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Terrific Terriers; Loving Life With Your Jack Russell or Rat Terrier

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Playful Temperament of Terriers

Playful Temperament of Terriers

Can you make Terrier Time work for you too?

Nervous about adding a high energy Jack Russell or Rat Terrier to your family from the Humane Society or Rat Terrier Rescue? I was once too... But now, as my best boy lolls in the window seat, let me calm your fears!

With the right dog psychology & training approach and some tips from Cesar Milan, you too can share a happy home!

Here's how we stay sane with our Terrific Terrier... Jack Russell or Rat!

Chosen... by a Rat Terrier

Chosen... by a Rat Terrier

Rescuing a Rat Terrier (disguised as a Jack Russell)

Breaking all my rules at the Animal Shelter

He had me at...

"Hi! I'm on your lap, licking your face,

rolling on my back, jumping back on your lap,

kneeling to play, kissing your hand...

back on your lap...Hello, Hello, Hello!"

And so started an affair I'd sworn to avoid, but will never regret.

I'd come to the Preble County Humane Society for a family dog with three simple rules;

1) nothing smaller than 15 pounds (from my husband who was happily retired from the nightly "Owl Duty" standing guard over our late teacup chihuahua)

2) it has to like people; especially the small grabby toddler kind, and

3) nothing too high energy (like a Jack Russell) as we already had a 3 year old who left us sprawled on the couch bleary-eyed at the end of the evening.

We interviewed 6 dogs who looked suitably cowed in their cages.

One after the next took the cookie we offered and then scooted off to the farthest corner of the room to pant nervously and await the Shelter worker's return. My husband, who felt he'd done his part in reviewing the weight requirements went home leaving me in charge of choosing from the crew of sad and sulky options. Silly man, leaving me alone at the shelter!

A final lap around the pens revealed one little dog I'd missed. A sleek and perky fellow with lovely doe eyes. I asked for a meeting and retreated to the visiting room. When the door opened; I was bowled over by a small sleek tornado of love and enthusiasm.

I knew that Numbers 1 & 2 on my list where covered... but well, number 3... the "no Jack Russell clause..." Hmmm.

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So I did the obvious thing; asked the Shelter worker if she was SURE he was really a Jack Russell? "Perhaps," I suggested hopefully, "this is a Rat Terrier?"

His smooth coat and slighter build might support the argument for this slightly less wired breed often referred to as Jack Russell's with "an off-switch." And I was looking for straws to grasp.

Sleek & Smooth Rat Terrier coat

Sleek & Smooth Rat Terrier coat

So We Rescued a Rat Terrier (I think)?

What's the difference between the Jack Russells & Rat Terriers?

The kind folks at the Dog Shelter could see how nervous I was about my commitment to a "alleged" Jack Russell and reassured me that I could take him home, see how he fit into our family and if it didn't work out, they would take him back and find us another dog. It was all I need to make the leap.

Well, that, and a bunch of late night research into just what made a rat terrier. Wikipedia is where I found my hope...

This is what they said:

"Although often mistaken for a Jack Russell Terrier, the Rat Terrier has a different profile and a very different temperament. Rat Terriers are sleeker in musculature, finer of bone, and have a more refined head. They always have a short single coat, i.e., they are never wire coated. Rat Terriers tend to be less aggressive than Jack Russells; while they have a definite terrier personality they also have an "off switch" and love lounging on the sofa in a lap as much as tearing about the yard.Rat Terriers tend to be happier when they receive a great deal of mental stimulation and exercise."

I looked at Bingo, admiring his stunning musclature, smooth coat and long limbs... so many of the Jack Russells had stockier builds, smaller legs. His tail is docked. He must be a full breed of some kind. Why not a Rattie?

I wondered about the couch test... Specifically I wondered if he'd lounge on it, or eat it...?

Why not Rescue a Rat Terrier? - The benefits of Breed Rescue & Adopting an Adult Dog

Big Dog - Little Terrier

Big Dog - Little Terrier

Lots of people think they couldn't skip puppyhood. Especially those that forget about the constant piddles, the chewing of favorite shoes and remote controls, the barking, the scratching, the extra energy, the year long (make that three year) transition through puppydom and doggie teenage behavior. With an adult dog, you skip all of that and can have a dog with its wits about it.

Some are worried that an adult dog won't bond to them.

I felt this way once, but I've since learned that dogs aren't like that. They know a good thing and they love being part of a pack. I've read it takes about 3-4 weeks for a dog to bond to a new family. Bingo is so friendly, it was quite a while before I was sure that he'd choose us over another friendly hand, but there's no doubting his devotion any more. Even when visiting his favorite playmate Ezzie an English Setter (see photo above) on the ideal Rat Terrier retreat of a farm, Bingo keeps a watchful eye to make sure we don't leave without him.

Give adult rescue dogs a chance and they'll reward you over and over. In fact I can almost hear Bingo right now: "Ball? Ball? Ball? Wanna play Ball?"

Rat Terrier Rescue Resources - Just give it a little peak...

There's a lot of loving Ratties out there in need of rescue... go ahead, take a peak, just a little peak... you know you want to...

  • American Rat Terrier Rescue
    Expect a screening for these special pups and you'll get a load of information about the prospective pups personality and character.
  • Ratbone Rescues
    This 501c3 nonprofit Rat Terrier Rescue group has Ratties living in foster homes being trained and loved until their forever family appears.
  • Rat Terrier ResQ
    A national group of volunteers helping find new homes for Rat Terriers and American Hairless Terriers. They also train and resocialize the dogs in foster care homes until they are placed.
  • Rat Terrier Type Dogs for Adoption on Petfinder
    Search for dogs for adoption at shelters near you. Change the search to a zip near you.
Historical Rat Terrier Ratting Photo

Historical Rat Terrier Ratting Photo

Rat Terrier Facts

Good for Trivial Pursuits

An all-American breed created by Immigrants and reaching its peak popularity during the 1930s when it was the ubiquitious farm dog.

Only accepted into the American Kennel Club officially in July of 2010. Before then it was considered a mixed breed terrier or a "feist."

The Rat Terrier is a mix of European Terriers such as Old English White Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Bull Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, Beagle, Toy Fox Terriers, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds.

The tail is typically bobbed but a natural tail is not a disqualification for showing.

There are two categories: miniature which is 10-13" at the shoulder & standard which is 13"-18" at the shoulder.

Rat Terriers are never a solid ground color without white markings, or bi-colored without one color being white.

Rat Terriers always have a short single coat and are never wire coated.

Rat Terriers were, obviously, bred for eliminating rats, but they were primarily bred for speed.

A rat terrier holds the record for most rats killed in a single infested barn: 2501 rats in 7 hours.

Some claim that Teddy Roosevelt's feist "Skip" who was famous for ridding the White House of rats was a Rat Terrier. A short-legged version of the rat terrier called Type-B Rat Terrier is now recognized in the UK as a separate breed called the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier.

Cesar Milan's got the key to Sanity with your Terrier - Dog Training Can make your Jack act like a Rattie

I picked up this book a couple weeks after I brought Bingo home from the Humane Shelter. I wish I'd had it before we had our doggie interviews. Not only is this a really interesting rags to riches story of Cesar's early history that I ended up presenting to my book club group, but it gave me a guide to understanding my terrier's needs and how to make sure we both keep our sanity and love living together.

Bingo Looks for Leadership

Bingo Looks for Leadership

1) Be the Leader of your Rattie Pack

Cesar's Milan's dog psychology will show you the way

The Dog Whisperer's dog training techniques have worked wonders for us. For the first week Bingo was home with us I attached his leash to my belt and had him follow me everywhere or lie at my feet while I was sitting. I wanted to imprint that I was the leader and he was obviously looking for direction.

We are lucky our little guy has a very submissive personality. It took us a while to figure out a mode of enforcing rules that didn't send him into a quivering mess on his back (or into a puddle of his own piddles!).

A softer delivery of these methods below worked well for me; adapt them to your own dog's temperament.

1) Dogs communicate leadership through calm assertive energy, you can do it by walking tall and confidently, and giving corrections calmly & with correct timing.

2) All greetings need to be on your terms; no affection or attention should be given until the dog is calm and seated

3) Leaders go through the door first - all the time

4) Leaders eat first, dogs are fed after

5) Leaders have rules and enforce them whatever they are; no digging, barking etc

6) Avoid games that create leadership confusion like tug-of-war or that create destructive fixations like laser pointers

7) Find opportunities to give your working dog "jobs" like "guarding" the car while you're on errands

8) Only give affection (reward) when your dog is in a calm submissive state of mind

How to walk Cesar's Walk

Dog Training tips for sanity with your Terrier

A key tenant of Cesar's Milan's method is "the Walk." The walk is the foundation of the leadership relationship and of our sanity as a terrier family... if Bingo doesn't get his exercise it drives him nuts and then he drives us nuts. Trust us, we've seen the nuts!

In the depth of winter when it was too cold and blustery to overcome my couch's warm embrace, our family suffered heavily from cabin fever... Bingo started chasing refracted lights on the ceiling... incessantly... we were all literally climbing the walls. We had to get back on the walks, snow and bluster or not... here's what you need to know about walks:

1) Walks must be structured & controlled with no pulling, running in front. Permission must be given to sniff.

2) 30 mins/day twice minimum

3) You must be the leader before and during the walk. This means you exit the door before the dog granting them permission to follow you.

4) Backpacks can help the ADD (or easily distractable squirrel hunter) focus on their walking 'job"

Outward Dog

Bingo suited up, focused & awaiting his walk

Bingo suited up, focused & awaiting his walk

2) Walk for Leadership & Exercise

The right collars and backpacks (yes!) help keep you in the Lead.

Wondering how to train your terrier to make a walk more enjoyable? It takes a lot of work and some good accessories.

Our first months of walks were so trying with constant yanking and corrections... poor fellow ended up with very little of his light coat left around his neck!

We had to make a couple improvements to our tools. First, we switched to a halter to help control the pulling. Then, we added a weighted backpack (see photo) as research shows that having a job and the weight helps give him focus and keep him from chasing and pulling.

After some weeks with these new methods, we made good progress and switched back to the cinch collar again. Cesar recommends against retractable leashes (which allows the dogs to be out front and in control) and I agree with him... but we sometimes can't find our other ones (this photo occurred during one of those moments!).

Now, we can enjoy a calm walk side-by-side with only occasional reminder corrections. I've even had people compliment us; something I never expected to happen!

Bingo bringing in the Frisbee

Bingo bringing in the Frisbee

3) Doggie Playtime for Fun, Exercise & Leadership

Get you to the Dog Park!

Cesar Milan is clear about the priority of the walk over all other forms of exercise... but Bingo loves his play, so sometimes we do both... and sometimes I'm lazy and enjoy standing in one place while Bingo gets his exercise!

Part of what works for us is that we've learned to try to structure it as Bingo's "job" to bring me the ball or frisbee. Cesar talks about the importance of giving these working dogs a job, and it must be one they can actually complete.

This is something we learned after making the mistake of thinking the laser pointer would be a good indoor winter game alternative - it worked with the cat... we gave it a couple tries. Were we ever wrong! Because he could never "catch" his prey, he ran around in a frenzy looking for it and was totally worked into a lather for the rest of the evening.

The other thing to remember is to make sure playtime is always on your terms. This can be hard to remember when faced with the enthusiasm our little terriers exude, but this is how to enforce who's in charge. For example, I make Bingo release the ball and either sit or move away before I choose to throw the ball. I don't pursue him or get into tug of war over the ball; that puts him in control. If he doesn't drop it for me, I don't throw it for him. It took a bit to get the message across but the trick is to remember he wants to chase that slimy ball more than I want to hold it (Note the Chukkit ball thrower below - another aid in avoiding slimy tennis balls)! So, just ignore him a bit and he'll drop it at your feet (over and over!).

In the same way, when we use the ball and the frisbee, we let him bring in the last throw and give it to us and then we put it away. We don't leave it with him or he'll worry it (and us) to keep playing.

4) Give Your Working Dog a Job - Treat Balls Make Him Work for His Dinner & Saves his Sanity!

High energy dogs like terriers love to have a job. But without sheep to herd or rats to destroy, what can we give them to do?

I found this great treat ball on Amazon that will accommodate his kibble and can be put in the dishwasher when needed. The ball unscrews and there are two compartments. Weighted at the bottom, your pup needs to push the ball around to get it to release his food from the first compartment to the second, to the floor.

Now, Instead of dinner being inhaled out of a bowl in 1 minute flat, my furry friend has to nose it all over the room for about 15 minutes - twice a day!

To get him started, make it as easy as possible to get the kibble. I started with just putting the kibble under the ball so he had to push it away. Then I put it in the compartment nearest the hole. He didn't try that hard for his breakfast, but by dinner time he was hungry enough to figure it out. It's a challenging job for him, and sanity time for me - We both win!

Terrier Sanity Saver Food Balls

More Toys to Make Terrier Work for their Fun - Ball Chuckit, Frisbees & more

Does your dog need exercise? Could it walk a marathoner to death? Wondering how to get your dog the exercise it needs? While no substitute for a daily walk, these toys go the distance (while letting you stand relatively still!). One 30 minute walk plus a half hour of fetch works for us!


Squirrel Patrol; Its not just a Job, its an Obsession...

Feist? You Bet! Embrace your OCD Dog!

When we were been told that the previous owners had taught our Pound Pup to squirrel hunt... I tried not to laugh.

First, why would anyone want to their dog to hunt squirrels?

And second, who needs to TRAIN them to do it? Especially Terriers?

Its best to have a sense of humor about it, which is why I made these Squirrel Patrol shirts.

Rat Terrier in Repose

Rat Terrier in Repose

Verdict: Rat Terrier.

Bingo passes the Couch Test!

Cesar showed us the "off switch" Just like Cesar Milan advises;

a good walk,

some clear rules,

a job or two,

a calm greeting when I get home,

dinner from the leader

and our Bingo, Rat Terrier or Jack Russell (whatever!) is more than happy to lounge blissfully on the couch... or... play Ball!

Which Type of Terrier works for Your Family? - Terrier advice for those looking for a family dog

Rat terriers are great family pets

Rat terriers are great family pets

What type of terrier would you (did you) choose for your family? What affected your choice and would you recommend that terrier to others! All advice welcome!

Our Terrier chilling out... as usual.

Our Terrier chilling out... as usual.

Rescuing an Adult Rat Terrier - I'd do it all again

Our best dog ever.

Two years after the anxious decision to bring our terrier (whether rat terrier or jack russell) Bingo home from the shelter, after pages of research on terrier training techniques and many miles of dog walks logged, we've ended up with the best family pet we've ever had!

In fact, I'm so happy with this terrier's role in our lives that I'm considering trying to nailing down his pedigree in order to make sure our next terrier puppy (or shelter rescue) is just like him!

At our last vet visit, all around me I could hear the nervous energy of every other beast in the building; scratching, panting, meowing... and my Bingo napped peacefully on my lap. When the vet appeared and saw this peaceful scene she said "a sleeping terrier in my office? that must be one sick Jack!" I said "you know, this is pretty normal for him... which is why I'm pretty sure he's no Jack Russell." She agreed and pointed out that if we really wanted to find out that they now offer DNA testing for dogs! Sounds pretty crazy right?

I have to admit I'm pretty tempted to try this Doggie DNA test because I can think of nothing better than following this fellow with another just like him! If I do take the DNA plunge... I'll let you know! Until then, I have to say I'll put my money on Rat Terriers!

Doggie DNA Tests - For those of us who really want to know

Who would've thought it possible to do a Dog DNA test? Before I found myself in this happy dilemma I would also ask who would bother! Now I understand a bit better why humans have maintained dog breeds for all these years; once you find a pet that works for your family you just want to keep the magic going!

Should I DNA test my Dog? - Should we Settle the Jack Russell vs. Rat Terrier debate with Science?

Is my dog a Rat Terrier or Jack Russell? - What do you think?

I'm no expert and of course I'll see what I want to see. In the end, I have a great dog whatever he is. High energy certainly, but not destructive (most of the time), and certainly willing to lounge (provided I've gotten his daily ration of exercise covered)... what do you think?

What did I bring home from the Shelter?

Send me your thoughts on Training, Leadership & Terriers!

Lyn from England on January 02, 2018:

In the UK they are the same thing and I have never heard of the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier mentioned as been recognized in the UK. What did happen a few years ago is the long legged version of certain features became known as the Parsons Terrier, whilst the shorter legged cousins remained called Jack Russell Terrier. I have known lots of terriers and to me they are all "just" terriers. Nice piece and great advice.

Donna from East Yorkshire, UK on January 01, 2018:

I love that you adopted Bingo. I though Bones was a JRT when he first came to live with us (was meant to be short term while finding him a home - yes, right!) Very interesting read. I had never heard or a Rattie before, so just shows you are never too old to learn. I don't mind what breed Bones is at all, but I am surprised that I had never heard of a Rat Terrier over the years. Delightful pics.

rarag3 on January 21, 2014:

I agree with @Natasha L, I own a Plummer Terrier too and they really look the same! :) Guys, if you want to teach your dogs more, I recommend this site-- --. They have 250+ videos and are adding regularly to guide you through training. No necessary force used ever. All you have to do is be the boss and everything will be easier! :) You can see results almost instantly. This really helped me with Brad (my Terrier).

sheriangell on October 21, 2013:

As the mom of Zoey, my 10 year old Rat Terrier, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here. Zoey is the most human like dog I have ever met. Her charisma charms me every day and I am proud to call her my dog-daughter!

Amy Trumpeter from Oxford on December 13, 2012:

Really interesting, thanks for this great lens. I have a Jack Russell Terrier called Milo, you will see him if you visit my lenses!

anonymous on October 05, 2012:

I was very interested in reading this. I think what you have is actually a Plummer Terrier. I own a Plummer Terrier and they look very very similar and have the same kind of character traits as you have described. Plummers are great dogs! :)

StewartClan on August 23, 2012:

I have never heard of a rat terrier as a separate breed to jack russells. Not sure if we have them in the UK, but I will investigate that. There do seem to be two personalities within the Jack Russell breed; the nervous high energy type who are always on the alert, and the less high energy type who are into being cuddled and tend to be more of a lap dog. I like the lap kind, that is the sort that my JR Judy is.

Psychologist on June 08, 2012:

Great info and pics, though personally not a big fan of Cesar Milan's techniques

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on May 29, 2012:

Yay for you guys for adopting Bingo! :)

joannalynn lm on May 01, 2012:

Definitely a rat! My rat terrier Rosie is my very best friend, and rats are the greatest dogs. I call her a wide-bodied model, and I have to watch how long she stays in the barn. She is an excellent mouser, and will swallow them whole if she sees me coming. Snow and -15 degrees F is no distraction to walks, 40 minutes every day, with four + trips outside to mouse, play, and check the perimeter for intruders, but sleep time is also abundant. We were like you, no Jack Russel. Such a nice lens.

June Nash on February 20, 2012:

My Lexie isn't quite as high energy as your terrier, but she definitely responds to walks! Lexie is a terrier chihuahua mix. She had issues. I am also a fan of Cesar Milan's methods. He made my life with Lexie a joy. I needed to become the alpha. Once accomplished, our issues are small!

unstucktheory on January 29, 2012:

Loved your lens! I can totally see why you fell for Bingo at the shelter :) We have a similar story with our little adopted fur-kid Eddie.

JoleneBelmain on December 07, 2011:

An absolutely adorable lens :) Rat terriers are very cute

rewards4life info on October 06, 2011:

Such a cute dog I think I would have reacted the same way as you did or just brought all of them home. We have a couple of dogs which we got as puppies as we have cats and felt it was better to raise them from pups. I watch Cesar Milan he has such a good approach to dogs and has certainly help us with our training. A very interesting lens so much useful information.

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on August 31, 2011:

He looks like a Rat Terrier to me. Adorable - you picked a winner. Congratulations on adopting an adult dog. Also thanks for featuring my Jack Russell Terrier Squidoo Lens.

LouisaDembul on August 24, 2011:

What a cute dog! My father has a Jack Russel Terrier, full of energy! They are nice dogs.

LouisaDembul on August 24, 2011:

What a cute dog! My father has a Jack Russel Terrier, full of energy! They are nice dogs.

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