Boston Terriers have been popular since their creation a little more than a century ago. They were originally bred to be fighting dogs, but today, they’re gentle, affectionate companions with tuxedo-like markings that earned them the nickname “American Gentleman.”
- Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
- Height: 1 foot to 1 foot, 3 inches (30.48 cm to 38.1 cm) tall at the shoulder
- Weight: 10 to 25 pounds (4.54 kg to 11.34 kg)
- Life Span: 13 to 15 years
The Boston Terrier was originally to be a ferocious pit-fighter which most people didn't know about this breed of dog. But this started to change around the 19th century and he was dubbed the little American Gentleman because of his overall friendliness. Sometimes, however, they will still show their terrier ancestry with a defensive stance to protect their territory if they believe another dog is invading it.
Boston Terriers are known for being very intelligent — sometimes too much so. Their lively, affectionate nature makes them extremely loveable, though their sometimes stubborn nature or spurts of hyperactivity can land them in hot water with their owners. Any angst about their behavior, however, soon melts when they look up at you with those huge, round eyes that seem to say "I love you."
Don't let the small size of the Boston Terrier fool you, they're a sturdy and muscular breed of dog. Their coat is sleek, shiny, and straight with a crisp white pattern that resembles a tuxedo which is why they are called the American Gentleman. They also have distinctive ears that stand erect and are quite large. But probably their most noticeable feature are their big, beautiful eyes.
The Boston Terrier's face is broad, flat-nosed and without wrinkles. They belong to a class of dogs called brachycephalic (brachy meaning short, and cephalic meaning head). Like other brachycephalic dogs, the lower jaw is in proportion to the body, but they have a short upper jaw to give them a "pushed in" face.
Boston Terriers have a very unique appearance. They have a slightly arched, proud neckline, a broad chest, and a sturdy, boxy appearance. Their tail is naturally short (docking is forbidden) and set low on the rump. The Boston Terrier's small size and lively, affectionate nature make him a great family pet and companion. They love children and amuse people of all ages with their antics and unique, appealing expression. They are especially good companions for older people and apartment dwellers. Although gentle and even-tempered, they can have the spunky attitude of their terrier ancestors.
Boston Terrier FAQs
- Does the Boston Terrier adapt well to apartment life?
- This breed of dog being small and friendly as well as under-the-radar when it comes to activeness is really great for apartment life. Many pet owners believe that the Boston Terrier was designed for city life and is a well sought after dog breed for those living in apartments. (See our List of Dogs Not Well Suited to Apartment Living.)
- Is the Boston Terrier a good breed for novice dog owners?
- Today more and more people are acquiring dogs for the first time. The Boston Terrier lends itself quite well to those who are first-time dog owners as he is attentive and easy to care for. (See our List of Dogs That Are Good For Experienced Owners.)
- What is the sensitivity level of the Boston Terrier?
- Some dogs are scold-and-go dogs while others really hate to be told that they are bad. The Boston Terrier is one of the dog breeds that really hates to be scolded. Some have been known to sulk for days after being scolded. As long as you keep in mind that you need to handle this dog with kid gloves you should have a rather normal existence and relationship with your dog. (See List of Dogs That Have A Low Sensitivity Level.)
- Can the Boston Terrier tolerate being left alone for extended periods of time?
- Some dogs really hate to be left alone for even a second while others basically push you out of the house so they can relax. The Boston Terrier will most likely sulk and whine for a few minutes after you leave but usually settles down and sleeps until you return. (See List Dogs That Are Poorly Suited To Be Alone.)
- How well does the Boston Terrier tolerate cold weather?
- Most small dogs cannot tolerate cold weather at all. This also goes for dogs with short fur. The Boston Terrier is one of those breeds that are middle-of-the-road. However, as a rule of thumb, you should never leave a dog outside when it is cold. The domestic dog has lost most of its resistances to cold weather. (See List of Dogs That Are Poorly Suited To Cold Weather.)
- How well does the Boston Terrier tolerate hot weather?
- Dogs that have this, double coats are vulnerable to overheating. This is also true of dogs with short noses due to their lessened ability to pant properly. The Boston Terrier has a snout that is rather short and flattened. During the hot weather these dogs should be kept indoors where it is cooler. They also require plenty of water during the hot summer months.
- Is the Boston Terrier affectionate with the entire family?
- Some dogs are one person dogs while others will love everybody in the family equally. The Boston Terrier prefers to love everyone equally within the family. (See List of Dogs That Are Not Affectionate With Family.)
- Is the Boston Terrier a kid friendly dog?
- Some dogs are perpetual players and love to be around children because of all the activity. The Boston Terrier is no exception. The important thing to remember here is that Boston Terriers overheat very easily, so when you see that the dog is beginning to tire out and pant a lot it is a good time to stop the play and give the dog a rest. (See List of Kid Friendly Dogs as well as the List of Dogs That Are Not Kid Friendly.) Just remember that all dogs are individuals and does not mean that the particular dog you have will follow this norm. It is true, however, that if you train the dog to get along with kids you will have a much better chance of having a kid-friendly dog.
- Is the Boston Terrier a dog friendly dog?
- Some dogs are extremely territorial and will not tolerate the presence of another dog. The Boston Terrier, on the other hand, is a playful little guy who loves company and attention and loves to be around other canines. However, it is always a good idea to train your dog to have good canine social skills so that there will be no problems when they are around other dogs. (See List of Dogs That Are Not So Dog-Friendly.)
- Are Boston Terriers friendly with strangers?
- A stranger-friendly dog is one that will greet your guests with a wagging tail and a good nuzzle. And that is pretty much what the Boston Terrier does. It is important when socializing a dog that you start young and expose the dog to lots of different types of people, places, and sounds.
- Does the Boston Terrier shed a lot?
- These dogs are basically minimal shedders. There are usually two periods (early spring and early fall) when they will shed more.
- Do Boston Terriers drool a lot?
- Some dogs will just slobber all over the place. Others are like the Sahara Desert. The Boston Terrier rarely drools so if you are a neat freak about your dog slobbering all over the furniture and bed this just might be the breed of dog for you.
- Is the Boston Terrier an easy dog to groom?
- Some dogs require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming to just stay clean and healthy. The Boston Terrier is considered a brush-and-go dog in that it requires very little grooming throughout its life.
- Does the Boston Terrier have generally good health?
- Most dogs are prone to some kind of health problems because of the poor practices of many breeders while developing dog breeds. But some dogs are generally more healthy than others. The Boston Terrier is a breed that is generally very healthy. Although, before acquiring any pet you should try to ascertain the health characteristics of its parents which should give you an indication as to its health. (See List of Dogs That Are Prone To Health Problems.)
- Does the Boston Terrier have a high potential for weight gain?
- Some breeds have really hearty appetites which puts them in a position to gain weight easily. The Boston Terrier is middle of the road in this respect. For this reason you will need to monitor its food very closely to avoid weight gain. Just remember that all dogs are individuals and the amount of food that they will require will depend on many factors including their activity level.
- Is the Boston Terrier considered a big, medium, or small dog?
- Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. The Boston Terrier is considered to be an upper level small dog. This is what makes him such an adorable lap dog.
- Is the Boston Terrier an easy dog to train?
- Some dogs just love to please their humans. The Boston Terrier is no exception. This characteristic allows this dog to learn new things quickly and easily making him a very easy dog to train.
- Is the Boston Terrier an intelligent dog?
- This companion dog is a dog of considerable intelligence. Even though this is strictly a companion dog it tends to have the intelligence of a working class dog. They are really smart and can figure out dog puzzles relatively quickly.
- Is the Boston Terrier a mouthy dog?
- This trait is common in most breeds during their puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages and refers to the tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite. These are dogs that tend to use their mouths when they play with their humans. The Boston Terrier is not a dog that falls into this category so they are considered low in this respect. Just remember that all dogs need training to learn that it's fine to chew on a chew toy, but not on people.
- Does the Boston Terrier have a high prey drive?
- This is usually a trait that you will find in dogs that are bred to hunt. Since the Boston Terrier is not a hunting dog but a companion dog this trait is relatively low.
- Does the Boston Terrier have a tendency to bark or howl?
- In the dog world you will find dogs that just love to hear the sound of their own voice. For the Boston Terrier you are looking at a dog that is average in this respect. Most of the times this dog will only bark when strangers approach its home.
- Does the Boston Terrier have a high Wanderlust potential?
- Some dogs just love to wander around their neighborhoods and explore. Others are more apt to stick around their humans. The Boston Terrier is a very curious dog. He is a roamer and will run off whenever he get the chance to explore.
- What is the energy level of the Boston Terrier?
- Dogs with a lot of energy are always ready and waiting for any kind of action. The Boston Terrier is that kind of dog. He will always be ready for a good game or some other excitement.
- Does the Boston Terrier have a high intensity level?
- The Boston Terrier likes to put everything he has into anything he is doing. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail.
- What are the exercise needs of the Boston Terrier?
- Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility. The Boston Terrier requires quite a bit of exercise as they do have a lot of energy to spend.
- Is the Boston Terrier a playful dog?
- If you want a dog that is always looking to play a game with you then this is the dog for you. Just remember to give time for the dog to rest as they will not want to stop playing.
Highlights of the Boston Terrier
- Short-nosed dogs like Boston Terriers can't cool the air going into their lungs as efficiently as longer-nosed breeds, and they're much more susceptible to heat stress. Because of their short coat, they can't stand extremely cold weather either. Even in temperate climates, the Boston Terrier should be kept indoors.
- Because Boston Terriers can have respiratory problems, avoid pulling on your dog's collar to get him to go what you want.
- Your Boston Terrier is prone to corneal ulcers because his eyes are so large and prominent. Be careful about his eyes when you're playing or taking him for a walk.
- Depending in part upon their diets, Boston Terriers can be prone to flatulence. If you can't tolerate a gassy dog, a Boston Terrier may not be for you.
- Because of their short noses, Boston Terriers often snort, drool, and snore (sometimes loudly).
- With their large heads and small pelvises, whelping isn't easy for Boston Terrier mothers. If you have thoughts about breeding, be sure you realize that in addition to the potential whelping problems that often require a caesarean section, Boston Terrier litters typically are not large (a litter consisting of only one puppy is not uncommon). You may have to wait for several months to get a good quality Boston Terrier puppy from a qualified breeder.
- While Boston Terriers typically are quiet, gentle dogs, not prone to yappiness or aggression, males can be scrappy around other dogs that they feel are invading their territory.
- Boston Terriers can be gluttonous about their food, so monitor their condition and make sure they don't become overweight.
- They can be stubborn, so persistence and consistency are definite pluses in training methods. They are sensitive to your tone of voice, and punishment can make them shut down, so training should be low-key and motivational. Crate-training is recommended while housetraining your Boston Terrier.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
History of the Boston Terrier
Most people already know that the Boston Terrier came into existence in the late 1800s in Boston, Massachusetts. However, exactly how this breed came into existence is up for speculation.
There is a story that says the coachmen of wealthy families developed the breed by crossing Bulldogs and the now extinct English White Terrier to create a new dog-fighting breed. Another account is that a Bostonian named Robert C. Hooper imported an Bulldog/English Terrier cross named Judge from England in 1865 because he reminded Hooper of a dog he'd had in his childhood. Yet another story is that Hooper purchased Judge from another Bostonian, William O'Brian, around 1870.
We will probably never know exactly how the Boston Terrier came to be. The only thing that we do know is this breed is descended from a dog by the name of Judge. Judge was bred only once to a dog named Burnett's Gyp (or Kate) who belonged to Edward Burnett of Southboro, Massachusetts. This union resulted in one puppy, a male named Well's Eph. This dog was widely bred as it had qualities that were highly desired at the time.
One of his mating's was to a female named Tobin's Kate, who weighed only 20 pounds and had a fairly short head. She was a golden brindle color and had a straight three-quarter tail. It's thought that their offspring was bred with one or more French Bulldogs to form the foundation for the Boston Terrier we know today.
But they weren't called Boston Terriers in the beginning. The multitude of Eph's offspring were called by various names, including bullet heads, round-headed bull-and-terriers, American terriers, and Boston bulldogs.
In 1889, about 30 owners of Boston Bull Terriers formed the American Bull Terrier Club, and they called them Round Heads or Bull Terriers. Bull Terrier and Bulldog fanciers objected to the name. Since the Bulldog contingency had a lot of power with the American Kennel Club (AKC) at that time, the Boston Bull Terrier fanciers decided that discretion was the better part of valor and changed the name of their club to the Boston Terrier Club, in tribute to the birthplace of the breed. People started referring to the breed as Boston Bulls.
The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1893. The Boston Terrier was one of the first Non-Sporting dogs bred in the U.S. and was the first of the 10 made-in-America breeds currently recognized by the AKC.
In the early days, the breed's color and markings weren't considered to be very important. Additionally, although the dogs being bred met the standard outlined by the club, there was a lot of inconsistency within the breed. After years of careful inbreeding to set the type, the Boston Terrier as we know it today was developed. In the 1900s, the breed's distinctive markings and color were painstakingly written into the standard, making them an essential feature of the breed.
Boston Terriers quickly became popular in the U.S. In 1915, Boston Terriers were the most popular breed in the U.S., remaining in the top ten most popular breeds until the 1960s and topping the list again in 1920 and 1930. In 1918, there were an amazing 60 Bostons entered in a single all-breed show.
Hollywood actors and actresses adored their Boston Terriers. Silent film star Pola Negri, Rudolph Valentino's lover, reportedly took her Boston Terrier, Patsy, with her everywhere, including restaurants and nightclubs. When one of the restaurants refused to let her enter with her beloved dog, she stormed out, shouting "No Patsy, no Pola. Goodbye forever!" Another famous person who had a Boston Terrier named Patsy was gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
In 1976, the Boston Terrier was chosen as the bicentennial dog of the U.S. Three years later, he was named the official state dog of Massachusetts. Rhett the Boston Terrier is the mascot of Boston University. Wofford College in South Carolina and Redlands High School in California claim the Boston Terrier as their mascots as well.
Size of the Boston Terrier
The Boston Terrier comes in three weight classes: under 15 pounds (6.80 kilograms), 15 to 19 pounds (6.80 to 8.62 kilograms), and 20 to 25 pounds (9.07 to 11.34 kilograms). They typically stand 12 to 17 inches (30.48 to 43.18 centimetres) tall at the shoulder. No matter what they weigh, they should look sturdy, never skinny or spindly.
Personality of the Boston Terrier
The Boston Terrier is a lively, smart, and affectionate dog with a gentle, even temperament. These dogs can also be quite stubborn so persistence and consistency are definite musts when training.
Like every dog, the Boston Terrier needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Boston puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
Health of the Boston Terrier
Boston Terriers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Boston Terriers will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Boston Terriers, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA website (offa.org).
- Cataracts: This is a clouded film over the eye lens. Boston Terriers are prone to developing both juvenile and adult cataracts. Juvenile cataracts develop between eight weeks of age and 12 months. While you can sometimes see juvenile cataracts, sometimes they can only be detected by a veterinary ophthalmologist using a CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) test. When purchasing a Boston Terrier puppy, it's wise to ask the breeder if the puppy has been tested for juvenile cataracts.
- Cherry eye: Cherry eye is a prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid that is believed to be genetic in origin. It frequently occurs in dogs that are less than a year old. Some veterinarians reposition the gland surgically to its original site at the base of the third eyelid, while others remove the prolapsed gland altogether.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as "slipped stifles," this is a common problem in small dogs. It is caused when the patella, which has three parts — the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap), and tibia (calf) — is not properly lined up. This causes a lameness in the leg or an abnormal gait in the dog. It is a disease that is present at birth although the actual misalignment or luxation does not always occur until much later. The rubbing caused by patellar luxation can lead to arthritis, a degenerative joint disease. There are four grades of patellar luxation, ranging from grade I, an occasional luxation causing temporary lameness in the joint, to grade IV, in which the turning of the tibia is severe and the patella cannot be realigned manually. This gives the dog a bowlegged appearance. Severe grades of patellar luxation may require surgical repair.
- Heart murmurs: This is a soft or loud, harsh, regurgitant sound in the heart, especially over the mitral valve area where a defect causes a backflowing of blood into the left atrium. Because of this, the heart is not as efficient as it should be in providing blood to the body. Treatment often includes a low-sodium diet, restriction of exercise, diuretics, and medications.
- Deafness: Boston Terriers have a high incidence of deafness in one or both ears. Breeders should have puppies BAER tested to determine the status of the puppies' ears before they go to new homes. Note that Boston Terriers who are white over more than one-third of their heads and/or bodies tend to produce more deaf puppies.
- Brain tumors.
- Allergies: Boston Terriers can suffer from a variety of allergies, ranging from contact allergies to food allergies. If your Boston is licking his paws or rubbing his face a great deal, he may have an allergy. Allergies can be diagnosed by your vet.
- Megaesophagus: This is a defect in the structure of the esophagus that causes a dog to regurgitate its undigested food. Regurgitation differs from vomiting in that there generally is no advance warning that it will occur, whereas with vomiting there is visible effort involved.
- Reverse sneezing: Reverse sneezing is a condition that can occur at any time in your Boston Terrier's life. Generally it occurs when your dog is overly excited, gulps his food too fast, or is affected by pollen in the air. Nasal secretions drop onto the soft palate, causing it to close over the windpipe. The dog makes a wheezing sound and may become alarmed. Talk soothingly to him and try to get him to relax to shorten the episode. Some people say that pinching the nostrils closed or holding the palm of your hand over his nose so the dog is forced to breathe through his mouth is the quickest way to stop the reverse sneezing. You may also try stroking his throat.
Caring for the Boston Terrier
The Boston Terrier is a lively dog, but he doesn't have excessive exercise requirements. He's relatively inactive indoors and well suited for apartment dwellers or those who don't have a yard. He enjoys taking a walk with you and playing in a yard, but is definitely an indoor dog and should never be housed outside. Always keep in mind that Boston Terriers can't handle the heat or cold very well.
Boston Terriers are sensitive to your tone of voice, and punishment can make them shut down, so training should be low-key and motivational. Use positive techniques such as food rewards, praise, and play.
Feeding Your Boston Terrier
Recommended daily amount: 0.5 to 1.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
Boston Terriers can be gluttonous about their food, so monitor their condition and make sure they don't become overweight. They can also be prone to flatulence, which may be related to their diet. Feed a high-quality food to reduce the likelihood of this problem.
Coat Color & Grooming the Boston Terrier
Perennially on the best-dressed list, the Boston Terrier wears a smooth, fine coat that comes in three colors: black, seal (looks black but has a reddish cast when seen in sunlight), or brindle, all with a white muzzle, face blaze, and chest, giving him the look of wearing a tuxedo.
Boston Terriers don't come in solid colors such as black, gray, liver, or white. Be wary of breeders who try to sell you one of these dogs because of the "rare" color. Not sticking to the breed standard is a warning sign of a low-quality breeder.
Boston Terriers are easy to groom. Brush them weekly with a firm bristle brush and bathe them with a dry, powder shampoo and a damp cloth, or give them an occasional bath when necessary. Because their eyes are so large and prominent, you should wash their faces every day and check their eyes for signs of redness or irritation.
Although they do shed, it's minimal and should be easily controlled by regular brushing.
Brush your Boston Terrier's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Trim his nails once or twice a month if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally to prevent painful tears and other problems. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Dog toenails have blood vessels in them, and if you cut too far you can cause bleeding — and your dog may not cooperate the next time he sees the nail clippers come out. So, if you're not experienced trimming dog nails, ask a vet or groomer for pointers.
His ears should be checked weekly for redness or a bad odor, which can indicate an infection. When you check your dog's ears, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner to help prevent infections. Don't insert anything into the ear canal; just clean the outer ear.
Begin accustoming your Boston Terrier to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.
As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.
Children and Other Pets
The Boston Terrier loves children and makes a good playmate for them. He's small enough that he won't knock them down but large enough that he's not easily injured. In general, he gets along well with other dogs and cats, especially if he's socialized to them at an early age.
Boston Terrier Rescue Groups
Boston Terriers are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Boston Terriers in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Boston Terrier rescue.
- Alabama Boston Terrier Rescue
- Wonderdog Rescue (Northern California)
- Boston Buddies (Southern California)
- Boston Terrier Club of CT Rescue
- Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue
- Kentucky Tennessee Boston Terrier Rescue
- MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue
- Boston Terrier Club of Maryand Rescue
- Nebraska Boston Terrier Rescue
- Boston Terrier Rescue of North Carolina
- Northeast Boston Terrier Rescue
- Boston Terrier Rescue of North Texas
- Boston Terrier Rescue of West Virginia
Boston Terrier Breed Organizations
Below are breed clubs, organizations, and associations where you can find additional information about the Boston Terrier.
Boston Terrier Puppy Pics
Boston Terrier Puppy Pics