Breeding “The Original” Boston Terrier

“They’re coming for your breed too, it’s already happening”

This was a conversation I was having with a fellow transporter regarding some pricey “rare colored exotic” dogs on that particular trip, as well as other fads in the world of supposedly purebred breeding. I knew that day was coming for our breed, but wanted to deny it was likely. Seeing what is commonplace in our Boston causes my heart to hover between hurt and panic for the breed. Exotic long haired Bostons are on the horizon, just as they were in the French Bulldog and a host of other unfortunate breeds now falling victim to money motivated breeding practices. Recently came the appearance of a couple of these long haired Bostons on the forums, claiming they were the “next new thing”. Add that to the increase of merles, and I could hear the internal screaming of the preservation breeder in me, as I envisioned the same churning out of “Boston Terriers” with characteristics that pull the breed further away from the standard with each fad focused generation.

We have seen it in many other breeds. First one “rare” color, then another, then another. Each breed and each color has its own story about how it’s been a hidden recessive in that breed for decades (or centuries), and just happened to show up in mass quantities as soon as their value and the demand rose. The Boston is no different in terms of how fad breeders began to chip away at the breed, citing blips in the breed  history to justify their breeding programs, while ignoring 99% of real breed education. 

To have a population boom, you have to have a significant number of color carrying foundation stock. Despite the advances in color testing, the numbers have never added up to explain why we had so many so quickly. Suddenly color breeders are admitting what show breeders have known and have been screaming about for over a decade… That some color breeders are willing to mix breeds for profit. The fact our breed now has a lot more long tails, floppy ears and many other characteristics of other breeds cropping up than they ever did in recent decades is the overwhelming evidence.  Those who admit there’s been mixing still pretend to know that THEIR colored dogs and pedigrees are free from it, yet knowing for sure is impossible. The damage has been done. From those initial rare colors, once the demand begins to fade, breeders venture into merle and tri-color… citing 3 generation DNA tests to prove purity. Then come the fluffies and hairless. Yes, this is what the greedy fad breeders have in store for our beautiful breed. 

But why not throw these dogs into the mix too? Why not fluffy merle or even hairless Bostons that are 40 pounds and clearly part Catahoula and Mexican Hairless mixes bearing hung AKC papers? We have colored AKC Bostons that are clearly part French Bulldog, some that are clearly part Chihuahua, and some that are clearly part Pit Bull… so why not? We’ve become constantly pounded with these color faults for so long that it’s become commonplace, and the paper hanging is just a nasty side effect.  So throw in some fluffy merle while we’re at it.  Just dump it all into one big bowl and turn on the genetic egg beaters because there’s so much disrespect for our breed right now from non-preservation breeders that one disqualifying fault is the same as the next.  Anything goes these days in the spirit of “minding our own business” and “live and let live”, right? I have lost count of the many over-used excuses given by so many breeders for why it’s okay to ignore, support, assist or participate in the slow deterioration of the signature look of the Boston Terrier. “It doesn’t hurt anything”, “There’s a market for them”, “Don’t cause drama”, “It’s none of my business”.  

“The fact our breed now has a lot more long tails, floppy ears and many other characteristics of other breeds cropping up than they ever did in recent decades is the
overwhelming evidence of mixing.”

Well then, whose business is it if not the business of preservation breeders whose core beliefs are to PRESERVE this breed? At the very least, whose business is it if not the members of the BTCA? When a person signs up as a member, why do they do it? To be able to say they’re a member as a sort of status symbol and a perceived higher level of ethics? Or do they sign up as a member with the original purpose of the club in mind… to improve and PROTECT our breed? And yes, it’s OUR breed. The BTCA created the breed and the BTCA protects the integrity of the breed.  Those who seek to change the breed standard to fit their own personal preference or current fad are taking advantage of, not taking responsibility for, this breed and its future.  It’s certainly not “their” breed.  

And when it comes to the blatant tinkering with our gene pool for preference or profit’s sake, is it merely the president’s or board’s concern and responsibility to uphold the breed’s integrity? No, it’s all of ours. That complacency, or even casual support from BTCA members who congratulate fad color breeders on their litters or on their wins with dogs they plan on breeding right back to color only fosters acceptance. Acceptance of these poor breeding practices only leads to accepting worse breeding practices, including the unavoidable addition of merles and long haired Bostons dumped into our gene pool. Much like the frog in the gradually heating water, it doesn’t panic and jump out because it’s slowly being accustomed to its own destruction. And so goes the deterioration of the Boston breed bit by bit through fad breeding practices. So when do we say STOP? And how loud does it need to be?

“The mixed breeding was right there for the world to
see in their blotched coats.”

Once the merle fad hit, color breeders were quick to point the finger of shame because the mixed breeding was right there for the world to see in their blotched coats. There was no hiding the paper hanging, which unfortunately is much easier for the breeders of the less exotic colors under the guise of supposed century old recessives.  But while fad color breeders who still cling to the “all colors are purebred” mantra are talking smack about merle breeders unethically cross-breeding for color, they neglect to notice that many of these new merle breeders of today were their peers in color breeding not so long ago.

Color focused breeders are outraged that merle and fluffy breeders would introduce those genetics into the gene pool where it may be hidden in future generations. Let’s read that again… color breeders are outraged that anyone would dare to introduce genetics into the gene pool that hides undesirable characteristics that will crop up at a later date. Well guys, welcome to the party.  Climb into the shoes of the preservation breeder and look through our eyes and feel that same outrage with your own hearts. Welcome to our struggle and take a moment to pull out a mirror while you scold those who pull in unwanted qualities and genes to the breed we all claim to love. The support and encouragement or participation of ANY fad breeding is the engine driving the crazy train that takes the breed off its tracks and down the road of “anything goes”.    And right now the next stop on that road is merle and fluffy, with the acceptance of fad color breeding paving the way and laying the foundation for the next fad to pollute the gene pool.  I was told once that the long hair was a recessive from their wolf ancestors. When one’s goal is to justify a fad, any silly explanation will do.

Merle and long hair on the Boston Terrier finally brought fad breeding dishonesty to the forefront and out in the open. Everything else before was always explained away with enough insistence that every new popular color was completely and naturally occurring, and that every single breeder that ever produced color for over a decade was somehow above dishonesty or money motivation. Have color focused breeders ever asked themselves why other countries had to import from the U.S. to get colored Bostons? Many other countries, who pulled their Boston Terrier foundation from the exact same gene pool as ours, and who have access to the same color testing as we do, do not have fad colors. They simply don’t. Recessive genes are not ‘selective’ in where they show up, but the colored Boston genes somehow magically “select” a country where color brings high profits and breeder oversight is minimal

Show breeders are often called “ignorant” of the color genetics in our breed. No, we just know our breed, and we’re perfectly capable of determining that the obviously backyard bred “Cocoa Karla”, listed as “seal” and coming from unknown dogs in generation ten is likely to be the culprit for the appearance of color in a reputable preservation breeder’s pedigree. And honestly it’s quite irritating when a breeder does everything right, only to discover that fifteen or twenty years ago, someone muddied the gene pool by breeding for color faults and then those same breeders call the victims of this muddying, “ignorant of the ‘original colors’”.  

Now reputable breeders are forced to color test their dogs when for decades, it was not a concern. For these breeders who discover one or more of these lines in their background, myself being one of them, it feels like trying to clean up a mess that we had nothing to do with creating, and quite honestly shouldn’t have to be the ones to clean it up. It’s a bit like having nice clean water for years, only to discover your neighbor is now dumping toxic chemicals into a nearby stream and now you’ve got to test your tap water every time you want to make a pot of coffee.  There’s no un-doing what your neighbor has done to the ground water.  And there’s no way to glance at your cup of coffee and see the chemicals.  To claim the chemicals have always been there when you darn well know you didn’t have this many problems with clean water prior to the neighbor polluting it, flies in the face of common sense. 

Can we have an accidental sire mix up or the occasional unethical breeder hanging papers in standards? Of course. But there’s not much incentive to mix breeds on purpose in standard colors to begin with.  All we do is lose type and gain the genetics of something we don’t want or need so thankfully it’s rare. But with breeding for fads such as colors or fluffy, there are bigger profits to realize and it can fast tracked through mixing. 

Color focused breeders are trying to now justify “Tri-Color” Bostons…
following the same pattern as all of the other fad ruined breeds such as the English and French Bulldogs. Next are Dilute Tri-Color, then the
next fad is “Fluffy”… it’s the same in many breeds, as is the justification.

So how do we proceed as preservation breeders? Should we color test our dogs? If we bring in lines we’re not familiar with, should we be worried about what we can’t see? As much as we should be able to breathe easy after a century of dedicated preservation breeders working to eliminate these color faults, backyard breeders have been churning them out in mass quantities, all while claiming they are breeding the “original colors”.  


How “original” are these fad colors?  We have known and talked about the imported “blue Perry dog” for years, having been an import used as an outcross and to decrease size prior to the breed’s acceptance. We have seen breeders quoting one particular author about using colors to maintain vibrant brindle, (conveniently skipping over the parts where he also explains how to breed away from these undesirable colors). We have heard about the third Boston registered being a fawn.  We have seen the standard reference liver and mouse and black and tan as DQ’s. So, what’s the truth? Where do we find it?

Nothing speaks about the breed’s past as truthfully as actual AKC registrations. We can talk about a blue dog getting off the boat and contributing to the breed, or talk about a photograph of what may or may not be a fawn dog, but what matters is what is REGISTERED as a Boston Terrier.  Fairy tales sell puppies but facts are facts. Dogs utilized in the development of the breed, once there was actually an official breed, were all at that point registered with AKC.  There may have been more colored Bostons that were placed without papers or “hard culled” as was the brutal practice of all types of breeders in every breed back in the early 1900’s.  But if they weren’t registered, they are not contributors to the gene pool and do not have any effect on future generations or our breed. This is a fact. A postcard or a magazine ad with a picture or cartoon of a questionably lighter dog is fun memorabilia, but the only thing that matters moving forward after the breed’s official start with AKC is what we know beyond a doubt was used as actual breeding stock.   If they were used extensively to produce bright brindles, as the story goes, they would have all been registered.  So let’s look at facts in black and white (pardon the pun) and look at REGISTRATIONS during the time period from 1893 to 1900, when the breed was in its infancy and the colors supposedly had their heyday.  

There were 7 total Bostons registered 1893, four of them littermates, and three of those littermates were fawn. Exciting? Hang on…. During the next two years there were no colored Bostons registered at all. And as the number of registered Bostons grew into the hundreds registered over the next six years, only three more fawns were registered, and fawns were by far the biggest population of colored Bostons in the early years. This was likely because their black pigment still met the standard, and possibly their contribution to bright brindles may have made them the most acceptable of the undesirable colors when used for breeding purposes. There were several more fawns registered in 1900, however there was also a large boom of Bostons overall, still keeping the number of colored Bostons at a meager 5% on average for the entire first decade. Keep in mind this was when the colors were “allowed” and at their peak in the breed. The percentage of color goes rapidly  downhill from there. 

Let’s talk about red/chocolate/brown or “liver” to use the appropriate terminology. This is supposedly the one color that still crops up today in show pedigrees in the highest frequency, so back in the early years there must have been many registered, right?  From 1893 to 1900, there were SEVERAL HUNDRED Bostons registered, yet only SIX were registered and described as this color. There were SEVEN listed as “red brindle”, which could have been liver brindle, or it could have been a regular brindle with a bright red base as this is also how a deep red brinde was often referred to.  Bostons registered back then were listed however the owners described them so unfortunately that’s all we have to go by. There’s even one listed as “orange and white” and another listed as “yellow”, which for the purposes of my research were placed in the categories of “liver” and “cream”. Those described as “red brindle” were all placed in the “liver brindle” category even though some may not have been liver at all.  So the number of colored Bostons I quote is actually very generous.

How many were “lilac”, or the more appropriate technical term that hasn’t been spun into a more marketable color, “Isabella”? None. Not a single one on record nor any color described as anything remotely close to Isabella was registered in those early years. 

How about “cream”? Just the ONE, we can assume, that in 1900 was described as “yellow”. 

Let’s talk about “blue” or “mouse”. So much lip service is given to the “blue Perry dog” that is spoken of in the early years that one would assume that dozens of blues must have resulted from the use of such a dog. Surely it was unavoidable since even the slightest mention of color from the late 1800’s somehow means that thousands of show dogs are running around with the ability to produce blue. Some even claim it can magically just crop up in dogs that don’t carry it, neglecting to mention that the odds of that happening are astronomical.  Today, this color is second only to liver in terms of the colored Boston population, so it must have had quite an influence on genetics in those early years, right?  No. There were NO registered blues. There were no registered “mouse” colors. There were no “grays”. Read that again. According to AKC during those early years, THERE WERE NO REGISTERED BLUES. There is only one described as “silver brindle”.  Brindle was referred to by Vincent Perry as ranging from “almost black brindles to the almost gray brindles”… with “gray” clearly meaning an extremely light base in stark comparison to a nearly black dog, so it is highly doubtful he was speaking of the diluted brindle striping on any range of base shades. I included this as a “blue brindle” on my list anyway, even though it does not appear to actually refer to a blue brindle. Solid blues? I couldn’t find a single one.  They registered, and used for breeding, ZERO BLUES. 

ZERO Blue or Dilute Boston Terriers were registered
between the years 1893 and 1900

What was the “original” Boston then? The original Boston was brindle. Just as the AKC glossary describes brindle being a fawn or red base color, ranging from light to deep mahogany, with black striping.  Having typed up a spreadsheet of every color registered for the first several years, I can attest to the fact that nearly every single Boston in the early years was most definitely brindle. Not liver brindle, not blue brindle, but standard brindle. There were more listed as “white” and “white with brindle” than there ever were reds or fawns or any other color we see touted today as the “original” Boston Terrier. The “original” Boston was simply standard brindle. Vincent Perry said in his book The Boston Terrier, “The disqualified colors are so rare they can be termed extinct in the breed.”

The “original” Boston Terrier was BRINDLE

So what we have today, just as we have with merle and fluffy and whatever the next fad will be, is a whole lot of justification. I am sick to death of seeing the “well at least” arguments when it comes to breeding these dogs. “Well at least I health test”,  “Well at least I don’t breed merle”, “Well at least I have a guarantee on my puppies”, “Well at least I don’t have XYZ lines which we all know were mixed”.  And then you have the other excuses. “Show breeders don’t breed totally to standard either”, “The standard calls for smooshed in faces”, “The standard is for show dogs, I just breed pets”, “No dog totally meets standard”. 

Here’s the difference. You either breed to standard to the best of your ability or you do not. You are either a breeder of quality Bostons or you are not. What is the difference between breeding FOR a fault so bad it’s a disqualification, and breeding for long hair that was never in the breed? They are one in the same. The appearance of merle and long hair has not somehow elevated the color breeder. You care about the future of this breed and the quality of this breed, or you do not. This is what has become very apparent to me in recent months. Someone does not decide to breed fads and THEN spend years researching every possible justification for doing so if it’s “all about the breed history”.   When one breeds to better the overall breed quality, no justification or back up material is ever needed. 

The public is educated by breeders. The question is, which breeders will educate them? The ones who claim reds and blues were the “original Boston” despite what the records say?  Or preservation breeders? So speak up. When you see these statements about rare recessives and original colors and long hair and purebred merles, SPEAK UP. Do not allow the general public to be “educated” by those who do not care to preserve, but to take advantage of, OUR breed.

“When one breeds to better the overall breed quality, no justification or back up material is ever needed. “

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