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The Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix: Is it the Right Dog for You?

Before you succumb to the floppy-eared puppy staring into your eyes from the online advertisement, it’s essential to decide whether he’s the right companion for you. 

What is a rat terrier border collie mix? A rat terrier border collie mix is a dog that results from a border collie breeding with a rat terrier. Because this cross is unusual, it doesn’t have a breed name of its own but may be called a border collie terrier. The puppy of two pure-bred dogs is generally called a cross-breed, whereas a puppy with a more varied lineage is usually called a mixed-breed.

Your prospective pet’s breed can tell you a lot about what to expect from his appearance, behavior, and temperament.

Rat Terrier Border Collies: Unpacking the Breeds

Although there are some popular novelty crosses, like the Goldendoodle, most mixed breed dogs are less predictable characters whose lineage might contain unlikely pairings like the rat terrier border collie mix.

Cross-Breed Dogs

Cross-breed dogs usually exhibit some of the physical and temperamental characteristics of each of their parent breeds.

When the parent breeds share characteristics, those characteristics will probably feature strongly in their offspring. 

Although rat terriers and border collies were both popular farm dogs, this cross is not common. But if you’re adopting a rescue, you may get just such an accidental mix, so it can be helpful to look into the histories and characteristics of its parent breeds, to help you know what to expect.

The rat terrier border collie mix is a cross between two breeds with a very mixed heritage of their own, which may make it difficult to predict how a crossbreed will turn out.

But a look at the history and features of each breed can help make some broad predictions about what you can expect from your rat terrier border collie cross.

History of the Rat Terrier

history of rat terrier

The rat terrier is an American breed that emerged from the terrier-type, mostly mixed-breed dogs (sometimes called feists) that were brought to the United States by British settlers in the 18th century. 

These small dogs were bred for their speed and agility because they were used to chase and kill the rats and other vermin that plagued farmers.

A rat terrier was reportedly the record holder in a 19th-century rat-killing competition in England, killing 2501 rats in 7 hours (source).

Towards the 1890s, these terriers were more deliberately interbred with greyhounds, basset hounds, and other breeds to create the breed that became known as the rat terrier.

These dogs became all-around companions to farmers, not only chasing rats but assisting on hunts and providing security in the home. 

Rat Terriers Today

Rat terriers were one of the most popular breeds on farms in the 1920s and 1930s America, but disappeared with the rise of commercial farming and are now considered a relatively rare breed (source).

The rat terrier was recognized as a show breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2013, although rat terriers were previously allowed to compete in AKC agility events.

Its recognition led to the creation of a breed standard (a set of guidelines that dictates the ‘ideal’ appearance of a particular breed) and was not popular with everyone. 

Bodies like the National Rat Terrier Association, which kept track of rat terrier lineages for many years before this recognition, believe the imposition of a breed standard may decrease the emphasis on rat terriers’ working talents. 

Today, rat terriers are regaining popularity as small working dogs. They are in demand as therapy dogs and are popular police search dogs, where their intelligence means they need shorter training and their smaller size makes them ideal for searching small spaces.

What Does a Rat Terrier Look Like?

Rat terriers are considered a small to medium breed, weighing in at 10-25 pounds (4.5-11kg) and standing 10-18 inches (25-45cm) at the shoulder. There are two size variations (standard and miniature) recognized by the AKC and various other associations.

Rat terriers are short-haired and usually black, white and tan colored, although the AKC accepts other color combinations, providing there is a significant amount of white in the coat.

Some traditionalists believe rat terriers were originally brindled (irregularly spotted or striped in similar shades of brown) but the AKC doesn’t accept either brindle or merle (source).

Rat terriers may have fully erect or partially floppy ears. Their tails are often docked but some are born with a naturally shorter tail (called a bobtail) and the AKC accepts any tail length. They are usually described as having an alert and intelligent expression.

What are the Characteristics of a Rat Terrier?

According to the AKC, the rat terrier ranks in popularity at 86th out of 195 breeds (source). They are speedy, nimble dogs with high endurance, thanks to their history as a working breed. 

As a smaller dog, rat terriers may be able to live in an apartment, but will always need plenty of outdoor exercises. In more open areas, they are known to dig and their strong prey drive means they are prone to chase after small animals or run out of properties.

Rat terriers are known for their intelligence and courage but are also considered calm and friendly. They make good family dogs but can be overprotective and wary of strangers. Because they are independent-spirited, they need strong discipline and plenty of mental stimulation.

Rat terriers have an average lifespan of about 16-19 years. Their long history of cross-breeding makes for a high level of genetic diversity, and a healthier breed.

However, more recent in-breeding for the show has led to the development of some inherited conditions, including dislocated knee caps, cardiac and pancreatic issues, and hip dysplasia.

The Border Collie 

Like the rat terrier, the border collie is first and foremost a working breed, which came into existence in the late 19th to early 20th century in the border regions of Britain near Scotland.

At this time, it was distinguished from the mixed-breed shepherd’s dogs which had assisted with livestock for centuries (source).

The border collie gained immediate popularity around the world and was widely exported, becoming especially popular in Australia and America (source).

The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1995, which led to controversy. Groups that emphasize the working role of the border collie oppose the increasing emphasis on a more standardized appearance. 

For more information about the controversy surrounding the border collie breed standard, read Border Collie Ears: A Complete Guide.

Despite this, the border collie is still primarily a working dog in many parts of the world. Today, the breed is also increasingly sought after for participation in canine sports such as agility competitions (source). 

What Does a Border Collie Look Like?

The border collie’s shaggy, black and white coat and long feathery tail are instantly recognizable. But there is actually a wide variety in the breed’s appearance, including short and longer-haired variants.

Border collies can also be brown and white, tricolor, white, red, sable or brindle. In fact, the AKC breed standard recognizes any color or combination of colors and markings (source). 

The border collie is larger than the rat terrier and is considered a medium-sized dog, standing at around 18-22 inches (46-56cm) at the shoulder and weighing around 26-44 pounds (12-20kg) (source). 

Border collie ears may be any shape, from fully erect to completely floppy. Like rat terriers, they are expected to be agile, muscular and athletic dogs.

Their tails are never docked and are usually long enough to reach the dog’s hock, the ankle joint that juts out above the paw and below the knee.

What are the Characteristics of a Border Collie?

Border collies are valued for their intelligence and responsiveness to commands. As herding dogs, they have extremely high energy and endurance levels.

They are also known for their love of working with their herd and their owner, and of learning new skills. (source). 

As a larger and very energetic dog, the border collie is not suitable for apartment living and needs plenty of space to run around, as well as lots of physical and mental stimulation. 

Border collies are easy to train but demand lots of engagement and good discipline. Without this, they can become neurotic and difficult to handle (source). But with the right input, they are affectionate, fun-loving dogs and great for families.

For a larger dog, the border collie is long-lived, with an average lifespan of 12-15 years. Like the rat terrier, the border collie has a mixed lineage and is considered genetically quite a healthy breed, although they are prone to inherited deafness, some eye conditions, hip and elbow dysplasia, and epilepsy (source).

What Can I Expect From a Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix?

rat terrier dog breed

It can be extremely difficult to predict how a cross-breed dog will look and behave. This is especially true for a mix that comes from two genetically diverse and recently standardized breeds like the border collie and the rat terrier. So it’s best to avoid minute detail when you’re trying to predict your puppy’s future. 

But it’s usually safe to assume that a cross-bred dog will inherit a mixture of characteristics from each of its parent breeds. And when it comes to qualities that both breeds share, it’s a safe bet that your puppy will get a strong dose! 

What Will my Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix Look Like?

There are numerous genes that determine the size in dogs, the mammal species with the greatest variation in body size (source).

Without having your pup’s DNA sequenced, you can’t make any precise predictions about how his genetic cocktail will play out, but you can take a guess.

Neither of his parent breeds is very large, so he’s likely to be medium-sized too. He won’t be much taller than the tallest border collie (around 22 inches), or smaller than the smallest rat terrier, at 10 inches.

That’s a big range, but you know you’re unlikely to have a Great Dane on your hands!

Extensive genetic research has been conducted into the genetics of coat color, and eight different genes are known to affect color (source).

Unless you’re a breeder, it’s unlikely you need to take a deep dive into the technicalities, but as both breeds are most often a mixture of black, brown and white, your cross-breed will probably share this coloring, although it’s impossible to know where the paint splashes will land.

In dogs, the long-haired gene that creates the border collie’s ‘rough’ coat is recessive, while short hair is caused by a dominant gene (source).

This means the combination of a longer-haired border collie with the short-haired rat terrier is likely to produce a mix with a short coat. Be grateful that this also means less shedding and less brushing for you!

What Temperament Does a Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix Have?

We already know that both rat terriers and border collies are very high energy and extremely intelligent dogs, and it’s likely their offspring will be no different.

Your cross-breed pup is likely to be an agile, athletic dog, quick on his feet and fond of games, from fetch to hide and seek. 

Working breeds are considered easy to train, and the border collie is often considered the most ‘trainable’ breed of all (source). This is good news for your mix, as a love of learning can help rein in some of that energy and make him more responsive and eager to please you. 

However, a dog that doesn’t get enough stimulation and obedience training is likely to become naughty and destructive, and that’s especially true for an energetic dog like this one. 

Your cross-breed pooch is likely to be a good family dog, loyal and gentle with children, although he’ll need plenty of socializing to make sure he’s comfortable around other dogs, animals, and people. 

What Are the Advantages Of Owning a Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix?

There are plenty of advantages to choosing a mixed breed dog, and some special benefits that you can expect from this particular mix. 

For a start, mixed breed dogs are usually less prone to inherited health conditions as the scrambling of their genes helps counteract inbreeding. As both parent breeds come from varied heritage and are considered healthy breeds, you may be able to dodge hidden health issues – not to mention the vet bills! 

Your rat terrier border collie mix is also likely to bring you plenty of joy with his intelligence and responsiveness to training. With the right input, he’ll be tolerant of other dogs in the family, and good with your kids, who can help him expend some of that playful energy. 

On a practical level, the rat terrier’s short coat may help reduce the border collie’s shedding and grooming needs. A smaller dog is also easier to accommodate comfortably in a crowded house or car.

What Are the Disadvantages of Owning a Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix?

As we’ve seen, your rat terrier border collie mix is likely to be a high maintenance dog that requires a lot – and we mean a lot – of time and energy from you, his human. If he’s bored and under-stimulated, he’ll punish you with destructive behavior like digging, chewing, scratching and barking (source).

The working drive of both breeds can also be a challenge. Rat terriers have a high prey drive which might manifest in problem behavior like chasing smaller pets or bolting away from you in the park. 

Border collies have a strong herding instinct which they often exhibit towards children and other pets. It’s impossible to know how many of these instincts your pup will inherit.

Is a Rat Terrier Border Collie Mix the Right Dog for Me?

It might be a good idea to ask yourself whether you are the right person for this dog! The most important consideration is whether you are able and willing to provide the physical and mental stimulation that he will need. 

This means devoting daily time and energy to intensive obedience training, play, and outdoor activity. This is not the dog for someone looking for a couch companion, but if you’re raring to try out a new sport like canine agility or trail running, it could be a match made in heaven. 

Consider your living conditions. Depending on how big he grows, you may be able to keep this cross-breed in an apartment, but chances are you’ll need more space and a garden for him to run around in. You’ll also need access to good outdoor spaces like parks – more than a city sidewalk, in other words. 

As both these breeds are long-lived and healthy, you’re also making a long-term commitment, and his high energy levels are not likely to fade for at least the first four to five years of your dog’s life. 

For a quick review about the mixed breed, see this video below:

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s best not to try to predict your dog’s looks and character in too much detail upfront, as even the purest of pure-breds can surprise you. And the demand for novelty mixes is also driving an unpleasant ‘puppy mill’ industry churning them out. 

But it’s best to be aware that this particular pooch is likely to pose a challenge. If you are a first-time dog owner, don’t feel disqualified, but be ready. When your eyes meet and it’s love at first sight, be ready to do what it takes to make this relationship work. It could be the best decision you’ve ever made.


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