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Rat Terrier – Quick Reference Guide

Rat Terrier puppies standing.


Rat Terrier – Quick Reference Guide

General Appearance

As a judge, a rule of thumb guideline that form follows function often comes into play in some tough final decisions. However, when a breed has an opening statement: “A multipurpose companion dog that is capable of hunting rodents and vermin above and below ground, and to course small game. He is a sturdy, compact, small-to-medium sized parti-colored dog, giving the appearance of elegance and fitness, denoting speed, power and balance,” form can follow a wide variety of functions. This can lead to a wide variety of styles within the breed and, while not “cookie cutter,” most of these styles can still fall within any subjective interpretation of the standard. Hopefully, the following will clear up some of the more ambiguous points of the standard.

Rat Terrier’s Size, Proportion & Substance

  • Size

The fact that there are two different size divisions that are shown together is relevant because of the Rat Terrier’s history and, when presented with a 10-inch dog and an 18-inch dog, the difference can seem extreme. All heights within the standard should be judged equally with no preference to size. If any concessions are made for size, the dog being considered most likely falls outside the intention of the size description in the standard.

  • Proportion

Slightly longer than tall, this is not a square breed. The height, measured from the ground to the highest point of the withers, is slightly less than the length, measured from the point of shoulder to the point of buttock.

  • Substance

Think MODERATE! The Rat Terrier should not be fine-boned and toy-ish, or bulky and course. A well-balanced, hard-muscled, fit dog with smooth lines under taunt skin, this breed should be happy and able to work or play all day. Therefore, exaggerations in substance will interfere with that endurance.


A smooth, blunt wedge from a front or profile view with a strong muzzle, and a moderate stop. Eyes are obliquely set and oval in shape with an intelligent, alert expression. Ears are set on the top outer edge of the skull, V-shaped, with length in proportion to the head. Ears should match in shape and carriage and are active, used to convey attitude, respect, and mood. Teeth are strong; scissors bite is preferred, level bite is acceptable. Check bite only.

Rat Terrier’s Body & Topline

  • Body

The body is compact, strong and flexible with well-sprung ribs. The brisket extends to the elbow. Chest is moderately wide and well-filled with a discernible forechest. The underline ascends gradually with the ribs extending well back to a moderate tuck-up.

  • Topline

Length of neck is in proportion to the head. The back is level and firm from the withers to the loin, which is short and has a slight muscular arch blending into a slight croup. This description should never excuse any indication of a roach or a low tail set, both of which indicate a structural fault for the breed. Tail set is a continuation of the spine. Tail length is unimportant, and carriage is variable depending on mood, but never over the back.

  • Forequarters

Shoulder blades well laid back with flat muscles; upper arms are nearly equal in length. The depth of the body at the elbow is the same distance as the elbow to the ground. Pasterns are slightly sloping. Elbows and toes turn neither in nor out.

  • Hindquarters

Muscular, smooth, and in balance with the forequarters. Stifles are well-bent with short hocks. A structurally sound rear is as important as a structurally sound front for balance. Please do not overlook this part of the Rat Terrier.

Rat Terrier’s Coat

Short, close lying, smooth and shiny. Texture can vary, with a slight ruff or wave along the back being allowed, but undesirable. Whiskers are NOT removed.

Rat Terrier’s Color

There is a whole lot of description here for a breed where color is the frosting and we are all about the cake. Let’s make it simple: All colors should be judged equally without preference for any. Ticking is common and acceptable, extreme ticking is undesirable. No solid colors other than white, and no bi-colors without white, or less than one-inch of white. No merles, and no brindles. Focus on the cake!


A ground-covering, efficient trot with good reach and drive, suggesting agility, speed, and power. Gait is more like that of a working dog/endurance trotter instead of the typical Terrier pendulum-type movement. The Rat Terrier is shown at a speed that allows an exhibition of good reach and drive as well as convergence coming and going as speed increases.

Rat Terrier’s Temperament

Pretty typical Terrier in tenacity, intelligence and devotion, but may be reserved with strangers and should not be faulted for this.