American Hairless Terrier

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult American Hairless Terrier

A newly developed breed, originating less than 40 years ago, the American Hairless Terrier is a direct descendant of the Rat Terrier. These dogs are similar in most aspects to the Rat Terrier, except in one very obvious way – the American Hairless Terrier, of course, is devoid of any fur.

They are a small to medium-sized, well-muscled terrier characterised as a working breed. Like other terriers, the American Hairless Terrier is spunky, confident and sociable. With their abundance of energy and inquisitive nature, they are a pleasure to train, and are naturally good at most tasks set to them.

About & History

The American Hairless Terrier has a well-documented past, and its origins are easier to trace than most modern dog breeds. In 1972, in Louisiana, a mutation occurred in a litter of American Rat Terrier puppies owned by the Scott family, resulting in an unexpectedly hairless female pup called Josephine. Once an adult, this hairless bitch was bred many times (to both her father and sons) in the hopes of producing more hairless puppies. Disappointingly, for the Scott family, the majority of her offspring did not exhibit her hairless trait.

In fact, she only produced three hairless pups; one in her first litter and two in her ninth litter. This handful of hairless Rat Terriers are the origin of all American Hairless Terriers. The Scott family kept them all and set up a dog kennels called Trout Creek Kennel. Here, the siblings were mated, and their offspring sold all over the world. Meticulous records were kept, ensuring we know more about the American Hairless Terriers than possibly any other breed.

While maintaining their natural terrier instinct to hunt prey, it is widely accepted that the American Hairless Terrier should not be used as a working dog, due to the lack of protection for their skin when outside. They are therefore better suited as family pets. Though still a relatively rare breed today, given their big personality and unusual but endearing hairlessness, you can be sure their popularity will soon increase.


American Hairless Terrier Large Photo

The American Hairless Terrier is a muscular, small to medium-sized terrier that shares many similarities in appearance to its close relative the Rat Terrier. They are distinctly different, however, and not just because of their lack of fur. They are also smaller and possess different eye and coat colours than the Rat Terrier. Another distinct, though not genetic difference, is the likelihood that the American Hairless Terrier’s tail will not be docked, unlike many of today’s Rat Terriers, particularly in the USA.

This breed of dog has a soft, downy hair when born, which they lose when young; about 8 weeks of age. Unlike other hairless breeds, such as the Chinese Crested Dog, they should not possess any tufts of fur. Their head is broad and in proportion to their muscular body. Their v-shaped ears preferably stand erect, and are positioned at the outer edge of the skull. They should have a well-filled chest, strong back and muscular limbs. They stand roughly 30-40cm tall at the withers and can weigh anything from 2.5kg to 11kg.

The American Hairless Terrier exhibits a variety of skin patterns and colours. In fact, any colour is acceptable except for Albino. Recognised skin colours include:

  • White
  • Black
  • White & Black
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Pink

Their eye colour can be:

  • Brown
  • Amber
  • Hazel
  • Blue
  • Grey

Interestingly, they also have ‘tanned’ varieties, i.e. their skin colour will darken in the summer months.

It is important to mention that recently, a ‘coated’ variety of the breed has been recognised. Allowing this variation in the breed is critical to ensure a wider gene pool and reduce disease within the population. Though coated, the fur on these dogs is very short, and they still closely resemble the American Hairless Terrier. These coats can come in a large variety of colours, similar to the skin colours of the Hairless Terrier.

Character & Temperament

Like all terriers, the American Hairless is lively and inquisitive, possessing a great deal of intelligence. They naturally love to dig and chase and have a strong prey instinct, particularly for small prey, such as rats. They are notoriously excellent guard dogs due to their utter fearlessness and gritty determination.

There is an ongoing debate on whether the American Hairless Terrier is suited to families with young children or not. It is generally accepted that with early training from an experienced owner, they should settle in well with sensible children. Precautions should be taken around young children when the dogs are puppies, as they are relatively small and should be handled with care.


Photo of American Hairless Terrier puppy

Often described as one of the easiest terriers to train, the American Hairless Terrier is a breed that is always eager to please. They compete successfully in agility and obedience, but like all terriers, can possess a mischievous streak and may be stubborn. They need a firm trainer who will not allow them to become dominant, and respond best to positive reinforcement style training.


Generally a robust dog, the American Hairless Terrier will commonly reach their mid to late teens. As their hairlessness is a recessive trait, they do not tend to suffer from the dental abnormalities or breeding complications that can plague other hairless breeds. Unfortunately, due to the limited breeding stock, there are, however, a number of conditions which this breed is prone to, including:

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease

Normally apparent at six to eight months of age, this is a condition in which the head of the femur bone degenerates, resulting in the disintegration of the hip joint. Affected dogs will have painful hips and noticeable muscle wastage.

Patellar Luxation

One of the most common causes of hind limb lameness in all terriers. The knee cap will dislocate from its groove, eventually causing arthritis over time. An affected dog may be seen to hop intermittently on one or both back legs when walking or running.

Congenital Liver Shunt

A relatively uncommon condition, a liver shunt is the improper flow of blood as it bypasses the liver. Affected dogs may exhibit stunted growth and neurological signs. In some cases, a surgery will be curative.


A chronic disorder in which the dog will experience seizures. While there is no cure, many patients are managed well with medication.

Allergic Skin Disease

One of the most common afflictions of all dogs, the American Hairless Terrier can be prone to itchy skin and allergies. Due to their lack of fur, signs are obvious at an early stage, meaning veterinary treatment can be sought in the beginning of the disease process.


Diabetic dogs are unable to produce or respond adequately to insulin, resulting in abnormally high blood sugar levels. Signs can include excessive thirst and hunger, weight loss and lethargy. These animals are generally managed with long-term insulin injections and a tailored diet.

Cushing’s Disease

Also known as Hyperadrenocorticism, this is a complex endocrine disease which can cause a variety of symptoms, including excessive thirst, panting and recurrent infections. It can be managed with daily medication (usually tablets).

Primary Lens Luxation

A disorder which particularly affects terriers, and which should be screened for in breeding parents. The lens in the eye will move out of place (either backwards or forwards) resulting in pain and ultimately blindness.

Demodectic Mange

A parasitic skin disease caused by the microscopic Demodex mite, generally occurring in young or immune-suppressed individuals. They may itch and develop secondary skin infections. Some puppies will naturally grow out of the condition, while others will require prescribed medication to fight off the mites.


Lacking protection from fur, sun cream should be applied to these dogs when out in the sun for extended periods of time.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Energetic and playful, the American Hairless Terrier needs daily walks and stimulation. A bored terrier will quickly become destructive, and may chew or bark incessantly. Ideally, they should be provided with an area in which they are allowed to dig, as it is a behavior that comes naturally to them. They are suited to living in confined spaces such as apartments due to their small size, as long as ample entertainment and exercise is provided.


Grooming for the American Hairless Terrier is much more about skin care. They should be bathed in a mild shampoo regularly. Sun cream is vital in warmer months, and they will need a coat or jumper in cold weather. Due to their lack of hair, they are the perfect breed for allergy sufferers or those who dislike fur shedding in their home. The coated variant of the breed does routinely shed, and although they have very short fur, they do need to be brushed routinely.

Famous American Hairless Terriers

Josephine, the very first American Hairless Terrier, is the most well-known of her breed.


There are currently no popular cross-breeds of the American Hairless Terrier.

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