Rat Terrier: Size, Life Span, Temperament & Grooming

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Your rattie likes to accompany you as much as possible.
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The best way to be a good pet owner is to learn all you can about your specific pet. This means finding out the traits and characteristics your rat terrier may have inherited so you have an idea of what to expect as you go through life together. The rattie's genial, happy nature is paired with the strength, determination, and stamina to go all day long, whatever the mission.


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Rat terrier history

Rat terriers were working dogs bred specifically to hunt rats on farms in the early 1900s. They were adept at routing out vermin both above and below ground and were often entered in rat pit contests. In fact, a rat terrier holds the contest record of killing 2,501 rats in a pit in a seven-hour period. Through the years they became recognized as excellent companion dogs. When pesticides were introduced and reduced the need for ratters, rat terriers became very popular as family dogs.


The breed was said to have been named by Teddy Roosevelt, who kept several at the White House and took them hunting with him. However, in 1999 the rat terrier breed was divided into two different breeds based on leg length. The shorter-legged dog, whose elbow-to-ground measurement is about one-third of its height to withers, became known as the Teddy Roosevelt terrier while the longer-legged dog remains simply a rat terrier.


Rat terrier characteristics

Rat terriers come in two sizes: standard and miniature. The standard rat terrier measures 13 inches through 18 inches high at the withers (top of shoulders). Miniature rat terriers are 10 to 13 inches high at the withers. The typical body is slightly longer when measured from withers to buttocks than its height. Most weigh between 10 and 25 pounds; however, more emphasis is given to the rat terrier's overall appearance, which should be muscular, sturdy, fit, and somehow elegant, too, even in the miniature size.


The coats of rat terriers are short, smooth, and always pied, meaning they have patches of one or more colors combined with at least one patch of white that is one inch wide or larger. Coats can be a variety of colors: black, chocolate, red, apricot, blue, tan, lemon, fawn, or white. The names of canine coat colors can be confusing — the color called blue is more of a gray, and fawn is a yellowish tan. Coats can also be patterned, and many rat terriers have mottling, specking, and ticking in their coats.


Rat terrier temperament & training

With their erect ears and watchful gaze, rat terriers are always ready to go to work even without being asked. They are among the calmest of the high-energy terrier group, but that still leaves them plenty of room for action. Often hesitant around strangers, they're all ears for the owners and family they love. Their happy, eager-to-please demeanor makes rat terriers easy to train when positive reinforcement training is used. Rat terriers are sensitive dogs that respond well to praise and rewards, but firmness is also needed to quell the rat terrier's stubborn streak that can cause the dog to dig in his heels occasionally and refuse a command.


Some owners mention excessive rat terrier barking, but this may occur mostly when the dog is bored. High energy dogs need lots of exercise; as loving companions, rat terriers also need attention from their families. Ratties are not quiet dogs, but barking can be lessened by interpreting it as their way of telling you what they need. Ratties are at their best as true members of the family, so take them with you on walks, jogs and family outings. They are great with children if socialized early but, of course, no dog should be left alone with children. In fact, ratties should not be left alone at all for more than a few minutes lest they find something undesirable to do or bark for your attention.


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Rat terrier grooming

Weekly brushing, a monthly bath, and monthly nail trims are really all that's needed to keep rat terriers looking their smooth, shiny best. Rat terriers are active, high-energy dogs, however, so if yours gets visibly dirty from digging or playing, extra baths could be in order. Use a soft brush or glove for weekly brushing and a curry brush to release loose hair from the coat during their shedding seasons.


When more thorough grooming is needed, an appointment with a professional dog groomer releases you from what can be a trying adventure for both pet owner and dog. Of course, doing your own grooming is a cost-saver; just be sure to invest in some equipment that will make the job easier. A sturdy folding table will raise the dog to your arm level, give you a better view of the areas you are grooming, and allow you to reassure the dog while grooming. Attach a portable grooming arm to the table to attach the dog's leash, and anti-slip decals where the dog will stand. Also research nail clippers and grinders and find ones you are comfortable using.

Rat terrier exercise and health

Daily exercise improves a rat terrier's health and is a good way to release some of their natural energy. Indoor playtime with a ball or toys is fine when the weather is bad, but going for a walk with the family, playing in the yard, or taking a trip to the dog park gives a more thorough workout. Rat terriers get along with most dogs and are good with children, so taking them out in public is typically not a problem. Be sure to keep them leashed, however, so they don't run off to chase squirrels or other dogs' toys.

Rat terriers have few inherited health issues, though it's recommended they be checked for joint problems including luxating patella and Legg-Calve-Perthes leg and hip disease, and have their hearts and eyes evaluated. As small- to medium-sized dogs, their diet should be nutritious and absent of excess fat and sugar that can cause weight gain, which can lead to illness and diseases. Being attentive to your rat terrier's health can help her meet this breed's life expectancy of 12-18 years.

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Rat terrier puppies

Rat terrier puppies are born with the breed's signature erect ears, but they may droop a little afterwards and may or may not revert to erect. Some adults have semi-erect ears, but these are considered breed standard as long as they are not drooping, and both ears have the same level of erectness. Puppies should be fed frequent, small meals so they don't become hypoglycemic. Feed rat terriers food your vet recommends that is specially formulated with high protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates to meet puppies' growth and development.

Begin socializing and training your rat terrier puppy as soon as she comes home so she gets used to listening and knows what's expected of her. Start simple by teaching her to come to you when called and respond with a happy smile and lavish praise each time. Rat terriers are good with children but it's best to introduce them early on, showing both how to interact properly with the other.