Boston Terriers are affectionately called the 'American Gentleman,' a reference both to their polite nature and the markings that make them look as though they're wearing a tuxedo. The friendly, happy-go-lucky Boston Terrier was originally intended as a fighting dog, but there's not a bit of bite behind his bark. Gentleness and a cheery attitude—paired with an irresistible, loving expression—are keys to the Boston Terrier's popularity. They are charming and often goofy, making the Boston a perfect companion for individuals and families alike.
The Boston Terrier is also known as the American Gentleman, Bostons, Roundhead, Boxwood, and Boston Bulldog.
Boston Terrier Mixes
Boston Terrier mixes may be available for adoption in shelters and rescues. A Boston Terrier mix may show some physical characteristics and traits of the Boston Terrier, but the genetics of the other breeds in the mix may also be present. A benefit of adopting a mixed breed Boston Terrier is the potential reduction in health-related issues such as brachycephaly and eye conditions—though this is not guaranteed. Most shelters do not perform DNA testing on the animals they care for—breed is often determined based on physical characteristics, as well as information provided at the dog's surrender.
To adopt an AKC registered or a mixed breed Boston Terrier, the best first step is to contact shelters and breed-specific rescues to let them know you're interested. Small breed mixes tend to get adopted quickly, so getting on a waiting list may help you find the mixed breed you're looking for. Boston Terrier mixes adopted from a shelter may share physical characteristics of the breed, but their temperament may not match the breed standard. Shelters and rescues attempt to determine each dog's personality through a series of evaluations—even if the dog's temperament may not follow the breed standard, you can get the dog that suits your home.
Boston Terrier mixes may include French Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Beagle, Boxer, and Corgi.
The Boston Terrier's coat is short and smooth. They may be black, brindle, or seal with white tuxedo-like markings across the chest and legs, and white across the nose and between the eyes.
Average Height: 15-17 inches
Average Weight: 10-25 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The sturdy, well-built Boston Terrier is a compact dog. Its square head is balanced by well-defined cheeks and brow. A square jaw with an even or slightly undershot bite completes the square muzzle. Wide-set eyes offer a kind, intelligent expression. Small, erect ears may be natural or cropped. A short and solid body with an arched back and broad chest sits atop neatly turned limbs. The tail should be short and may be corkscrewed, but never docked. The smooth, short coat is black, brindle, or seal colored with symmetrical white markings on the chest, muzzle, neck, forelegs, rear legs, and between the eyes, resembling a well-tailored tuxedo. The three weight classes are: under 15 pounds, 15 to 20 pounds, and 20 to 25 pounds - AKC Breed Standards
The dapper Boston Terrier was bred in America by crossing the English Bulldog with the now-extinct white English Terrier. A dog named Judge, likely an English Bulldog and terrier cross, was owned by Robert C. Hooper of Boston. Judge was bred once with a dog named Gyp to produce a single puppy. The puppy was named Well's Eph, and was bred numerous times. His offspring were crossed with French Bulldogs—likely the origin of the Olde Boston Bulldogge, and the start of the breed we know today.
The new breed was becoming quite popular after appearing in the show ring in 1870, but did not yet bear the name 'Boston Terrier.' They were called American Bull Terriers—which left Bull Terrier fanciers dissatisfied as they didn't want the new dog to be confused with their own breed. The nickname 'roundhead' was also popular among fans of the breed.
The breed name was changed and the Boston Terrier Club of America formed in 1891. The AKC recognized the Boston Terrier as a breed in 1893—the first American-developed breed admitted to the AKC.
Louis Armstrong, Jake Gyllenhaal, and President Gerald Ford have all had Boston Terriers as pets.
AKC Breed Category
Boston Terriers are charming and dignified dogs, but they often show off their clever antics and clownish manner. They are eager to please and enjoy being in the company of their people. The polite Boston Terrier is fond of everyone and is generally sweet and gentle, but may be excitable when meeting new people. While highly intelligent, the Boston Terrier also has a stubborn and mischievous side.
Are Boston Terriers Good with Kids? The Boston Terrier is often gentle and well-behaved with children.
Are Boston Terriers Good with Other Pets? Boston Terriers are good with other dogs in the home, and tend to do well with cats. They may bark when they see unfamiliar dogs, but they're not likely to be aggressive. Early Socialization with other dogs is helpful in reducing this behavior.
Boston Terriers are loyal to their owners and will bark or become territorial if a strange person or animal approaches. Barking often subsides when they feel their duty has been fulfilled, usually after they have been greeted by the newcomer. They don't tend to choose aggressive behavior, but proper socialization from puppyhood will help encourage good behavior.
While energetic, Bostons don't require strenuous activity to tire. They're as happy to play in the yard or chase a ball down the hallway as they are on a long walk.
- Can be stubborn
- Often difficult to housebreak
- Unable to handle excessively cold or hot temperatures so a dog jacket and air conditioning is recommended
- Loud breathing, snoring, and snorting
- Known to wander
Boston Terriers are favored for their desire to be with people, and they love spending time indoors with family. Some Bostons are couch potatoes, while others enjoy running laps at any opportunity. This easygoing companion dog is very adaptable—he does well in a country home, and is also a fantastic choice for apartment living if trained not to bark.
The Boston Terrier enjoys frolicking outdoors, but the breed is known to wander. A fenced yard may be necessary, and if one is not available then a leash is recommended. Due to their desire to explore, Boston Terriers should not be left outdoors alone. They do not tolerate hot weather and are susceptible to heatstroke, so they should not be left outdoors in extreme temperatures. They're also not built for the cold and may need a jacket or booties in winter weather.
Exercise is important to prevent obesity in Boston Terriers. While walking or jogging are good forms of exercise, Bostons often prefer to play. Most Boston Terriers live for games of fetch and will chase a frisbee or ball for hours. Games should cease prior to signs of breathing difficulties or distress, even if the dog seems to want to keep going.
Energetic and playful Bostons have the drive to go, go, go—but as a brachycephalic breed they may have difficulty breathing or regulating their temperature during strenuous activity. Care should be taken to prevent heat stroke or breathing problems.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: With proper conditioning, a Boston Terrier may be able to run up to one mile. This breed isn't built for distance running and generally prefers a gentle jog or occasional bursts of speed.
- Hiking Miles: Bostons may be able to hike up to eight miles if they are in good shape and the conditions are agreeable. Because Boston Terriers have a short snout and don't tolerate heat, they will need plenty of water and breaks to rest along the way.
The general recommendation for how much high-quality dry dog food (based on average weight and activity level) to feed a Boston Terrier is ½ -1 ½ cups per day. This should be split between two or three meals. Some Boston Terriers may be sensitive to certain ingredients, so a special diet may be necessary.
Boston Terriers do not tend to guard their food, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food from any dog while it is eating.
Boston Terriers are devoted companions that prefer company, but they can be left home alone for four to eight hours if a safe space—such as a dogproof area or a crate—is provided. They can be difficult to housetrain, and being left alone before they've learned to hold their bladder may compound the issue. They may also become destructive if bored.
Health and Grooming
The short, smooth coat of the Boston Terrier does not require much grooming. Weekly brushing with a soft brush and bathing once per month is usually plenty. Because Bostons may have sensitive skin, a gentle dog shampoo will help prevent itchiness. Care may be necessary to keep a Boston's eyes clear, but usually requires no more than a quick wipe and occasional eyedrops. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Common Health Issues
Boston Terriers are prone to some breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Breathing problems
- Knee and joint concerns
- Eye disorders or injuries
- Spinal problems
- Heart disease
- Frequent need for caesarean section
You can minimize serious health concerns in the Boston Terrier by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Tenacious Boston Terriers are smart and learn basic commands easily, but they may not always want to comply. They are a sensitive breed that is food and praise motivated—they don't respond well to harsh punishments. Teaching Bostons not to bark unless necessary will benefit you—and preserve your relationships with neighbors. Boston Terriers may be slow to housebreak.
Advanced tricks training can be entertaining for smart Boston Terriers. Boston Terriers are becoming popular as agility dogs and in obedience competitions, and their passion for fetch shows when they compete in flyball. Because of their short snout and potential for breathing difficulties, care should be taken to avoid overheating.
Sporting Dog Training
Though perhaps not the first breed that comes to mind, Boston Terriers may be trained as hunting dogs. They have a history as ratting dogs and may still possess some hunting instinct. Boston Terriers may excel at tracking and nosework, but they are not built for swimming so they shouldn't be expected to retrieve from the water.
Boston Terriers are a breed that licks—and often. Bostons lick people, shoes, furniture, other dogs, and anything else they can get their tongue on. Many dogs, especially Boston Terriers, use licking behaviors to show affection, to communicate, or to calm themselves. You may be able to train them to stop, or at least lick less. Saying no, ignoring the undesirable behavior, and rewarding an alternate behavior can help break the habit.
If the licking seems excessive, it may be anxiety related. A dog that won't stop licking its own legs or feet may be suffering from irritated skin or allergies. Discussing the behavior with a veterinarian may be helpful.
Boston Terriers are a bobtailed breed, and they are born with a stub or corkscrew tail. AKC breed standards state that a docked tail disqualifies a Boston Terrier from the conformation ring.
Though rare, the genes that cause a corkscrew tail can also affect the dog's spine (hemivertebrae), causing weakness or paralysis. This condition may be corrected with surgery, though it isn't always necessary.
The Boston Terrier was bred with fighting breeds and was originally a pit-fighting dog. Their cheerful personality won the population over and they became ratting dogs intended to catch vermin. They have since earned a place as a favored companion animal.
The short, snub-nose of brachycephalic breeds can cause snorting, snuffling, snoring, and other respiratory problems. The nasal passages are often partially obstructed due to the smaller head size, causing the noisy breathing and snoring.