rat baiting


Rat-baiting is a
blood sport A blood sport or bloodsport is a category of sport Sport pertains to any form of competitive Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting competitive relationship. Rivalry is the "a ...
that involves releasing captured
rat Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodent Rodents (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area a ...

s in an enclosed space with spectators
betting File:A photo of a gambling stand in Paris.jpg, A gambling stand in Paris Gambling (also known as betting) is the wagering of money or something of Value (economics), value (referred to as "the stakes") on an Event (probability theory), event wi ...
on how long a
dog The dog or domestic dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a Domestication, domesticated descendant of the wolf which is characterized by an upturning tail. The dog Origin of the domestic dog, derived from an Pleistocene ...

, usually a
terrier Terrier (from the French word ''terrier'' , meaning "burrow") is a Dog type, type of dog originally bred to hunt vermin. A terrier is a dog of any one of many Dog breed, breeds or landraces of the terrier Dog type, type, which are typically small ...

, takes to kill the rats. Often, two dogs competed, with the winner receiving a cash prize. It is now
in most countries.


In 1835, the
Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the supreme legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kin ...
implemented an act called the
Cruelty to Animals Act 1835The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Cr ...
, which prohibited the baiting of some animals such as the
bull A bull is an intact (i.e., not castrated Castration (also known as orchiectomy or orchidectomy) is any action, surgical Surgery ''cheirourgikē'' (composed of χείρ, "hand", and ἔργον, "work"), via la, chirurgiae, meaning ...

bear Bears are carnivora Carnivora is an order of placental Placentalia is one of the three extant subdivisions of the class of animals Mammalia Mammals (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Ita ...

, and other large animals. However, the law was not enforced for rat baiting and competitions came to the forefront as a
gambling Gambling (also known as betting) is the wagering something of Value (economics), value ("the stakes") on an Event (probability theory), event with an uncertain outcome with the intent of winning something else of value. Gambling thus requires ...
sport. At one time, London had at least 70 rat pits.


James Wentworth Day James Wentworth Day (21 April 1899 – 5 January 1983) was a United Kingdom, British author and broadcaster, a promoter of Agrarian Right politics and essentially a High Tory. He lived for most of his life in East Anglia. He had a particular i ...
, a follower of the sport of rat baiting, described his experience and the atmosphere at one of the last old rat pits in London during those times.


The officials included a
referee A referee is an official An official is someone who holds an office (function or Mandate (politics), mandate, regardless whether it carries an actual Office, working space with it) in an organization or government and participates in the ex ...

timekeeper A timekeeper is an instrument or person that measures the passage of time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, t ...

. Pits were sometimes covered above with wire mesh or had additional security devices installed on the walls to prevent the rats from escaping. Rules varied from match to match. In one variation, a weight handicap was set for each dog. The competing dog had to kill as many rats as the number of pounds the dog weighed, within a specific, preset time. The prescribed number of rats was released and the dog was put in the ring. The clock started the moment the dog touched the ground. When the dog seized the last rat, his owner grabbed it and the clock stopped. Rats that were thought still to be alive were laid out on the table in a circle before the referee. The referee then struck the animals three times on the tail with a stick. If a rat managed to crawl out of the circle, it was considered to be alive. Depending on the particular rules for that match, the dog may be disqualified or have to go back in the ring with these rats and kill them. The new time was added to the original time. A combination of the quickest time, the number of rats, and the dog's weight decided the victory. A rate of five seconds per rat killed was considered quite satisfactory; 15 rats in a minute was an excellent result. Cornered rats will attack and can deliver a very painful bite. Not uncommonly, a ratter was left with only one eye in its retirement.


Before the contest could begin, the capture of potentially thousands of rats was required. The
rat catcher A rat-catcher is a person who practices rat-catching as a Employment, professional form of pest control. Keeping the rat population under control was practiced in Europe to prevent the spread of diseases, most notoriously the Black Death, and to ...
would be called upon to fulfill this requirement.
Jack Black Thomas Jacob "Jack" Black (born August 28, 1969) is an American actor, comedian, musician, and songwriter. Black is known for his roles in the films ''High Fidelity High fidelity (often shortened to Hi-Fi or HiFi) is the high-quality re ...
, a rat catcher from
Victorian Victorian or Victorians may refer to: 19th century * Victorian era, British history during Queen Victoria's 19th-century reign ** Victorian architecture ** Victorian house ** Victorian decorative arts ** Victorian fashion ** Victorian literature ...
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. E ...

supplied live rats for baiting.


Faster dogs were preferred. They would bite once. The process was described as "rather like a sheepdog keeping a flock bunched to be brought out singly for dipping," where the dog would herd the rats together, and kill any rats that left the pack with a quick bite.


The ratting dogs were typically
working terrier A working terrier is a small type Type may refer to: Science and technology Computing * Typing, producing text via a keyboard, typewriter, etc. * Data type, collection of values used for computations. * File type * TYPE (DOS command), a command t ...
breeds, which included the
bull and terrier#REDIRECT Bull and terrier {{Redirect category shell, {{R from move {{R from over-capitalisation ...
Bull Terrier The Bull Terrier is a breed of dog in the terrier family. There is also a miniature version of this breed which is officially known as the Miniature Bull Terrier. Appearance The Bull Terrier's most recognizable feature is its head, describe ...

Bull Terrier
Bedlington Terrier The Bedlington Terrier is a dog breed, breed of small dog named after the mining town of Bedlington, Northumberland in North East England. Originally bred to hunt, the Bedlington Terrier has since been used in dog racing, numerous List of dog sp ...

Bedlington Terrier
Fox Terrier Fox Terriers are two different breeds of the terrier dog type: the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier. Both of these breeds originated in the 19th century from a handful of dogs who are descended from earlier varieties of United Kingdom ...
Jack Russell Terrier The Jack Russell Terrier is a small terrier that has its origins in fox hunting in England. It is principally white-bodied and smooth, rough or broken-coated and can be any colour. Small tan and white terriers that technically belong to other ...

Jack Russell Terrier
Rat Terrier The Rat Terrier is an American dog breed A dog breed is a particular strain or dog type that was purposefully bred by humans to perform specific tasks, such as herding, hunting, and guarding. When distinguishing breed from type, the rule of ...

Rat Terrier
Black and Tan Terrier The Black and Tan Terrier was a broad dog breed, breed or Dog type, type of terrier that was one of the earliest terriers breeds, whilst now extinct it is believed to be the ancestor of all modern Fell Terrier breeds and The Kennel Club recognis ...
Manchester Terrier The Manchester Terrier is a dog breed, breed of dog of the smooth-haired terrier type. It was first bred in the 19th century to control vermin, notably rats, at which it excelled. So efficient at the task was it that it often appeared in rat bai ...

Manchester Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier The Yorkshire Terrier (often shortened as Yorkie) is one of the smallest dog breed A dog breed is a particular strain or dog type that was purposefully bred by humans to perform specific tasks, such as herding, hunting, and guarding. When dist ...

Yorkshire Terrier
, and
Staffordshire Bull Terrier The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a British breed of short-haired terrier Terrier (from the French word ''terrier'' , meaning "burrow") is a Dog type, type of dog originally bred to hunt vermin. A terrier is a dog of any one of many Dog breed ...

Staffordshire Bull Terrier
. The degree of care used in breeding these ratters is clear in their
pedigree Pedigree may refer to: Breeding * Pedigree chart, a document to record ancestry, used by genealogists in study of human family lines, and in selective breeding of other animals ** Pedigree, a human genealogy (ancestry chart) ** Pedigree (animal) ...
s, with good breeding leading to increased business opportunities. Successful breeders were highly regarded in those times. In modern times, the Plummer Terrier is considered a premiere breed for rat-catching.


A celebrated bull and terrier named "Billy"Fleig, D. (1996). History of Fighting Dogs. pp. 105–112 T.F.H. Publications. Homan, M. (2000). A Complete History of Fighting Dogs. pp. 121–131 Howell Book House Inc. weighing about 12 kg (26 lb), had a proud fighting history and his pedigree reflects the build-up over a period of years. The dog was owned by Charles Dew and was bred by breeder James Yardington. On the paternal side is "Old Billy" from the kennel of John Tattersal from
Wotton-under-Edge Wotton-under-Edge is a market town within the Stroud (district), Stroud district of Gloucestershire, England. Located near the southern fringe of the Cotswolds, the Cotswold Way long-distance footpath passes through the town. Standing on the B4 ...
Gloucestershire Gloucestershire ( abbreviated Glos) is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chamber ...

, and was descended from the best line of all
Old English Bulldog The Old English Bulldog is an extinct breed A breed is a specific group of domestic animals having homogeneous appearance (phenotype), homogeneous behavior, and/or other characteristics that distinguish it from other organisms of the same ...
s. On the maternal side is "Yardington's Sal" descended from the Curley line. The pedigree of all these dogs can be traced back more than 40 years and numerous old accounts exist about them. The October 1822, edition of ''
The Sporting Magazine ''The Sporting Magazine'' (1793–1870) was the first English sporting periodical to devote itself to every type of sport Sport pertains to any form of Competition, competitive physical activity or game that aims to use, maintain or improve ...
'' provided descriptions of two rat pit matches with Billy, quoted as: Billy's best competition results are: Billy's career was crowned on 22 April 1823, when a world record was set with 100 rats killed in five and a half minutes. This record stood until 1862, when it was claimed by another ratter named "Jacko". Billy continued in the rat pit until old age, reportedly with only one eye and two teeth remaining.


According to the '' Sporting Chronicle Annual'', the world record in rat killing is held by a black and tan bull and terrier named "Jacko", weighing about 13 lb and owned by Jemmy Shaw. Jacko had these contest results: Jacko set two world records, the first on 29 July 1862, with a killing time of 2.7 seconds per rat and the second on 1 May 1862, with his fight against 100 rats, where Jacko worked two seconds faster than the previous world record holder "Billy". The feat of killing 1,000 rats took place over a 10-week period, with 100 rats being killed each week ending on 1 May 1862.

Tiny the Wonder

Tiny the Wonder Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, where Tiny the Wonder fought in the rat pits underneath Tiny the Wonder was an English Toy Terrier (Black & Tan) famous in the City of London in the mid-19th century for being able to kill 200 rats in an hour in ...
was a famous mid-19th century
English Toy Terrier (Black & Tan) The English Toy Terrier (Black & Tan) is a small Dog breed, breed of terrier in the toy dog group. Appearance According to the Kennel Club (UK), the English Toy Terrier (Black & Tan) should be in height and in weight. The only permitted color ...
that could kill 200 rats in an hour, which he achieved twice, on 28 March 1848 and 27 March 1849, with time to spare.Museum of London
/ref> For a period of time Tiny maintained the record for killing 300 rats in under 55 minutes. Tiny only weighed five and a half pounds with a neck so small, a woman's
bracelet A bracelet is an article of jewellery Jewellery or jewelry consists of decorative items worn for personal adornment 150px, The principal adornment of these girls from the Bundu tribe in Sierra Leone is the adornment of bodies and faces wit ...

could be used as a
dog collar A dog collar is a piece of material put around the neck of a dog. A Collar (animal), collar may be used for restraint, identification, fashion, or protection. Identification tags and medical information are often placed on dog collars. Collars ar ...
. From 1848 to 1849, Tiny was owned by Jemmy Shaw, the landlord of the Blue Anchor Tavern at 102
Bunhill Row Bunhill Row is a street located in St Luke's, London, St Luke's, London Borough of Islington, London. The street runs north-south from Old Street to Chiswell Street. On the east side are the cemetery of Bunhill Fields and the open space of the ...
, St. Luke's,
London Borough of Islington The London Borough of Islington ( ) is a London boroughs, London borough in Inner London. The borough includes a significant area to the south which forms part of central London. Islington has an estimated population of 215,667. It was formed in ...
; the pub is now named the Artillery Arms. Tiny was a star attraction at the Blue Anchor Tavern, with crowds gathering to watch the action in the rat pit. Shaw preferred to acquire the rats from
Essex Essex () is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publisher), William and Ro ...

as opposed to sewer rats to decrease potential health risks to Tiny. Shaw was able to keep up to 2,000 rats at his establishment. This is a commentary about Tiny from a poster published from those times: :"The 5 1/2 pounds of black and tan fury! This extraordinary Black and Tan has won 50 interesting events, including the following matches: 2 matches of 6 rats when he weighed 4 1/2 pounds, 20 matches of 12 rats at 5 pounds of weight, 15 matches of 20 rats at 5-pound weight, 1 match of 50 rats ands 1 match of 100 rats in 34 minutes 40 seconds on Tuesday, March 30, 1847. Tiny beat Summertown bitch "Crack" of 8 pounds, 12 Rats each, September 14th. Beat the dog "Twig" at 6 1/2 pounds on November 7th. On Tuesday, March 28, 1848, he was matched to kill 300 rats in 3 hours. He accomplished the unprecedented test in 54 minutes 50 seconds, which took place in the presence of a crowded audience at the Blue Anchor, Bonhill Row, St. Lukes. May 2, killed 20 rats in 8 minutes; May 23 won a match of 50 rats against Mr. Batty's bitch "Fun," 8 pounds. August 15, won a match against "Jim," 50 rats; September 5 won a match of 12 rats, 2 minutes 30 seconds. November 4 won a match of 100 rats, 30 minutes 5 seconds; January 31, 1849, won a match of 100 rats, 20 minutes 5 seconds; March 27 killed 200 rats 59 minutes 58 seconds."


Jack was a Black and Tan Terrier owned by Kit Burns in
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
in the mid- to late 19th century. Jack was a prized ratter, and Burns claimed that Jack killed 100 rats in 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Burns had Jack and mounted him, alongside other prized dogs, on the bar of his tavern called the Sportsmen's Hall, located at 273 Water Street. Burns' first-floor
amphitheatre An amphitheatre (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety that has undergone substantial codification of grammar an ...

could hold 100 spectators who were charged an admission of $1.50 to $5.00 depending on the dogs' quality, nearly a skilled labourer's daily wages. The rat pit was about 8 ft square with 4-ft-high walls. On the New York City waterfront rat baiting was quite lucrative with a purse of $125 not uncommon. This created a high demand for rats with some rat catchers earning $0.05 to $0.12 per rat. Kit Burns' rat-pit activities are described by author James Dabney McCabe in his book ''Secrets of the Great City'', published in 1868, at page 388, as follows: :"Rats are plentiful along the East River and Burns has no difficulty in procuring as many as he desires. These and his dogs furnish the entertainment in which he delights. The principal room of the house is arranged as an amphitheatre. The seats are rough wooden benches and in the centre is a ring or pit enclosed by a circular wooden fence several feet high. A number of rats are turned into this pit and a dog of the best ferret stock is thrown in amongst them. The little creature at once falls to work to kill the rats, bets being made that she will destroy, so many rats in a given time. The time is generally made by the little animal who is well known to and a great favorite with the yelling blasphemous wretches who line the benches. The performance is greeted with shouts oaths and other frantic demonstrations of delight. Some of the men will catch up the dog in their arms and press it to their bosom in a frenzy of joy or kiss it as if it were a human being unmindful or careless of the fact that all this while the animal is smeared with the blood of its victims. The scene is disgusting beyond description." On November 31, 1870,
Henry Bergh Henry Bergh (August 29, 1813 – March 12, 1888) founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a non-profit organization A nonprofit organizati ...

Henry Bergh
the founder of the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals. Based in New York City since its inception in 1866, the organization's mission is "to provide effective ...
raided the Sportsman's Hall and arrested Burns under an anti-
cruelty to animals Cruelty to animals, also called animal abuse, animal neglect or animal cruelty, is the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or Injury, harm upon any non-human animal. More narrowly, it can be the causing of h ...
law passed by the New York state legislature four years prior. The Sportsman Hall stayed permanently closed after the raid. Although little of the original structure remains, Sportsman's Hall occupied the land where the Joseph Rose House and Shop, a four-unit luxury apartment house, now lies and is the third oldest house in Manhattan after and the Morris-Jumel Mansion.


Toward the latter half of
Queen Victoria Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of En ...

Queen Victoria
's reign, criticism on the practice mounted. The animal welfare movement opposed the practice much like they did other forms of animal baiting. More favourable ideas of rats as living animals rather than vermin arose, alongside a new interest in their positive role in the maintenance of an
urban ecosystemImage:Bangkok skytrain sunset.jpg, Bangkok, Thailand In ecology, urban ecosystems are considered a ecosystem functional group within the Anthropogenic_biome, intensive land-use biome. They are structurally complex ecosystems with highly heterogene ...
. (It was only after the decline of rat baiting that rats became associated with the spread of disease.) Additionally, when ratting moved from being a countryside pastime to the betting arenas of inner London, it became associated with the base vices of lower-class citizens. Baiting sports diminished in popularity and the dog exhibition shows brought by the gentry slowly replaced the attraction as a more enlightened form of animal entertainment. The last public competition in the United Kingdom took place in
Leicester Leicester is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routled ...

in 1912. The owner was prosecuted and fined, and had to give a promise to the court that he would never again promote such entertainment.

Ratting in modern times

Ratting and rat-baiting are not the same activities. Ratting is the
legal Law is a system A system is a group of interacting Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as oppose ...

use of dogs for
pest control Pest control is the regulation or management of a species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often def ...
of non-captured rats in an unconfined space, such as a barn or field. Due to rat
infestation Infestation is the state of being invaded or overrun by pests Pest or The Pest may refer to: Science and medicine * Pest (organism), an animal or plant detrimental to humans or human concerns ** Weed, a plant considered undesirable * Infectious ...
s, terriers are now being used for ratting to hunt and kill rats in major cities around the world, including the United Kingdom, the
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United States
Vietnam Vietnam ( vi, Việt Nam, ), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,, group="n" is a country in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is the ...

. Although ratting with working terriers is far less efficient than using
rodenticide Rodenticides are chemical A chemical substance is a form of matter having constant chemical composition and characteristic properties. Some references add that chemical substance cannot be separated into its constituent elements by physical ...
or , the potential for the killing of nontarget species is zero.

In popular culture

*In the movie ''
Gangs of New York ''Gangs of New York'' is a 2002 American epic Epic commonly refers to: * Epic poetry, a long narrative poem celebrating heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation * Epic film, a genre of film with heroic elements Epic or EPIC ...

Gangs of New York
'' (2002), a scene involves rat baiting. *In the book ''Let Loose the Dogs'' (2003) by
Maureen Jennings Maureen Jennings (born 1939) is a United Kingdom, British Canadians, Canadian writer, most well-known for the ''Detective Murdoch Series'', the basis for the television series ''Murdoch Mysteries''. She is credited as a Creative Consultant in the ' ...
, as well as its , the main storyline is that a murder occurred following a rat-baiting contest. *In Season 1, Episode 4 of ''
The Knick ''The Knick'' is an American television Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome (black and white), or in color, and in two or three dimensi ...
'' (2014), there is a scene depicting rat baiting. A human, rather than a dog, is the one in the pit with the rats.


File:Die Gartenlaube (1858) b 733.jpg,
Die Gartenlaube, 1858 (The Garden Arbour)

See also

Huddersfield Ben Huddersfield Ben (c. 1865 – 23 September 1871), an early Yorkshire Terrier The Yorkshire Terrier (often shortened as Yorkie) is one of the smallest dog breed A dog breed is a particular strain or dog type that was purposefully bred ...

Huddersfield Ben
, ratting dog. * , earliest scientifically confirmed ratting dog.



* Barnett, A. (2002). ''The Story of Rats: Their Impact on Us, and Our Impact on Them''. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW. * Fleig, D. (1996). ''History of Fighting Dogs.'' pp. 105–112 T.F.H. Publications. * Hendrickson, R. (1984). ''More Cunning Than Man: A Social History of Rats and Man.'' Stein & Day Pub. * Homan, M. (2000). ''A Complete History of Fighting Dogs.'' pp. 121–131 Howell Book House Inc. * Matthews, I. (1898).
Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-Catcher
'' Kessinger Publishing. * Mayhew, H. (1851).
London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 3, Chp 1, Jimmy Shaw
'' London: Griffen, Bohn and Company, Stationer's Hall Court. London: Griffen, Bohn and Company, Stationer's Hall Court. * Plummer, D. (1979). ''Tales of a Rat-hunting Man.'' * Rodwell, J. (1858).
The Rat: Its History & Destructive Character
'. G. Routledge & Co. London. * Rodwell, J. (1850).
The Rat! and Its Cruel Cost to the Nation
'. Palala Press. * Sullivan, R. (2004). ''Rats: A Year with New York's Most Unwanted Inhabitants''. Granta Books, London. * Sullivan, R. (2005). ''Rats : Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants.'' Chapter 9 Bloomsbury USA. * Zinsser, H. (1935).
Rats, Lice and History
'. Blue Ribbon Books, Inc.

External links

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Monkey, Dog, and Rats
, 20 November 1880, p. 326 (report of a competition to kill twelve rats between a monkey and fox terrier) {{Baiting