Monday, February 3, 2014


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.

Rat Terriers are alert and intelligent.  They are good with children, and they make good watchdogs.  They are feisty, lively, playful, but not yappy dogs.  Because they are energetic, they do best if they have a daily walk or a job to do such as catching rats or learning agility.

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.

The UKC officially recognized the Rat Terrier breed on January 1, 1999, in the Terrier Dog Breeds class.  The AKC recognized the breed on July 1, 2010 in its Foundation Stock Service®.  For now,  Rat Terriers can be shown in the Miscellaneous class.  But they can't earn championships.  This is true of all the breeds in the Miscellaneous class.  Once the AKC Board of Directors can see that a breed's popularity is healthy and growing, the breed will be allowed to register in the Stud Book and can compete in regular classes.

There are some groups such as the NRTA and the Decker Hunting Terrier Registry that are opposed to the type of closed-registry breeding rules that the UKC and AKC have.  These groups keep their own registries.  The mission of the Decker group is to make sure Decker terriers continue to be different from regular Rat Terriers.  Also, they want to keep improving the Deckers for use as hunting dogs.

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!


  1. Dear Dorrie,

    I've already told your mom Eva how sorry I am about Piper, but we all know Piper feels better now that she's at the Bridge.

    I'm glad you talked about Rat Terriers today. Our family dog when I was young was a rat terrier named Big John. He was about the best friend I had when I was a kid. We lived in a small town with no leash laws (yikes!), and when I would ride my bike to the library he would run along beside me and then sit with my bike while I was inside. (Sometimes he would sneak into the library and run from the librarians, haha.) His brother, Poquito Juan, went to live with my grandparents on their ranch and did a great job of keeping rats out of the barn. I'm glad Biggie stayed with us though. He was smart and sweet, and we all loved him. He lived to be nineteen years old!

    Ann in Charleston

    1. Dear Aunt Ann,
      We are still sad about Piper, but we are glad she is not sick anymore. Your rat terrier Big John sounds like he was a very nice dog. I think every dog should have a kid to do stuff with. My mom did not get to have a dog when she was a kid, but her neighbor across the street had a rat terrier named Pee Wee. He had been hit by a car, and one of his back legs got amputated, but he could run around really fast! Mom thinks he was pretty old when he died, but she doesn't remember.
      Your friend,

  2. Dear Dorrie,

    I'm sorry that I haven't heard about Piper's passing until now. Zena, my Decker Terrier (she is part Rat Terrier too) (your post!), wishes to send y'all some kisses. I'm a bawling mess because Piper was a sweetheart and her passing was very sudden for me. I'm very sorry y'all lost her.

    Zena loves that she has a post all about her. She gives you two paws way up!


    1. Dear Katie,
      Tell Zena thanks for the kisses. Piper was very special, and it's hard for me to follow in her paw tracks, but I am trying to do so. When Piper died, it wasn't a total shock for us because she had not been doing very well with her Cushing's Disease. I'm sure it was more of a shock for you because you didn't know about the situation. Anyway, I hope you will keep reading the blog, even though it's written by a chihuahua now instead of by a basenji. We are all girl dogs, and that is the important thing!
      Your friend, Dorrie

  3. Rat Terriers are probably one of the most mistaken breeds out there. They are often mistaken as either Jack Russel Terrier or Fox Terrier. But the similarities end on the physical aspect because truth be told, Rat Terriers are simply fantastic dogs. I found an article that pretty much sums up the breed, and I’d like to share it to your guys:

    1. Thanks for the link to the good article about rat terriers! My brother, Tristan is part rat terrier, or at least that's what his DNA test said. Maybe that is why Tristan likes to chase our cats, even though they are bigger than he is. Personally, I am all chihuahua, which is a good thing to be! Dorrie

  4. I worship my little girl. Her name is meisha. She has health issues and its expensive but she's worth it.

    1. Your dog is very lucky to have a mom who loves her and takes such good care of her!