The American Hairless Terrier's American ancestry begins with the mixed breed terriers called Feists brought from Europe to North America as early as the 18th century. In the late 1800s the Rat Terrier breed was developed from the Feist by the addition of Beagle, Italian Greyhound and Miniature Pinscher bloodlines.
The distinct American Hairless Terrier breed began in 1972 when one hairless puppy named Josephine appeared in a Rat Terrier litter in the state of Louisiana, United States. Owners Edwin and Willie Scott liked the dog's look and temperament, and upon maturity bred her hoping to reproduce the hairless quality. They were eventually successful; a litter produced in 1981 provided the foundation stock of the breed.
In 1998, the breed gained recognition as the American Hairless Terrier (AHT) by the American Rare Breeds Association and the National Rat Terrier Club. Canada was the first country outside the US to gain recognition, by Canadian Rarities in 1999. In 1999, the breed was recognized as Rat Terrier, Hairless Variety by the United Kennel Club.
In the US, the American Hairless Terrier Association is the official breed club for the American Kennel Club. Other national breed clubs around the world include the Canadian American Hairless Terrier Association and the Japanese Hairless American Terrier Club.
On January 1, 2004, the United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the AHT as a distinct breed.
Despite its smaller size, the AHT is not a toy breed. Rather, like its Rat Terrier cousin, the AHT is a working breed.
In January 2016 the American Hairless Terrier was recognized fully by the AKC in the terrier group.