dynamos love to play, love to explore, and live to chase and bark at anything that moves. Do they make for good family dogs, however? Are they easy to train and look after? What are the specifics you need to know before you get such a dog? Here are the 7 important facts about the Rat Terrier you should be aware of.

7 things to keep in mind before getting a Rat Terrier pet

Named by President Theodore Roosevelt after his own terrier cleaned the White House of a rat infestation, these dogs are small but have a lot to offer. Not more than 13 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder (33 to 41 cm) and very lightly built, the Rat Terrier is not heavier than 10 to 24 pounds (4.5 to 11 kg).

A cool name and a cute size are fine and all but what are the practical things you need to know about the Rat Terrier?

1. While quite smart, the Rat Terrier is a typical terrier and isn’t easy to train

All terrier breeds are smart but they are all also pretty difficult to train. The Rat Terrier is not only not an exception to this rule but is one of the best examples of it. These dogs are outright ingenious when they try to escape your yard or get something you’ve hidden from them. Virtually every Rat Terrier owner would admit to getting outsmarted by their terrier on a regular basis.

Yet, training these dogs is just a pain sometimes. Obedience training is obviously a must but you’ll need to be pretty patient and persistent about it if you want to get good results. As a terrier breed, these dogs are just bred to be head-strong and willful – it’s what they needed to be to do their job well.

2. Rat Terriers love their family members but are far from a gentle and huggable lap dog

Novice owners often mistake the Rat Terrier’s hyperactivity for a lack of love and interest toward its humans. That’s not the case, however. A well-trained, raised, and socialized Rat Terrier will absolutely adore its human pack. However, it’s still a terrier and it’s still going to prefer running around and playing than sleeping on your feet.

3. Focus on the dog’s socialization if you want it to get along with other people and animals

Just like obedience training, proper socialization is an absolute must for these dogs. Sure, they are not as big and as dangerous as some giant guard dog breeds, but a poorly socialized Rat Terrier can still be a major nuisance.

If you want to be able to occasionally and peacefully have guests over or if you don’t want your dog to lose its mind at every other person on the street, make sure that you socialize your Rat Terrier as well as possible. Granted, these dogs can almost never be as social and friendly toward strangers as a Lab Retriever. However, they can be much more amicable toward strangers than they would be without socialization.

The same applies to socialization with other dogs and pets. The Rat Terrier is not as bad with other dogs and even with cats as other terrier breeds. However, this dog still has way too strong of a prey drive to be trusted with small cats and other pets. Even with dogs, a Rat Terrier would still need socialization if you want the two canines to get along. Matching both animals’ personality traits is also a good idea.

As for kids, socialization there should be as easy as it is with grown-up humans. Still, supervision is recommended as it is for other dogs. The Rat Terrier isn't overly aggressive and can easily learn to love its little human pack member, however, the child may start bothering the dog a little too much behind your back which can lead to conflict and problems.

4. Rat Terriers need a whole lot of physical and mental stimulation

These dogs are not just physically active they are also quite mentally active. Bred to track and chase down prey, Rat Terriers need mental stimulation such as interactive dog toys, puzzle toys, and complex games to play with you every day. Depriving a Rat Terrier of such mental exercise will result in a dog that isn’t just bored but that quickly transitions into a destructive chewer.

Simply put, you don’t want a bored Rat Terrier in your home.

The same goes for your dog’s needs for physical exercise. Fortunately, Rat Terriers are pretty small so they should usually be satisfied with 40 to 60 minutes of vigorous outdoor exercise a day. That should be divided into two separate walks, culminating with some time in the dog park.

Having a yard will make a Rat Terrier pretty happy. However, be careful with this breed’s knack for escape. Rat Terriers are hunters and will often try their best to escape, whether by climbing and jumping over the fence, finding an opening, or literally digging their way out.

If you can’t secure your yard, it’s best to keep your Rat Terrier as an indoor animal and simply offer enough walks. Needless to say, this dog should always be kept on a leash when outside.

5. Digging and barking are quite likely so keep that in mind

Both digging and barking are indeed passions for these little dogs. No bark training is an option for the latter problem but, really, you just need to socialize your dog well and keep it from getting bored. Do these two things and such bad behaviors should be kept to a minimum.

Still, even if you do your best to keep your Rat Terrier occupied and entertained, digging is still a possibility. If you’re a fan of indoor potted plants, you may be in for a rude awakening. It’s best to find a way to dog-proof them or you may eventually have to choose between the Rat Terrier and the plants.

Both digging and baring become especially problematic when the Rat Terrier is left alone. This isn’t even just a matter of boredom but of separation anxiety too. Rat Terriers aren’t even that bad with separation anxiety – not as much as some other breeds – but they can still g crazy if left home alone for too long.

The solution?

Don’t leave them home alone for long. Alternatively, you can try:

  • Get another family member to be home when you’re out
  • Hire a dog walker or a dog sitter
  • Restrict certain areas of your home with pet gates
  • Give your dog plenty of new and interactive dog toys
  • Make sure that your dog is thoroughly exhausted with playtime and just sleeps through your absence
  • Get a second dog to keep your Rat Terrier company

Whatever you do, however, don’t punish your Rat Terrier for the occasional misbehavior. This isn’t even a matter of the humane treatment of animals. Locking these dogs away, yelling at them, or punishing them physically just doesn’t work. All you’ll do is make the dog resent you and become even more disobedient.

Instead, the trick with destructive behaviors, digging, and barking as well is to just ignore the undesirable behavior, give alternatives, and reward positive behavior.

6. This is a pretty healthy breed with a long lifespan but good care is still a must

Rat Terriers have a very impressive average lifespan of up to 18 years. With good care, a healthy pup can live even longer than that. To get a healthy pup, however, you either need to ask the breeder for a reputable health certificate or the shelter/rescue for detailed health information.

From there, it’s all a matter of good exercise, quality food, and regular vet visits. Even then, there are still going to be a few possible health conditions to watch out for:

7. Grooming is very easy and simple with this low-maintenance breed

Rat Terriers are very easy to groom, making them perfect for lazy owners. These dogs have very short coats that come in combinations of white, black, tan, red, rust, lemon, chocolate, and blue. They shed very little and need minimal brushing.

Of course, all other aspects of grooming still apply – tooth hygiene, ear and eye cleaning, nail clipping, etc. But the lack of major shedding issues is a great benefit in and of itself.

The Rat Terrier is both a typical terrier breed and quite a unique little rascal. These dogs are incredibly fun to own and play with but they do need special care, training, and consideration. If you’ve owned a “more normal” dog breed before – be it a friendly Labrador Retriever or a chill lap dog breed like the Maltese – you may be stunned by how differently a Rat Terrier acts and behaves.

Active barkers and semi-professional diggers with a passion for escape artistry, Rat Terriers are special dogs for special people. If you are a good match for this breed, however, you’re in for up to two decades of fun.