Villanuco de Las Encartaciones

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Villanuco de Las Encartaciones
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The Basque Ratter is elusive as a ghost, insubstantial as a shadow. And, this isn’t just poetic licence because this once-common working dog is now in a critical state of conservation. What does this mean? It means that there are an estimated 50 dogs left in existence, making them very rare indeed and in danger of extinction.

The Basque Ratter is also known as the Villanuco de Las Enartaciones. But take care! This name is similar to (but different from) another breed called the Villano de Las Encartaciones. Those two extra letters (-uc in Villanuco) make all the difference… the difference between a small agile ratter and an imposing, sturdy cattle dog.

About & History

Truly, little is written about the origins of the Basque Ratter. This small agile dog hails from the Basque Country and earnt their keep hunting rats and vermin out of farmsteads.

There are other similar Ratters that also arose from province of Biscay, along with Canatabria and Burgos. These dogs also have misty roots that date back many centuries. Their distant ancestors may have been dogs brought by Roman, Carthaginian, and Egyptian traders. These animals then interbred with local canines to produce breeds native to specific regions.

What we do know is that the Basque Ratter was superbly good at their work. With the enthusiasm we expect of a Jack Russell Terrier, the Basque Ratter takes on rats, mice, and rabbits to keep vermin out of crops and feed stores.

But they also have another talent. Known affectionately as “Door Dogs”, this is because of their speedy reactions when visitors call. Quick as a heartbeat they are up with an answering bark at the door when strangers arrive. With a disproportionately loud bark for their little bodies, this makes them a respectable family watchdog.


This elusive fellow, the Basque Ratter, is something of an enigma. Information about their size and weight is sketchy at best. The consensus is that this is a small to medium sized dog, and yet the average weight is listed as 26 to 29kg, which makes them almost Labrador size. Likewise, with them standing at over half a metre to the shoulder, this makes them unusually leggy for a small dog.

But what is agreed upon is their coat, which is said to be short and smooth. And, as for coat colour, traditionally the breed are teddy bear brown – except on the belly where they tend to be yellow or cream coloured.

Proportion wise, they have a lot in common with other terriers in that they have a well-proportioned muzzle (all the better for sniffing out those rats), a sturdy body, and workman-like length legs.

Character & Temperament

The Basque Ratter has a reputation for being quiet and intelligent. Quiet, that is, until a stranger calls at which point they have a piercing loud bark. As a hunting dog, they are used to living on their wits and making decisions. This makes sense as a dog that has to wait for their handler’s instruction when cornering a vicious rat, is not going to fare well in the long run.

The low numbers of Basque Ratters seems to indicate that their niche is indeed hunting. However, the limited information available does suggest they make good pets in the right hands. The latter is most likely a household without pet cats and rabbits, since the hunting instinct of any Ratter mean their strong prey drive makes them uneasy housemates with other small mammals.


Intelligent dogs generally respond well to reward based training methods. This is where a treat (either a tasty titbit or praise) motivate the dog when they respond correctly. The keen intelligence of the dog means they quickly realise what they need to do in order to earn that reward.

Conversely, working dogs generally do better with an experienced handler. The independent nature that allows the dog to make decisions in the field can also be used to run rings around an inexperienced owner.


In truth, there is little known about health problems specific to the Basque Ratter. This is in part because of their family history as working dogs, and in part because of the extremely low numbers of the breed still in existence.

However, it is fair to extrapolate some of the problems faced by similar ratting breeds from the area, which share some of the original gene pool.

Luxating Patellas

Another term for ‘luxating patellas’ is ‘wobbly kneecaps’. This problem affects the hindlimbs, specifically the knees (or stifles). It is caused by less than perfect anatomy of the knee joint that allows for some instability of the kneecap. These laxities allow the kneecap (or patella) to pop to one side when the dog takes a step. This causes a mechanical locking of the knee, such that the dog skips a step.

It’s not hard to spot a dog that may have luxating patellas. These are the dogs with a hopping gait on the back leg. Of course, there are other problems that can cause the dog to skip a step, but wobbly kneecaps are one of the most common causes.

For the most mild of cases, the occasional dose of pain relief is all that’s required. However, at the top end of the scale, dogs can be severely affected and in constant pain. The constant rubbing can lead to early arthritis, which decreases mobility even more.

For these dogs, early corrective surgery is essential in order to prevent disabling complications. This surgery involves correcting the angle of the top of the shin bone, deepening the groove in which the kneecap sits, and tighten the joint capsule.

Weight Gain

An active dog, the Basque Ratter needs plenty of exercise in order to stay fit. Conversely, an inactive Basque Ratter that becomes a coach potato will quickly gain weight.

Carrying too much weight predisposes any dog to problems such as diabetes, joint disease, and cardiovascular problems. Therefore, these preventable complications are best avoided with a healthy dose of exercise and a controlled diet.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Dogs bred to work have a high requirement for both exercise and mental stimulation. The Basque Ratter is no exception. They should be given a generous amount of physical exertion each and every day, not just at weekends. For example, two, one-hour walks per day are a minimum. They also need ample time off lead to explore and follow scents.

As for mental stimulation, this can be in part supplied through training sessions, which challenge the dog to concentrate. But also, they should have plenty of opportunity to play and also sniff out interesting smells. Puzzle feeders are another way of providing a mental work out, as these dogs will enjoy solving a puzzle in order to get food.

An owner that falls short in providing mental stimulation or sufficient exercise, risks their dog developing bad habits. A Basque Ratter may well divert their superfluous energy into traits, such as excessive barking, digging, or chewing. Indeed, a lack of exercise will quickly lead to weight gain and obesity.


The short coat of the Basque Ratter is super-easy maintenance. All they require is a good brushing once a week in order to keep their coat in good condition. However, don’t be tempted to skip this once weekly attention. Not only does it spread natural conditioning oils that keep the coat sleek and shiny, but it removes shed hair. This is a boon for the owner of a pet Basque Ratter who might otherwise find their soft furnishings adorned with dog hair.

Famous Basque Ratters

This ancient breed hasn’t caught up with modern technology and is under-represented on social media and the like. Anyone wishing to raise the breed’s profile has an open pitch waiting for them!


With the numbers of Basque Ratters at crisis levels, efforts are targeted at stabilising this endangered breed rather than outbreeding to create new hybrids.

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