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HISTORY OF THE RAT TERRIER

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This page contains the history of the infamous "Rat Terrier."

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HISTORY OF THE RAT TERRIER


.     It all began in England about the year 1820. At this time they were termed  "Fyce" because of their spirited nature when going after prey, in America it is pronounced " Feist". The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word as "a small dog of mixed ancestry; mongrel" They were a cross between a Manchester Terrier and Smooth Fox Terrier  and proved to be one of the best mixtures in the sport of rat baiting. The Rat actually holds the record for killing 2,501 rats in a seven hour span in an infested barn.
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     These dogs were first brought to the USA in the 1890's. President Theodore Roosevelt kept Rat terriers as house pets due to their keenness, intelligence and perfect self groomed appearance. He often hunted with the breed and was so taken with the dogs' ability to rat, he coined the name Rat Terrier, which the breed is so named today. Before this time they were commonly called Fox Terrier and some people still refer to them by this name today.
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      When they first came to America the breeding process was based on function. They were almost exclusively black and tan colored, their ears buttoned over and they were approximately 18lbs, of medium size.  They quickly gained popularity in the Southern parts of the United States. The settlers found that the Rat Terrier could easily adapt to different climates and terrain. They had the ability to keep the farms free of vermin (rats, fox) along with excellent hunting abilities for small and large game, from squirrel and rabbit to wild pig, deer bear and cougar. They were also quick, fierce and able to get into small burrows.
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     The American people began to modify the breed for their needs.  Enhancing the breed to include the ability to Rat and Hunt being first and foremost in the developers minds. The Smooth Fox Terrier was re-introduced setting the predominance of white coat color. Their inherent abilities were constantly improved upon by the additions of animals such as Whippet, Greyhound and Beagle. Adding speed, power, agility, hunting ability and intelligence would only make them more proficient workers. Function and practicality came first, beauty last. These dogs carried many different colors and ranged in size from 18- 45lbs.  For those seeking a smaller version of this mighty hunter, smaller breeds were introduced. Toy Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terrier decreased their size and produced a dog capable of going to the hole. Toy fanciers further decreased size with the addition of Chihuahua. Care was taken to keep the natural abilities and produce a smaller version of the original dog.
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     The most solid attribute of the Rat Terrier is an undying will to please their master and a need to be near him.
     Their intelligence is far supreme to most breeds; holds extremely keen senses and a loyalty that transcends them as a family dog. The three qualities that are essential to the Rat Terrier breed are:
          Quality 1. A capable utility/hunting dog.
          Quality 2. A wonderful family companion.
          Quality 3. A watch dog with keen alert senses picking up intruders very quickly.
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     In summary, the Rat Terrier is still widely used throughout the USA on farms for any kind of vermin and for hunting and treeing by hunting individuals. They work well as a team and are extremely efficient at their jobs. As a house pet they are unsurpassed, being extremely intelligent, loyal, friendly and happy to be alive. They have a long life span of 14-18 years, so they will be around to enjoy. Their coats are short and smooth leaving you with little grooming if any at all. The expression in the eye of the Rat will tell story after story and the attentiveness to their master is like no other. They are natural born entertainers and will be your child's best friend. Being extremely loyal they make favorable little guard dogs. No one will enter with out first being announced by your Rat Terrier, but they stay on their best behavior when company calls.
     The Rat Terrier is now recognized by many registries across the USA.


DEVELOPMENT OF THE RAT TERRIER

     Has the Rat Terrier evolved to its own breed by being variable? Or is the Rat a cross between a Manchester Terrier and Smooth Fox Terrier only because that's how they came over to the USA from England? The Rat Terrier of today is not the same dog that originated in England. Dependent on their geographical location and purpose is what has given the Rat Terrier their direction and what they are today. The basis of their development is this; function came before form, now their form is a product of their functional development. When we speak of the Rat today, we are encompassing the entire process that the breed has gone through during the last 100 years or so.

     The history of the breed as far as what breeds comprise the Rat Terrier are fairly clear cut. The complex issue lies within the various characteristics that each breed introduced. Taken from all available information that has been researched on the breed, we have compiled the following as the true makeup of Rat Terrier. It incorporates reasons for size, color and characteristic variations so widely seen.

     The Rat Terrier's earliest history traces back to England and is closely linked with the Smooth Fox Terrier and Manchester Terrier. The oldest breeds known to comprise the Smooth Fox Terrier and Manchester Terrier are:

English White Terrier adding mild manner, gentility and nobility (now extinct)
Black and Tan Terrier added a hearty demeanor and keen senses
Bull-and-Terrier gave them feistiness, tenacity and stamina
Hinks' White Bull Terrier-created true grit and gaminess

Beagle, Whippet and Italian Greyhound were added to the above mix to complete their makeup. When these two breeds were combined their offspring were called Fyce, American (Feist).
 
     Americanized history really begins in the 1890's when the first Fyce arrived in the United States. The first Rat Terriers (Feist) were exclusively black and tan colored, their ears buttoned over and they were approximately 18lbs, of medium size. The breed quickly established itself as an excellent ratter and small game hunter.

     Breeds were continually added to these Rat Terriers dependent on the geographical location and purpose of the dog.  Some breeders that used these dogs for hunting re-introduced Smooth Fox Terrier again. By selective breeding the predominance of white coloration was set leaving most of the color on the head of the dog. The white color was found to be an aide in helping to identify the dogs from the prey during the hunt. Other hunters added Greyhound for increasing speed and sighting ability. They also added a new range of colors; red, brindle, liver, chocolate, blue, black, fawn and cream to name a few. And some hunters added Beagle increasing the stockiness of the body giving them bulk and enhanced their hunting (scenting) ability. It also shortened the legs producing a dog capable of going to ground. The Spitz was even introduced for bear hunting purposes and accounts for an occasional throwback of long hair. Some of the original Feist dogs found their way being bred to yet other breeds and individual strains were developed along side the Rat Terrier. Some Feist strains known of today are the Treeing, Mountain, Squirrel, American and Bench Legged Feist.

     Milton Decker, an early hunting enthusiast from Oregon who went on to develop his own strain (Decker Giant) writes this about the Rat Terrier. "In the Midwest and South these great little dogs are used extensively for hunting. Rat Terrier is synonymous with "squirrel dog". They are unequaled as a "jump dog" for deer wherever deer inhabit brushy regions. They will seek out the deer, jump him and chase him about 200 yards while yipping shrilly, then return to their master. For deer hunters, this makes them ideal for tracking up wounded animals. While many breeds will chase deer, many will keep going and the hunter ends up hunting for his dog instead of the deer.
     Rat Terriers are excellent for upland game birds. Here their tendency is to hunt close, within shotgun range, and flush the birds. They are great to locate cripples and dead birds.
     Of course, for rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, feral house cats, etc., they are perfect. Some take to the water readily to retrieve ducks. Truly the all-around dog for pet, companion, hunting, or watch dog and are easy to keep because they need no grooming and eat less than larger breeds."

     To complete the Rat Terrier more breeds were added that differed from the breeds that went into completing the Feist. In the earliest time of development the ear set was only of the button and tipped/semi-erect type. Whippet was introduced and is a cross of Manchester Terrier and Italian Greyhound. He donated refinement, speed, muscularity, agility and a wide variety of colors. The ear set of the Whippet was only of the rose type therefore; the Rats would now exhibited three types of ear sets. The Whippet introduced into the breed the Hairless Gene, which may have given rise to the American Hairless Terrier. This first came to light in a litter born to Willie and Edwin Scott of Louisiana in 1972.

     The Chihuahua, Toy Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester introduced the erect ear set and all three brought down the size considerably making the Toy variety possible. Chihuahua added some new colors and the Toy Manchester reinforced the black and tan coloration. The introduction of the Whippet, Chihuahua, Toy Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terrier  carry a strong influence on the Rat Terrier of today and were the conclusion to blood added in the makeup of the breed.

     The Rat Terrier could now be seen in almost every known color, with 4 different ear sets (erect, semi-erect, rose and button over) and its size ranged from 4 to 35 pounds
 
     As mentioned above the shorter leg length within the populace is attributed to the re-introduction of the Beagle and not the Jack Russell Terrier. The Smooth Pocket Beagle was used in the development of the Jack Russell Terrier to produce their shorter leg length. The shorter legs were necessary to fit into burrows when pursuing their prey. Both breeds share the Beagle as their only common link. Leg type exhibited in the Achondroplastic breeds (Dachshund, Corgi, Basset Hound, etc.) are never seen within the Rat Terrier. Genetically ruling out any involvement with these types.

     The tail of the Rat Terrier holds some significance. They are commonly born with no tail or a tail that does not reach full length. These dogs are often referred to as "Natural Bobs".

     The practice of tail docking has also been done on the Rat Terrier has since the beginning of their time. Their fast tail action often led to torn and bleeding tails that were painful and extremely difficult to treat. Docking the end of the tail eliminates the risk of injury. Terrier which are bred to hunt below ground for purposes such as fox control have their tails docked to a length which is more practical and conducive when working in a confined space.

      About 200 years ago in England, tail docking started for certain breeds. English laws came into effect stating that dogs that worked for a living were exempt from tax. These working dogs were distinguished out by the docking of the tail.

     The Rat Terrier is a breed of many breeds. All these breeds have brought in their own individual characteristics and traits. That may be why our Rats of today are so individual in looks and characteristics to a certain extent. Although they are very similar they are also very different from each other. In such a large populace, recessives will always pop to the forefront. Throwbacks from time to time will inevitably occur. 

Given these inconsistencies, it is with great intent to isolate the breeding of the different sizes and 2 body styles of the Rat Terrier to like types. Some types may carry a heavier influence from an additional breed but all types come down from the basic Rat Terrier breed as such and should therefore remain all as Rat Terriers.