Small Dogs That Kill Mice

Many small dog breeds have strong instincts to hunt and kill mice and other vermin. This behavior likely stems from their history of being bred to eliminate rats and mice in homes, barns, stables, and mills. Certain small terriers and Dachshunds are especially prized for their tenaciousness in tracking down and dispatching mice.

While killing mice may be an innate behavior for some dogs, proper training can enhance their skill and ensure they don’t cause unwanted destruction. With the right breed, technique, and practice, small dogs can provide an effective and chemical-free form of rodent control.

This article explores some of the top small dog breeds with strong drive for hunting mice, as well as tips on how to develop their mousing abilities.


Terriers were originally bred to hunt and kill small vermin and pests like mice, rats, moles and other small animals. They have a strong prey drive and quick reflexes that make them well-suited to catching and killing small, fast rodents. Terriers as a group are intelligent, energetic and feisty dogs that enjoy the thrill of the chase and work independently to pursue prey, even digging underground tunnels. Popular terrier breeds like Jack Russell, Cairn and West Highland White terriers have been specifically bred over generations to excel at hunting and killing mice and rats around farms and homes.

Some of the earliest terrier breeds were developed in the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries to eradicate mice and rats from barns, stables, mills and homes. These included ancestors of breeds like the Cairn, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Irish, Scottish and Welsh terriers. Ever since, terriers have been prized for their working abilities and gameness when hunting vermin of all kinds. Their strong prey drive, intelligence and energetic nature are inherent traits that enable them to effectively hunt and kill mice.

Today, many terrier breeds still possess this inborn talent for mouse and rat control, even if they are now primarily household companions. With the right training and exposure, terriers can be excellent natural mousers that will keep your home free of unwanted pests.

Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell Terrier originated in England during the 1800s as a working terrier bred to hunt foxes.[1] Known for their boundless energy and feisty spirit, these small but athletic dogs were named after Reverend John Russell, who developed the breed for fox hunting on his estate.[2]

An average adult Jack Russell Terrier stands between 10-15 inches tall, and weighs 14-18 pounds. They have a muscular, stocky build with short legs suited for digging and squeezing into burrows. Their coat is smooth, broken or rough in white with tan, black or brown markings.[3]

Jack Russell Terriers are tenacious, lively, and vocal dogs with a propensity for barking. They are highly intelligent and require consistent training and stimulation. Without enough activity, Jack Russells can become destructive.[4] Though small, they have tremendous energy and a strong prey drive inherited from their hunting roots. This makes them excellent ratters and mousers.[1]

While friendly towards people, Jack Russells tend to be dog-aggressive and are not recommended for homes with other pets. With the right owner prepared to meet their needs, Jack Russells make feisty and fun companions.[5]


Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier originated in the Scottish Highlands and is one of the oldest terrier breeds. They were bred to hunt and chase prey like foxes, badgers, otters and rodents out of their dens and burrows (Source). Cairns have strong instincts to hunt and remain working terriers at heart. Their name comes from the tiny stone piles called “cairns” that marked the mountain graves and pathways in Scotland.

In terms of physical traits, the Cairn Terrier has a short but sturdy body that allows them to maneuver easily through burrows. They have a weather-resistant double coat that comes in any color except white. Cairns stand about 9-13 inches tall and weigh 13-14 pounds (Source).

The Cairn Terrier is an intelligent, lively and alert dog. They are courageous, strong-willed and independent thinkers. Cairn Terriers are devoted companions but can be cautiously loyal toward strangers. They are playful and adventurous but also enjoy relaxing at home. With early socialization and training, Cairn Terriers can adapt well in a variety of homes.

West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier, commonly called the Westie, originated in Scotland in the early 1900s. Westies were bred to hunt small rodents like rats, mice, and other vermin. Their white coat allowed hunters to differentiate them from the quarry.

Westies typically stand 10-11 inches tall and weigh 15-22 pounds. They have a white double coat that sheds little. The outer coat is hard and the undercoat is soft and dense. They have a large head, pointed ears, and dark eyes. Their tail is short.

Westies are friendly, lively, alert dogs. They are confident, independent, and territorial. They make excellent watchdogs and are devoted companions. They have a strong prey drive and retain their ratting instincts. Westies will enthusiastically hunt mice, rats, moles and other small animals.

For more information on the history and traits of the West Highland White Terrier, see the West Highland White Terrier Dog Breed Information article on Dogtime.


Dachshunds were originally bred in Germany to hunt badgers and other small prey like rabbits and foxes. Their long, low bodies and short legs allowed them to enter underground burrows and tunnels to flush out small animals. The name “dachshund” literally means “badger dog” in German.

Despite their small size, dachshunds are known for being fierce hunters with a bold spirit. They were bred not only for their body shape but also for their bravery and determination in pursuing prey despite their size disadvantage. Their loud, deep barks would alert hunters to when they had cornered an animal in its den.

“Dachsies”, as they are affectionately called, retain much of their hunting instincts today. With proper training and supervision, many dachshunds still enjoy hunting and pursuing small game. Their strong prey drive makes them enthusiastic hunters of rodents like mice, rats, and squirrels.

According to some owners, dachshunds seem to take particular delight in dispatching mice quickly and efficiently [1]. However, owners do need to monitor their dachshunds’ interactions with small animals to prevent injuries on either side.

Yorkshire Terrier

The Yorkshire Terrier originated in Yorkshire, England in the mid 19th century where it was utilized as a mouse hunter. The Yorkshire Terrier is a small, petite dog with long, silky hair that spreads over their body and onto the ground. They typically weigh between 4-7 pounds and stand about 7-9 inches tall. Despite their small stature, Yorkies are known for their big personalities and spunky, lively nature. They make excellent watchdogs as they can be quite vocal and will alert their owners to any disturbances.

While Yorkshire Terriers require regular grooming to keep their long coats neat and tangle-free, they are fairly low maintenance dogs in terms of exercise needs. A short daily walk or play session is sufficient. Their small size makes them well-suited for apartment living. With early socialization and training, Yorkies generally get along well with other pets and children. Their intelligence, eagerness to please, and high energy level make them relatively easy to train. Yorkshire Terriers are loyal, affectionate companions that thrive on human interaction. Their hunting instincts remain strong, so they may still enjoy chasing mice or other small rodents if given the opportunity.

Toy Fox Terrier

The Toy Fox Terrier is a small but energetic breed that descends from the larger Fox Terrier. They were developed in the United States in the early 20th century to hunt and kill rats and other vermin. Despite their small size, Toy Fox Terriers have strong prey drives and natural hunting instincts.

Toy Fox Terriers typically stand 8.5-11.5 inches tall and weigh between 3.5-9 pounds. They have short, smooth coats that come in white with tan, black, or chocolate markings. Their triangular ears stand erect on the top of their heads. Toy Fox Terriers have athletic, muscular builds that enable their speed and agility.

These petite dogs have energetic, lively personalities. They are intelligent, loyal, and affectionate with their owners. Toy Fox Terriers can be independent thinkers and may require assertive handling. Without proper training and exercise, they can become destructive or high-strung. But overall, the Toy Fox Terrier is an active, fun-loving companion. Their small size makes them well-suited to apartment living.

Toy Fox Terriers have strong hunting instincts and can be tenacious in pursuing mice and rats. Their courageous nature and lively speed allow them to swiftly chase down and dispatch vermin. With proper training, Toy Fox Terriers can be highly effective as working mice and rat catchers. Their small size enables them to pursue rodents into tight spaces.


Training Tips

Small dogs like terriers have a strong prey drive and can be trained to hunt mice. The key is to tap into their natural instincts in a positive way. Start by encouraging them when they show interest in mice, such as barking or staring intently. Use praise and rewards when they get close to finding a mouse. You can buy or make a mouse-sized lure with real fur to initially practice with. Drag it along the floor and reward with play when they catch it. Praise enthusiasm and eventually phase out treats so they hunt just for the enjoyment. Take it very slow, not forcing interactions, to avoid stress or aggression. Patience and persistence are key in developing mouse hunting skills in small dogs. With time, they can learn to sniff out rodents and corner them without attacking until you signal it’s OK. Avoid punishing natural impulses, and focus on redirecting in a positive way. Proper socialization and training is also important to curb undesirable aggression. Though terriers may readily kill mice, supervision is still advised as mice can bite and carry disease [1].


The best small dog breeds for catching mice are terriers, dachshunds, and Yorkshire terriers. Terriers such as the Jack Russell, Cairn, and West Highland White were originally bred to hunt vermin and excel at chasing down and killing mice. Their tenacity and high prey drive make them ideal mousers. Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers and their long bodies allow them to squeeze into small spaces to flush out rodents. Yorkshire terriers, though small, retain their terrier instincts and will eagerly hunt mice. When selecting a small dog for mousing abilities, opt for breeds with high energy levels, strong prey drive, courage, intelligence, and an eagerness to dig and explore.

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