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Have you got rats? Then you have a problem! Rats are not only destructive, they eat crops and animal feed, damage buildings with their urine and feces, and gnaw on foundations or structures. Unfortunately, rats have become resistant to a lot of the poisons used to attempt to eradicate them, and many are too canny to be caught in traps. The good news is, there is an ancient secret weapon! Dogs!
Dogs have been used for centuries to hunt vermin including rats. Some dogs, specifically terriers, are super efficient at catching rats. Using a terrier to catch rats is faster than other methods, and safer too. Terriers have several natural tools at their disposal that make them excellent ratters. They tend to be small bodied and long legged, which makes them great at digging and burrowing underground to get rodents, are naturally prey driven and aggressive at hunting rats, and they don't back down from a fight if necessary. They are tenacious and don't give up!
Training a terrier to hunt rats is really just a matter of harnessing their already present natural abilities. Teaching them to focus on and trail rodents, specifically rats, by introducing rat scent and laying trails is a common way to encourage rat hunting.
Practice catching rats by exposing your dog to rats in a controlled situation to hone hunting abilities. You'll also want to encourage digging by planting rat scented bait and reinforcing digging. This will reinforce your dog's burrowing skills. Put all of these skills together and you will have a proficient rat hunting machine.
Whether you have a Border, Cairn, Jack Russell, Rat, Yorkshire, Highland Terriers , or a Schnauzer, introduce your dog to rat hunting and you will really watch him shine! Terriers love to hunt rats and giving them exposure and practice is all that is really required for their instincts to kick in and the rats to check out!
You can use treats to help reinforce digging and scenting behaviour if you like, although many terriers also respond well to reinforcement with toys and play. Most terriers will perform rat hunting behaviors just for the sheer joy of it and only need a little direction to get the hang of it. If you are going to be working in open areas, you can use a GPS tracking collar to help locate your dog, or a ferret collar, which allows you to track a terrier that has burrowed underground. Tame mice and rats in cages can be used to introduce your terrier to rodents. Good recall and obedience is also important whenever you start training a working, hunting dog to allow you to keep him out of danger and keep other critters, like the neighbor's cats safe!
The Natural Ability Method
Introduce your terrier to a rat in a cage. Get your dog excited about the rat by rewarding him when he expresses interest. Be sure to have a professional on hand to maintain the safety of the rat.
Reinforce rodent agression
When your terrier shows interest, and even aggression, reinforce with verbal praise, play, or treats. Repeat daily and continue to reinforce aggression, snarling, snapping, barking and pawing at the cage. Maintain control throughout this exercise so the rat is not injured.
Take the rat in a cage outside and allow your dog to get worked up about the rat in an outdoor environment with distractions present. Repeat for several days until he is used to the rat's presence.
Introduce to live situations
Take your dog where there are rats present. You can include other rat dogs, if they are available, and allow your dog to look for and chase live, wild rats. Other dogs that have experience can help teach your dog how to locate and chase quarry.
Continue to expose and practice to allow your dog to develop his own hunting techniques on rats. Your terrier will discover his rat hunting skills and abilities and develop them over time.
The Scent Trail Method
Create a rat scent trail
Obtain rat scent, purchased commercially, or created from bedding of tame rats, soaked and then strained off into a spray bottle. Soak a rag and create a simple straight scent trail by dragging the item. End the trail by burying the rat scent covered rag in a shallow burrow.
Introduce to trail
Take your terrier to the beginning of the scent trail and wait for him to pick up the trail. You can give him some hints, if necessary. Most terriers will instinctively pick up rodent scent and follow it.
Play with scent object
Praise and guide your dog as he follows the simple scent trail to its conclusion. Encourage digging to find the buried rag. Play with the rag as a reward and let your terrier fight with and tug on the rag.
Make scent trails more complex and dig deeper burrows with scent objects. Add twists, turns, and interruptions to the trail, as well as length. Practice with these more difficult scenarios.
Start taking your terrier out to areas where rats are present and let him locate wild scent trails and track rats. Encourage him and praise him for following rat trails and catching rats.
The Start Small Method
Introduce to mouse
If you have a young terrier that may be intimidated by full-sized rats, start small. Practice with mice caught in live traps, or purchased, and put them in a wire cage. Let your puppy see the mouse in the cage and encourage excitement and aggression. Reinforce aggressive behavior to the mouse but don't let your dog touch the rodent.
Chase mouse outside
When your terrier is getting aggressive and attacking the mouse cage, let the mouse out in an outdoor area like a lawn and allow your terrier to chase and catch the mouse. Praise him and give him a reward of treats or play.
Switch to rats. You can obtain feeder rats from pet stores used as feed for snakes. Introduce your terrier to the rat in a cage again so he is familiar with the sight of the rat.
Let the rat loose outside where your young terrier has a good chance of success at catching it. This can be on an open lawn. Let your terrier hunt and catch the rat using his own skills.
Start taking your dog to natural areas to hunt where there is more cover for rodents. Let your dog practice finding, chasing, and catching mice and rats. Encourage and reward rat hunting behaviours.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 05/31/2018, edited: 01/08/2021