Boston Terrier

Boston Terrier

Boston terriers are friendly, intelligent dogs that enjoy brisk walks just as much as cuddling on the couch. Learn more about why these dogs are nicknamed “American Gentlemen.”
By Brittany Anas
March 11, 2021
Boston Terrier
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

Boston Terrier

height
  • 15-17 inches
weight
  • 12-25 pounds
life span
  • 11-13 years
breed size
  • small (0-25 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • outgoing
  • friendly
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • infrequent
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • medium
breed group
  • non-sporting
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • black
  • brown / chocolate / liver
  • red
  • blue
  • white
patterns
  • tuxedo
  • brindle
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • prone to health issues
  • high potential for weight gain
  • good for first-time pet owners

With their signature tuxedo coats, Boston terriers are, no doubt, dapper dogs. But don't let their formal attire, jaunty walk, and nickname—the "American Gentlemen"—completely fool you. These happy-go-lucky dogs are as goofy as they get.

"Boston terriers are the clowns of the dog world," says Jackie Moyano, a training and behavior consultant and the owner of Behavior United. Boston terriers do love to be the center of attention—it's fitting that they're the official mascot of Boston University! Highly intelligent and people-oriented, these pups know just how to win over fans with their antics, like a well-timed cocked head coupled with a quizzical gaze.  

In the early 1900s, they were the most popular breed in the U.S. Today, Boston terriers remain a popular small dog breed for families. Between 12–25 pounds, they have compact, sturdy bodies, smooth coats and eyes that are big, round, and friendly (and, yes, sometimes hint at mischief). 

Boston terriers are lively and love to play. But because Bostons are brachycephalic (that's the technical term for smooshy-faced), they can be prone to some respiratory issues and may need to take a breather while they're playing fetch or out for a brisk walk. Once they've had a fair share of exercise and mental stimulation, the affectionate Boston may just sit still long enough for you to snuggle.  

Appearance

Boston terriers are already dressed to the nines in a debonair tuxedo coat, so go ahead and complete the look by adding a bow tie to his collar. With a sleek and smooth short coat, these dogs don't shed much

Breeding standards call for a black, brindle, or seal (a black coat that has a red cast when your Boston is, say, bathing in sunlight) coat that's evenly marked with white, according to the Boston Terrier Club of America. He has white markings that appear on places like his chest and run like a stripe between his eyes. You can also find red, brown, and blue Boston terriers, though black-and-white is most common.

black-and-white boston terrier
With their dapper tuxedo coat and big, dark eyes, it's no wonder Boston terriers are nicknamed "the American Gentlemen." Just look at that face!
| Credit: Michael Lienau / EyeEm / Getty

Another defining feature on Boston terriers are their large, dark, round eyes that are set wide apart. This dog's eyes can be comically expressive, so much so that the breed standards even say the dog's ideal expression is "alert and kind, indicating a high degree of intelligence."  

While they may not be the best running partners if you're training for a marathon (that short snout makes them more equipped for short-distance sprints, or "zoomies"), Boston terriers do have a sporty body equipped with strong, muscular thighs. Small and sturdy, these dogs typically weigh between 12–25 pounds.  

Curious about Boston terriers vs. French bulldogs? The two breeds are commonly mistaken for one another. An easy way to identify the two: Frenchies have a bigger bone structure, while Bostons stand on longer legs.

Temperament

With boundless energy, Boston terriers are friendly and love to play. But these diplomatic companion dogs can also be couch potatoes that will cuddle up next to you, enjoy some behind-the-ear scratches, and, before you know it, be snoozing (and snoring!).

Boston terrier leaps through grass
small black and white Boston Terrier standing on couch
Left: Boston terriers are high-energy dogs, but because of their smooshed faces, they aren't one for long jogs. You'll often find them tuckered out after a few zoomies. | Credit: eksann / Adobe Stock
Right: Because of their small stature and moderate exercise needs, Boston terriers are perfect apartment dwellers and love to snuggle up on the couch. | Credit: JoeChristensen / Getty

"Boston terriers make great companions, as their affectionate and social nature has earned the breed the nickname 'the American Gentleman,'" says Shawna Garner, DVM and U.S. lead veterinarian at FirstVet.

Because they are highly intelligent, Garner says Boston terriers are easy to train and very amiable. Whether you're bringing home Boston terrier puppies or going the adoption route, Bostons can be good family dogs that get along well with other pets or older children.

Living Needs

With a nod to a major metropolis in their name, it's no surprise that Boston terriers can flourish in an urban environment and live in apartments, so long as they're not too short on space. A large living room or a small outdoor space will suit them just fine, as long as you make time to walk out that energy.

"As a lively breed, it's important for them to have a space to run around and play in during the day, in order to keep them occupied," Garner says.

Boston Terrier dog with head cocked
Boston terriers love being by their human's side—and their adorable head tilts often have perfect comedic timing.
| Credit: Rebecca Nelson / Getty

Because Bostons are bidding to be your best friend, they enjoy nothing more than spending quality time with their humans. The perfect afternoon for these chipper dogs is joining you on a walk, then cuddling on the couch. Their motto: "Just as long as we're spending time together."

"While their affectionate personalities make Boston terriers friendly pets, they can also suffer from separation anxiety if they are left alone for too long," Garner says. For that reason, she says, these dogs do best when their owners can be around for most of the day, or when other dogs can keep them company.

If you own a Boston terrier, you'll need to be mindful of the weather. Because they're brachycephalic, they're susceptible to overheating when it's hot and humid outside. For that reason, taking them on a hike on a hot summer day is a no-go. Also, because they have short fur, they can also get the shivers. Layer your Boston's tuxedo with a coat or sweater to keep him comfy and warm in colder weather.

Care

Boston terriers' light, sleek coats make them easier to groom than many other dogs, as they tend not to shed as much. However, they should still be brushed once a week, Garner says. You can use a soft-bristle brush or rubber grooming mitt to help collect their loose hairs. Like all dogs, they need regular nail trims—nails that are too long can make walking uncomfortable or become prone to infection. An occasional bath keeps them smelling fresh, too.

dog in bathtub
Their short, smooth coats make Boston terriers easier to groom than many other breeds. But regular brushing and the occasional bath are still a must.
| Credit: Rebecca Nelson / Getty

The amount of exercise Boston terriers need can vary, but two walks a day should be enough to keep them in good shape, Garner says. Highly energetic Boston terriers might need to burn even more energy by playing and running. These dogs probably won't zoom around the backyard on their own; they want you to be their playmate, tossing them a ball or playing tug of war with them. Make sure you have access to a fenced-in space to romp around with your pup.

In addition to physical exercise, Moyano says Bostons need some mental enrichment, too. Bring on the food puzzles

Because Boston terriers' playful nature can veer into boisterousness, Garner says, it's important to train them so they learn good habits and make sure they're socialized with humans and other dogs. As with any dog, use positive reinforcement training for a happy (and effective!) training session. Bostons are eager to please, super smart, and soak up praise when they're being trained. Treats and head pats are a winning combo for these sensitive, yet outgoing dogs. 

Boston Terrier in frog costume
Credit: Genevieve Morrison / Getty

Health

These small dogs generally have lifespans of 11–13 years. And as with any breed, Boston terriers are more susceptible to certain health issues you'll want to watch out for. 

As a brachycephalic breed, Garner says Boston terriers can often suffer from respiratory issues, so owners should make sure to give them breaks during exercise when needed, particularly in hot weather. 

Boston terriers' prominent eyes are a signature marker of their appearance, but they're also more susceptible to eye health issues than other dogs, Garner says. Owners should be vigilant and regularly check for any signs of irritation or infection.

White and black boston terrier stands on sidewalk
This breed does not like to be left alone, so they'll thrive with owners who are homebodies (or who are willing to let their Boston terriers join them while out and about).
| Credit: Evelina / Adobe Stock

Some Boston terriers also experience issues with their joints and bones, which can affect their mobility. In particular, Bostons are more likely to have issues with their knee joints, Garner says, and their kneecaps can be prone to slipping out of place, which is known as patellar luxation. They're also more likely to suffer with hemivertebrae (a misshapen spine), which can have effects ranging from making the dogs unsteady on their feet to paralysis, she says.

History

The Boston terrier has strong ties to—you guessed it—Boston. But, his story begins in England. 

Back in the 1860s, a bulldog and the now-extinct white English terrier were crossbred in Liverpool to create a muscular dog named Judge, according to the Boston Terrier Club of America. In 1870, an American purchased Judge and brought the dog to Boston, where he sold Judge to fellow Bostonian Robert C. Hooper. Known as "Hooper's Judge," the dog became the patriarch of the Boston terrier breed. 

Originally dubbed "round heads," the name was changed to Boston terriers when the Boston Terrier Club of America was formed in 1891. Two years later, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed. 

Young Gerald Ford with Boston terrier
Credit: Historial / Getty

Fun Facts

  • The Boston terrier became the official state dog of Massachusetts in 1979. 
  • Boston University’s mascot is a Boston terrier. Nearly a century ago in a student vote, the dog beat out a moose to represent the university.
  • A black-and-white Boston terrier named Bruschi was given the Guinness World Record title for "dog with the largest eyes." His eyes measured 28.8 mm in diameter.
  • Boston terriers are the first dog in the non-sporting breed group bred in the U.S.