Rats, and their associated lice and fleas, have killed more people than all wars combined. We have trapped them, poisoned them, drowned them, gassed them and still they keep coming ... Now it's time to turn the dogs on them! This RatDog web page is devoted to terrier ratting -- an ancient and honorable pastime going back hundreds of years. If you own a terrier, then you own a ratting machine who's DNA is coded to do a job.


The Rat: A Survivor
Where do we start? Rats are used in labs to save lives and measure intelligence, they have steered rockets in space, and they have not only survived, but thrived, on nearly every poison thrown at them. They can swim 2 miles out to sea, dive more than 50 feet, exert bite pressure of 24,000 pounds, and chew through drywall and metal. Female rats spend almost 100 percent of their life pregnant. >>
To read more fast facts about rats


Entering Dogs to Rats
Most dogs will readily work rats, and rats are a common quarry to start off a young dog. At four months a dog can be started off on wild mice trapped with a "tin cat" live trap available from most pest control stores. Place the mouse in a small wire cage to stimulate the dog's interest and then release the mouse once it appears the dog wants to do more than sniff. The same protocol can be followed with rats, albeit with a larger live-catch trap. You can also purchase "feeder" rats at a pet store.

Starting a dog off slow builds its confidence. A novice dog will try to bite a rat to death instead of shaking it, but most will figure out that a quick shake will snap the rat's back in record time. To get your dog to use its nose, place a rat in a wire cage and hide it in a shed, or in the garden. You can make a scent line to the cage with a "tea" made from soaked rat cage bedding. In no time at all your dogs will be looking for rats on their own.


When and Where to Go
Rats prefer to live as close as possible to their food and water sources.  Most of their movement is within 150  feet of their home and almost all activity outside of the burrow will occur in the twilight, dark of the night, or very early morning.  In choosing a neighborhood to settle into, rats look for overflowing or uncovered dumpsters, trash in plastic bags or unsealed cans, spilled grain, rotting vegetables, and abandoned debris in which to easily hide.  Rat holes in the ground are an obvious sign of infestation, but so too are gnaw marks around holes in horse stalls or building siding. Look too for rub or grease marks which will give you an idea of where rats are regularly running along a wall when entering a building.
......Unless you use a smoker, most of your rat hunting will take place at night, which means you need to have a dog that is obedient.  You should also patrol the area during the day to make sure that rat poison has not been set out. 


Working With Your Dog
Rats generally live and feed within a circle of few hundred yards of where you see them. The rats know this territory like the back of their paw, which means your dog doesn't have much of a chance to achieve a high kill ratio unless you help it out a little. One way to do that is to disorient the rats by making mild alterations to their stomping grounds. Move a board or two, place a cardboard box in a new location, set a coke bottle up on end, and scuff your heel in a sharp line or two in the dirt to make a little furrow or trench. All of this serves to alter the rat's visual cues and to break up the invisible but very important scent trails that rats use to "triangulate" their position (like we would use a road or a cross street).  Another important step is to block as many escape holes as possible.  A disoriented rat that hits a blocked hole will be confused just long enough for the dog to nail it. Rat holes do not need to be blocked with anything more substantive than a bit of wadded up newspaper.  Finally, use more than one dog.  The more dogs that are working a rat-infested area, the less likely that a rat will be able to scurry off to safety, and the more disoriented the rats will become.


About 900 rats taken from a game farm in England with a pack of terriers and a smoker. With modern poisons, health inspections, and hygiene regimes, very few farms are infested with rats at this level any more.

Very little equipment is needed for ratting. A shovel is useful, as is a hooked piece of rebar to use when lifting boards and shaking or beating on piles of rubbish. A flashlight is required if you are out at night. Gloves are needed regardless of when you hunt. A plastic bucket for dead rats may be useful, as might salad tongs if you are a bit dodgey about picking up dead rats. The most useful piece of equipment is a "smoker" to drive rats from their dens. This can be made by attaching a hose to the exhaust manifold of a small engine, such as an old chainsaw that has had its chain and bar removed.  Add a little extra oil to the mix to increase the smoke.  You will need to add a length of metal pipe to the manifold port in order to help dissipate the heat from the engine (weld on a screw thread and then twist on a 4 foot of pipe on the site). You should look for a flexible hose that does not melt easily as plastic garden hose will melt in short order if close to the exhaust. A good tip is to seek out black radiator hose from an auto-parts store; it can take a lot of heat.
Precautions Against Disease
Rats can transmit at least 35 diseases to humans, including leptospirosis (very common) and the plague (very rare). Other diseases transmittable by rats include: typhus, rabies, tularemia, trichinosis, leishmaniasis, spirilary rat bite fever, and spirochetal jaundice. The most common disease your dog can get from a rat is leptospirosis, but the chance of this occurring can be dramatically decreased if you prevent your dog from drinking out of puddles. >>
For more information
The War on Rats
It seems every large city and every Third World country periodically declares "war on rats." Rats never sue for peace, and humans never declare victory. Considering the fact that rats can get fat on poison that would kill a linebacker, and have thrived on Pacific atolls devastated by atomic bombs, perhaps we should just give up.

To read about the "war on rats" in Washington, D.C.
To read about the "war on rats" in New York City
To read about the "war on rats" in India & China
To read about the "war on rats" in Vietnam
Rat or Ratatouille?
me people think cows are sacred and pigs are filthy and never to be eaten.   No one thinks twice about eating a bit of mutton or a nice rabbit or chicken, but most recoil at a bit of dog.  I have eaten snake (quite good) but shudder at eating eel, though everyone tells me it is excellent, especially if smoked.   Squirrel and groundhog? No problem. Possum? Not on a bet. In every culture, one man's rat is another man's ratatouille, and the rules of cuisine do not always make perfect sense. Food for thought as you read this entertaining New Yorker article. >> To read more

Books on Rats and Hunting Rats
nTales of a Rat-Hunting Man by Brian Plummer is the best rat-catchers tale ever penned. Plummer describes the rat as "the unheralded game-animal of Great Britain," and recounts great stories and techniques hard-learned over a life time of ratting and earth work.  
nMore Cunning Than Man: A Social History of Rats and Man by Robert Hendrickson is an eye-opening, well-researched examination of mankind's oldest competitor and is filled with weirdly fascinating information about the history of the rat and the way it consistently outsmarts man.
nThe Rat : A Perverse Miscellany by Barbara Hodgson is packed with rat facts, rat fiction, rat lore, rat art, and more. Quick-paced and fun-to-read, this compendium explores the unsinkable rat in fables, folklore, novels, pulp fiction, and horror flicks.  
nRats, Lice, and History by Hans Zinsser is an old but great book that is part history, part literature and part humor.  It should be on everyone's shelf.
nFull Revelation of a Professional Rat Catcher by Ike Mathews. First published in 1898, this little book has been republished in recent years and is available from Coch-y-bonnduu books. A fun read.


Our Patron Saint:
The "Patron Saint" of all rat dogs is Teddy Roosevelt who created the American Rat Terrier and worked rats in the basement of the White House.