Rat Terrier: Perfect Balance of Elegance, Fitness, and Power

Rat terrier puppies standing


Article contributed by: Tracey Kallas, Rat Terrier Club of America



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 standing on rocks





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.



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.



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.





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.



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.



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.



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 at a dog show



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.



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 walking on grass



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



Are you looking for a Rat Terrier puppy?

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.


Want to help rescue and re-home a Rat Terrier dog?

Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.


Rat Terrier Dog Breed Magazine

Showsight Magazine is the only publication to offer dedicated Digital Breed Magazines for ALL recognized AKC Breeds.

Read and learn more about the friendly Rat Terrier dog breed with articles and information in our Rat Terrier Dog Breed Magazine.


Rat Terrier Breed Magazine - Showsight


  • Having previously owned and loved Goldens and Scotties,  has been active in the sport of Rat Terriers since 1995. She is a Rat Terrier Breeder of Merit and the parent club’s Judges Education Coordinator, Breed Mentor and member of the Board of Directors. To date, she has bred multiple champions, grand champions, Breed and Group winners as well as winning the Breed at Montgomery County and, multiple times, at Westminster. She is currently working on her regular status for the breed as well as pursuing approval for additional breeds in the Terrier Group. For any additional information about the breed, please contact the Rat Terrier Club of America at rtca@ratterrierclubofamerica.org.

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

You May Also Like

Redbone Coonhound head photo

Redbone Coonhounds From a Judge’s Perspective

When judging Redbone Coonhounds, I look for the overall dog. I start at the ...

Judging Rottweilers | Breed Type & Movement

Judging Rottweilers | Breed Type & Movement

Judging Rottweilers | Breed Type & Movement : I am often asked if I ...

Competitive Sledding Samoyeds. Picture taken from the article “Working Samoyed Program”

Judging the Samoyed From a Breeder’s Perspective

Breeder's perspective on how the Samoyed breed is judged in the AKC conformation show ...

Breed Judging

Breed Judging – Wrestle Mania, Ramps & Other Things

Breed Judging - Several years ago, there was an outcry from exhibitors about judges ...

Having A Safe Show

Now that your club has decided to have your show, what is next? Who ...

Cocker Spaniel Judging Guide

Judge a Cocker Spaniel on it’s Ability to Function in the Field

Cocker Spaniel Judging Guide  - Many articles, and judges’ education, might start with the ...

Your Cart

No Item Found
Subtotal $0.00
Shipping $0.00
Tax $0.00
Total $0.00