The American Hairless Terrier is a relatively new breed, first developed in the United States during the 1970’s in the area of Trout, Louisiana. American Hairless Terriers are exclusively descended from Rat Terriers, and until 2004 were not fully separated from that breed. Known for being lively, intelligent, and affectionate pets, the American Hairless Terrier is rapidly increasing in popularity because many people believe that it is an excellent dog for allergy sufferers. The American Hairless Terrier is also known as the Hairless Rat Terrier, American Hairless, and the AHT.
The History of the American Hairless Terrier was identical to that of the Rat Terrier until the 1970’s. Terriers were first developed in the British Isles at least several hundred years ago, and most likely several thousand. At first, Terriers were almost exclusively kept by British farmers to eradicate vermin such as rats, rabbits, and foxes. For many centuries, Terriers were bred exclusively as working dogs with appearance only factoring in to the extent that it impacted working ability. Gradually, several different lines of Terrier became pure bred, such as the Manchester Terrier and Fox Terrier, bred for competitive rat killing and fox hunting respectively. When the United States was first settled by the British, many early immigrants brought their Terriers with them to the New World. Because so few individual Terriers arrived in the early days of colonization, they were all mixed together. Subsequent breeders continued to import different varieties of British Terrier to add to their lines. Non-terrier breeds such as Beagles and Chihuahuas were added as well. By the early 20th Century, these dogs had developed into a unique breed. Teddy Roosevelt kept one of these dogs in the White House, calling him a Rat Terrier due to his skill at killing rodents and the name stuck.
Rat Terriers became perhaps the most commonly seen dog on family farms from the late 1800’s until the 1930’s. These dogs were ferocious and tireless killers of rodents, increasing farmers’ profits and preventing the spread of rodent borne disease in the process. The Rat Terrier became an energetic and inquisitive breed, and one with a strong predatory instinct. Unlike most other Terriers, the Rat Terrier had to live in close proximity to children and neighbors and only those dogs that possessed the best temperaments around them were bred. Although most would never admit it, many farmers kept their Rat Terriers just as much for companionship as their working ability. Beginning in the 1930’s, new pest control methods were developed and ever-increasing numbers of farmers abandoned (or lost) their land and moved to cities. Rat Terrier numbers dropped substantially, but the breed continued to be a very common sight on those family farms that remained as well as in the South where it was known as the Feist and used for hunting squirrels. Rat Terriers remained primarily working dogs, and breeders showed almost no interest in getting their dogs recognized by major kennel clubs. A number of different Rat Terrier registries did develop to keep pedigrees. This is only the history of the Rat Terrier as it most pertains to the American Hairless Terrier. For more information on that breed, please check out the Rat Terrier article.
Mutations are the engine that drives the development of new dog breeds. They are surprisingly common, but most are so minor that they are completely unnoticeable. Every once in awhile, a major mutation will occur. One such mutation occurred in a litter of Rat Terriers in the fall of 1972. A completely hairless puppy was born in a litter of otherwise normal Type A (short-bodied/non-Teddy Roosevelt) Rat Terriers in Louisiana. The hairless puppy seemed identical to her littermates in all other ways. The breeders were unsure of what to do with this pink skinned puppy with black spots, so they decided to give her to their friends Willie and Edwin Scott. The Scotts named their new puppy Josephine. Josephine quickly became much beloved by the entire Scott family due to her affectionate, intelligence, and lively personality. The Scotts also discovered that Josephine’s hairlessness meant that they did not have to vacuum up dog hair nor deal with flea infestations, although they did have to put sunscreen on her or cover her up in the hot Louisiana sun. Josephine was an extremely friendly dog who loved to travel and meet new acquaintances.
The Scotts were so fond of Josephine that they decided to develop a new breed of hairless dogs from her. They consulted with geneticists, dog breeders, veterinarians, and university students as to how to go about doing so, but most were extremely doubtful that it could be done. Eventually, the Scotts were able to get some advice and began a breeding program. At the age of one, Josephine was mated to her father as it was thought that he may possess the gene responsible for hairlessness. This proved correct when a litter of three coated puppies and one hairless female, later named Gypsy, was born. The Scotts bred Josephine several more times but no further hairless puppies were born. Finally, in 1982 a healthy nine-year old Josephine whelped her final litter. To produce these puppies, Josephine had been mated to a son from a previous litter. The resulting litter produced a hairless male, a hairless female, and two coated females. Named Snoopy, Jemima, Petunia, and Queenie, this litter was the foundation for the American Hairless Terrier breed.
The Scotts were overjoyed at their success and decided to keep all four puppies. Trout Creek Kennel was formally founded to develop the breed the Scotts intended to call the American Hairless Terrier. Realizing that they would have to expand if they wanted to operate a full-time dog kennel, the Scotts added an addition to their home. When the litter turned one year old, Snoopy was mated to all three of his sisters. The litter whelped by Jemima, the hairless sister, produced all hairless puppies. Those produced by Petunia and Queenie had both hairless and coated puppies. This confirmed to veterinarians that the mutation responsible for the hairlessness in the Terriers was recessive. Now that veterinarians believed that it was possible to develop a new hairless breed, they began to assist the Scotts with their breeding program to a greater degree.
Trout Creek Kennel continued to produce more puppies throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. American Hairless Terriers were introduced to new owners, many of whom fell just as much in love with the breed as the Scotts had. Many new breeders were attracted, and American Hairless Terriers began to spread across the country. Because the Scotts and other breeders kept careful records from the beginning, we know the ancestry of the American Hairless Terrier more precisely than almost any other breed. American Hairless Terrier breeders and their veterinarians were well-aware that their dogs had a very small gene pool. To expand this gene pool, a program of carefully crossing American Hairless Terriers to other Rat Terriers was begun. Rat Terriers come in two or three sizes depending on the registry, and the American Hairless Terrier was eventually found in both miniature and standard sizes. However, the American Hairless Terrier has not been crossed with toy or Decker Giant Rat Terriers, nor has it been crossed with Type B Rat Terriers/Teddy Roosevelt Terriers. The American Hairless Terrier Association (AHTA) was founded by the Scotts and a few other fanciers to regulate the breeding of the American Hairless Terrier, keep breeding records, and to promote and protect the breed.
Although it was always the Scott’s intention to develop an entirely new breed, most early breeders kept their dog’s registered with the various Rat Terrier organizations. This was possible because all dogs introduced into American Hairless Terrier lines were purebred, registered Rat Terriers. This meant that all American Hairless Terriers were also technically purebred, registered Rat Terriers. Eventually, several Rat Terrier registries began treating the American Hairless Terrier as a distinct variety of the breed. The American Hairless Terrier was first formally recognized in 1998 by the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) and the National Rat Terrier Association (NRTA). For many years most Rat Terrier registries were firmly against having their breed recognized by major kennel clubs for fear it would undermine the health and working abilities of the dog (and some still do). Attitudes began to change somewhat in the 1990’s, and in 1999 the UKC granted full recognition to the Rat Terrier and the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier as separate breeds. The UKC consulted with the AHTA about their breed. The UKC wanted to register the American Hairless Terrier as a variety of Rat Terrier and to call it the Rat Terrier, Hairless Variety. Although the AHTA really wanted separate recognition, the Scott family and other breeders decided that any formal recognition would be a solid step towards their eventual goals. As the UKC is the second largest dog registry in the United States (and the entire world for that matter) participating in its events helped to popularize the American Hairless Terrier and introduced new fanciers to the breed. Also in 1999, the American Hairless Terrier achieved recognition outside of the United States for the first time when it was recognized in Canada by Canadian Rarities. In 2004, the UKC decided to fully separate the American Hairless Terrier from the Rat Terrier, and the breed was recognized independently at that time. Upon full recognition, the UKC granted the AHTA status as the official parent club. The UKC does understand that the AHTA intends to continue crossing American Hairless Terriers with other Rat Terriers for the foreseeable future to increase genetic diversity.
The American Hairless Terrier is unique among hairless dogs, which has been confirmed through genetic studies. All other hairless dog breeds such as the Xoloitzcuintli, Peruvian Inca Orchid, and Chinese Crested necessarily come in two coat varieties. This is because the mutation causing their hairlessness is dominant homozygous fatal, meaning that the dog only needs one copy of the hairless gene to be hairless, but if it has two copies of the hairless gene it will die in the womb. As a result, haired and hairless puppies will always be born to litters of these dogs, even if both parents are hairless. The American Hairless Terrier’s hairlessness is determined by an entirely different gene mutation. This hairless trait is recessive, meaning that a dog has to have two copies of the hairless gene to be hairless. This means that a cross between a two hairless dogs will result in an entirely hairless litter, and that the coated trait could be entirely eliminated from this breed. In fact, the ultimate goal of the AHTA is to one day completely eliminate the coated dogs, but only after a sufficiently large gene pool has been established. The American Hairless Terrier is different from other hairless breeds in different ways. Its mutation does not affect the dog’s teeth, eliminating the severe dental problems in other hairless breeds. The American Hairless Terrier is also almost completely hairless and doesn’t have the tufts of fur on the heads and backs of other hairless breeds.
The American Hairless Terrier is becoming increasingly sought after due by allergy sufferers. Although extreme allergy sufferers may still be allergic to this dog, most can tolerate it with little difficulty. Studies have seemed to confirm that this is the best breed for allergy sufferers, to a significantly greater extent than even other hairless breeds. Many who cannot tolerate even breeds such as the Bichon Frise or Poodle report that the American Hairless Terrier gives them few or no problems.
In 2009, a group of American Hairless Terrier breeders decided that their wanted to have their dogs registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). They founded the American Hairless Terrier Club of America (AHTCA) with that goal in mind. At that point, the AKC already had included the Rat Terrier in the AKC-FSS but had decided to not allow American Hairless Terriers to compete alongside other Rat Terriers. The AHTCA was successful in getting their dog entered into the AKC-FSS, the first step towards full recognition, and having their club selected as the official AKC parent club. However, it is unclear how quickly the breed will move into the Miscellaneous Class due to AKC rules and regulations. It is also not entirely clear how the AKC will treat the continuing program of introducing additional Rat Terrier blood into the American Hairless Terrier.
Until very recently, the Rat Terrier was bred almost exclusively as a working dog. The breed retains a very high level of vermin eradication drive and ability. Although the American Hairless Terrier has been bred primarily for appearance and companionship, it almost certainly possesses most of this working drive and ability as well. The breed has also competed very successfully at a number of canine events such as competitive obedience and agility. Despite this ability, the American Hairless Terrier is kept almost exclusively as a companion animal and show dog, which is where the breed’s future likely lies. Because it was developed so recently, the American Hairless Terrier remains a rare breed. Due to its charming nature and an interest in non-shedding dogs, the American Hairless Terrier is increasing fairly rapidly in numbers and may become much better established in the near future.
The American Hairless Terrier is virtually identical in appearance to the Rat Terrier, but is unmistakable due to its hairlessness. The American Hairless Terrier comes in two sizes, although both are quite small. The two varieties are identical in appearance other than size. The Miniature size stands between 10 and 13 inches tall at the shoulder, and the Standard stands between 13 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder. Depending on the height of the dog, American Hairless Terriers generally weigh between 5 and 20 pounds. Generally well proportioned, the ideal American Hairless Terrier is 10 inches long from chest to rump for every 9 inches that it is tall from floor to shoulder. This breed is very sturdily constructed for a dog of this size although one would never be described as stocky. The lack of hair makes it very clear just how muscular and fit that this dog is. One of the few differences between the Rat Terrier and the American Hairless Terrier is in regards to the tail. Whereas the tail of the Rat Terrier is traditionally docked, American Hairless Terrier breeders usually prefer to leave a natural tail. This natural tail is relatively short and tapers substantially towards its tip. If this breed does have its tail docked, it should be between the second and third vertebrae.
The head and face of the American Hairless Terrier are very similar to those of other working Terriers. The head is proportional to the size of the dog’s body, and the muzzle is approximately the same length as the skull. The muzzle itself is quite wide and should possess enough power to easily kill a rat or other small creature. The skull and muzzle combine to form a blunt wedge shape. The American Hairless Terrier is actually less wrinkly than most other dogs, but because it does not possess hair most dogs have clearly defined wrinkles on the forehead. The nose of this breed is either black or the color of the individual dog’s coat. The eyes of an American Hairless Terrier are generally dark brown to amber, but may be colored differently on blue or light coated dogs. The American Hairless Terrier exhibits the range of ear types found in the Rat Terrier. Erect, v-shaped ears are preferred, but drop down or partially erect ears are also acceptable. Some of these dogs have two different ears, although that is penalized in the show ring.
American Hairless Terriers are not all hairless because coated dogs are regularly interbred with hairless lines to increase genetic diversity. Those dogs that do have coats have short, dense, and smooth coats. The hairless variety is perhaps best described by the UKC standard. “Puppies are born with a soft, vestigial down that generally covers the body. This “down” gradually diminishes until age 6 to 8 weeks, by which time the pup should be completely hairless. A mature American Hairless Terrier, Hairless variety, is free from hair except for whiskers and guard hairs on the muzzle, and eyebrows. Short, very fine (vellus) hair may be present on the body of a mature dog. The skin is smooth and warm to the touch. The hairless variety may sweat when overheated or stressed, but this is not to be faulted in the ring.”
The American Hairless Terrier comes in a very wide variety of skin and coat patterns. Hairless dogs may be found in any skin color and pattern. In general, the dog tends to have one skin color predominate with markings of other colors frequently found on the sides, back, and head of the dog. Hairless dogs usually develop freckles that grow larger with age. This breed tans just as humans do and darken with exposure to the sun. Coated dogs come in the wide range of colors and patterns found in the Rat Terrier, although they must exhibit some amount of white even if it is a small amount.
The American Hairless Terrier has a temperament that is essentially identical to that of the Rat Terrier, although perhaps slightly less driven and energetic. This breed was developed first and foremost as a lively family companion, and this dog possesses the temperament one would expect of such an animal. American Hairless Terriers are known to be extremely devoted and loyal to their families, with whom they form close bonds. These dogs want nothing more than to be in the company of those that they love most, which can develop into severe separation anxiety. This breed is known for being exceptionally affectionate as well, often fawningly so. Unlike most Terriers, American Hairless Terriers have a very good reputation with children. When properly socialized with them from a young age, most breed members are friendly and very tolerant of kids, and many are very fond of them. Most breed members, especially larger ones, are sturdy enough to tolerate the rough play that would injure more fragile dogs.
With proper socialization, most American Hairless Terriers are polite and accepting of strangers. Some breed members are very friendly and outgoing, actively seeking new sources of affection. Others are more reserved and cautious. This breed is highly alert and inquisitive, making it an excellent watch dog even though its alerts are more announcements than warnings. An American Hairless Terrier would make a very poor guard dog as it is neither aggressive nor powerful enough.
Once trained and socialized, American Hairless Terriers generally get along quite well with other dogs. This breed is not known to suffer from high levels of dog aggression, and most would prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog. This breed is still a Terrier, however, and it is not unheard of for a breed member to develop dog aggression issues, especially unneutered males. Owners also need to be aware that although breed members rarely go looking for a scrap, they will not back down if one finds them even if it comes from a much larger dog. American Hairless Terriers also usually get along well with animals their size or larger such as cats, although some breed members may relentlessly harass them in an attempt to play. Small creatures such as hamsters or guinea pigs are a different matter altogether. The American Hairless Terrier is descended from a long line of vermin eradicating Terriers and most breed members will ruthlessly pursue and kill small animals. If left outside alone for any length of time, an American Hairless Terrier will probably bring its owner home presents of dead animals.
This dog is both highly intelligent and generally motivated to please. One of the easiest to train of all Terriers, American Hairless Terriers learn quickly and are generally obedient. Although only recently developed, American Hairless Terriers have competed with great success in a number of events such as competitive obedience and agility. However, this is not always the easiest breed to train. Some breed members can be quite stubborn and resistant. Although not a dog that constantly challenges authority, an American Hairless Terrier will gladly assume control if it is allowed to meaning that owners should constantly maintain a position of dominance. Owners must also be aware that even the best trained breed members have a tendency to be mischievous.
American Hairless Terriers are very energetic and lively dogs. This breed is not a couch potato and needs a substantial amount of daily activity, 30 minutes at a bare minimum but preferably at least 45. Without the proper exercise, these dogs will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyper activity, and over excitability. That being said, the American Hairless Terrier does not have extreme exercise requirements, and the average dedicated family will probably be able to meet them without being run ragged. Although this dog makes a good house or apartment pet provided it receives enough exercise, it will be quite active indoors and would rarely be described as calm. This breed absolutely loves taking part in mentally challenging games and activities, and does best when provided an opportunity to participate in them. Owners do need to be extremely careful when this breed is outside as it should be protected from the elements, especially the sun and the cold.
American Hairless Terriers have a tendency to bark a great deal. Although it would be unfair to describe this dog as yappy, they do have a high pitched bark that is usually made rapidly in succession. Training and exercise will greatly reduce barking, but most breed members will be considerably more vocal than the average dog. Without proper training or care, this breed can develop severe barking issues, sometimes going non-stop for hours.
Potential owners must be advised that although unusual looking, this dog is not like many similar looking breeds such as a Chihuahua or Chinese Crested. This is a very doggy dog that demands to be treated as such. American Hairless Terriers love to run around, drop toys in the owners’ laps, and jump up and lick faces. While this dog makes an excellent house pet, it is certainly not a mild-mannered and refined aristocrat. Those who are looking for such an animal would be better suited with a different breed.
American Hairless Terriers without hair obviously do not have to be groomed, but do require special skin care. This dogs also obviously do not shed, which makes them ideal for neat freaks and allergy sufferers, although humans are actually allergic to a dog’s skin not its hair. Coated American Hairless Terriers require minimal grooming, just a regular brushing. These dogs do shed, and many of them shed quite heavily. Many coated American Hairless Terriers will cover furniture, carpets, and clothing with hair just as a normal Rat Terrier would.
The American Hairless Terrier is so young that health studies have not yet been conducted on it. However, most fanciers believe that the breed is in generally good health. This breed does not appear to suffer from notably high rates of any health problems. This is almost certainly the healthiest of all hairless breeds. In particular, it does not suffer from the dental or extreme skin issues experienced by other hairless dogs. Those who have bred American Hairless Terriers for years note that it has an extremely long life expectancy. Barring injury, accident, or contagious disease, most of these dogs live between 13 and 16 years, and it is far from unheard of for one to live significantly longer. This breed does have a very small gene pool, as all American Hairless Terriers are descended from a single dog which was born less than 50 years ago and subsequently crossed with her own offspring. Breeders are acutely aware of this and are continuing to make outcrosses to the Rat Terrier to widen the gene pool to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, most breeders have their dogs tested for a number of genetic conditions and dogs that fail these tests are removed from the breeding pool.
Those American Hairless Terriers which do not have hair do have a number of specialized care requirements. Their skin is susceptible to sun burn, and they must either have sunscreen applied or protective clothing put on before they go outside. Because they have no hair to protect them, they are highly susceptible to getting cut on vegetation and rough surfaces. As they obviously have no protection from the cold, they must be covered up with a jacket and booties when the temperature drops. Similarly, this dog must be provided with soft bedding because it does not have any cushioning.
American Hairless Terrier breeders have been very meticulous about keeping health records of their dogs. The problems that they have encountered, even if it has only been seen in one dog include: