Despite its name, the American Rat Terrier actually originated in England in the 1820s, as a result of crossing the Smooth-haired Fox Terrier with the Manchester Terrier. It was bred to be a fiercely effective rodent-exterminator, which was enormously helpful in rat-infested rural British barns during the 19th century. The breed was brought to the United States by English immigrants in the 1890s, where it carried on its rat-killing work. The breed gained popularity in this country when President Theodore Roosevelt took several with him on his highly publicized hunting trips. His Rat Terriers reportedly kept the rodent population in the White House under control as well.
Over time, Rat Terriers were crossed with the Whippet, the Italian Greyhound, the Beagle and the Smooth Fox Terrier – to add stamina, speed, tracking and trailing abilities and a lighter coat. These various combinations eventually led to two distinct varieties: the short-legged rat terrier, now called the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier or the Teddy Terrier, and the long-legged variety, called the American Rat Terrier. The Rat Terrier Club of America was formed in 1993, when it undertook the task of obtaining American Kennel Club recognition for the breed. The United Kennel Club recognized the Rat Terrier in 1999. Rat Terriers became eligible to participate in the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service Program in 2004. Effective January 1, 2006, as an AKC Select Breed, the Rat Terrier became eligible to compete in AKC agility, obedience, rally, tracking and earthdog disciplines. In 2008, the AKC approved the RTCA’s constitution and bylaws, and the parent club successfully got the Rat Terrier admitted into the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class effective July 1, 2010.
Today’s American Rat Terriers are increasingly popular sport hunting dogs and family pets. They are versatile and charming, and with the work of the parent club to gain full AKC recognition their popularity undoubtedly will continue to grow.
This is an extremely long-lived and healthy breed, with an average life span of 13 to 16 years. Breed health concerns may include food and contact allergies, elbow and hip dysplasia, malocclusion (bad bites), demodicosis (demodectic mange) and patellar luxation.