Are Rat Terriers hunting dogs? This question often comes up for those considering bringing a Rat Terrier into their home. Known for their small size, intelligence, and agility, Rat Terriers have a long history of being working dogs. Originally bred to hunt small game, they were used as ratting dogs on farms, hence their name.

Rat Terriers as Hunting Dogs

The History of Rat Terriers as Hunting Dogs

Rat Terriers have a rich history as hunting dogs. They were developed in the early 19th century in the United States, primarily in the southern states. Farmers needed a versatile and efficient dog to control rat populations on their farms, and thus, the Rat Terrier was born. These dogs were bred by crossing various terrier breeds, such as the Fox Terrier, Bull Terrier, and Manchester Terrier, with some small scent hounds to enhance their hunting abilities.

The Rat Terrier's small size was an advantage for hunting small game, as they could easily navigate tight spaces and burrows. Their intelligence and agility made them excellent at locating and capturing pests. Over time, Rat Terriers became popular not only for ratting but also for hunting other small game, such as rabbits and squirrels. Their strong prey drive and natural hunting instincts made them valuable assets to hunters.

Despite their humble beginnings as farm dogs, Rat Terriers gained recognition for their hunting skills. In 2013, the Rat Terrier was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a member of the Terrier Group. This recognition further solidified their status as capable hunting dogs.

Characteristics and Traits of Rat Terriers

To understand why Rat Terriers make good hunting dogs, it's important to delve into their characteristics and traits. Rat Terriers are known for their high energy levels, intelligence, and agility. They are quick learners and eager to please their owners, which makes them highly trainable.

One of the distinctive features of Rat Terriers is their strong sense of smell. They have an exceptional ability to detect scents and track prey. This, combined with their small size, allows them to navigate through dense undergrowth and follow the trail of small game. Their compact bodies and muscular build enable them to move swiftly and change direction effortlessly.

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Rat Terriers are also known for their tenacity and determination. Once they lock onto a scent or spot prey, they will not easily give up. This persistence is a valuable trait for hunting dogs, as it ensures they stay focused on the task at hand.

Rat Terriers as Versatile Hunting Dogs

Rat Terriers are versatile hunting dogs, capable of adapting to various hunting tasks. Their small size and agility make them excellent at flushing out small game from their hiding places. They can easily navigate through burrows, underbrush, and tight spaces to locate and capture their prey.

These dogs have a remarkable ability to work both independently and as part of a team. When hunting in groups, Rat Terriers can effectively communicate with other dogs and coordinate their efforts to flush out and capture game. They are also skilled at treeing small animals, such as squirrels, using their quick reflexes and climbing abilities.

Additionally, Rat Terriers can be trained to hunt on different types of terrain, including fields, forests, and even water. Their versatility makes them suitable for a variety of hunting activities, from ratting on farms to chasing rabbits in open fields.

Training Rat Terriers for Hunting

To maximize a Rat Terrier's hunting potential, proper training is essential. Early socialization and obedience training are crucial to ensure that the dog understands basic commands and can safely interact with other animals and people. Additionally, specific hunting training can help develop and refine their natural hunting instincts.

Training Rat Terriers to hunt involves exposing them to different scents, teaching them to track and follow trails, and introducing them to various hunting scenarios. Positive reinforcement methods, such as treats and praise, work well with Rat Terriers, as they are eager to please their owners.

It's important to note that not all Rat Terriers will have the same hunting abilities or inclination. Some individuals may show a stronger prey drive and excel in hunting tasks, while others may have a more laid-back demeanor. It ultimately depends on the individual dog's genetics, temperament, and training.

Common Prey for Rat Terriers

Rat Terriers have proven their skills in hunting a variety of small game. Rats, as the name suggests, are their original prey. These dogs are relentless when it comes to locating and eliminating rats and other rodents. Their strong sense of smell and agility enable them to track down rats in barns, fields, and other areas where rodents may hide.

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Apart from rats, Rat Terriers are also adept at hunting rabbits. With their speed and agility, they can chase down rabbits and corner them, making it easier for hunters to capture or dispatch the prey. Squirrels are another common target for Rat Terriers. Their ability to climb trees combined with their agility allows them to effectively tree squirrels and keep them at bay until the hunter arrives.

Tips for Owning a Rat Terrier as a Hunting Dog

If you're considering owning a Rat Terrier as a hunting companion, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First and foremost, ensure that you have the time and commitment to provide the necessary exercise and mental stimulation for your Rat Terrier. These dogs have high energy levels and require regular physical activity to keep them happy and healthy.

Proper training and socialization are essential for a hunting Rat Terrier. Start training from an early age and expose them to different environments, scents, and situations. This will help them develop their hunting skills and adapt to various hunting scenarios.

It's also important to consider the safety of your Rat Terrier during hunting activities. Make sure to provide them with appropriate protective gear, such as a hunting vest, to keep them visible and safe. Regularly check their paws for any injuries or cuts, as they may encounter rough terrain or sharp objects while hunting.

Lastly, remember that Rat Terriers are intelligent dogs that thrive on mental stimulation. Engage them in puzzle toys, scent games, and other activities that challenge their minds. This will not only keep them entertained but also help satisfy their natural hunting instincts.

Other Uses for Rat Terriers

While Rat Terriers excel as hunting dogs, they have proven to be versatile in other areas as well. Their intelligence, agility, and trainability make them suitable for a wide range of activities and tasks.

Rat Terriers are often employed as search and rescue dogs. Their keen sense of smell and ability to navigate through challenging terrain make them valuable assets in locating missing persons or detecting hidden objects.

These dogs also shine in various dog sports and competitions. They can participate in agility trials, obedience competitions, and even tracking events. Their natural athleticism and eagerness to please make them strong contenders in these activities.

Additionally, Rat Terriers make loving and loyal family pets. They are known for their affectionate nature and get along well with children and other pets when properly socialized. Although their hunting instincts may still be present, they can adapt to a family environment with the right training and guidance.

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The Pros and Cons of Rat Terriers as Hunting Dogs

While Rat Terriers have many qualities that make them excellent hunting dogs, it's important to consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

One of the major advantages of Rat Terriers as hunting dogs is their size. Their small stature allows them to access tight spaces and navigate challenging terrains that larger dogs may struggle with. This makes them effective at hunting small game, such as rats and rabbits, in areas where larger hunting breeds may be less successful.

Rat Terriers are also highly trainable and eager to please their owners. This makes them relatively easy to train for hunting tasks, as they quickly pick up commands and instructions. Their intelligence and agility are assets when it comes to learning and executing hunting techniques.

On the downside, Rat Terriers' strong prey drive can sometimes be a challenge to manage. Their instinct to chase and capture prey may lead to them becoming easily distracted or difficult to control in certain situations. Proper training and socialization are crucial to ensure that their hunting instincts are channeled appropriately.

Additionally, Rat Terriers may not be suitable for all types of hunting. While they excel at hunting small game, their small size may make them less effective when it comes to larger game, such as deer or wild boar. It's important to consider the specific hunting activities you plan to engage in before deciding on a Rat Terrier as a hunting companion.


Are Rat Terriers hunting dogs? The answer is a resounding yes. With their rich history as working dogs and their natural hunting instincts, Rat Terriers have proven themselves as capable hunters. Their small size, intelligence, agility, and strong prey drive make them versatile and effective at hunting small game.

If you're considering a Rat Terrier as a hunting companion, it's important to understand their characteristics, training needs, and the specific prey they excel at hunting. With the right training, socialization, and guidance, Rat Terriers can be valuable assets in the field and loving companions at home.