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You might think cats are your solution to a rodent problem, but you may actually want to consider a dog. This is because hunting vermin is part of some dogs' DNA. There are several breeds that were developed specifically to exterminate rodents. Most are part of the Terrier Group (whose name comes from "terra," meaning Earth, as in dogs bred to hunt animals that live in the ground). Most of these dogs also have small and agile bodies, as well as high energy and prey drive (many probably love squeaky toys because of this). Here are 21 dogs that were bred to hunt rats, mice and other rodents.
The Affenpinscher is part of the Toy Group, but its origins are more like that of a terrier. They were bred to exterminate rats and other vermin from German stables in the 1600s. Back then, the breed was larger and more equipped to hunt rats. Eventually, owners brought them indoors to catch mice and pests in the kitchen. After that, they developed into dogs with two purposes, as ratters and devoted companions. While the Affenpinscher's exact genetic origins are unknown, it's believed they descended from German Pinschers and Pugs, among others. They were also used to develop several breeds, including the Brussels Griffon and Miniature Schnauzer.
The American Hairless Terrier (the only hairless dog native to the U.S.) is a newer breed but comes from 19th century Rat Terriers. In the late 1800s, British miners brought Rat Terriers to rural America where the breed was stabilized by crossing it with the Smooth Fox Terrier.
Then in 1972, a hairless puppy was born despite her parents having normal coats. This hairless dog was bred and birthed a hairless female, then eight years later a hairless male and another female. Those two were then bred and produced several hairless offspring, leading to the rise of the American Hairless Terrier breed. The American Hairless Terrier Club of America was established in 2009 and the breed was fully recognized by the AKC in 2016.
Like the Affenpinscher, the Brussels Griffon (or Griff) is part of the Toy Group but its origins were closer to that of a terrier. The Griff arose from Brussels, Belgium in the early 1800s as a rat dog who controlled rodent populations in the stables. It's believed that the Griff descended from Pugs, English Toy Spaniels, King Charles Spaniels, an old Belgian breed called the Brabancon and maybe Yorkshire terriers.
In the 1870s, the breed rose in popularity as a companion dog. It was around then that breeders refined the Griff to be smaller and have a more humanlike look (hence its pouty, flatter face similar to other brachycephalic breeds, such as the English Bulldog or Pug). The first AKC registered Griff was in 1910 but the breed almost went extinct from the World Wars. Breed enthusiasts, however, ensured the Griff's survival.
The Cairn Terrier is one of the smallest and oldest terriers. They originated in Scotland as rat exterminators for farmers. The exact origins are unknown because several types of terriers were categorized together as "Scotch terriers" for years. What is known is that Cairns were in the West Highlands, particularly the Isle of Skye (where it's cousin the Skye Terrier originated) since at least the 1600s.
"Cairns" are mounds of stones used as a boundary or grave marker in Scotland. Rodents would use these mounds as homes, which is where the Cairn Terrier came in. These ratters were developed to dig into cairns and flush out vermin. Cairns are one of the smallest ground terriers, but in a pack, they could go after foxes, otters and other predators. Because they had to confront animals alone, the Cairn had to be independent, brave and tough.
In the late 1800s, breeders created strict breeding programs and classifications to distinguish the Cairn from other terriers. The AKC recognized the breed in 1913 and experienced a boost in popularity after one played Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” movie.
The Dachshund (also known as the Doxie, Wiener Dog and Sausage Dog) originated in Germany, dating back 600 years or so. Their name translated means “badger dog,” which was their original purpose - hunting badgers. They also hunted other rodents, particularly burrow-dwellers like rats and rabbits, as well as foxes and wild boar (in packs).
The Dachshund's entire body is by design. The distinctive long and low body type was made specifically for their work in the ground. The down-ears protected their ear canal from dirt and debris, while their curved tail allowed them to be seen in tall grass and pulled from a burrow if stuck. The coat varieties were also by design, with wire coats allowing for work in thorny areas and long coats helping to insulate in colder climates. The two sizes within the breed served different purposes as well - standards weigh around 30 pounds and were used to hunt larger game, while miniatures weigh up to 11 pounds and were used for smaller game. In addition, their hound-ish howl-like bark allowed their human hunting companion to know where they were when underground.
The exact ancestry of the Doxie is unknown, though smooth-and long-hair Dachshunds existed before wire-hairs, which were bred in the late 19th century. It's believed that Dachshunds descended from hounds and terriers from Germany, France and England. But other breeds have been speculated as well, especially depending on the coat variety. These include German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers, Pinschers, Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, Spaniels, Schnauzers, Scottish Terriers and Dandy Dinmont Terriers. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1885 and the UKC in 1919.
German Pinschers originated in Germany around the 1800s. They were bred to be farm dogs who's main job was to exterminate rats and other rodents. The German word "pinscher" means "to nip or seize," which is what they did as ratters thanks to their agile movement and prey drive.
The exact origins of the German Pinscher are unknown, though it's believed they descended from European farm dogs that both guarded and herded. They were originally categorized in the same breed as the Schnauzer, though the two became distinct over time. German Pinschers were used to develop several well known German breeds such as the Doberman, Miniature Pinscher and Rottweiler. The breed almost disappeared after World War II but survived and was recognized by the AKC in 2003. Today, the German Pinscher is a companion dog, though it may still chase animals thanks to its origins.
Jack Russell Terriers originated as fox hunters in England in the early 19th century. But their small stature and speed (running up to 38 miles an hour) enabled them to excel at hunting small animals. Because of this, along with their bravery, they were useful on the farm for chasing away and removing pests (like rats, raccoons and more). Jack Russell Terriers are energetic and have instinctual digging skills, so they can become destructive if not properly exercised.
The Lakeland Terrier is one of the oldest terriers from Britain, dating back to the 1700s. They originated in the Lake District in northern England, bred to hunt critters on the farm. Their small size and high energy helps them excel at hunting in hard to reach places. But Lakeland Terriers were also tasked with chasing away and even hunting foxes that would enter the property looking for livestock. The breed was recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) between 1921 and 1928 (exact year is debated) and by the AKC in 1934.
Manchester Terriers originated in Manchester, England in the mid-1800s as rat exterminators. In fact, they were so good at ratting that they were often used in the sport of rat baiting (where a terrier was put in an enclosure with rats and timed to see how long it took to kill them all). Rabbit coursing (where dogs pursue rabbits using scent) was also popular, so breeders wanted to create a dog that could excel at both sports. They crossed Black and Tan Terriers with Whippets to create the ideal hunter.
The breed peaked in popularity during the Victorian Era. Men fancied the standard Manchester, but women wanted a smaller version, so breeders sought to create one. They took the smallest Manchesters and bred them until a toy version arose. The two were registered separately until 1959, when they became one breed with two varieties: Standard and Toy. The AKC, however, still has the two varieties in separate breed groups with the Standard belonging to the Terrier Group and the Toy to the Toy Group.
The Miniature Fox Terrier (not to be confused with the Toy Fox Terrier from the U.S.) was developed by Australian hunters who desired a smaller hunter for rats, rabbits and snakes. It's believed that smaller Fox Terriers were crossbred with other similar breeds like Toy Manchester Terriers, English Toy Terriers and Whippets. This enabled a smaller terrier to arise that maintained desirable hunting characteristics like speed, endurance and determination. Australian farmers were the first to call them "little foxies" and today they are known colloquially in Australia as the "Mini Foxie."
Miniature Pinschers, also known as Min Pins, were developed in Germany to exterminate rats from homes and stables. While experts, along with historical artifacts and paintings, say they date back several centuries, the first factual documentation of a Min Pin was around 200 years ago. It's believed that the Min Pin is a cross of Dachshund with Italian Greyhound and possibly German Pinscher too. Although Min Pins look similar to Dobermans, they were not developed as a miniature version and are a much older, distinct breed.
The first breed standard was written after German breeders established the Pinscher Klub in 1895. Min Pin popularity grew after that, especially around the World Wars. The first of the breed was imported to the U.S. around 1919 and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1929 (which was also when the Miniature Pinscher Club of America, Inc. was formed). They were originally classified in the Terrier group, but reclassified in 1930 to be part of the Toy Group.
Miniature Schnauzers originated in Germany in the mid-to-late 19th century, bred to be efficient rat hunters. The medium-sized Standard Schnauzer was bred to be an all-around farm dog who was able to hunt rats, herd livestock and guard the property. Over time, farmers wanted a smaller dog and began developed the mini to target vermin. They may have come from breeding the smallest of Standard Schnauzers or crossing Standards with smaller breeds like the Affenpinscher, Min Pin or Poodle. The Miniature Schnauzer has the same distinctive beard and longer fur on the nose as the Standard and Giant. The first documented Miniature Schnauzer was from 1888. The breed was introduced to the U.S. in 1924 and recognized by the AKC in 1926.
Norfolk Terriers, along with Norwich Terriers, are two of the smallest working terriers. They originated as one breed in Britain in the 1800s to kill rodents on farms. It's believed that they descended from Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers and Irish Terriers. The breed's reputation as excellent ratters spread and by the late 19th century, Cambridge University students brought them in to help the rat problems on campus (giving them their nickname Cantab Terriers).
Breeders refined the breed over the years, leading to its recognition in the 1930s by both the AKC and UKC. But in 1964, Norfolks (who had down-ears) were distinguished from Norwich Terriers (who had up-ears) by the UKC. The two breeds were recognized separately by the AKC in 1979.
Norwich Terriers, along with Norfolk Terriers, are two of the smallest working terriers. They originated as one breed in Britain in the 1800s to kill rodents on farms. It's believed that they descended from Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers and Irish Terriers. The breed's reputation as excellent ratters spread and by the late 19th century, Cambridge University students brought them in to help the rat problems on campus (giving them their nickname Cantab Terriers).
Breeders refined the breed over the years, leading to its recognition in the 1930s by both the AKC and UKC. But in 1964, the Norwich (who had up-ears) were distinguished from the Norfolk (who had down-ears) by the UKC. The two breeds were recognized separately by the AKC in 1979.
The name says it all for this breed. The Rat Terrier is an American breed developed from ratter dogs brought to the U.S. by working-class British migrants. The migrants' dogs, originally bred for speed to control pest populations, were crossed with other breeds after the 1890s through the 1920s. The type of breed depended on location and the problem that needed solved. For instance, those in the Midwest were crossed with Whippets and Italian Greyhounds for quickness to keep up with jackrabbits. Those in Central and Southwest America were bred with Beagles to improve their individual and pack hunting skills. Other crossbreeds may have included Manchester Terriers, Fox Terriers, Bull Terriers and old English white terriers. The resulting Rat Terriers were small dogs with long, muscular bodies. Fun fact: they are one of several dogs with incredible jumping abilities, able to jump five to six feet in the air, despite only standing 16-19 inches tall.
Rat Terriers became one of the most popular dogs from the 1920s to 1940s, revered for their vermin hunting skills by 20th century American farmers. But the rise of pesticides and commercial farming resulted in a decline in the breed from 1950s on. Fortunately, breeders maintained the Rat Terrier, which experienced a boost in popularity in the 1970s. In 1999, the UKC recognized the Rat Terrier and the AKC did so in 2013.
The Schipperke (pronounced “SHEEP-er-ker") is a small Belgium breed that dates back to the 1600s. The breed originated in the Dutch-speaking northern area of Belgium called Flanders. It descended from the now extinct black sheepdog known as the Leauvenaar, who was also the ancestor of the Belgian Sheepdog. While the Belgian Sheepdog was bred to be larger, the Schipperke was bred to be smaller for peasants who could not afford bigger dogs.
Because of their sheepdog ancestry, the Schipperke likely originated as a farm dog that herded livestock, guarded the property and hunted game. But they were discovered by captains who needed compact dog to guard their ships and control rodent populations on them. Shopkeepers also employed the breed to guard their stores and kill vermin. The Schipperke is a light sleeper with a healthy bark (despite their size), allowing for them to excel as watchdogs.
There is some debate about whether the Schipperke is a sheepdog or Spitz and their history of names doesn't provide much of an answer. In Flemish, their name means "little boatman" or "little captain," given to them because of their role aboard ships. But in areas of Leuven and Brussels, "scheper" (which sounds similar to "schipper") was the word for shepherd, translating their name to "little shepherd." In addition, the breed was also known as "Spits" or "Spitzke," a common descriptor for a small dog with pointed ears. Furthermore, DNA analysis has shown they are closely related to the Spitz family. All that being said, though, they are considered a small shepherd in their native Belgium but are comfortable being around water thanks to their background.
The Schipperke was formally recognized in the 1880s, introduced to Great Britain and the U.S. in 1887 with their breed standard established in 1889. They were officially recognized by the AKC in 1904.
The Standard Schnauzer is the oldest of all Schnauzers, arising on Bavarian farms in the Middle Ages and featured in artwork dating back to 1492. These German farm dogs served many purposes - from hunting vermin to herding livestock to guarding the property. Though exact ancestry is unknown, it's believed that Standard Schnauzers share lineage with German Pinschers, as a rough-coated variant. In fact, the breed was originally called "Wire-Haired Pinscher" until 1879 when the term Schnauzer was adopted. The word "Schnauzer" translates to "snouter" from the German word for "snout" and colloquially means "mustache" or "whiskered snout" because of the breed's distinctive beard. The Schnauzer may also have been crossed with a black Poodle, a gray Wolf Spitz and a Bolognese dog. Standard Schnauzers were introduced to America by 1900 and was recognized by the AKC in 1904.
The Teddy Roosevelt Terrier originated in the U.S. as small hunters with the main purpose of controlling rodent populations in the home and on the farm. They were developed from the small and medium dogs of early American immigrants, likely crosses of Smooth Fox Terriers, Manchester Terriers, Beagles, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and the now extinct White English Terrier. Originally, the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier was a variety of Rat Terrier with short-legs known as Type B (the long-legged version were known as Type A). In the 1990s, breeders divided the two into their own distinct breeds. The short-legged Rat Terriers became Teddy Roosevelt Terriers, named for president Teddy Roosevelt who is believed to have owned a few of them. The UKC officially recognizing the breed in 1999.
Toy Fox Terriers (not to be confused with Australia's Miniature Fox Terrier) originated in the early 20th century when American breeders crossed the runts of Smooth Fox Terriers with toy dogs. Possible breeds included Toy Manchester Terriers, Chihuahuas and Italian Greyhounds. Toy Fox Terriers were developed as rat hunters for barns and farms. Breeders wanted a dog with similar characteristics of the Smooth Fox Terrier, but smaller in size. Fun fact: the Toy Fox Terrier's size and brain power allowed them to become popular in traveling circuses. In 1936, the UKC formally recognized the Toy Fox Terrier as its own distinct breed from the Smooth Fox Terrier. But it wasn't until 2003 that the AKC formally recognized the breed.
The West Highland White Terrier, also know as the Westie, dates back to the 1700s in Scotland (though they may have existed even earlier). They were bred to be rodent exterminators, as rats and other vermin would steal grains and carry disease. The exact origins are unknown, though it's suspected that many of the Scottish Terriers (e.g. Cairn, Skye, Scottish, etc.) come from the same ancestry. The breed was kept by the Malcolm clan in the West Highlands for over 100 years before they appeared in dog shows in 1896. West Highland White Terriers were recognized by the AKC in 1908 and the UKC in 1919.
Yorkshire Terriers, or Yorkies, originated in the northern English countries of Yorkshire and Lancashire during the mid-1800s. Though it became a fashion symbol and lapdog, the Yorkie started out as a working dog for the working class. It's believed that the breed was developed by weavers from Scotland who migrated to the English north country and brought along their terriers. They were bred to fit into the nooks and crannies of textile mills to exterminate rodents. Coal miners also used them as ratters in the mines. Yorkies likely descended from several types of Scotland terriers (both extinct as well as current, such as the Skye and Dandie Dinmont). They may also have some Maltese in their genes.
The breed was recognized by the Kennel Club of England is 1886, which boosted their popularity. They became more fashionable than functional, becoming especially popular with women as a companion dog. As the Yorkie became more fashionable, it's size became smaller. They were first introduced to America in the 1870s and recognized by the AKC in 1885. It was later recognized by the UKC in 1956.