Rat Terrier

The Rat Terrier is an American dog breed with a rich and varied background as an all-around hunting dog. Traditionally more of a type than a breed they share much ancestry with the tough little mixed breed dogs known as "feists". Several private associations have maintained Rat Terriers registries for some decades, but more recently there have been movements to obtain breed recognition by the major canine organizations. Common throughout America on family farms in the 1920s and 30s, they are generally considered a rare breed. Today's Rat Terrier is an intelligent, active little dog that is equally cherished as a house helper, vermin hunter and a family pet.

Rat Terrier Appearance

The Rat Terrier comes in a variety of coat colors and patterns. Puppies start at weight of 2 pounds. The "classic" base is black tan-point with piebald spotting (known as "black tricolor"), but blue and brown tricolors are also common, along with red, sable, lemon, burnt orange, and other colors set off by varying amounts of white spotting. Ticking is usually visible in the white parts of the coat, or in the underlying skin. Brindle, currently disallowed by the main breed standards, is considered by some to be a "traditional" Rat Terrier pattern, and there is a growing movement to have this pattern accepted into the breed. However, merle is widely considered to be the result of recent outcrosses and, because of associated health problems, is rejected by most Rat Terrier breeders.

Ear carriage can be erect, tipped, or button, all of which contribute to an intelligent, alert expression. The tail has been traditionally docked to about 2–3 inches, but the bobtail gene is very common in Rat Terriers and can result in a variety of tail lengths. Today, some breeders prefer a natural, undocked tail, which is accepted in the breed standards.

In the 1970s, a hairless mutation appeared in a single Rat Terrier bitch and was propagated into a strain of the Rat Terrier. After a period of development by crossing to coated dogs, the United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the American Hairless Terrier as a separate breed in 2004.

The Rat Terrier ranges from about 10 to 25 pounds and stands 13 to 18 inches at the shoulder. The miniature size (13 inches and under as defined by the UKC) is becoming increasingly popular as a house pet and companion dog. A larger strain, often in excess of 25 pounds, has been developed. These "Deckers" or Decker Giants were named after breeder Milton Decker who created a larger hunting companion and are recognized by the National Rat Terrier Association (NRTA, see Breed recognition below). The NRTA recognizes a Toy Variety weighing 10 pounds or less, and continues to classify the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier as the Type B Rat Terrier.

Recently, a new registry has been started by Milton Decker, his son Ellis Decker, and a fellow hunting enthusiast, George Palmer called the Decker Hunting Terrier Registry, or DHTR. This registry's mission is to keep all the qualities that set the Decker aside from the standard Rat Terrier, while retaining and improving upon the hunting ability. This registry believes that inbreeding forever will eventually ruin the breed and feels that very selective out-crossing is necessary to maintain a healthy gene pool as well as add desirable traits.

The Heritage Decker Terrier Registry is preserving all the original bloodlines to this breed and will not be allowing out-crosses because the gene pool of registered dogs remains at 1,400 at present. Many breeders are working to preserve exactly what was established in the 1970s, a great all around working dog.

Although both registries have different opinions about out-crossing, both registries are working to preserve what they feel is best for the future of the dog breed.

Rat Terrier Temperament

Although often mistaken for a Jack Russell Terrier, the Rat Terrier has a different profile and a very different temperament. Rat Terriers are finer of bone and have a more refined head. They always have a short single coat, i.e., they are never wire coated.

Rat Terriers tend to be less aggressive than Jack Russells; while they have a definite terrier personality they also have an "off switch" and love lounging on the sofa in a lap as much as tearing about the yard. Rat Terriers are normally cheerful dogs, and they tend to be calmer and more sensitive than Jack Russells to changes in their environment, owner's moods, or to unexpected noises, people, and activities. The "social sensitivity" of Rat Terriers makes them very trainable and easier to live with for the average pet owner, but it also means that extensive socialization from an early age is critical. Proper socialization of a Rat Terrier puppy includes exposing the animal to a wide variety of people and places, particularly during the first three months of life. Like most active and intelligent breeds, Rat Terriers tend to be happier when they receive a great deal of mental stimulation and exercise.

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