Rat Terriers, as the name suggest are a ratting dog. From around 1910 they were used across America on farms to control the rodent and rabbit population. They were often interbred with other types of terriers and breeds to improve their speed, size, and hunting skills.
Breeds that were put in to the mix included Smooth Fox Terrier, the now-extinct Old English White Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Bull Terrier, Whippet, Italian Greyhound, and Beagle. Italian Greyhounds and Whippets were added so Rat Terriers were faster to catch rabbits. Beagles were added to give the Rat Terriers superior pack hunting ability.
As farmers started to used poison to deal with the rat problem they became less common until the 1970s when they regained popularity as pets.
Their traits are typical of the terrier ratting breeds making them brave, intelligent, high energy, and even stubborn and independent. However, with good training and socialization they make excellent family and companion dogs.
How much exercise does a Rat Terrier need
Rat Terriers are extremely energetic and smart and require at least an hour of exercise daily, but will not say no to more. They love the outdoors and ideally need plenty of off-leash play in the park or yard to help tire them and prevent behavior issues.
Rat Terriers that are not provided with sufficient exercise and mental stimulation become easily bored and this can result in behavior problems. This can include destructive behavior, nuisance barking, digging, and even escaping.
There are three main types of exercise and activity you must provide your Rat Terrier every day.
- 1. Daily walk
- 2. High-intensity purposeful activity (see below for Rat Terrier exercise ideas)
- 3. Mental stimulation
These exercise suggestions are for a healthy adult Rat Terrier. The exercise needs off a puppy are different as their bodies and growing and developing. See the bottom of this article for more on Rat Terrier puppy exercise.
Rat Terriers have a life expectancy of 15 to 18 years, so they are a long-lived breed. Exercise is still important for an older Rat Terrier to maintain their muscles and mobility, and to manage weight. See the bottom of this article for more on exercise for a senior Rat Terrier.
Rat Terrier walking requirements
The daily walk is essential for a Rat Terrier not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your Rat Terrier to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds, and smells they come across.
The length of the walk is only limited by your time and energy as a Rat Terrier can go all day long. Ideally, the minimum should be 20 to 45 minutes daily at a brisk pace. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows.
Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.
If your Fox Terrier has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park off the leash are ideal. Some Rat Terriers can not be totally trusted off-leash so a retractable leash or long line is often a good idea. This gives them a little more freedom while you maintain control.
Rat Terrier exercise ideas
The Rat Terrier is fast and can turn on a dime. Ideally, you need to find activities that can burn energy in a short period of time and use these skills.
Providing your Rat Terrier with a good variety of toys can help not only to keep them occupied but burn off some of that energy also.
Here are some suggested activities and exercise ideas to help tire your Rat Terrier.
A Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it.
This activity is ideal for a Rat Terrier as it works directly with their natural prey and chase instinct. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. It is important that this be a controlled exercise. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon
Playing Fetch with your Rat Terrier is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Rat Terriers are generally ball crazy and love to chase so they can play this for hundreds of throws. A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. As the Rat Terrier is smart and highly trainable they learn to use this quickly. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs”
Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Rat Terriers are extremely agile and look spectacular playing this. Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth. Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.
Set up an agility or obstacle course in your backyard. You can use items you have around the home, build your own agility or you can get reasonably priced agility sets on Amazon.
You can include tasks such as the weave, hurdle jumps, tunnels or jumping through hoops or a platform to jump on and stay.
Check out our list of the best agility training equipment currently available on the market.
A good energy burner if you have stairs in your home. Start at the bottom of the stairs and have your dog “stay”. Throw the ball to the top of the stairs and then say, “Go!” Let your dog dash up the stairs as fast as they can. Have them return down the stairs at a slower pace to avoid injury.
For more on stair exercise for dogs see here.
Running, biking or skating with your dog
The faster your dog is moving the more energy they will release. Try running, biking or skating with your dog to really get them moving. Just be sure to build up the distance and intensity of the activity over time to prevent causing injury to your dog. Read “Running with your dog” for more on this.
Tug of War
A firm favorite of all terrier type dogs. Make them crouch and pull back to use extra energy. Ensure that this is a controlled game and they release when you want them to.
Dog toys that move on their own
There are many dog toys available that shake, rattle, roll and move about on their own. These are ideal for a Rat Terrier as they cater directly to their chase and natural prey drive. See “Dog toys that move on their own” to learn more.
The Wicked Ball is a good example of this type of toy. If your dog is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.
It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood. Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.
The Wicked ball is durable and dog safe and is also waterproof so it can be played with when swimming. It also has a treat hole for dogs that are food motivated.
View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.
Self Playing Dog Toys
There are a variety of dog toys that your dog can use to play by themselves. These are great for times when your dog is home alone, you don’t have the time or you are otherwise occupied. This way your dog can still get some physical activity and mental stimulation without your direct involvement. See “Self Playing Dog Toys” for some ideas.
Provide a digging area or pit
Rat Terriers love to dig and tunnel. Provide an area or digging box for them so they can dig to their heart’s content. You can get a sandbox and fill it with sand and hide their toys or a bone in it for them to find. Just be aware that if the weather is warm the sand may get hot. You can wet it down with the hose if it is. For more ideas on how to provide for your Rat Terriers digging instinct read “Dog toys for diggers“.
There are countless more activities you can do with your Rat Terrier to burn pent-up energy quickly. For more ideas, check out “How to tire a hyper high energy dog” and “Tire a high energy dog quickly“. You may also like “50 Boredom Busters and games for dogs”
Mental stimulation for Rat Terriers
These smart little dogs, in fact, all dogs need an outlet for their minds. If they are not provided the opportunity to challenge their minds they will come up with their own ways to achieve this. This usually manifests itself in bad behavior such as excessive barking, digging, escaping and other destructive behaviors. Read “Mental stimulation and mind enrichment for dogs” to learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this.
Some ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;
Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the Rat Terrier to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Due to their high intelligence, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.
In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your Rat Terrier to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.
Scenting and nose games
Rat Terriers have a keen nose. Playing scenting and nose games helps to provide mental stimulation. Read “12 Scenting and nose games for dogs” for some ideas.
Provide your Rat Terrier with good strong chew toys. Chewing is a great way to keep them busy. In addition, chewing releases endorphins and helps to relax a dog. Many dogs hold stress in the jaw. Read “Best dog chew toys” to learn more.
Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.
Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Rat Terrier to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.
Enrich their environment
Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.
Over exercised dog symptoms
Just as you can not provide sufficient exercise for your dog, you can over do it.
Rat Terriers can go hard and keep going, often not knowing when to stop. With any dog, it is possible to over-exercise them. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a dog that has overdone it. Read “Overexercised dog symptoms” to learn more.
Rat Terrier puppy exercise
The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Rat Terrier. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.
Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. Any activity that is high impact on the joints should also be avoided.
The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.
Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.
As your Rat Terrier puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.
The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down, or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.
Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.
For more on exercise for your Rat Terrier puppy read “How to exercise your puppy”
Exercise for a senior Rat Terrier
As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.
Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.
In conclusion – Rat Terrier exercise needs
The Rat Terrier is a high energy and highly intelligent little dog. It is crucial to provide adequate physical and mental exercise and activity to release pent-up energy and prevent boredom. The cost of not doing so can be an unhappy and frustrated little terrier. This can lead to behavior issues such as barking, digging, escaping, and destructive behavior.
Let us know in the comments ways you exercise your Rat Terrier.