Their ancestors — various crosses of Manchester terrier, fox terrier, and English terrier — came to America from the British Isles with hardscrabble miners and other working-class immigrants. These newly minted Americans bred their scrappy little vermin catchers for local conditions. Italian greyhounds and whippets added speed and athleticism. Beagles, curs, and other scent hounds added nose. The result, the modern rat terrier, is an amazing American hunting dog and has killed rats for wagering dockworkers, heartland farmers, and President Theodore Roosevelt.
In the American South, rat terriers are popular with squirrel and raccoon hunters who want a handy-sized dog that trees game, keeps pests out of the family pea patch, and serves as a snake alarm in camp. A good “rat dog” will take on the biggest, meanest boar ‘coon in the woods and never back down.
Rat terriers cast about in the woods in search of hot scent, and are usually silent until they tree their prey. Unlike hounds and curs, which rely primarily on ground and air scent, rat terriers depend on their ears and eyes as much as their noses. As one of my East Texas hunting buddies says of his rat dogs, “If a squirrel drops an acorn or barely scratches bark, he’s treed.”
– Make your rat dog puppy a member of the family, and expose her to children. She’ll be a lively, affectionate companion.
– Break your rat dog from running wild hogs and other dangerous game.
– Roughhouse with your rat dog puppy. Good ones are born plenty scrappy.