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Learning To Hunt - Chronicles of a Hunter  - Deer Hunting with Deckers Part 2
Announcing the DHTA - So You Wanna Hunt Part 2 - Treeing Rat Terrier Myth
Back Issues
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The Treeing Rat Terrier Myth, Addressed
By Keith Holt
Holt's Cali 1.jpg

     The Rat Terrier, in its many forms and origins has long served as a farm and meat dog throughout the United States. Depending on locality and demand of services this distinctly American canine has done everything from drive cattle and chickens to their corrals and pens to baying wild hogs, flushing birds, rabbits, providing varmint control and treeing practically every small to medium sized mammal who has the tendency to seek asylum in trees, when pursued by predators. Despite this fairly impressive resume the modern Rat Terrier often receives flak when discussion of itsí treeing traits are addressed. Why? There are a number of factors and half-truths that have caused a lack of interest or belief for the matter for the treeing Rat Terrier. First, letís face it, it is often difficult enough to produce and reproduce top quality dogs for a particular, specialized trait or traits even when there is a sizable population of dogs to choose from and a good number of hunting-breeders are selecting for that/those desired trait(s). The Rat Terrier of today, is not specialized, for the most part, it seems that his miniaturized kin (miniature and toy versions) are more common and likewise pet qualities and other traits (color, ears, etc.) have been given precedence over his hunting traits. Secondly, squirrel hunting of true arboreal type squirrels is almost restricted to the eastern third of the country. There are populations of arboreal, eating size squirrels in the West but many of these are of fairly recent origin and are introduced Eastern Grey and Fox Squirrels. Therefore, there had been little need, until recently, to focus on breeding for treeing squirrel traits in the West. Due to the lack of sizable arboreal squirrels, the Western, hunting Rat Terriers developed to jump and flush various upland game birds, deer and serve as par excellent varmint dog, while their working/hunting Southern counterparts and to a somewhat variable/lesser extent, Eastern breeders/hunters concentrated more heavily on the treeing aspect. 

     The Rat Terrier has a hunting style that not everyone can appreciate. He hunts close making circular patterns and works his territory well. Some hunters desire a dog that will go deep to be ďassuredĒ of a tree but likewise some of those bee line slobber mouthed dog types often pass up on closer squirrels hunting a half mile or better from their owner. I hunt hilly and steep country and do not enjoy trying to get to a deep hunting dog that is barking his head off before the squirrel timbers out or hits a den tree, in either case, I am out some meat. I like my close hunting terriers that are silent, until treed. In a day when hunting lands are increasingly fragmented, the close hunting style and tendency to check back often and fairly quickly is a definite plus for me anyway. If you want to walk AFTER your dogs for a few miles then the Decker Hunting and Rat Terriers are not for you but if you like a dog that will hunt WITH you and stay pretty close then these dogs may be worth a look. 

     Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the Rat Terrier seems to take a little longer to mature and finish out as a tree dog, when compared to curs and even their relatives the treeing feists. I cannot say as to why there is such a tendency in the dog, maybe it is because there has not been enough pressure in selection or a long enough time has not elapsed in their selective breeding but this appears to be a breed/type trait. It may easily take a Rat Terrier three seasons and a lot of work, in order to become a good squirrel dog. I am inclined to believe that the extra time it takes them to mature is where a lot of folks have been turned off by them, giving up on the terrier after a season or two. I enjoy these hunting terriers and I think that they are a good, solid hunting type but likewise, I believe that much can be added and reinforced through strict breeding and culling practices in the sport or leisure activity of squirrel hunting.