Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Boston Terrier: Defective by Design

The above picture, from the web site of the Boston Terrier Club of America's "breed standard" page, shows that even a short nose is not wanted on this dog. A profound brachycephalic condition is demanded.

The Boston Terrier is breed that can best be described as a genetic wreck, both by design and due to serious inbreeding caused by a small initial gene pool.

The Boston terrier's history is brief and ugly. This was a "dog dealer's creation" from the beginning; a mixture of French bulldog (cast-off bulldogs sent to France by the British), and the short-lived "English White" terrier which was nothing more than a mixture of an apple-headed toy dog with a smooth white foxing terrier. That cross-breed had such a high rate of deafness that it was allowed to slip into extinction.

The Boston Terrier lived on, however, for a simple reason; in the terrier-besotted world of the early Kennel Club, the Americans wanted a breed to call their own. In 1893, they got it, making the Boston Terrier America's first canine native son.

Today's Boston Terrier is a dog with so many serious and painful health problems it should probably be allowed to go extinct.

One such problem is a defining part of the breed standard: Brachycephalic Syndrome.

A brachycephalic dog is one with a very pushed in or flat face. The skull structure is shortened to the extent that the dog tends to have an elongated soft palate and a crowded nasal passage and pharynx.

To put a point on it, brachycephalic dogs have a very tough time breathing, and may collapse dead if excercised in hot weather, a function of simple airway obstruction. >> To read more

Boston terriers also have a tendency to be "hemivertebrae," which means that the spinal column, which should look more-or-less square in cross-section, actually has a wedge-shaped appearance.

The hemivertebrae condition is commonly found in short-muzzled (brachycephalic) breeds that have screw tails, such as the British Bulldog. As a result of the spine's structure, dogs with a hemivertebrae condition can have a form of spina bifida or a dorsal curvature (kyphosis) or a lateral curvature (scoliosis). Compressed amd deformed discs are common, often leading to dogs living in pain or being put down. >> To read more

Boston terriers are prone to serious eye problems, as are many brachycephalic breeds due to the absence of any real snout to serve as a "bumper" when running into brush, tall grass or objects. Physical damage to the cornea can manifest itself in the form of corneal ulcers which, in the cast of the Boston Terrier, can be expected to effect one in ten dogs over the course of their lives.

Along with corneal ulcers Boston Terriers also have a very high incidence (20 percent) of Juvenile Cataracts which can cause total blindness in very young dogs.

Boston terriers also suffer from late-onset cataracts (9% of Boston Terriers), Cherry Eye (6% of Boston Terriers), as well as several other very serious eye problems. >> To read more.

Other common problems with Boston Terriers include cleft lip and palate (15 percent of all puppies), allergic dermatitis (10 percent of dogs), patellar luxation (5 to 6 percent), deafness (4-5 percent), and hyperthyroidism (2 to 3% of dogs).

Cardiac problems are the cause of death for 19 percent of Boston Terriers, with cancer listed at 16 percent, and "respiratory failure" at 12 percent. Neurological causes were associated with 9.5 % of Boston Terrier deaths.

In the U.K., the median age at death for a Boston Terrier was 10 years and 11 months.

Wolf Skull

Airedale Terrier Skull

Boston Terrier Skull

The top skull is that of a wolf -- a kind of "natural" dog.

The second skull is that of a large man-made terrier with a skull that is almost identical to a wolfs, despite its different coat and temperament. Those who know terriers know that an Airedale looks almost exactly like a Welsh terrier, albeit, three or four times larger.

The third skull is a Boston Terrier, whose skull is so deformed that it is not clear, on first inspection, that it is even a dog. To be honest, if I had found this skull in a pile of bones at the back of a museum cabinet, my first instinct would be to say it was the skull of a monkey.


YesBiscuit! said...

The saddest thing is, despite all the physical problems the breed has been doomed to endure, the ones I've met have truly been some of the nicest dogs I can recall. Would there be some way to save the wonderful companion temperament while tossing out all the physical defects I wonder?

retrieverman said...

The only good thing you can say about this is Boston Terriers have no purpose. At least they aren't messing up a working breed.

The English White Terrier existed in two separate forms. One is as you describe it-- the appleheaded dog. I think this breed also had something to do with the development of the modern Chihuahua. I saw a painting of one and thought it was a white Chihuahua in a bull terrier book.

The other form of the breed, though, which is ancestral to James Hinks bull terrier, was something like a Manchester terrier, except that it was solid white instead of black and tan.

Here's a series of paitings of Manchester Terriers and English whites, including the little apple headed ones:


PBurns said...

Nothing is as complex or as convuluted as terrier history, in part because early dog shows (and dog dealers) were so focused on terriers. Crufts, for example, started out at as the Allied Terrier Show, while almost all of the first Westminster winners were terriers. Just getting the history of the Patterdale Terrier and Jagt terrier together (both created in the last 80 years)was incredibly difficult as they too are wrapped in nonsense, rumor and false claims.

Here's the short verson on the Enlgish white-- I will write a longer version sone day.

There were two "English White terriers" and a third english terrier that was also white. (Confused yet?)

The first "Englih White Terrier" is an ancient dog that existed long before there were pedigrees or Kennel Clubs, and the words "white" and "English" were more descriptive than breed specific. In essence, this was a white (or mostly white) pit bull and stock-working dog not too different from the American pit bull terrier. The breed, as a name, disappeared at about the time pit work was banned. It is now sometimes called the original English Bullldog.

When dog shows started up in the 1860s and 1870s, dog dealers came out of the woodwork creating breed after breed, and alleging an ancient orgin. Almost all of these "just invented ancient breeds" were in fact complete frauds. One of them was the "English White" terrier which was listed at about 6 or 7 pounds and looks to be a cross between a toy dog (a chihuahua dome of a head) and a small white fox-working terrier. Pure white dogs often carry a recessive gene for deafness, and that recessive gene was there for the "English White" which, in the end, could not compete against healthier (and better looking) toy breeds.

The "English White" confusion with the short-lived toy breed got locked in when a couple of early picture books for dogs (your link, Retrieverman, is to pictures from some of those) featured this "newest" breed as one of the oldest. The name stuck around as a consequence, though the dog did not.

Throughout all of it, of course there has been the English terrier which is white -- the white fox-working dog that is variously called the Jack Russell Terrier or fox terrier. These dogs, of course, are still as common as rain drops and quite varied (as they always have been), but generally falling between 10 and 18 pounds in weight (with true working dogs generally under 15 pounds). One of the dogs you have in the photos, Retrieverman, is simply a prick-eared Jack Russell of the kind you can see in not-quite-up-to-the-standard pounds and kennels today.

Bull terriers were created more or less whole cloth by James Hinks who also sought to claim an ancient root stock for his dogs. He may have wrapped himself in the mantle of the "English White" terrier, but the dog he as referencing was not the 6 pound toy dog, but the ancient pit dog. The dog he created is basically a shot pit bull with an elongated head (the miniature bull terrier was created later). I seriously doubt there is any Jack Russell in there, and there is no way the toy dog is in there -- the parts for mating would not fit!

Other dogs with put up names were the Manchester terrier claiming to be a "black and tan". In fact the black and tan tan terrier still exists today as the fell terrier (true working) and in the show ring (the welsh terrier). The Manchester is simply a smooth, rat-pit dog mated to a smooth coated toy terrier to create a dog that looks a bit like a min-pin.

The Boston Terrier is simply a French bulldog that has been sized down by crossing it a(allegedly) with an "English White" terrier, but this dog would be the toy breed, not the old pit dog which weighed far too much.

For the record, true stock working dogs are found all over the world today and none look like the bull terriers or the toy breed called the English white. They look a lot like pitbulls. Some are heavier (crossed with mastiff), some are lighter (crossed with greyhound), but you can see that the dog is essentially a pitbull-type and the true stock-working dog has not changed much because the work has not changed much. Ditto for fox work.


Sheila said...

The Boston Terrier's temperament and non-sporting dog classification is exactly why I chose to keep Bostons. When I was looking for breeders, I looked at their dogs to make sure that they *had* muzzles (instead of concave faces), straight and healthy looking backs and that they were not line bred.

I lead a laid back lifestyle, and live in an apartment. I'm not a working terrier person, which is why I chose the Boston - BUT - of course you are right on the money with what can go wrong, Terrierman. When we took our new pup to the vet, she was pleased to see that he was a *healthily built* specimen, as well as healthy.

Bostons won't go away, because people like a smaller dog with personality that isn't yappy. More and more people are living in apartments instead of houses, and the aging population want company - a dog with low exercise requirements (play fetch for half an hour or a walk around the block will do) are perfect for these two growing demographics.

Those that love the breed can serve it best as any other breed enthusiasts can: don't support puppy mills, support small breeders that concentrate on the health of their dogs, and to HELL with breed standards.

PBurns said...

Yes, as the world changes so are the humans needs for different kinds of dogs, especially for apartments and/or folks who (often the elderly) who have mobility problem. I address this a bit here >> http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2008/11/boston-terrier-defective-by-design.html

A lot of show dog folks turn up their noses at the creation of some "designer breeds" which are simply multi-dog crosses, but in fact today's "puggle" "mutt" is tomorrow's "perfect temperament pedigreed purebreed descended from winning show stock.


retrieverman said...

Very interesting. Landseer has a painting of a white terrier, which looks something like a Jack Russell with cropped ears. Yet this is called a "White terrier." I knew of the apple-headed dogs, because they were used in creating the "Toy Bull terrier," which were a major fad for a time.

I always thought that the dog called an English White, which was used in Hinks's bull terrier, was a rat pit dog, very closely related to a dog we now call a Manchester terrier (I intentionally called it that on my comment, because I had read your post on the "real" black and tan terrier). It seems that the only terriers used in creating the egg-headed bull terrier are either that English white terrier (the greyhoundish type) or the Manchester. A lot of colored Bull terriers are tricolor, with tan kiss marks, just like a Manchester. Some of these have the brindled tan markings. The breed purists in the bull terrier breed threw a fit when it was decided to allow "colored" bull terriers to improve health (That's one reason why they have a separate "colored" variety of bull terrier. They had to bring in some Staffie blood to allow for it, and most of the first "show" bull terriers that were not white had staffie features, including round eyes and a normal muzzle.)

The bat-eared toy bulldogs were the result of crossing some terrier with erect ears into the bulldog. These dogs were culled in England, but English laceworkers took these culls to France, where they became popular among the working classes. The dogs were never recognized in France as a breed, because of their association with the poor and "criminal" classes. For some reason the breed became common among the dog fancy in America, and it was the AKC that first recognized it. The Boston terrier is basically a French bulldog with a lighter frame and more restricted color scheme. Black and tan french bulldogs are not unknown, so it's possible it's the same Manchester type terriers (English toy terriers in the UK) that made the bat-eared bulldogs.

Official breed histories are terrible. They are based on lots of speculation, even when we have good records of what went into them. Golden retrievers have records of exactly what was bred into them. In those records there is not mention of a bloodhound, but in the official history, it's always mentioned. My own estimate is that some sort of solid red setter (perhaps Irish or red gordon, which are rare) played a more significant role in its development than has been recognized. Actually, golden retrievers resemble more the old type Irish setter than the current scatter brained show dogs that bear that name.

Never trust an official breed history. It's full of lore and downright malarkey. Thank you for doing your part to rectify some of the lies and folklore that appears in dogdom. Breed standards were not brought down from Mount Sinai with the Decalogue.

PBurns said...

The bull terrier is the most inbred dog in the AKC according to their own studies [Marsha Eggleston, report on "Genetic Diversity" to the AKC's DNA Committee, 2002] -- a function of a very small pool that was then choked down by the show ring and sire selection, then split into color groups and split again into size groups.

The true make up of the "original" dog is anyone's guess, but the UK breed club actually says Dalmatian! Right. In any case, the colored dog is generally thought to be due to a cross of Staffordshire terrier -- same colors, brindle and mantle colored dogs common, etc. but it was considered a defect for a very long time.


Anonymous said...

Breed histories are rarely very accurate or truthful, and it is amazing how people accept them without question, and the more romantic and elaborate the faux history, the better they like it! So many claim that their breeds have been "pure"(whatever THAT is!) for THOUSANDS of years--I've always wondered just how exactly they could verify such, when most of them could not swear for certain who their own fathers were! I recently took in a delightful little mongrel that FOUND ME in an isolated patch of forest--in trying to find him a home, I have jokingly told people he is a rare purebred "Former Yugoslavian Weasel Hound", and otherwise sensible people thought I was serious! I of course quickly corrected that notion, but you have to wonder how many of our exotic "purebreds" got their starts being sold as such to gullible foreigners and other dog buyers!.....L.B.

Fiesta Cranberry said...

The Boston Terrier was originally a pit fighting breed, with many of the same ancestors as the APBT. If you look at pictures of old BT's (back before they were called Boston terriers) you can see a dog that looks like a smallish pit bull or Staffy bull. Many dogs had long tails; screw tails came in later. When pit fighting was banned in Boston, the dog was "refined" into what we now know as the Boston terrier. French Bulldog was added, that's where the erect ears and shorter muzzle come from. Size was brought down, and the breed was turned into a companion and show animal.

Some of us today are recreating the original Boston terrier. It is called the Olde Boston Bulldogge, and is larger, sturdier and has a much longer muzzle. I have a lot of info on my site: www.ragingbulldogges.com

Wish I knew how to post pictures here. I have some great ones of my OBB's pulling me on a scooter in dryland mushing event.

PBurns said...

Please do NOT breed dogs, as you have NO IDEA what you are talking about, and the world needs more pretenders, dog dealers, and pit fighting fantasists like we need a hole in the head.

The Boston terrier was created with a single prototype in 1870 by a Boston dog dealer for pet and show dog purposes, and it was ushered into the AKC in 1893. The AKC, at the same time, was BANNING pit bulls from being admitted to the registry, as these dogs were REAL fighting dogs. That ban, by the way, was what created the UKC, which is still with us.

Boston terriers were created for the show set and for the pet trade. They have a past that is well documented and it is a past steeped in the world of dog dealers and invented histories, so clearly it is a perfect breed for you, as you seem to be both.

The world does not need more fantasy reproduction bulldogs based on lies and without honest work to do. It does not need more registries and more shows and more dog dealers. Instead, it needs to stop breeding brachycephalic dogs and move to adopt the nearly 1,000,000 perfectly fine American Pit Bulls down at the shelter. If anyonne wants a dog to pull a scooter, a Pit Bull will do that all day long!

Again, please do NOT breed dogs. Stop. You have no idea what you are doing, and there HAS to be a better way for you to achieve status and prestige that to go down the puppy peddler road.

Robert Brown said...

I own 2 Bostons. Neither conform to standard. One has an"incorrect" muzzle like pictured above. He never,snores and is healthy. My other one, a female is on the frenchy side. She's already 30 lbs at 1.5 years. I think that pressure would help change the standard. I think the BT is the best breed and it would be a shame to let it die out. They have a personality like no other kind of dog. I disagree with the idea that they have no purpose. I would put them against any ratting breed or any other small working breed to learn any task. They do,awesome in agility trials too.

Unknown said...

I have a boston that wasn't bred to the AKC standard, in that he actually has somewhat of a snout - so he doesn't have nearly as many issues with breathing and ingesting food/drink (nor does he snort). He's almost 8 years old now, and is still healthy with a great disposition. He still has the primary boston characteristics, and his parents were both registered bostons as well, and owned by one family - but they weren't "breeders". He has the head shape (apart from the snout), ears, markings, facial folds, etc. but his snout is simply longer and not as smooshed in/deformed.

Bostons have such great personalities, and they're wonderful companions - but I think the AKC regulations really need to be challenged so they're not maintaining a breed standard of a serious deformity that results in a diminished quality of life. It's grossly unethical.