What Were Boston Terriers Originally Bred For?

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by Lily Ferreras


I think it’s always good to learn what the dog breed you love was bred for.

And a Boston Terrier lover, knowing what the intent was for breeding them, plus their job in the past and now, helps you understand your dog.

So, what were Boston Terriers originally bred for? Boston Terriers were originally bred as fighting dogs and vermin killers. However, they soon became very popular amongst the elite in the U.S. and started to compete in shows.

Nowadays, Bostons are considered companion dogs that are also bred to compete in dog shows (conformations) and dog sports like agility. But that’s not all!

Continue reading to find out more the history of Boston Terriers and what they are currently bred for. 😉

What Were Boston Terriers Originally Bred For?

The Boston Terrier is the first true American creation of a purebred dog – they are one of a small number of breeds to have originated in the United States.

We know more about the Boston Terrier breed than most others due to very detailed record-keeping by the early breeders.

The Boston Terrier was originally bred to be a fighting dog.

According to Edward Axtell’s “The Boston Terrier” book, they also were great vermin killers and if properly trained, an ideal watchdog at night.

However, these dogs were very versatile, making them great companions for the city but also for the country estates. Plus, they soon started to compete in dog shows.

Although they were initially bred as fighting dogs, due to their popularity, many realized their great worth as companions.

There two important events that occurred in England (and made their way to the U.S.) that played an important role in changing the Boston Terrier’s fate in dogfighting:

  1. The organized Stud Books of English Foxhounds was followed closely by other breeds. As a result, Dog Shows and Kennel Clubs developed in England, a tradition soon to be embraced on the USA soil.
  2. The Passage of English Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. This banned the very popular sports of bear and bull baiting.
Photo by Lisa Braunstein-LaMere and Cindy McIntosh (source).

Boston Terrier History

Indeed Boston rightly claims the honour of being the birthplace of the Boston Terrier breed, but the original start of the dog was in Liverpool (United Kingdom).

There, around the late 1860s, the first dog named “Judge” that was destined to be the ancestor of the modern Boston Terrier originated.

Judge was born as a result of crossing a Bulldog and the now-extinct white English Terrier.

William O’Brien of Boston (Massachusetts) bought Judge from his owner in Liverpool and brought him back home to Boston. Robert C. Hooper (also of Massachusetts) then purchased Judge from Mr William, and the dog became known as Hooper’s Judge.

However, even though there are different stories about how the breed came to be, they all agree that Judge was the beginning of this new breed.

Even the American Kennel Club cites Hooper’s Judge as the ancestor of all true modern Boston Terriers.

We know from a historians’ description that Judge was a tough and muscular dog that weighed about 32 pounds (15 kg). He was dark brindle, with a white stripe in the face and he was bred only once!

Judge was bred to Edward Burnett’s dog called Gyp (or Kate), a white bulldog-type female that weighed about 20 pounds (9 kg). She was stocky and strong and had the typical blocky head now shown in Bostons.

The result was one male puppy named Well’s Eph.

Judge and Kate’s offspring had the characteristics that Hooper and his friends admired, so he was widely bred.

One of his matings was to a female named Tobin’s Kate, who was a 20 pounds, golden brindle, short head and straight three-quarter tail dog. Some argue that Well’s Eph and Tobin’s Kate offspring was bred with one or more French Bulldogs.

From this foundation of the breed, subsequent breeders refined the breed into what we know of it today. 

References: American Kennel Club and Boston Terrier Club of America.

Photo by Lisa Braunstein-LaMere and Cindy McIntosh (source).

By the end of the 19th century, The American Gentleman started to overtake Toy Spaniels and Pugs with the American Upper Class.

The Boston Terrier Club of America was established in 1891 officially changing the name from the American Bull Terrier Club (formed in 1889) to Boston Terrier Club (in tribute to the birthplace of the breed).

There were 75 dogs in their Stud Book.

In 1893, the American Kennel Club accepted the Boston Terrier as the first non-sporting dog breed (which was bred in the U.S.) in their Stud Book. Bostons were the first of the 10 made-in-America breeds currently recognized by the AKC.

In the early years, the colour and markings were not very important. By the 20th century, the breed’s distinctive markings and colour were written into the standard by the AKC, becoming an essential feature.

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, 60 Bostons entered in a single all-breed show.

In 1922, Boston University adopted Boston Terrier character RHETT as their official mascot. Later on, Wofford College in South Carolina and Redlands High School in California claimed the Boston Terrier as their mascots as well.

In 1976, the Boston Terrier was chosen as the bicentennial dog of the U.S. Three years later, in 1979, the commonwealth of Massachusetts named the Boston Terrier the Official State Dog.

In 2018, the Boston Terrier ranks number 21 among the most popular breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.

How did Boston Terriers get their name?

In the beginning, they weren’t called Boston Terriers.

The multitude of Eph’s offspring were called by various names, including:

  • Bullet Heads.
  • Round Heads
  • Bull Terriers.
  • American Terriers.
  • And Boston Bulldogs.

But in 1889, they officially took the name Boston Terrier.


What Are Boston Terriers Known For?

Present-day Boston Terriers are more lovers than fighters.

Selective breeding transformed the bulky fighter of Judge’s time into a smaller, sweeter, and more attractive companion dog.

Besides being excellent companions, Boston Terriers also compete in Conformations, also known as dog shows. Also, Boston Terriers are known to excel in obedience competitions and dog sports like Fly Ball, Agility and Weight Pulling (source).

Aside from competitions, this versatile breed is also being trained as Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs.

Become a Boston Terrier Fan

No wonder why Boston Terriers are so popular!

They are sweet and hilarious at the same time. Boston Terrier owners claim that they feel loved by their dogs and never get bored. 😉

Do you want a little reminder around or add a doggie decor touch at home (or in the office)?

Here are some sweet and stylish ideas for Boston Terrier lovers:

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