American Hairless Terrier: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Young American Hairless Terrier standing in the grass

Lenanet / Getty Images

The American Hairless Terrier has been growing in popularity since its development in the 1970s. Energetic, bright and fun-loving, their lack of fur means care needs to be taken in extreme weather conditions.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 12 to 16 inches

Weight: 12 to 16 pounds

Coat: Completely hairless except for whiskers and guard hairs on the eyebrows and muzzle; coated variety has a soft, short and dense coat

Coat Color: Any color combination; even the hairless variety will have solid or patterned skin pigmentation that can vary greatly

Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

Characteristics of the American Hairless Terrier

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly  High
Pet-Friendly  Medium
Exercise Needs  Medium
Playfulness  High
Energy Level  High
Trainability High
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the American Hairless Terrier

The American Hairless Terrier (AHT) is a newbie on the block, and the only hairless breed native to the United States.

Their history can be easily traced back to 1972 when a female hairless Rat Terrier was born in a litter bred by Edwin Scott. Scott didn't realize this anomaly had happened at first as all AHTs are born with a birth down that falls out after a few weeks.

Mr Scott bred from this individual, called Josephine, and her descendants to produce more of these hairless types of terriers. At first, the dogs were simply referred to as Rat Terriers, hairless variety.

The Scotts continued their careful breeding program, and in 2016 the American Hairless Terrier was officially recognized by the AKC.

Because there's still a very small gene pool, some American Hairless Terriers are still born with a thin coat, and these are referred to as a coated AHT.

The American Hairless Terrier retains many of the characteristics of its Rat Terrier descendants. This breed, developed in the early 19th century in England, were used as ratters and they were nicknamed "Feists" because of their spunky little temperaments.

American Hairless Terrier Care

If you're looking for a big personality in a little body, and one that is likely to be a bit of a challenge but lots of fun, then the American Hairless Terrier could be for you.

They're very energetic and often regarded as more affectionate than some terrier-types, but they can also be pretty feisty, so you need to be ready to put in the work in terms of training and boundaries.

Their playful nature means they often get along well with respectful older children, but they do still have a built-in prey drive and may not live well alongside small furries. You'll also need to work hard on a rock-solid recall and keep them on-leash in areas where there may be too much temptation for them to chase.

They can get along well with other dogs with the right introductions, but be aware that they often have bossy personalities and will want to rule the roost.

Like most terriers, they can be alert barkers, making good watchdogs. Don't let this habit escalate though or you may end up with a rather yappy housemate and have to work on rewarding desirable quiet behavior instead.

You may also find they inherit another terrier passion - digging. Providing them with a designated digging pit or rewarding alternative, more desirable actions can help to prevent this from becoming a problem.

AHTs are smart dogs that like to have a job to do. If they're left on their own too much during the day and not given enough exercise or enrichment, problem behaviors can start to surface.

If you're looking for a little lapdog, this isn't the breed for you. They may be small, but they're driven, athletic and have lots of stamina.

This smart breed also has a stubborn streak, and trying to force them when it comes to training could backfire quickly. Instead, they respond well to reward-based training methods. Keep any training sessions short, varied and fun, and you'll see good results.

American Hairless Terriers commonly don't have a coat, so their skin is very exposed, and this brings additional care considerations. Firstly, in hot weather conditions, you may need to apply sunscreen and even cover their body against the sun. In the cold weather, they will need a practical and well-fitting coat, and they may even need a fleecy sweater if your home is drafty.

If they're particularly adventurous and you often take them off-the-beaten-track, you'll have to watch out for them trying to tackle thorny undergrowth as they could more easily damage their skin.

AHTs are a popular choice for people that suffer from allergies as a result of dog hair. While they're less likely to trigger a reaction, no dog is truly hypoallergenic as the dander on the skin and saliva can also cause a flare-up. And, of course, currently, not every AHT is truly hairless.

Two American Hairless Terriers in coats in the snow
Sergey Tikhomirov / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

AHTs are a new breed, so numbers regarding inheritable conditions they could be prone to are only just being gathered.

Making sure you go to a reputable breeder that performs appropriate health checks is recommended when selecting any puppy, but some of the inheritable conditions that American Hairless Terrier could be prone to include:

Demodectic Mange: AHTs can have a problem with the naturally occurring Demodex Mite proliferating in larger than normal numbers, and this can cause hair loss, skin irritation and even infections. It can be treated, but it may be something that has to be managed throughout their life.

Legg-Calve Perthes: This is more common in small breed dogs, and it's a congenital and degenerative hip disorder that relates to the blood supply to the femur. Surgery is generally required to correct the problem.

Luxating Patella: Common in small dog breeds, this relates to the knee joint slipping out of its groove. The condition can range in severity, but in the worst cases, corrective surgery will be required.

Diet and Nutrition

As with any dog, you should feed your American Hairless Terrier a high-quality and properly portion-controlled diet. The amount they will be fed will depend on their size and levels of activity.

Obesity is a major problem with the dog population in North America, and it can lead to a host of more serious health problems. Keeping an eye on your dog's body condition and avoiding feeding unhealthy treats and table scraps is important too.

Pros
  • Fun-loving and affectionate

  • Very low-maintenance grooming regime

  • Energetic

Cons
  • Not lapdogs and tend to be independent

  • Skin needs protection in extreme weather conditions

  • Can have a high prey drive

Where to Adopt or Buy an American Hairless Terrier

The American Hairless Terrier is still a very rare breed, even in North America. To secure a puppy from a reputable breeder, you may need to go onto a waiting list or travel further afield.

The American Hairless Terrier Club of America will be able to provide you with more details of registered breeders, and it's a good place to start your research.

While it will be very rare to find an AHT available for adoption, there are lots of other wonderful terrier-types looking for forever homes in shelters across the country. There are also lots of terrier specific rescues, including Rat Bones Rescues, who look for homes for Rat Terriers.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you're interested in dogs similar to the American Hairless Terrier you could also consider the following breeds:

There are lots of wonderful dog breeds out there. By doing your research, you'll find one that will be best suited to having a forever home with you.