Boston Terrier: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Boston terrier dog standing indoors in profile

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

With their friendly, lively, and active personalities, it's no wonder that the Boston terrier is such a popular breed. Nicknamed the "American Gentleman," the Boston terrier is a small non-sporting dog breed from the United States bred to serve as a companion dog, and these well-mannered, bright, and affectionate canines are indeed wonderful four-legged friends and family dogs. In addition, with their short, smooth, black and white coat that's patterned to resemble a tuxedo jacket, the Boston is undeniably adorable and can easily be described as dapper. This is a brachycephalic breed, meaning that the face is flat, with a somewhat "squashed" appearance.

Boston terriers typically like to be around their humans as possible and are eager to please. They can be a great choice for a first-time dog owner who’s looking for a small dog. Generally, these dogs get along with just about everyone, including young children who know not to be too rough, other household dogs, and dog-friendly cats.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Non-Sporting

HEIGHT: 15 to 17 inches

WEIGHT: 12 to 25 pounds

COAT: Short, smooth

COAT COLOR: Black and white; black, brindle, and white; brindle and white; seal and white; seal, brindle, and white

LIFE SPAN: 11 to 13 years

TEMPERAMENT: Affectionate, friendly, playful


ORIGIN: United States

Characteristics of the Boston Terrier

Boston terriers typically have a happy, friendly, and affectionate temperament. Their love of play and comical nature also help to mold their personality. They’re typically good around people, including kids and strangers, and they often get along well with other pets. Despite their small size, Boston terriers are active, high-energy canines that tend to do well in dog sports such as flyball and agility. Keep in mind, however, that like other brachycephalic breeds, Bostons can overheat easily and should be allowed to rest when needed. These intelligent dogs can easily be taught tricks, but are sometimes stubborn, so don't expect your Boston terrier to obey every time you give a command.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Boston Terrier

Surprisingly, the friendly, playful, and sometimes-silly Boston terrier is a descendant of dogs that were originally bred for pit fighting and other "blood sports" popular in 19th century England. However, the Boston terrier today is generally not an aggressive breed towards humans, nor prone to fighting or aggression with other dogs. In fact, most are outgoing and well-mannered with just about everyone.

The Boston terrier’s story began in the 1860s when a Boston man named William O’Brien purchased a bulldog-white English terrier mix from England named Judge. O’Brien ended up selling Judge to another Bostonian named Robert C. Hooper. Records refer to “Hooper’s Judge” as the father of the Boston terrier breed from which all Bostons descend. 

Judge was a muscular, tough, but fairly small dog, weighing in at around 30 pounds. His head was square, and his coat was dark brindle with a white stripe down his face. Judge was bred to a small, white, bulldog-type female. And that launched the selective breeding process. Breeders specifically were looking to create a small, friendly companion dog.

In 1891, the Boston Terrier Club of America was founded. And soon after in 1893, the American Kennel Club first recognized the breed. Since then, the Boston terrier has become quite popular throughout the United States. It’s Boston University’s official mascot, as well as the official dog for the state of Massachusetts. 

Two people driving a car with a Boston terrier on the passenger's lap in the 1920s
Boston terrier in the 1920s H. Amstrong Roberts / Getty Images

Boston Terrier Care

For the most part, Bostons are a fairly low-maintenance breed. They do require regular exercise, grooming, and training, like any dog, but in amounts that are lower than many other breeds. If left alone too often, however, or not provided with enough mental and physical stimulation, they can become destructive or develop annoying behaviors. Remember that your Boston terrier was bred to be a companion dog and wants to be with you as much as possible.


Boston terriers are relatively energetic and should receive about an hour of exercise per day. A couple of daily walks, games of fetch, playing with puzzle toys, and running around in a secure area should suffice. Dog sports, such as agility and rally, can help to burn their mental and physical energy. The key is that Bostons prefer to be active with their humans. If you leave them to their own devices, they might become bored and develop problem behaviors, such as unwanted chewing. 

Moreover, due to the Boston’s flat face, the breed is prone to breathing issues. Discuss this with your vet, and know how to spot the signs of labored breathing during exercise.


Boston terriers generally need little more than basic grooming, as their short coat doesn’t shed much. Brush them weekly with a soft-bristle brush or grooming mitt to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. Plan on a bath roughly every month, depending on how dirty your dog gets. 

In addition, check your dog’s nails every month or so to see whether they’re due for a trim. Look in its ears at least weekly for wax buildup, debris, and other abnormalities. And brush its teeth every day.


Begin training and socializing your Boston terrier from as young of an age as possible. Enrolling in a puppy obedience class is an ideal way for your dog to learn basic commands and manners. And exposing it to different people, other dogs, and various locations will help to boost its comfort and confidence.

Always use positive reinforcement methods, such as praise and treats, as this breed can be especially sensitive to harsh corrections. And be consistent in your commands. Boston terriers generally want to please their humans and will take to training well.

Because they typically love the company of people, Boston terriers can be prone to separation anxiety when left alone. Professional dog trainers and behaviorists can give you tips to help combat this. But a household where someone is home for most of the day is the best option for this breed.

Portrait of a Boston terrier
The Spruce / Kevin Norris 
Black-and-white Boston terrier dog sitting on green velvet chair

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Closeup of a Boston terrier's fur
The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Common Health Problems

Boston terriers are prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

  • Eye problems, including cataracts, corneal ulcers, and glaucoma. And because their eyes are large and prominent, they can be prone to dryness and irritation from dust, pollen, or low humidity. You should check your Boston terrier's eyes each day for any sign of redness or irritation.
  • Deafness: Congenital deafness, meaning present from birth, in one or both ears is more common in Boston terriers than many other breeds of dog.
  • Patellar luxation: This is an inherited condition that causes the kneecap to slip out of place, leading to limping, odd leg movements, and sometimes pain in advanced cases.
  • Brachycephalic syndrome: Common in the many flat-faced dog breeds, this condition is a combination of upper airway abnormalities that cause breathing difficulties.

Diet and Nutrition

Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water. And feed it a high-quality canine diet that’s nutritionally balanced. Most owners feed two measured meals per day to ensure their dog is getting the proper amount. You should always discuss both the amount and type of food with your vet to verify that you’re meeting the dog’s individual needs. 

Also, be mindful about treats and other extra food. Many Boston terriers have a strong love of food and will beg for handouts. But too many extras might result in your dog becoming overweight, as even a small weight increase can be a lot for this little dog.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Boston Terrier

Boston terriers are a popular dog breed, especially in North America. So be sure to check local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups for a dog in need of a home. If you’re looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $600 to $2,000, though this can vary widely.

For further information to connect you with a Boston terrier, check out:

Boston Terrier Overview

  • Friendly and affectionate

  • Minimal grooming needs

  • Can be good with kids and other pets

  • Flat face can cause breathing issues (brachycephalic syndrome)

  • Prone to eye problems

  • Can develop separation anxiety

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any dog breed, if you’re interested in a Boston terrier, do plenty of research before bringing one home to ensure that the dog is suitable for your lifestyle. Talk to breed owners, rescue groups, veterinarians, and reputable breeders to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • Are Boston terriers good family dogs?

    Boston terriers can be excellent family dogs when they are properly trained and socialized. They tend to be tolerant of children but should always be supervised around young or rowdy children. Most enjoy a good romp with older kids. They also generally get along well with other dogs and with dog-friendly cats.

    As long as it won't be left alone too often, this is a great breed for families, for people who haven't owned a dog before, or for anyone who wants an affectionate pet that prefers to be near its human as much as possible.

  • Are Boston terriers aggressive?

    Boston terriers generally are not aggressive when they've had training and socialization from an early age. Indeed, they are known for their friendly, outgoing, and silly personalities. Still, they have a moderate watchdog nature and can become territorial if they perceive a threat.

  • Are Boston terriers good apartment dogs?

    Boston terriers typically can make good apartment dogs, as long as they receive sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. They usually don't bark excessively, and they don't require a lot of space for play. However, if you are gone for long hours everyday, your Boston might suffer with separation anxiety and develop undesirable behaviors.

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  1. Boston Terrier. American Kennel Club.

  2. Boston Terrier. American Kennel Club.

  3. Boston Terrier Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.