Rats are a common pest that can infiltrate homes and become a nuisance. Many homeowners wonder if their dogs can detect and alert them to the presence of rats. The short answer is yes, dogs can often sense rats in the house through their acute sense of smell and hearing.
How dogs detect rats
Dogs have a very strong sense of smell that is tens of thousands times more powerful than humans. They have up to 300 million scent receptors in their noses compared to only 6 million in humans. This allows them to detect scents that we cannot, including the urine, droppings, and scent glands of rodents like rats and mice.
Dogs also have excellent hearing compared to humans. They can detect sounds at four times the distance and hear at higher frequencies. This allows them to pick up on rats moving and squeaking within walls and floors where they have burrowed.
Breeds that are best at finding rats
Certain breeds of dogs are particularly adept at sniffing out and alerting to the presence of rats due to their history of being bred for vermin hunting and control. Some examples include:
- Terriers – breeds like the Jack Russell, rat terrier, and fox terrier were specifically bred to hunt vermin like rats and have a strong drive to sniff them out.
- Dachshunds – their long bodies and keen sense of smell enabled them to hunt badgers and rabbits underground, making them good at finding rats.
- Schnauzers – giant schnauzers were bred as ratters and have an alert nature that lends itself to rodent detection.
- Feists – these hunting dogs have a mix of terrier, cur, and hound ancestry that gives them a drive to track down small prey.
Behaviors dogs display when sensing rats
Dogs use their senses of smell and hearing to pick up on rats, and will display certain behaviors and reactions when they detect them, including:
- Barking persistently at walls, floors, doors, or other areas
- Scratching and pawing frantically at surfaces rats may be behind
- Standing alert and motionless while intently staring at a spot
- Sniffing along baseboards, counters, cabinets, and anywhere rats may travel
- Going into a pointing stance with one paw raised to indicate the location
- Appearing anxious, agitated, and excitable until the rat is found
Factors influencing a dog’s rat detection ability
There are some factors that influence whether a dog can readily detect the presence of rats, including:
- Breed – As mentioned, terriers, dachshunds, feists, and other vermin hunting breeds are naturally more inclined.
- Age – Younger dogs tend to be more alert and active in investigating rodent smells and sounds.
- Experience – Dogs that are frequently exposed to rats and allowed to chase them are more attuned.
- Motivation – Some dogs are simply more driven by smells and will be persistent in tracking them down.
- Distractions – Busy, noisy environments can dull a dog’s rat detection abilities.
Training dogs to find rats
While some dogs have a natural ability to detect rats, you can also train a dog to identify and alert you to them. Here are some tips:
- Use rats in cages or their debris/scents to get the dog accustomed to the smell.
- Reward with praise and treats when they show interest in the rats or smells.
- Say a command like “find the rat” when they encounter rat smells during training.
- Hide rat scents around the house and encourage hunting the source.
- Consider professional vermin detection dog training if struggling.
Benefits of dogs that detect rats
Having a dog that alerts you to rats in the house provides some useful benefits, such as:
- Early detection before large infestations occur.
- Finding rat locations so targeted traps/poison can be used.
- Preventing health risks to family members from rat allergens and diseases.
- Minimizing damage rats cause by gnawing and nesting.
- Peace of mind in knowing your home is rat-free.
Precautions when dogs hunt rats
It’s important to take some safety precautions if you have a dog that actively hunts down live rats, including:
- Supervise them to prevent injury from rat bites.
- Separate them once the rat is cornered to allow for humane disposal.
- Administer prompt medical care if they are bitten to prevent rat bite fever infection.
- Ensure they are current on vaccinations, deworming, and flea/tick prevention.
- Monitor for signs of stress and anxiety triggered by encountering live rats.
Most dogs have an innate ability to detect rats in the home through their superior sense of smell and hearing. Terrier and hunting breeds are particularly adept ratters. You can also train any dog to identify and alert to rats with positive reinforcement techniques. Allowing dogs to hunt down live rats requires close supervision and care. But ultimately, dogs can provide effective early warning to help keep your home rat-free.