Named for its hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston Terrier is a companion dog breed native to the United States and has the distinction of being the first dog breed developed in America whose primary purpose was companionship rather than work. Originally bred as a fighting dog, the temperament of the modern breed bears little resemblance to that of its ancestors. Today the Boston Terrier is known for its energetic and friendly personality, Boston Terriers are considered some of the great clowns of the dog world. The Boston Terrier has long been one of the most popular dogs in America, although it is no longer as popular as it was in the early years of the 20th Century. Boston Terriers are also known as Boston Bulldogs, Boston Bull Terriers, Boston Bulls, Roundheads, Boxwoods, and the American Gentleman.
The Boston Terrier is a relatively modern creation whose early breeders kept very close records and as a result of their diligent records keeping considerably more is known about the ancestry of this breed than almost any other. Although the Boston Terrier is a distinctly American creation, its ancestry can be directly traced back to two events in English dog history. The first is the keeping of organized studbooks by English Foxhound breeders; a process that began in the late 1700’s as English Foxhound breeders began to keep records of their dogs’ genealogies. Breeders of other dogs would follow this practice and add to it the exhibition of their dogs in competitions. This in turn would lead to the development of dog shows and kennel clubs and by the 1860’s, dog shows had become incredibly popular in England, a trend that soon spread to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The second event is the English passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 which banned the sports of bear-baiting and bull-baiting. Both of which had previously been some of the most popular forms of gambling and recreation in that country.
The cessation of bear and bull-baiting created a void, both in terms of a gambling venue and a way to satisfy the desire of the public for blood sports. This would lead to a rapid rise in the popularity of dog fighting. As the sport became more widespread and more and more money was on the line dog fighters quickly realized that there were two types of dogs best suited for competition in the fighting pit. The first of which was the terrier, which at this time was more descriptive of a type rather than a specific breed. Terriers of this time were known for having sufficient levels of dog aggression to fight another dog to the death, and also for their extremely fast-paced and exciting fighting style. The second was Bulldogs, which although it was illegal still found themselves still pitted against bulls in underground matches. Bulldogs which outwardly would have appeared to be the better fighting dog were larger and more impressive looking than Terriers and also had stronger jaws and necks, but they tended to be quite sluggish and lacked the requisite aggression to fight another dog to the death. This would lead English dog fighters to cross Bulldogs and Terriers in order to create the “ultimate” fighting dog, mixes popularly known as Bull and Terriers.
Bull and Terriers would eventually breed true, and several distinct varieties were developed. The two most common eventually became known as Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Their popularity as a fighting dog would lead to their importation into the United States, a process that began in the early 19th century, and it was there that they would eventually become known as Pit Bull Terriers. Once in America the type would experience a fairly rapid rise in popularity especially in major Eastern Cities where they earned the nickname Yankee Terriers. Despite having true-breeding types of Bull Terriers, Bulldogs and Terriers were still commonly crossed to create Bull and Terriers. During these years, Bull Terriers exhibited a substantially greater variation than is common today. Some had the elongated head of the modern Bull Terrier, others had a massive round head similar to an English Bulldog, and others had the intermediate head of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
Bull and Terriers were especially popular in the city of Boston. For many decades, breeders in that city focused almost entirely on working ability, which meant skill in the fighting arena. That began to change around the year 1865. In approximately that year, a Boston man by the name of Mr. Robert C. Hooper acquired a dog named Judge from another Boston man, Mr. William O’Brien. It is generally accepted that Judge had been imported from England, and that he was a cross between an English Bulldog and the now-extinct English White Terrier. Judge, more well-known as Hooper’s Judge, was brindle in color with a white stripe down his face. He weighed approximately 32 pounds, as was relatively-long-legged. His head was large and stocky, but had the nearly even mouth of the modern Boston Terrier. Judge was bred to a white English Bulldog named Burnett’s Gyp owned by Edward Burnett of Southboro, Massachusetts. One of the resulting puppies became known as Well’s Eph, a short, evenly marked brindle dog. Eph was then mated to Tobin’s Kate. Almost all modern Boston Terriers can trace their ancestry directly back to these four dogs.
The descendants of Hooper’s Judge were notable for their rounded heads, which were much more similar to those of the Bulldog than a Terrier. These dogs became very popular around the city of Boston and were highly in demand among dog fighters. Very quickly, dog breeders with no interest in dog fighting began to take an interest in these dogs which at the time were known as Boston Bull Terriers or Roundheads. These breeders were more interested in creating a standardized dog with a unique appearance than in working ability. They began a breeding program based on the descendants of Hooper’s Judge. These dogs were heavily inbred, as well as being crossed with other dogs. These crosses were made to balance out appearance. Puppies that were too much like a Bulldog were crossed with Terriers, most frequently Pit Bull Terrier-type dogs. Puppies that were too Terrier-like were crossed with Bulldogs. Initially, English Bulldogs were preferred, but their place was quickly taken by French Bulldogs. French Bulldogs were both smaller than their English cousins and possessed the prick ears preferred by Boston breeders. Many of the early breeders of Boston Terriers were stable workers, and carriage drivers. These men borrowed the pedigreed Bulldogs and Terriers of their employers and clients to cross with their non-pedigreed dogs.
In 1888, the Boston Bull Terrier made its first appearance in a dog show when they were exhibited in a generic class for round-headed Bull Terriers at the New England Kennel Club Dog Show in Boston. By 1891, there was enough interest in this breed that Charles Leland organized a meeting of breeders, to form the American Bull Terrier Club. These breeders compiled a stud book of 75 dogs whose origins could be traced back at least three generations. These 75 dogs form the basis of the modern Boston Terrier breed. The group also published the first breed standard. The club’s first goal was to get their dog recognized by the newly formed American Kennel Club (AKC). There were initially some hurdles, of which perhaps the greatest was opposition from Bull Terrier breeders who objected to the breed’s name. The AKC also did not feel that the name Roundhead was appropriate. A compromise was reached to give the dog the official name of the Boston Terrier, which is how it is now known throughout the world.
In 1893, the AKC officially granted full recognition to the Boston Terrier, and to the recently renamed Boston Terrier Club of America (BTCA) as the official breed club. This marked several milestones. The Boston Terrier became the first breed created in America to be granted official recognition by the AKC. Similarly, the breed became the first (and only) dog breed named after an American City. The Boston Terrier is also widely recognized as the first dog breed to be developed in America for companionship and conformation rather than working ability, and remained as such up until the last few decades. Finally, the BTCA became not only one of the first breed specific clubs affiliated with the AKC, but also the first for a breed native to the United States.
Although initially bred by barbers and carriage drivers, the Boston Terrier quickly found favor with the American upper class. By the end of the 19th Century, the breed was beginning to replace Toy Spaniels and Pugs which had previously been favored. Boston Terriers also found quick success in the show ring, and by 1900, 4 breed members had already claimed championships: Topsy, Spider, Montey, and Tansey. Montey and his sire Buster had more influence on the breed than any dog other than Hooper’s Judge, and the two combined sired more than 20% of all Boston Terriers registered with the AKC before 1900. The earliest Boston Terriers were quite variable in appearance, but by 1910 had become standardized into their modern coloration and markings. Popular with all classes, their charming appearance and playful, sweet nature earned many admirers and helped the Boston Terrier to rapidly spread across the United States. In 1914, the breed was registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC), becoming one of the first companion dogs to be entered with that registry.
The years after World War I saw a tremendous growth in the American economy. The boom of the Roaring Twenties coupled with strong nationalist sentiment accompanying the American victory over the Central Powers led to a strong desire among many Americans to own an American dog. The Boston Terrier was the overwhelmingly popular choice. Throughout the 1920’s, the Boston Terrier was one of the most popular dogs in America, and in all probability was the most common pedigreed breed for that decade. The dog was seen as the ideal canine companion, small enough to live in the city, but also extremely playful and affectionate with children. Because of its great popularity, the Boston Terrier was almost ubiquitously used in advertisements, and this dog’s image appeared on everything from tobacco to playing cards. Beginning in 1922, Boston University adopted a Boston Terrier character named Rhett as its official mascot.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s dampened interest in dogs in general and World War II saw the introduction of new breeds. As a result, the Boston Terrier was supplanted in popularity by other dogs. However, the breed maintained a large number of loyal fanciers, and while it never quite regained the popularity it enjoyed during the 1920’s, it also never fell far from the top of the AKC registration rankings. From 1900 until 1950, the AKC registered more Boston Terriers than any other breed. Since the 1920’s, the Boston Terrier has consistently ranked between 5th and 25th in terms of AKC registrations, coming in at number 20 in 2010. Throughout the 20th Century, the Boston Terrier was exported all across the world. However, nowhere else did the breed find anywhere close to the popularity it enjoys in its native land.
In 1979, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts named the Boston Terrier the Official State Dog, becoming just the fourth breed to be so honored and one of only eleven total. Although developed as a companion and show dog, the Boston Terrier is a frequent and successful participant in a numerous dog sports including obedience and agility trials. This breed has also been used as a therapy and service dog. Despite its ability to perform other tasks, the vast majority of Boston Terriers are companion dogs, just as has always been the case. The incredibly charming appearance and sweet personality of this breed along with its comparatively low requirements make this breed among the best-suited of all dogs to life as a companion animal. Although it’s exact popularity will almost certainly fluctuate from year to year, all signs point to the Boston Terrier remaining an American favorite for the foreseeable future.
The Boston Terrier is perhaps best described as a having Bulldog’s head on a Terrier’s body while wearing a tuxedo. This breed is quite small without being tiny. For show purposes, Boston Terriers are divided into three classes, under 15 pounds, 15 to 20 pounds, and 20 to 25 pounds. The vast majority of Boston Terriers weight between 10 and 25 pounds, although obese dogs may weigh somewhat more. Breed standards do not specify an ideal height, but most breed members stand between 14 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder. Boston Terriers are a sturdily built breed, but should never look stocky. The ideal Boston Terrier is muscular and athletic, not thick. Young dogs tend to be quite thin, but fill out by the time they turn three. A square appearance is an important characteristic of this breed, and most Boston Terriers are almost exactly as long as they are tall. Although some dogs are deeper chested than others, most Boston Terriers are fairly long-legged. The tail of the Boston Terrier is naturally short, and most are less than two inches long. Some dogs have straight tails while others have corkscrew shaped ones.
The head of the Boston Terrier is brachycephalic, meaning that the breed has a pushed in face. The head itself is proportional to the size of the dog’s body, neither appearance large or small. The head should be quite square, with a flat head and cheeks. The muzzle of this breed is very short, and should not exceed one-third of the length of the skull. Boston Terriers should have a flat muzzle, but some point slightly upwards. Although short, the muzzle is very wide and deep, taking up almost the entire face. The head and muzzle of this breed combine to form a fist shape. Boston Terriers have a pronounced underbite, although this should not be noticeable when the dog’s mouth is closed. The lips of this breed are long, but not quite long enough to form jowls.
The face of the Boston Terrier is relatively smooth, but can be slightly wrinkly. This breed has large, round eyes which are set far apart. The ideal eye color is as dark as possible. Although bulging eyes are not a necessary part of the standards and are actually a severe health risk, many Boston Terrier breeders have created dogs with massively bulging eyes. The ears of the Boston Terrier are quite long and exceptionally wide for the size of the dog. These ears are triangular-in-shape with a barely rounded tip. Some fanciers choose to crop the ears to make them more proportional for the size of the dog, but this practice is falling out of favor. The overall expression of a Boston Terrier is one of intelligence, friendliness, and liveliness.
The coat of a Boston Terrier is short, smooth, and bright, and is ideally smooth to the touch. This coat is almost uniform in length over the dog’s entire body. Boston Terriers come in three colors, black and white, brindle and white, and seal and white. Seal looks like black until seen in sunlight or other bright light when a slight brown tinge is perceptible. Brindle is preferred in the show ring, but most fanciers prefer black. Boston Terriers are famous for their tuxedo-like markings which are considered a key breed characteristic. To be eligible in the show ring, Boston Terriers must have a white muzzle band, a white blaze between the eyes, and a white fore chest. It is considered highly desirable for the blaze to extend over the head, for there to be a white collar, and for the forelegs and hind legs below the hocks to be wholly or partially white. Sometimes a Boston Terrier is born with incorrect white markings, or no white present at all. Similarly, solid white Boston Terriers are occasionally born, as are dogs with grey or liver in place of brindle, black, or seal. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring but otherwise are no different than other Boston Terriers.
Although the striking appearance of this breed turns heads, it is the Boston Terrier's temperament which has long made it one of America’s favorite family pets. A Terrier in name and ancestry only, very few Boston Terriers have anything in common with most of those dogs. Known as being one of the most good-spirited of all dogs, most breed members always seem to be happy and cheerful. Boston Terriers are extremely people-oriented. This is a dog that wants to be with its family 100% of the time, and this breed is known to suffer from severe separation anxiety. Boston Terriers are infamous snugglers who want to be as close to their families as possible. This can be irritating as many breed members become clingy. Some Boston Terriers become one person dogs, but most become equally attached to all family members. The Boston Terrier is among the most fawningly affectionate of all dogs, and most shower their owners with kisses.
Boston Terriers are generally very accepting of strangers when properly socialized. With the right training, most breed members are extremely outgoing and consider everyone a potential friend. This breed is highly likely to become an inappropriate greeter, often needs to be trained not to jump. Even those Boston Terriers that are somewhat less outgoing tend to be quite polite, and human aggression is rarely seen in these dogs. Some Boston Terriers make tolerable watch dogs, but their barks are more out of excitement that someone is coming over to play with them than a warning. There are very few dog breeds that make as poor of a guard dog as a Boston Terrier. Ignoring their small size, most breed members would warmly welcome an intruder and then follow them home before showing aggression.
Boston Terriers are very highly regarded with children. These dogs are often extremely fond of children and shower them with affection. Boston Terriers also rank among the most playful of all dogs, and most not only tolerate but enjoy some rough play. Provided that children do not poke the eyes, the Boston Terrier is very sturdy and not especially likely to be injured. On the other hand, the Boston Terrier is small enough that it is unlikely to accidentally injure a child. Boston Terriers are also highly regarded on the other end of the age spectrum, and these dogs are often recommended as companions for senior citizens looking for companionship. Due to its gentle nature and low dominance level, the Boston Terrier is among the most frequently recommended breeds for a first time dog owner.
Boston Terriers are generally friendly with other animals. When properly socialized, most Boston Terriers are quite accepting of other dogs, especially members of the opposite sex. Some Boston Terriers, especially males, have dominant tendencies and may get into trouble with other dogs. Also, same sex aggression is far from unheard of among Boston Terriers, especially unneutered males. Many Boston Terriers have a tendency to play quite rough, too rough for many small breeds. Boston Terriers tend to have low prey drives, and are generally tolerant of other pets. Boston Terriers are regarded as being quite trustworthy with cats and other small creatures once properly socialized. Some breed members may repeatedly try to play with cats, which is usually not well-received.
Boston Terriers are incredibly responsive and willing to please. They are also regarded as being highly intelligent. As a result, Boston Terriers are considered quite easy to train. These dogs learn basic obedience quickly and are rarely willful. Boston Terriers are also capable of learning a number of tricks and regularly do very well in agility and obedience trials. However, the Boston Terrier is not regarded as a canine genius and its maximum training potential is probably less than that of a breed such as a German Shepherd or Standard Poodle. Harsh training methods are unnecessary and highly undesirable for this breed, which responds much better to rewards-based methods. Many Boston Terriers will do virtually anything for a treat. There is one training area where Boston Terriers prove very challenging. As is the case with most small dogs, Boston Terriers can be very difficult to housebreak. Their small bladders are simply not capable of holding it for as long as many other dogs. Additionally, they are small enough to go behind sofas, under coffee tables, and other places where their accidents are likely to go unnoticed and uncorrected.
Boston Terriers are very eager and energetic dogs. However, they have comparatively low exercise requirements. A long daily walk will satisfy most Boston Terriers, who do very well in apartments. This does not mean that Boston Terriers cannot get more exercise, and many of these dogs are willing to play for long periods. When properly exercised, most Boston Terriers are relatively calm, if easily excited. Without exercise, these dogs tend to become extremely hyperactive and surprisingly destructive. Boston Terriers can be incredibly athletic if kept in good condition, and this breed excels at many events such as agility. However, the brachycephalic face of this breed means that it can get winded easily and some cannot handle long periods of strenuous exercise. Boston Terriers are incredibly playful, and will regularly drop a ball in your lap. In some dogs this tendency can lead to insistency, and Boston Terriers can be quite insistent.
Although generally very well-suited to life as a companion animal, Boston Terriers do have a few tendencies that may cause some owners embarrassment or displeasure. This breed makes a wide range of strange noises, including grunts, snorts, wheezes, and squeals. While most fanciers find them charming, not all agree. The Boston Terrier also snores, and snores virtually the entire time it is asleep. Owners are likely to hear their dog snoring for several hours a day, and these dogs can be surprisingly loud. Of most concern is the breed’s tendency towards flatulence. Most Boston Terriers are very gassy, and pass gas both with great frequency and intense potency. While not as infamous as the English Bulldog or the Boxer, Boston Terriers are more than capable of clearing a room on a regular basis. As a result, the Boston Terrier may not be ideal for the easily revolted or embarrassed.
The Boston Terrier has very low grooming requirements. This dog never needs to go to the groomer, and only needs an occasional brushing. The short coat and small size of the Boston Terrier means that the occasional grooming session or bath is comparatively quick and easy. However, this is not a low-maintenance dog. Boston Terriers suffer from a number of health conditions that may require special maintenance, such as daily eye drops. Since what treatments will be necessary vary tremendously from one dog to the next, it is difficult to predict how much work any individual Boston Terrier will be.
Boston Terriers are known to suffer from a number of health problems, and many experts consider them to be a relatively unhealthy dog. In fact, most experts put health as their number one concern for those interested in acquiring a Boston Terrier. Most of their problems are a result of the breed’s unnatural brachycephalic head, which is responsible for a number of maladies. However, most of the Boston Terrier’s problems are not fatal or life-shortening, and this breed tends to live a very long life. The average life expectancy for Boston Terriers is from 12 to 14 years, but it is surprisingly common for these dogs to reach advanced ages of 16 or older.
The head of the Boston Terrier has been incredibly modified from that of the wolf, or even the Bull Terriers, from which it descends. Unfortunately, the dog’s internal anatomy has not had time to adapt to this shape. Boston Terriers have a number of breathing problems. That is why they wheeze, snort, and snore. Dogs use the air that they breathe both to power their bodies and to cool themselves off. Because Boston Terriers have difficulty breathing, they get winded easily during exercise and often need to stop. Also, they have great difficulty in high temperatures. Boston Terriers develop and die of heat stroke more quickly and at lower temperatures than many other breeds. The shorted face of the Boston Terrier often makes the dog’s eyes bulge out. This makes them considerably more susceptible to a number of eye conditions, but makes them highly vulnerable to physical injury or even loss. Breeders have tried to keep this dog’s head small enough that it can whelp naturally, but many Boston Terriers require Caesarian Sections to give birth.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (hip dysplasia is quite commonly seen) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems experienced by Boston Terriers would have to include: