Terriers ratting in Fields c 1803
Ratting dogs were important for the centuries before modern pesticides were invented. Rats and mice plagued developing cities in the early 1800's when the different types of terriers were developing. The growth of cities with open drains and no sanitation caused rats and mice to thrive. When this became a problem, a terrier man would be hired to rid an area of rats would be paid for the number of rats he supplied to his employer, dead or alive. When the rats were caught in fields they usually cohabitated the 'setts' originally dug out by badgers, foxes or other animals. This process consisted of the hunter blocking off all escape routes except one. Then a terrier would enter that hole and bolt the rats towards the hunter. He would catch the live rats and place them in a bag.
Terriers capable of catching rats could earn sufficient income to support an entire family. These ratting dogs had to be quick, agile and have very strong jaws so the rat was killed before the dog himself got bitten. It was these ratting dogs which traversed the globe in the holds of the early trading ships and gave rise to the various breeds of terriers developed outside Great Britain, most of which are named after their country of development.
Rat Pitting became a popular blood sport in the early 1800's. It usually took place beneath a public houses, hotels or inns. The rats would be supplied in 'lots' of a specific number. Betting would take place on which dog could kill these 'lots' of rats in the shortest time. With the stronger rats underneath and the weaker ones on the top, the rats would settle into piles at the outer edges of the pit. A clever dog could kill the 100 rats in around 10 minutes. This spectator blood sport not only helped eliminate rats, it tested the ratting skills of particular dogs.