by   David Hancock

I could hear the screaming of the terriers from half a mile away, when, as a boy, I went to the stacks and watched their being surrounded by chicken wire before being dismantled and the frantic, squirming terriers lifted over the wire to destroy their fleeing, time-honoured enemy - the rat! I have never seen dogs so animated, so committed, so frenzied on quarry. And the rat may be their oldest quarry but, sadly, as urban man decides what can and cannot be hunted, their last. But as the poet put it long ago:

 "The rat is the concisest tenant.
  He pays no rent,
 Hate cannot harm
 A foe so reticent."

Rodents are the most abundant order of mammals; 50% of the species of living mammals are rodents. Tough, adaptable, prolific and omnivorous, rodents have posed a threat to man's health and food supply throughout history, from well above the arctic circle to the deserts and humid jungles of the tropics. Some rodents serve as reservoirs for human diseases such as bubonic plague, tularaemia and scrub typhus; it is believed that around 25 million people died from the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages. It has been estimated that, without control measures, rats and mice destroy one third of all grain crops. A survey found that one rat consumes 50lb of grain a year and damages twice as much - 150lb a year lost per rat. One farm in Iowa was found to have 1,000 rats per acre. As rats can breed from 33 days onwards, throughout the whole year, they present an enormous threat to man's well-being. Poisoning them can affect their natural enemies too; but it's not enough to hate them, in the end, rats have to be hunted and destroyed.

Unlike the Americans and the Spanish we have never developed a terrier named and dedicated to this role. The Japanese and the Brazilians have their equivalent but not named as such. The French have long regarded the Fox Terrier as the only terrier breed for work, knowing that it excelled on rat. The past popularity of the Fox Terrier has led to derivatives appearing even further afield. In America both the Rat Terrier and the Toy Fox Terrier, both recognized breeds, have been developed, as further afield have the Brazilian and Japanese Terriers; the Toy Fox Terrier is not a smaller Fox Terrier but a newly-created breed, with Chihuahua and Manchester Terrier blood behind it. In Andalusian Spain the sherry houses and wine shops use another Fox Terrier derivative, the Ratonero Bodeguero, to keep rats under control in their store rooms. 

In America, the Rat Terrier, developed it is said from crosses of Smooth Fox Terrier and the Manchester Terrier, comes in three sizes: 14-23 inches, under 14 but over 10 inches and up to eight inches in the miniature form. The larger sizes were once used in rat-baiting contests, but are famous for achieving huge totals of rats killed on farms, with the record set at around 2,500 rats killed in an infested barn over a seven hour period. They are used by American hunters on squirrel, coon, possum and ground game, as well as in tracking wild boar and deer. Beagle blood has increased size, scenting and hunting skills; Whippet blood has provided the source for the blue and brindle colours. The 10 inch high Toy Fox Terrier is still used as a rat killer, having lost little of its tenacity in its reduced form.

The Japanese Terrier, 12-13 inches high, is also called the Nippon Terrier, Mikado Terrier and Oyuki or snowy terrier, used on rat but essentially a companion dog. The Brazilian Terrier, also called the Fox Paulistina, is used to control vermin on ranches and estates, is rooted in imported Fox Terrier blood, being around 15-20 lbs weight and in their native country come second to the Filas in numbers of registrations. The Tenterfield Terrier in Australia, around a foot high, can be confused with a Jack Russell, but the head is narrower and finer, and the bone heavier and the build stockier. It is not known outside Australia. It is worth noting that the blood and performance of our Fox Terrier is rated more in Australia, Japan, Brazil, North America and Southern Spain than here. We have long had notable rat-hunting packs here but it was sad to read in an old copy of The Kennel Gazette (of August 1888):

“A show of ratting terriers was held in the Palais de l’Industrie at Antwerp in July, and is worthy of record as being the first show held in Belgium by a specialist club. The entry of 156 included 16 dachshunds, 13 Schipperkes, 40 fox terriers, 2 Skyes, 6 bull terriers, 3 Yorkshire terriers, and several toy griffons, with a few white English terriers and black and tans, in addition to a nondescript variety class…on the second and third days the visitors were treated to grand ratting contests, which are very popular in Belgium. There were no English exhibitors present…” This makes sad reading. Ratting with terriers should be a timeless exercise -  it thrills the dogs and benefits man; we should give a much greater emphasis to ratting terriers.