Feisty, tenacious and lively are words used to describe most terriers, and the rat terrier is no exception. Rat terriers are skilled rat hunters, agile athletes and devoted family members. The American Kennel Club has breed standards in place for two different sizes of the rat terrier, but the lengthy history of the rat terrier has produced several other variations, including the Decker terrier and the Teddy Roosevelt terrier.
Origins and Ancestry
Rat terriers originated in America during the late 1800s. Originally known as feist terriers, they were developed from an assortment of terriers that miners brought into the country from Europe. Some of these terriers included the Manchester terrier, the bull terrier and smooth fox terrier. Other dogs played roles in the feist terrier’s development in the quest to develop an ideal hunter of rodents and vermin. Whippets and greyhounds were introduced into the bloodline for their speed, beagles were added for their scent capabilities, and Chihuahuas helped to reduce the feist terrier’s size. The result was a formidable hunter and a loyal companion.
Rats in the White House
By the turn of the century, feist terriers had become popular. When President Theodore Roosevelt took up residence in the White House in 1901, he discovered that his home was also home to an abundance of rats. When his feist terriers arrived on the scene, the rats were quickly eliminated, earning the little dogs the new breed name of rat terrier, by which the breed is known today. From Roosevelt’s time in office and through the three decades that followed, the rat terrier soared in popularity throughout America’s farmsteads and family homes.
The Dog of Many Forms
By the 1950s, the dog’s popularity dropped as more prospective dog owners were seeking out recognized purebreds. As various terriers and other dogs were being used to create different versions of the rat terrier, he was considered a mixed breed. Some of these variations reaped loyal followings that extended across the sea. The United Kennel Club established breed standards and recognition status for them. One such version is the Teddy Roosevelt terrier, whose physique has a longer body and shorter legs as a result of adding Jack Russell terrier and the Chihuahua to his family tree. Another version is the hairless rat terrier, who is essentially naked except for his whiskers, eyebrows and fuzzy muzzle. The United Kennel Club also recognizes the more common smooth-coated, long-legged rat terrier in miniature and standard sizes.
Decker’s Quest to Super Size
The Decker terrier is a large variation of the rat terrier. Milton Decker of Oregon was an avid hunter and outdoor sports enthusiast who adored his rat terrier, Henry, a specimen that weighed an unusual 32 pounds. Decker sought to create a new strain of rat terriers that, like Henry, were large in size and possessed equally dependable enthusiasm as keen hunters and as loyal family companions. His quest began in 1970, when he began acquiring the largest specimens of rat terriers that he could find to use as breeding stock. The result is the Decker terrier, who stands 16 to 19 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs 20 to 40 pounds. To be a true Decker terrier, the original Decker bloodline must be carried through a dog’s pedigree.
American Kennel Club Standards
In recent years, the rat terrier has seen resurgence in popularity. The breed is now a member of the American Kennel Club’s terrier group. The American Kennel Club does not recognize the Decker terrier, the hairless rat terrier or the Teddy Roosevelt terrier. The organization only recognizes the miniature and the standard smooth-coated variations of the rat terrier. The breed standard for the miniature rat terrier includes a height of 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder, and 13 to 18 inches for the standard rat terrier. Rat terriers can weigh from 10 to 25 pounds, proportionate to the miniature or standard height. Both variations are compact and sturdy in stature, and their smooth coats exhibit a pied pattern of white with large patches of one or more colors that may include black, blue, red, tan, apricot, lemon, chocolate or fawn.