Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Are Rat Terriers jumping dogs?

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I own a rat terrier and we compete in agility. Lots to say about them...

1. You won't find out much about them on the AKC website. AKC still doesn't recognize them as a breed (they're in the ILP program in the process of being recognized by AKC).

2. They're in the terrier family but really aren't much of a terrier. They were originally a mix of a Manchester Terrier, Black & White Terrier (now extinct). Then American farmers mixed in some beagle (for nose), corgi (for herding ability), and sight hounds (Greyhound, Italian Greyhound, Whippet) for speed and eyesight. Teddy Roosevelt popularized this breed (brought his ratties into the White House and set them on the rat population in the Jefferson's aging greenhouse).

Thus, while they'd dig, they don't dig like most terriers. They don't go to ground like most terriers. And they tend to be more social and focused on people than most terriers. Also, while they'll sound the alarm (ie: good watch dog), they usually don't bark a lot. These dogs are quick, very agile, very tough for their size, athletic but unlike a lot of terriers (especially Manchester Terriers and JRT's) they have an "off" switch. Ratties typically aren't as good at "going to ground" as most terriers (who typically don't mind going into holes after particular vermin). Lots of rat terriers also don't care for water--mine won't go into a pond or beach for instance and again most terriers are fine about water.

3. I don't know what size rattie you have: toy (up to 6-8 pounds), miniature( up to about 14 pounds), standard (up to 28 pounds) or Decker (up to 45 pounds). Rat Terriers are great at tricks. It's rare that the bond with only one person.

4. The poster who talked about "dominating" your rat terrier is, well, that's totally different from my experience and all of the other rat terrier owners I know. Rat Terriers, unlike say a Min Pin, are sensitive dogs (that is the part of them that is kind of un-terrier like). They do much better with positive training methods than negative or harsh approaches. And as long as you use positive methods they're usually easy to train. The toughest part is given the combination of beagle (great nose) and sighthound, they're easily distracted. Case in point: I was running an agility course in my backyard and in the middle of a fulltilt run, my dog stopped and raced 40 feet away where he stopped and looked down. I walked over and there was a dying bee in the mulch. My dog was focusing on me, working hard at agility, running full speed but from his peripheral vision, caught the motion in the mulch of a bee 40 feet away. So Rat Terriers are often easily distracted through sight or smell elements. But in terms of trainability, not only does my guy do agility but I've taught him to jump into my arms while I'm standing, weave between my legs as I walk, crawl, roll over, climb on command onto specific objects (rocking chair, stool), recognize left from right. His favorite activity of all is soccer where he likes to run and juggle a soccer ball on his head so it doesn't touch the ground.

5. Are they "jumping dogs?" Well, my rat terrier measures 15 inches at the whithers/shoulders. He jumped out of a 42 inch ex-pen (without any kind of a runup to get speed). He can jump into my arms (that's about 44-50 inches off the ground). It will vary from dog to dog but generally speaking, ratties are athletic dogs. They like walks, they like playing with another dog (my guy likes to play keep-away and then vault the other dog as it runs).

6. My advice for a great relationship for you and your rat terrier.
--give it exercise. My guy is in good shape and we walk him alot (90 minutes a day) plus agility training or classes, sometimes he jogs with me, plus kicking a soccer ball. Walks, play dates with other dogs, kicking a ball, a class---all are good ways to exercise your rat terrier.
--give him mental stimulation. Start working on tricks right now.
--keep the training positive. These are typically smart dogs who will read your demeanor, learn from experiences. Clicker training works very well with ratties.
--they're also problem solvers. That means if they think their solution is better than your's, then they'll tend to ignore your command. So shaping behavior is important.

Last of all, a rat terrier story from a family I know that got a rat terrier. Husband and wife are on the sofa watching a movie eating popcorn. Rattie looks expectantly like "is some of that popcorn for me?" Humans tell him "no." He looks mournful. They ignore him. So he runs and gets one of the wife's shoe, brings it into the room and begins to shake it. Husband and wife get up to take the shoe away and he goes racing through the house. They finally find the shoe on top of the bed and return to their movie....only to see their rat terrier laying on the sofa eating out of the popcorn bowl. Wife says to husband "that dog is smarter than us." Like I said, they're problem solvers.

 I have to say that I totally agree with the writer about the intelligence and abilities of the rat terrier.
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