Tuesday, August 5, 2008

All good Americans love rat terriers

What you see here, indeed, is a photo of my dog, Cobb.

I know what you're thinking and you're absolutely wrong. You'll not find a lot of cutesy stories about Cobb nor will I pretend that Cobb is writing this post and talking about life with "his humans."

No, the purpose of all this is to convince you that all good Americans should adore the rat terrier. Cobb and his ilk are as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Budweiser.

Well, not Budweiser. Not anymore. Anheuser-Busch sold out to the Belgians. Therefore, Budweiser sucks and all good Americans should dump any swill brewed by those traitors at Anheuser-Busch in the street and go buy a 12-pack of Samuel Adams. But I digress...

Here's the thing about the mighty, mighty rat terrier. Whenever you see a rat terrier, you should know that you are gazing at a representative of the American breed of dog. That's right. The rat terrier was standardized in the good old U.S. and that's true of how many breeds? As it turns out, a very select few. The rat terrier is my favorite of that small group of U.S. breeds, however.

"But, Hawg? Why should I adore the rat terrier? What's so great about them?"

I'm glad you asked. Here are a few observations about this feisty breed, both good and bad.

Characteristics of the all American dog

Rat terriers come in three varieties -- standard, miniature and toy. Cobb is a miniature rat terrier, meaning he weighs in at about 16.5 pounds. Standard rat terriers are a bit larger. I don't like toy rat terriers because they are bug-eyed and, therefore, creepy.

Rat terriers feature fine fur, mottled skin and their coats are generally mostly white with large patches of black and tan. Their ears are either upright or fold over a bit at the tip. According to the American Kennel Club, Cobb has a genetic flaw because one of his ears stands straight up and the other folds over at the tip. The AKC can go to hell. Cobb's "flawed" ears give the boy character.

Rat terriers kill stuff. Lots of stuff.

I really wish this breed was called "varmint terrier" for public relations purposes. The name "rat terrier" is none to appealing and "varmint terrier" is more accurate, anyway. If something moves and it's smaller than the rat terrier, the dog will try to catch it and kill it. Heck, I've seen mine go after things that are as big as he is.

We live near the Saline River and, as such, we have a lot of snakes show up in my yard. When Cobb was just a little pup, he started to cut down on our snake problem. Yes, he catches them, kills them and buries them, too. That's what I call service!

Some people, of course, will try to argue that a healthy snake population is good for the ecowhatsit and that mother earth cries when one of her creatures is killed and blah, blah, blah, bloppity blah. Nonsense. The only good snake is a dead snake, and the bond between Cobb and me was further strengthened the day that I found out he shares my anti-snake views. God bless that snake-hating little dog!

A concern, of course, is that some of those snakes that Cobb tangles with are poisonous. What if he gets bitten? According to our vet, the best thing to do in such an emergency is to give the pup some Benadryl. Good to know.

A rat terrier may be small, but it's no sissy

Believe it or not, there are some people want a small, house dog but they don't want a temperamental thing that looks like a mop. Rat terriers make good house pets, but they're tough, energetic little critters that like to roughhouse and romp with the best of them. They're great with kids, too.

Rat terriers are fast. Way fast.

Early on, a lot of breeds were cut into the rat terrier bloodline. You can find everything from whippets to Italian Greyhounds lurking in the rat terrier family tree. Why? Because rat terriers were, once upon a time, primarily farm dogs that earned their keep by chasing down and killing varmints. Also, they've put in a lot of time as hunting dogs. So, speed was essential back when the breed was being developed and that means they're turn-on-a-dime speedy.

That can be bad, of course. Rat terriers are also marvelously curious and that leads them to want to explore outside the fence, house or wherever they are confined. Cobb has gotten the door on me more than a few times and he is almost impossible to catch when he gets loose and is running through the neighborhood. He's more than just fast -- Cobb is quick and elusive, too.

Rat terriers are healthy

Because of the rich genetic stew that gave birth to the rat terrier, you just don't get the same inbreeding problems with the dogs that you do with a lot of other ones. Rat terriers, then, are almost mutt-like in their resistance to health problems.

They do have problems with allergies, however, and can break out in rashes if exposed to things like "doggie perfumes" or any of that other rot. It's just as well. What dog wants to smell like a rose, anyway?

Rat terriers are smart

That can be a good thing, of course, because a stupid dog isn't a whole lot of fun. Rat terriers are stubborn, however, and that can be a problem when combined with intelligence. Cobb tends to figure out things, like how to pull of his rabies tag, get rid of that citronella-spraying collar that was supposed to cure him of barking and how to get out of fences.

That little "get out of the fence" trick got him slapped in the dog pound one day. Poor fellow.

Rat terriers have the worst bark on the planet

A barking rat terrier is an awful thing. Cobb is cursed with a bark that's shrill and cutting and he just loves to bark, too. Bark, bark, bark. All the damned time. That's one of the reasons why Cobb spends a lot of time in the house -- I have neighbors and I don't want them to hate me.

One neighbor complained a few months ago about Cobb's barking (it was during the afternoon) and we got a visit from animal control. A friend observed that the heat was just hassling Cobb because he's got a record. Once a dog has been in the pound he just can't live it down.

Rat terriers are friendly if socialized well

Rat terriers get on very well with people and other animals if they are exposed to a lot of people and other animals as pups. Cobb is a friendly type who gets along with our other animals well enough (except for one cat and he can terrorize her all day long for all I care), but he's also intensely jealous.

Why? Because rat terriers bond closely to their owners. If, for example, I'm petting Winston the dog and Cobb figures he ought to be petted, he has no problem with crawling all over Winston and trying to push him out of the way. On the subject of loyalty to owners, rat terriers are extremely sensitive to the moods of their owners -- if you're mad, they know it and cower accordingly. On the other hand, if you're ready to play, the terrier is game. There's a warning here -- if you get a rat terrier, plan on keeping him. From what I understand, they don't adapt well from being pulled away from one owner and handed to another. Once that bond is in place, it's best to make it permanent.

If you want a dog that's both loyal and responsive, the rat terrier is a great choice.

A male rat terrier never runs out of pee

That means that you'd better be ready to let them out of the house often and you'd better be ready to get up out of bed when they wake up and want to go outside. If it's 6 a.m. and you're feeling sleepy, you'd better get to that door and let the dog out. You'll regret it otherwise.

I once thought Cobb had a bladder problem until my wife saw another rat terrier walking down the street and stopping to pee on everything he could find. That's a rotten condition, of course, but it can be turned into an advantage -- when Cobb escapes, we often catch him when he slows down to mark his territory.

Rat terriers are fearless

Yep. They're loud, pushy, hyperactive and never ones to back down from a fight. We have three dogs and one of them weighs 120 pounds -- he's given the aggressive Cobb a scar or two over the years. The big dog is largely passive, but Cobb's not and that can lead to trouble.

By the way, the name Cobb is derived from "Ty Cobb" and it rather fits the breed.


Embrace the rat terrier, America. That little dog is your heritage.


Ms. Orange said...

Great post! I didnt know that there was even an American breed at all!

The Natural State Hawg said...

Why, yes! Yes there is.

Cobb loves to flaunt his "Americaness" in front of our three-legged dachshund/lab mix and our boxer/St. Bernard mix.

That little dog is as red, white and blue as they come. It's enough to bring one to tears...

Ms. Orange said...

LOL! and Cobb is so austere and dignified looking in the pic too :)

3 legged?!? I hope Cobb wasnt behind that, wasnt the cause of it :P

Was curious about poisonous snake bites... will Benadryl do the trick? Do they have an immune system that better handles it?

The Natural State Hawg said...

Cobb had to look dignified in that pic -- he was on the back of the couch and he tends to fall off if he's not alert and a bit rigid.

The three-legged dog was born that way. Her front, right leg is a bit shriveled and has a sad bit of paw on the end of it. She was a pound pup and my wife took pity on her. We weren't about to let that dog stay in a kill shelter! She's a beautiful pup -- looks like a bulky dachshund, she's solid black and she's got lab paws (good thing as those big things help keep her stable).

She gets around very well, by the way, and we took her on a three-mile hike the first day we brought her home. She kept up just fine. She was born that way and manages very well. Ah, and there's nothing funnier than watching a three-legged dog fly down the hallway after a cat (the same cat of ours that Cobb hates).

As for the Benadryl, we've not had to give any to Cobb yet. Our vet swears that will work if he ever gets bitten, however. I just worry about him tangling with a water moccasin and getting bitten. If that day comes, at least we'll be prepared!

FishHawk said...

I already had a suspicion, and after seeing your picture of Cobb, I immediately thought, Feist!!! What they had in Wikipedia confirmed it. For a Rat Terrier is one of the "confirmed" breeds that are often referred unto as being a Feist, and I found it rather interesting that you referred unto Cobb as being "feisty".

My mom had a feist when I first arrived on their scene. Dad had gotten him for her to hunt squirrels with, and I can remember them telling me about a time when the little dog ran off a Great Dane by attacking its belly and being too quick for the big dog to get a hold of him.

Oh yeah, GREAT ARTICLE!!! I hope Cobb liked it as much as I did.

By the way, have you ever drank a Samuel Adams? I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't.

Sara said...

I once knew a rat terrier named Asher and he would hump anything, including the kitchen blinds (no kidding). I'm more of a dachshund woman myself, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.

Bald Eagle said...

I travel nearly 75% of the time, so owning any pet is out of the question. Reading this made me think that I am missing out on something big. Maybe when I'm not traveling like this I'll... And yes, I'll consider a rat terrier in the mix (where I wouldn't have before).

Kathy said...

You need to read about my Rat terrier, Lefty! He fits the mold, only he looks more like a beagle than a rat terrier. But his mom and dad were rat terriers I saw them myself.

Being on a farm a lot of the time we got our dogs the rattlesnake vaccine, it gives you more time for an antidote. Otherwise you have twenty minutes or less because a bite can kill a dog. We have many dogs that get bit and survive it well.

The Natural State Hawg said...


And you are 100 percent correct. I tend to steer clear of the term "feist," however, as that covers a wide range of dogs and not the rat terrier specifically. Still, I couldn't resist dropping the word "feisty" in there, could I?

Regardless, the story about your parents' feist going after a Great Dane sounds about right. Those little things can be fierce and a "snap dog" does have a bit of an advantage in a fight -- hard to grab the little sucker. I know about all that from chasing Cobb through the neighborhood when he escapes.

And I do enjoy some Samuel Adams stuff. I'm very disappointed in Anheuser-Busch these days...

The Natural State Hawg said...


Nah, dachshunds are too German. Just kidding -- I have a dachshund/black lab mix who is a great dog.

I do believe the "humping" story, too. Cobb used to be an arm humper. My wife took a picture of him when he was fixated on my arm one day and I was shooing him away. I'll not share that photo here...

The Natural State Hawg said...

bald eagle:

You won't be disappointed! Rat terriers make for great companion dogs, but I'll warn you -- they are a bit high maintenance in that they want to be around their owners almost constantly.

The Natural State Hawg said...


Read and I left a comment. The coloring says "beagle," but everything else about that dog screams rat terrier.

For the purposes of discussion, I feel compelled to point out that Kathy has a lot of tales about her rat terrier stored right here.

Ah, it's always great to meet another fan of the might rat terrier, Kathy. Thanks for stopping in!

lala said...

Well, Cobb sure is a cutie!

He pees a lot because 1. he's a male, and they always have to "mark" their territory and 2. he's a small dog and therefore has a small bladder.

Hey, that really is good to know about Benedryl. Who knew?

Da Old Man said...

Great story. I knew most terriers were rather rambunctious and fearless, but it seems rat terriers are the ultimate of the family.

fwaggle said...

good post. :D

i think from memory rat terriers and jack russel terriers are about the only terriers that still in some way function as a working dog like their breed was intended.

just about every other breed's been murdered in some way, with the APBT being about the worst.

my wife wants a smaller dog next (we have two german shepherds), i was trying to talk her into a jack russel but cobb looks like he might do all the convincing for me.

The Natural State Hawg said...


That is good to know, indeed.

Cobb has managed to avoid the snakebite so far, but those things are sneaky. Hopefully, he's honed his snake killing technique to a fine art and we won't have to pull out the Benadryl.

Small bladder, huh? That would explain it.

The Natural State Hawg said...

da old man:

Cobb runs the house by default, I think. The other dogs don't have enough energy to fend him off so he gets his way.

The Natural State Hawg said...


Tell your wife they're cheap, too! I paid $65 for Cobb and he's registered. I've seen them go for as high as $100 around here, but that's still not much.

Rat terriers aren't terribly popular breeds, so you can find them for a little bit of nothing.

I like Jack Russell terriers, too, but I prefer the rats because they do have an "off" switch and will calm down every now and again.

And you said it about terriers. Thank goodness at least some breeds of those things have survived...

Anonymous said...

Okay I have to make a comment here, and being Hawgs wife... Cobb does not run the house... Bella the dog does, and she will tell you about it to, if you just let her... So to bring the argument from home to the internet... Bella is the best dog, and Cobbie is a pain in the butt... though everything the Hawg said was true he is a good bread of dog, now if he would just kill the spiders along with the snakes he might move up in the ranks with me.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Wives are why moderated comment sections were invented ;)

Anna said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and chuckling about the pros and cons of rat terrier "ownership." (as if such a dog could be owned!) Thanks for sharing your insights. (Our furry family member is a 90 lb. golden retriever!)

The Natural State Hawg said...


Well, owned is a rather objective terms when it comes to these things, isn't it?

Now, golden retrievers -- there's a great breed of dog! A bit more popular than my beloved rat terrier, the golden retriever has proven to be a great family dog over the years. Their popularity is well deserved.

Thanks for stopping by!

sukie310 said...

loved your post... first things first, The Boston Terrier and The Toy Fox Terrier are also all american breeds. but I digress.. let's talk rats. they are the dog everyone is looking for but didn't know existed. truly the best kept secret of dogdom that is becoming much less of a secret sad to say as evidenced by their pet store popularity. Can we say smart, mine absolutely understands everything I say. Yeah i know others say the same, but I'm not exaggerating. They more then bond closely they merge with their people. My boy is very friendly and loves all adults, and infants but just about tolerates younger kids as long as they are respectful. He has traveled to Europe many times and is always admired for his beauty when he runs... like a whippet really. Well I could go on. Your boy is a beauty..

The Natural State Hawg said...


I believe you're right -- U.S. breeds are few and far between, and it appears the dogs you mentioned are in that select club.

Heh. I just knew I'd be proven wrong...

At any rate, thanks for the comment and it's always great to run into another rat terrier fan. And they do seem to be going through a bit of a revival -- they used to be wildly popular, but that changed over the years. People seem to be purchasing them again.

I figure that's a good thing. These are wonderful little dogs, so I'm glad to see that people are picking up on that. The downside, of course, is that I may not be the only one in my neighborhood to own one before long ;)

Wild about my rat terrier, and it appears you adore yours, as well. Good stuff...

FishHawk said...

Yes, I need to repent of my despairiging remarks about the Samuel Adams Beer brand. For what I have drank in the past was there regular style (in Boston, no less) which is way too bitter for my delicate sensibilities, but they do have other styles that may be much more enjoyable.

The Natural State Hawg said...


Well, Samuel Adams is a bit bold, indeed. I've always been a Budweiser fan, but I just can't stomach the fact that our "all American brewery" has sold out to foreigners. That, of course, will mean that good Americans will be losing their jobs as the company is restructured, and I'll not support that.

Now, if I drank like I did while in my 20s, that would be a threat. As it stands now, that means they'll sell about a case less per month. No big loss to A-B, but I'm done sending those rascals my money.

Da Frog said...

Hawg, I really enjoyed your post. Rat terriers are great little scrappers. The wife and I have always had Jack Russell Terriers. They too are fearless and can take down anything from a snake to a rat.

Now my 15 year old JRT, Watson, doesn't know he's not an American breed. And I don't think I want to tell him. But he too can be a real bully. We had a Rottweiler in the neighborhood a few years ago. Watson doesn't like Germans and when this Rotty was a puppy Watson would push him around. When the Rotty got to be over 100 lbs, guess what, he was cowed by Watson. He would lower his head, put his tail between his legs and greet Watson with his hat in his hand.

I think it something about the terrier breed itself. They just have no idea they are not all pit bulls.

The Natural State Hawg said...

da frog:

Jack Russells are great little dogs. Very terrier, but more hyper than the rat terriers (from my experience). And that's saying something!

Your "terrier story" sounds pretty familiar. Those little dogs are straight up scrappers and I've seen more than one terrier get its bluff in on a dog that's a lot bigger.

I've seen that attitude get a terrier or two in trouble, however.