The Disappearing Art of Mentorship and Trust

I got a call from an excited “newby” to show breeding. The first litter to be born at her house in 3 years was about to arrive. There was a lot of excitement in the air. This was not their first litter by any means, but the second show litter as breeder and the first bred and born at their home, to be raised, cared for and evaluated by them.

Some fortunate souls started with a good mentor right away and started breeding show puppies from their first litter. Some started breeding pet quality dogs, loving the breed but not knowing any better. Some started with color fad focused breeding and have a long road ahead to rebuilding a reputation. The learning curve can be a long one without a guiding hand, and the search for a nice puppy can be endless without earning someone’s trust. 

Twenty or thirty years ago it seems there were more opportunities, there were more people willing to share their lines and help a new person get a start. It used to be easier. Breeders avoided puppy mill types, they added to the contract that they could not sell to pet stores, retailers or puppy mills.  And if they let the lines slip to an occasional backyard breeder, not much damage was done.

The Risks

Fast forward to present day where money talks and color sells and mixing breeds is justified by over the counter DNA tests that imply that after 5 generations, the other genes added have magically disappeared. We live in a day and age when preference wins over respecting tradition… where opinion is king, and when rules are broken you are “brave” or “innovative” rather than just someone who simply can’t follow direction. CAN a Boston be colored and purebred? Yes, in very rare cases, but even those lead to unknown lines from questionable origins further back in the pedigree.  The population explosion of colors in our breed 15 years ago was anything but “naturally occurring”. The numbers have never added up and the change in breed type was telling, especially among those early colored dogs who magically appeared en masse when it became apparent there was a market for them.

The pursuit and promotion of breeding whatever is marketable has permanently affected the overall look of the breed in just a little over a decade. The damage to the average pet Boston in terms of resembling the smart little tuxedo clad dog of 20 or 30 years ago has been done. We have more tails and floppy ears and long noses and light eyes in pet bred Bostons than we’ve ever had, and John Q Public doesn’t know the difference because of the sheer number of Bostons who don’t look like Bostons anymore. 

So with this new development in our breed and seeing the damage it does, we have to worry more about where our bloodlines end up. A show breeder fears their dogs ending up in a puppy mill only slightly more than the horror they imagine if their dogs ending up in a color breeding program. 

So we retreat. We mis-trust. We get paranoid. And it’s with good reason as many have been caught lying about their intentions for our puppies. So we retreat further and trust very few. But where does this leave the next generation? What happens if those who value the breed enough to breed to standard are slowly replaced by the breeders who value fad and preference over the Boston breed itself? What happens to a century of preservation when it takes only a couple of decades to change the look of the average pet Boston? It is a concern, and it is a shame what has been done to our beautiful breed by the careless practice of pursuing colors and fads. 

Taking a chance on someone is a scary thing, because you do not risk just your reputation, but the reputation of those breeders who entrusted you with their lines. Your decisions reflect upon their decision to trust you, and theirs upon the breeder before them, and so on. So we err on the side of caution. Who can blame us? But how many sincere individuals get passed over out of our own fear and paranoia?

Mentorship is a Must

Mentorship is so very crucial for the future of any breed. And it’s not just helping with understanding pedigrees and conformation and health testing, but also welcoming them to the show scene and helping to show them they’re among people who value them and will help them if they need it. A newcomer to the breed is “everyone’s” mentee. One breeder may have brought them in, but it “takes a village” to raise another good breeder. Can they ask the person next to them outside the ring how their dog looks? Can they ask the class order to a stranger and get help understanding when they need to be ready?  Can they feel comfortable about handing off a dog to someone if needed? Can they be in the ring and not worry that the whispers on the sidelines aren’t about them or their dog? Can they count on someone to help them feel comfortable and confident about walking in the ring? Mentors aren’t always on site. Mentors can be clear across the country, so it’s up to everyone to help where they can. A new person with sincere intent is golden. We should be treating them as such for the future of the breed is in their hands. 

On that same note, a mentor willing to work with a new person and take a chance on them is golden as well. The trust of a dozen generations is in their hands and they’ve chosen to hand that off to someone with a lot less experience and often not much of a track record to go on. The dog entrusted with that new person is that breeder’s blood sweat and tears. It’s a product of a breeding program they may have taken 10, 20, 40 years or more to develop. This is not just one breeding and that breeder can’t always just “breed another one”. That dog is the culmination of every breeding decision made, every bit of breed knowledge gained, every choice that breeder has made up until that puppy was whelped. And it was their eye that determined that puppy was going to have a future representing their kennel as a show and/or performance dog, and later a breeding dog to carry on the next generations. This is not something to be blown off when the ribbons go to the head of the one showing the dog. If not for the breeder, that leash would be swinging empty regardless of the new person’s big smile as they step into the ring. 

There is no dog show without the show dogs. There is no show dog without the show breeder. But there is no future without new people. 

“I would like to show but I’m afraid”

I have seen this so many times in forums, pet breeders say this all the time. They’re afraid of how they will be treated in the ring. They’re afraid of how they’ll be treated in general. They hear about the “show snobs” and how cut-throat and political the show scene is. There will always be politics and those who are wildly competitive, but when I go to a show I see a group of friends. I see people doing their best, helping each other, congratulating each other. Yes there’s often disappointment, sometimes bad feelings, but there’s celebrating as well and we’re drawn back to the camaraderie and the fun of seeing how our dogs stack up (literally) with the competition. 

And politics only need to matter to the extent someone decides to get involved with the drama. It does not affect us personally as much as the rest of the world thinks. Are people coddled and do people walk on eggshells? No. Showing isn’t about everyone feeling good about everything all the time. It’s about the evaluation of dogs involved in our breeding plans, and the evaluation of the efforts of our breedings. It’s our obligation as breeders focused on quality.  It’s not about the ribbons or the “glory” of winning as many  non-show breeders assume. I don’t feel terribly “glorious” lugging my cart in the 90 degree sun across hot asphalt, eating a $15 hot dog for lunch, sitting in a lawn chair for hours to gain a $1 ribbon that cost me a few hundred.  Our show clothes may be pretty but our feet are tired, our nostrils are filled with dog hair and chalk, and we’re running on about 4 hours of sleep. THIS is what new people should fear, not the politics. It’s the hard work they must be ready for and it’s the results they must be willing to accept in order to move forward. 

Are WE scary? I know we “can” be. But I don’t see it often at all. Can we be distracted, less than attentive, focused on our own dogs and oblivious sometimes? Yes. But are new people sent yelping back to where they came from because we’re such horrible snobs? I have only seen this when someone has been dishonest or incredibly disrespectful to the sport. And that behavior shouldn’t be fostered no matter who it is, newby or not. But in general, I think new breeders are pleasantly surprised with us “show snobs” when they get to know us. 

“I would like to mentor but I’m afraid of trusting the wrong person”

We’ve seen it happen. We’ve seen a good honest breeder put their trust in the wrong person and watched that person wipe their feet on their mentor once the dog was within their control. We’ve seen dogs sold to breeding programs where they were used in direct conflict with every rule of ethics the dog’s breeder holds dear. We’ve seen dogs who were supposed to be placed as pets end up in breeding programs that would make our hair stand on end. We’ve seen studs bred to anything and everything as long as the dam owner handed over the fees. We’ve even seen professional handlers take dogs whose breeders put them on as co-owner as a courtesy. 

It IS scary. We SHOULD be afraid. But we shouldn’t give up trying to find the right people with whom we can entrust the next generation and the one after that. Someone gave us a chance once. Someone gave everyone a chance. That doesn’t mean we hand out dogs like free lollipops but being a preservation breeder does not mean we are immortal and can simply “take them with us” one day.  It means we preserve the breed, we preserve the future of the breed, with or without us. It’s our responsibility to help new people get a start. And it’s their responsibility to treat that trust with respect. Finding the way to make that right connection is not always easy, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop looking. 

A Whelping “Box” Of A Different Kind

The systematic “boxing in” of ourselves, other breeders, perhaps even our own breed, due to attitudes that may no longer be… or maybe never were… relevant.

Some days it seems like the only thing we are encountering more often than masked faces is people desperately looking for well bred Boston puppies. Opening email and checking messages has become a constant chore of letting people know that you do not have any puppies available and your waiting list is already months, or even years out. Then we do the old song and dance of referring them to the BTCA website, or local club websites, or someone… Anyone… who might have a well bred litter even though we all know darn well they’re likely already spoken for. And around and around we go, referring these well qualified and loving buyers back and forth to each other in an endless loop.

Sadly these potential owners have done just what we advise everyone to do. They research, they study, they look for breeders first rather than search online ads. They agree to wait for a well bred puppy. But how many of us would EVER have enough litters in our lifetime to supply the demand we are seeing, especially this past year? Yes, it’s concerning that “Covid puppies” seem to be the new “Christmas puppy”, however more and more people are finding themselves now working permanently from home and finally able to devote the time to a puppy that it needs. And isn’t that what we ask? Plan well, research, be responsible, wait. They do. And we tell them, “Sorry, there are no puppies for you this year. Maybe next year. Wait. Keep waiting.” Their children are now two years older, their home has been without the happy face of a loving Boston all this time, but we tell them to wait. “Don’t buy from a less than a show breeder, even though we breed sparingly and just for ourselves so we have no idea when a puppy might possibly be available. But wait. And wait some more.”

Meanwhile in the land of backyard breeders and borderline puppy mills, puppies are constantly flowing like a wiggly river of puppy profit. Recently I was introduced to an elderly gentleman whose Boston of many years had passed. He saved his money and bought a puppy from one of these breeders with no health testing and no pedigree or background to speak of. Already over 20 lbs at just a few months old, he had a nasty reactive disposition and ended up attacking this nice gentleman and other residents in his quiet senior community unprovoked. He had paid $2800 and was handed this puppy in a parking lot. No breeder support, no assistance when it turned into a nightmare. He’d owned Bostons since the 1980’s and was experienced in puppy raising. This was not the Boston Terrier he knew and loved, this was a poorly bred creature who had to be surrendered to rescue to evaluate and see if he could be saved or if he was just hardwired that way through negligent breeding practices.

There are too many stories like this. Do we blame this nice man for not waiting? Not wanting to be alone month after month, possibly year after year, while his lap and home remained empty? We educate on the right way to find a puppy and then when they run into brick wall after brick wall, they are pushed into the eagerly awaiting arms of backyard breeders who churn puppies out en masse.

This topic was recently discussed on the Facebook Boston Terrier Breeder Education page and the solution is not a simple one. Do we take pet breeders under wing and mentor them, encouraging them to health test and breed for structurally sound Bostons that are true to type, then refer our buyers to them? That’s one possible solution however where do they get higher quality Bostons?

Who is willing to let their show and breeding quality puppies go on open registration to pet breeding programs? Not me. Not anyone I know. Not likely many others.

The suggestion was made that show breeders need to breed more. That seems simple enough. We know how to breed the right way, so we just breed a little more. On the surface it’s a viable solution but how many of us are able to keep back puppies from our litters more often? Many cannot add to their numbers with every litter if they increase this number. Personally I plan to cut back, not increase. Every household is different and every one has their limit. So if we’re not breeding for our next show prospect from our nice bitches, we are essentially planning on one or more of those litters being sold specifically for pets. I don’t know about anyone else but if I’ve got maybe three litters from a nice bitch, I’m not willing to make one of those a “pet litter” for the sake of breeding more often.

It was also mentioned in this group discussion that “in the old days” breeders would have their show bitches and they would have bitches that would have their “bread and butter litters” – meaning they did not intend to keep anything back. These were good bitches, well bred, conforming to standard, but not their best. These were litters bred to sell as pets, pay expenses, pay for shows, and to satisfy the pet market.

In our current show culture, the idea of this probably sent a lot of people into pearl-clutching mode, possibly some fainting, certainly some recoiling in horror. Let’s pull ourselves out of this mindset for a moment and ask ourselves, when did breeding become a dirty word? When did BREEDERS allow themselves to become ashamed of BREEDING? When did we allow animal rights fanatics to make us feel this way? Large kennels used to be respected. Remember the old dog food commercials 40 years ago when they actually featured breeders, walking through their property, surrounded by a dozen dogs, talking about breeding? Now they’re all rescue dogs and if they featured a breeder, the company would be shamed and blackballed for doing so. And in some ways, we as breeders, are buying into that as well. How screwed up is that? Who breeds a better looking, healthier Boston than those of us dedicated to this breed? When did we become ashamed of that? And in turn, shame others for it? And here’s another question that often goes unanswered. If every litter costs X amount to raise and it’s rarely profitable, why is the person who breeds 6 litters doing it for money, but the one who breeds 3 litters is not? Do the litters after 3 suddenly become cheaper to produce? Are vets giving “Buy One Get One” deals on sections after the third one and the rest of us just aren’t aware? It has never made sense, and still doesn’t.

And why does having 1 to 3 litters give you a gold star but 4 or 5 make you a “puppy mill”? This was discussed at length a few years ago and most in the discussion agreed that 3 was fine, 4 was absolutely unacceptable. Is the same health testing done? Is the same attention to quality and structure and temperament there? Are the dogs well cared for and receive the same level of attention? Do the puppies get the same quality rearing, socialization and placement? If so, what is the objection? Think about it and be specific. There’s no additional money to be made, there’s nothing lacking, everything is equal… why do breeders suddenly fall from grace with litter number 4? How many times have we heard show breeders call each other “puppy mills”? How often are breeders shamed for more than 2 or 3 litters?

I had someone tell me once that they were “hiding” a litter they bred because they didn’t want to catch grief from other show breeders. They’d already had two litters that year, they knew they would be shamed for the third one and they had another planned for later that year. This was a quality, well thought out, responsibly bred litter and yet it would have earned them the title of the lowest of the low in our industry… “PUPPY MILL”. While these puppies were lovingly raised and responsibly bred in their home, this breeder would be grouped by some of their fellow show breeders with breeders who have dogs crammed together in stacked cages living their lives in filth. What an absolutely horrible thing to call a fellow show breeder. Why wait for the animal rights nuts to eliminate us when we’re so well practiced in eating our own?

I don’t know if anyone has noticed but there is NOT an overpopulation of well bred Bostons. Good breeders are no longer contributing to an overpopulation problem. We are contributing to an underpopulation problem in our breed. And who is stepping in to solve that problem with a poorly bred solution? The types of breeders who would hand off a $2800 puppy with a nasty disposition to a kind gentleman in a parking lot, never to be heard from again. They’ve mastered faking it as good breeders by claiming to health test, waving a stack of Embark DNA tests bragging DM and HUU and dozens of other meaningless results while neglecting to test for the most important issues in our breed. They’ve managed to snag dogs from overseas with decent bloodlines without contracts so they can name drop a handful of show dogs in their pedigrees. Some show off blue ribbons won at IABCA shows or for being the only dog in the ring, and masquerade as responsible show breeders while churning out litters and cashing the checks. These are the breeders picking up our pieces while we hang that nasty “puppy mill” label on a fellow show breeder who had more than the recommended number of litters, shoving them into a box we’ve created for ourselves.

Seriously, where did that magic number come from? Many other breeds have 8-10 puppies in one litter, but some Boston breeders gasp at a photo of two large litters of Bostons together equaling the same amount. We created our own little box that pushes perfectly nice potential pet buyers into the eager arms of breeders who don’t give a rat’s rear about preserving and improving the breed. Turning people away who are looking for a well bred puppy in one breath while muttering “puppy mill” in the next has put us, as breeders of companion dogs, into a dysfunctional state at best.

Yes we breed for ourselves first. We don’t breed to supply the pet market. We breed for the future of the breed. But what is the purposefully bred “job” of the Boston Terrier? Our dogs have never “non-sported”. They have the job of being a companion breed. And who is filling the homes of Boston lovers everywhere? It’s not us. It’s not those of us who care about the breed’s future. It’s those who buy breeding dogs based on having a functioning uterus or testicles, or the right color, or the right price. They search for studs for their bitches based on location and stud fee. They make excuses for not fully health testing, essentially saying that breeding healthy dogs is just for show breeders. It’s those who have so many litters and such a short waiting list that they’re advertising puppies on Facebook and they’re scrapping with other backyard breeders over buyers. That is whose hands we rest our breed in when we close that box around ourselves and fellow show breeders. And we see what most have done with that responsibility. Owners on pet forums think a 40 lb blue dog with a long tail and floppy ears and Boston markings is what they’re supposed to look like. Many no longer know what a well bred Boston should look like because the social media pages are loaded with poorly bred dogs who are often mixes resulting from hung papers. And here we are shaming our fellow breeders into hiding the production of a gorgeous well bred litter.

I can’t say what the solution to the lack of available well bred puppies is. Personally I cannot increase litters or dogs, and don’t know many who can. But if someone CAN, maybe we should lay off the mud slinging so they’re not afraid to? Maybe we should open up the box and let ourselves out? And maybe when we see a non-show breeder who is fully health testing and trying to do right in their breeding program, we can encourage them to continue to do so, invite them to shows, not shame them for not showing. Lumping non show breeders who breed responsibly into the same category as irresponsible breeders does nothing to elevate the breed. Neither does reducing a fellow show breeder’s status to “puppy mill”. I think instead we need to look to elevate other good breeders. And to elevate each other.

Jani Martin is an avid breeder and exhibitor of AKC Champion Boston Terriers. She is best known for dispelling myths, untruths and common misconceptions regarding the Boston Terrier breed, always insisting on facts backed by good research. One of her most notable projects was creating and publishing the website “Colored Boston Terrier Truths” ( ) which delves into the facts about color focused breeding in the Boston Terrier. She’s rarely afraid to voice an opinion, but every opinion that is written is truthful and sincere, even if it not popular.

The Writer – Jani Martin

Here is where I’m supposed to write about myself and give my readers a reason to value my opinion based upon my experience and “credentials” in the Boston Terrier and/or Dog world. What you’ll often find is that people seem to value opinions that resonate with their own. So my “credentials” are only worth the value each reader decides to put on them. I have listed my experience below, written awkwardly in third person, should readers wish to know more. So… enjoy. Or not. 😉

  • Jani Martin has been involved with Boston Terriers since 2006, breeding since 2007, showing since 2009. She bred her first AKC champion in 2010 and finished his title in 2012.
  • She is a member in good standing with the Boston Terrier Club of America and the Boston Terrier Club of Western Washington.
  • She researched the Boston Terriers of disqualified colors and created and maintains the website “Colored Boston Terrier Truths” ( )
  • Having been one of the first writers involved in telling the “Piper” story from 2014 to 2016, she first gained attention for her articles as “Dog Lady Rants”.
  • Jani has been a freelance writer for multiple publications, mainly the E Boston Terriers Magazine