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Tracking the Boston Terrier

In This Chapter

Boston Terriers enjoy a rich and well-documented history that reaches back to the mid-19th century. They represent one of a handful of breeds that claim the United States as their home turf.

You can learn a lot about your Boston by understanding the different breeds that make her up. In this chapter, you discover the origins and history of the Boston Terrier, how and why the dog was developed, her various breed standards as defined by the country’s top registries, and the Boston’s spunky yet gentle temperament and personality.

Breed Origin and History

Boston Terriers, nicknamed the “American Gentlemen,” owe their compact physique and exuberant charm to their forefathers: English Bulldogs (commonly known as Bulldogs) and white English Terriers (now extinct). They are two very distinct breeds, but they blended together to create the stout, lovable dog you know today.

The roots of the Boston’s build

Early Bulldogs, known as Molossers, descended from ferocious Mastiff-type dogs who were bred to fight in Roman arenas. These same litters produced guard dogs, protectors, and draft dogs. They were known as Alains or Alaunts until the Middle Ages.

Large, solidly built dogs with heavy bones, muscular necks, and short muzzles, Molossers comprise a group of early canines known for their strength and courage. They were the predecessors of the Mastiff, Great Dane, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, and other largeand giant-breed dogs who tip the scales at 100 pounds or more. Embodying vigor and bravery, early generations of these massive dogs guarded shepherds’ homes and flocks with their sheer might and guttural barks.
In England, these vicious dogs were known as Bandogs because they required bands, ropes, and chains to contain them. Those who weren’t cut out for the fight ring assisted butchers in controlling savage bulls awaiting slaughter. (In those days, people believed that when the dogs harassed the bulls before butchering, the bulls yielded a more tender and nutritious meat compared to those that were immediately killed!)
Breeders developed these dogs with short legs and a stout body to keep them safe from the bull’s piercing horns. Eventually, these dogs were bred to participate in a sport that pitted the dog against a tethered bull. Known as bull-baiting, the dog clenched the bull’s nose with its strong undershot jaw with the goal of taking down the restrained beast by suffocating or bleeding it to death.
The English Parliament banned the sport in 1835, but the dog’s tenacious temperament and formidable traits remained in subsequent generations. Its physical characteristics — the undershot jaw, its heavy body weight, and low center of gravity — became the standard by which the dog was bred.
You can see many of these qualities in the Boston Terrier. It certainly is no longer a fighter, but its stocky build, square and blocky shape, and slightly undershot jaw are now hallmarks of the breed.

Stirring in some spunk

Energetic and spirited, terriers descend from working dogs bred to hunt and kill vermin. Known as ratters, the dogs performed specific jobs for their owners that required speed, agility, and a rapid response.
When the British wanted to breed spunk and agility into their dogs, they turned to the terrier. They chose the white English Terrier, a small, white working dog who eventually evolved into Fox Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers. The white English Terrier became extinct in the 1870s, but it has been linked to several bulldog-terrier crosses, including the English Bullterrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Boston Terrier.
As a group recognized by the various dog registries, terriers range in size from the smaller West Highland White Terrier (14 to 21 pounds) to the large Airedale Terrier (43 to 60 pounds). Though their sizes differ, they all exhibit the feisty, energetic nature that made them such adept vermin catchers.
You can see the terrier’s traits in your Boston, too. (And not just in her name!) She is a very intelligent and lively breed who always wants a job to do, whether it’s playing a game or chewing on a piece of rawhide.

Building the First Boston

The Boston Terrier you fell in love with traces her ancestry to a dog named Judge, who was owned by Robert C. Hooper. A resident of Boston, Massachusetts, Hooper purchased an imported bulldogterrier crossbreed from his native England around 1870.
More resembling a bulldog than a terrier, Judge weighed 32 pounds and displayed a stocky build with a short brindle coat (a coat pattern speckled with varying shades of gray, brown, and tan fur) and a white collar.
Edward Burnett of Southborough, Massachusetts, admired Hooper’s dog and bred his 20-pound bitch (female dog), Gyp, with Judge. Gyp displayed similar blocky characteristics to Judge, but she was all white and shorter. Their mating produced only one offspring: Well’s Eph. Described as an unattractive dog, Well’s Eph produced eye-catching offspring, including a male named Barnard’s Tom. Tom exhibited the characteristics embodied by Bostons today, but most acknowledge Judge as the breed’s Adam.
Early breeders continued to refine the dog, selecting for compact size, distinct look, and gentlemanly temperament. The Boston Terrier took on the positive characteristics of both its bulldog and terrier ancestors: lap dog, vermin chaser, watchdog, and down-toearth scrapper.

Join the club!

In 1889, Charles F. Leland, a Harvard University student and breed fancier, located 40 others in the Boston area who shared his love of the dog. He invited them to form a club called the American Bull Terrier Club. They showed dogs under the name Round Heads or Bull Terriers.
Gaining acceptance in the American Kennel Club, however, would not come easy. Bull Terrier and Bulldog fanciers objected to the new breed, claiming that it was distinctly different and protesting the similarity of the breeds’ names.
Relentless, the new breed’s supporters pressed on, eventually establishing the Boston Terrier Club of America (BTCA) in 1891, taking on the name of the city where the dog originated. They wrote a standard that still influences the breed standard today (see the “Developing a Standard” section later in this chapter).
By 1893, the AKC admitted Hector, the first Boston Terrier stud, into its registry.
The Boston Terrier Club of America exists to this day, maintaining the original breed standards through a network of breeders and fanciers. To join the BTCA, you must submit an application with two letters of recommendation from BTCA club members in good standing, and be voted in by the board of directors. Once accepted, you must agree to abide by the club’s constitution and bylaws. Visit www.bostonterrierclubofamerica.orgfor more information.

Renewed popularity

During the Boston’s early days, it enjoyed extreme popularity, consistently holding the number-one or number-two spot among AKC registered breeds from 1905 to 1935.
Its popularity has waxed and waned since then, but another peak may be on the horizon. In 1995 and 1996, the breed ranked number 23 and number 21 respectively in the AKC registry, and by 2006, the organization listed it as the 15th most popular registered breed. In their namesake Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Terriers’ popularity has risen even higher — they’re listed as the area’s 11th most popular dog. (Flip to Chapter Ten Trivia Tidbits about Bostons for more trivia tidbits about Bostons.) They may never reach the number-one spot again, but as companion dogs, Boston Terriers are hard to beat.

Developing a Standard

You already know what your Boston looks like. She has those adoring dark eyes, short black- or brindle-and-white coat, those perpetually perked-up ears, and a stance that could scare off the brashest bull (well, at least the neighborhood cat!).
Someone had to come up with the unmistakable “look,” or the Boston’s breed standard, and that’s where breed clubs come into play.

Technical Stuff

In order for a breed to be recognized by a country’s presiding kennel club (in the United States, it’s the AKC), that breed’s fanciers must organize and provide documentation certifying that their dogs had bred true to form and free from out-crosses (introduction of other breeds) for at least five generations. 

The breed club develops a written description of what the dog looks like in her most ideal form. It details things like her eyes, ears, nose, jaw, head, body, tail, forequarters, hindquarters, and demeanor with humans.
Judges use breed standards to judge dogs during competitive events, but many people use breed standards, too, to decide what type of dog to introduce into their home. By reading the various breed descriptions, prospective dog owners will know what to expect from a particular breed; you can find out everything from its adult height and weight to its care requirements and personality. If you’re looking for a lap dog, you certainly wouldn’t want to adopt a Great Dane!
You can read a paraphrased version of the Boston Terrier’s AKC breed standard in the following section and compare the descriptions to your Boston (or, if you want, you can consult the AKC Web site for the exact information and wording). The standard has been revised since Charles F. Leland and the original Boston Terrier Club wrote it in 1891, but it still retains many of the original characteristics that made the dogs so endearing more than 100 years ago.


The standard is only a guideline for the ideal Boston Terrier. If your dog doesn’t meet up to these marks, don’t worry, unless you plan to show her, of course!

American Kennel Club standards

The American Kennel Club is the most well-known and recognized dog registry in the United States. It was founded in 1884 with the mission of “upholding its registry and promoting the sport of purebred dogs and breeding for type and function.” It advocates purebred dogs as family companions, and canine health and well-being. It also stands up for the rights of all dog owners and promotes responsible dog ownership.
The AKC was the first registry to recognize the Boston Terrier as a unique breed in 1893 when it admitted the dog into its stud books. The registry classifies Boston Terriers under the Non-sporting Group, which is a catchall for dogs who don’t fit into other categories.
The following sections outline the breed standard for the Boston. You can also check out Figure 2-1.
Figure 2-1: An “ideal” Boston wears a distinctive black- or brindle-and-white coat, has a well-balanced and compact body with a short head, and exudes grace and strength.

A matter of size and proportion

The breed standard divides the Boston Terrier class into three subcategories: under 15 pounds, 15 to 19 pounds, and 20 to 25 pounds.
No matter her size, a Boston Terrier looks compact and sturdy but not blocky, chunky, or spindly. Ideal examples of Bostons appear well-balanced, meaning the dog’s body is proportionate to her legs, neck, and head. Her back and muscles must also be in proportion and enhance the dog’s weight and structure.

A square head

A Boston Terrier’s square-looking head is flat on top and wrinkle free, reminiscent of that bulldog look. Her cheeks are flat, and her brow is short and sloped. Her large, dark eyes, which are set wide, and her small, erect ears, standing up on the corners of her skull, give the dog her alert and kind expression.
The dog’s muzzle (made up of the nose, mouth, and jaws) is wide, short, and square and has no wrinkles. The muzzle is no longer than one-third the length of the skull and parallels the top of the skull. The Boston’s black nose has a well-defined line between its nostrils.

Grouping the breeds

Dog registries categorize the dogs into groups, which are collections of dog breeds that exhibit similar traits, temperaments, or purposes.
The AKC divides dogs into eight groups:

Sporting: This active and alert group of dogs includes Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, and Spaniels. They are generally the dogs who participate in hunting and field activities, so they require regular exercise — and lots of it — to expend their endless supply of energy.

Hound: These are the hunting dogs of the pack, using their keen eyesight, sensitive noses, and stamina while tracking down prey. But their similarity stops there because this group comprises a range of breeds, from Afghans and Beagles to Dachshunds and Whippets.

Working: Bred to guard property, pull sleds, and perform water rescues, dogs in the Working Group are highly loyal and intelligent. They are large and strong, so they don’t make suitable pets for most households. This group includes dogs like the Doberman Pinscher, Saint Bernard, and Mastiff.

Terrier: The terrier personality precedes itself. Lively and energetic, terriers entertain their humans for hours on end. They were bred to hunt vermin, so they still enjoy a good dig in the backyard now and then. Terriers range in size from the small Westie (formally known as the West Highland White Terrier) to the large Airedale.

Toy: Dogs in the Toy Group have one job in life: to embody pure joy and delight. Bred as companions, these diminutive dogs make ideal pets for people who live in apartments or small spaces. Examples of dogs in the Toy Group include the Chihuahua, Maltese, Pug, and Yorkshire Terrier.

Non-sporting: Boston Terriers fall into this group, which also includes the Bichon Frise, the Poodle, and the Bulldog. It’s a catchall category for dogs who aren’t bred for a particular sport or job.

Herding: Members of the Herding Group have the ability to control the movement of other animals — including humans! Though many dogs in the Herding Group no longer rustle up cattle or steer sheep into their pen, they still herd their owners. Examples of dogs in the Herding Group include the Australian Shepherd, Collie, and the German Shepherd Dog.

Miscellaneous: Dogs in the Miscellaneous Group are on their way to becoming recognized AKC breeds. When breed fanciers show that an interest in the breed exists and steps are being taken to have it recognized as a breed, the AKC places them in this category. Once listed among the Miscellaneous Group, the Beauceron and the Swedish Vallhund, for example, have recently become eligible for AKC registration and competition in the Herding Group shows.

A stocky body
Carrying that square head, the Boston’s neck, back, and body should be proportionate to and balance the overall appearance of the dog.
Her slightly arched neck carries her head proudly, and her level back is parallel to the floor and runs perpendicular to her legs. Her chest is deep and extends back to her loins.
The Boston’s short and tapering tail sits low on her rump. The tail can be straight or curly, but it shouldn’t be too long.

She’s got legs

A Boston’s forequarters include her shoulders, which are sloping and well laid back; and her elbows, which point straight back. Her forelegs sit well apart and are lined up with the shoulder blades. They’re straight with short, strong pasterns, or bones above her feet.
Her hindquarters feature strong, muscular thighs. She should have a bend at her stifles, or knee joint, and it should be aligned vertically with no bowing. Her hock, or ankle joint, should be well-defined, and her hocks, or lower legs, should be straight and short to her feet.
At the base of her muscular legs, small sturdy feet support her body. They should fall straight, and have well-arched toes and trimmed nails.

Walk this way

The Boston Terrier walks like a graceful, sure-footed, powerful dog. Moving with confidence and ease, her legs should move in a perpendicular line with the ground below; she should not cross one foot in front of the other or turn her feet outward.

Coat of three colors

A Boston’s short, smooth coat comes in three colors, each with white markings: brindle (a mixture of colors), seal (black with a red cast), or black.
The Boston’s distinctive tuxedo-like coat pattern — a white streak across her muzzle, a white shot from her forehead to her nose, a white chest, and white boots on her feet — give her that unmistakable look.


Described as intelligent, friendly, lively, affectionate, loving, and loyal, the Boston Terrier’s amiable personality makes her an easy best buddy. The dog truly deserves her nickname, “American Gentleman.”

Other registries

The AKC and the UKC are recognized dog registries in the United States. Other countries have registries, too, and they each have their own breeds and groups that make up their stud books.
Other registries in English-speaking countries include:
  • Canadian Kennel Club
  • Australian National Kennel Council
  • The Kennel Club (United Kingdom)
  • Kennel Club of India
  • Kennel Union of Southern Africa

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, or the World Canine Organization, is an international kennel club based in Belgium. The FCI claims 80 member countries and recognizes 335 dog breeds.

United Kennel Club standards

Established in 1898, the United Kennel Club is the largest all-breed performance-dog registry in the world. Listing dogs from the United States as well as 25 foreign countries, the UKC distinguishes itself by focusing on the “total dog package,” recognizing a breed’s hunting ability and training instinct, as well as its looks.
The UKC first recognized Boston Terriers in 1914. Listed within its Companion Dog Group, the UKC standard is virtually identical to the AKC’s, with only one exception: The AKC recognizes three weight subcategories while the UKC recognizes two, which are under 15 pounds, and up to and including 25 pounds.

Personality Aplenty

With a nickname like “American Gentleman,” you can expect your Boston Terrier to be good-natured, intelligent, and polite with a sense of humor. But like many American gentlemen, they embody a little bit of spunk and spirit that makes them unique.
Breeders and fanciers describe Bostons as gentle, alert, and wellmannered. The dogs can be rambunctious, harkening back to their terrier ancestors. But that same energy can be redirected into rousing games of fetch, flyball, or agility. (Check out Chapter Taking Training to the Next Level for fun things to do with your Boston.)
Not known to be barkers, Boston Terriers don’t make the best guard dogs — especially because they’re too friendly to strangers! They adore children and senior citizens, making a properly socialized Boston an ideal pet for a young family or an empty-nester.
Bostons get along splendidly with other canine and feline pets. They enjoy having one another for companionship. If you’ve ever seen a pack of Bostons playing together, you know how much fun they can have!


Despite the Boston’s charming characteristics, you should consider these challenges that come with this canine “gentleman:”

Unstable temperament: Bostons bred by unethical and inexperienced breeders may not exhibit stable demeanors. Obedience instructors and veterinary behaviorists counsel many clients whose Bostons display neurotic behavior, such as ceaseless barking, hyperactivity, and aggression. Purchase your dog from a reputable breeder who knows how to select for stable temperaments. (Flip to Chapter A Match Made in Boston for advice on finding a breeder and choosing a healthy puppy.)

Housetraining difficulties: Drawing on that terrier stubbornness, Bostons can be difficult to housetrain. Plan to spend at least six months training your dog before you see results. (You can help your Boston master housetraining basics with Chapter Housetraining for Bostons.)

Snorts and snores: Because of their shortened muzzles, Bostons tend to snort, wheeze, grunt, and snore loudly. Some Boston owners find these little noises endearing, but they drive others crazy! In some cases, the noises can indicate breathing difficulties, and your veterinarian can diagnose and treat any problem or potential problems. (For more details about Boston Terrier–specific health issues, turn to Chapter Breed-Specific Ailments.)

 by Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

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