It's almost time for the Westminster Dog Show, which comes around every year in February. Maybe there is some law that says it has to happen in February, or maybe not. I just know that it always does. Anyway, this year there will be three new dog breeds at Westminster. These breeds were actually recognized by the AKC in January of 2013, so now they have spent a year in the show ring.
Piper already told you about two of the new breeds, the Chinook and the Portuguese Podengo. So today I will tell you about the third one, which is the Rat Terrier. Of course, you can guess from the name of this dog what it was bred to do. The very, very oldest record of a rat-catching dog was of a dog named "Hatch." He lived on board the Mary Rose, which was Henry VIII's flagship. This ship sank in 1545, but when it was re-raised in 1982, the remains of Hatch were found. He was probably a little mongrel dog who was kept around to control the rat population. Other ships had cats that did this same job, but personally, I think it is better to give such an important duty to a dog.
The first Rat Terriers were developed in the UK around 1820 by breeding Smooth Fox Terriers with Manchester Terriers. In the 1890s, the breed was brought to the US. Originally, the dogs were black-and-tan in color. There was a picture in Life Magazine of President Teddy Roosevelt with three Rat Terriers. He was the one who supposedly gave the breed its name because he was so impressed with the way the terriers could catch and kill rats in a pit. This was one of the things people used to do for fun; they gambled on how many rats a dog could kill.
Anyway, American breeders decided that Rat Terriers could be even better, faster vermin catchers, so they crossed them again with Smooth Fox Terriers, and also with Beagles, Miniature Pinschers, Whippets, and Italian Greyhounds. A smaller version of terrier was created by breeding to Chihuahuas. This cross-breeding eventually produced the Toy Fox Terrier, which was recognized by the UKC starting in 1936.
From the 1920s to the 1940s, Rat Terriers were used extensively by American farmers for vermin control and as hunting dogs. They were one of the most popular types of dog in the country. But starting in the 1950s, the growth of commercial farming and the use of pesticides meant farmers didn't rely on dogs as much. Fortunately, some people who really loved the Rat Terrier breed kept it going, and that's why we still have these dogs today.
Even though the first Rat Terriers in this country were mostly black-and-tan, today it's more usual to see one with white as the main color, and spots of almost any color. Rat Terriers can be bicolored or tricolored. Many times, they have ticking in the white coat or in the skin underneath. Brindle and merle patterns are not accepted right now by the breed standards.
Rat Terrier tails are often bobbed, either naturally or by breeders. But some breeders prefer to leave the tails at a natural length, and the breed standard says this is acceptable. The ears are generally erect, but they can also be tipped or button shaped. Rat Terriers range from 10 to 25 pounds and are between 13" and 18" at the shoulder. The Miniature Rat Terrier is defined by the UKC as being under 13". This size is becoming more and more popular as a companion dog and house pet. The National Rat Terrier Association (NRTA) recognizes a Toy Rat Terrier as weighing 10 pounds or less.
A man named Milton Decker wanted a larger size of rat terrier to use for hunting, so he developed a variety that weighs 25 pounds or sometimes more. This type of dog is called the Decker Terrier or Giant Decker.
In the 1970s, a gene mutation caused a hairless Rat Terrier to be born. This one dog was used to develop the American Hairless Terrier, which is now recognized by several registries as a separate breed.
|American Hairless Terrier|
A lot of people get Rat Terriers mixed up with Jack Russell Terriers, but the two breeds really are different from each other. Rat Terriers are sleeker, have a lighter bone structure, and a more refined head. In temperament, Rat Terriers are less aggressive than Jack Russells. They are generally calmer and more sensitive to changes in their environment. Rat Terriers are easy to train and are usually easy to live with, but it's important that they are well socialized as puppies.
This breed basically has no genetic health issues, probably because of the large gene pool that went into its creation. The life span of a Rat Terrier is 12 to 17 years.
Well, all this dog show stuff is kind of confusing and tiring to write about. All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not a show dog. I'd rather just sit home and watch it all on TV!