Tuesday 16 June 2020

The extraordinary story of how the Boston Terrier lost its nose

This photograph stopped me in my tracks this week. It shows Image Catcher of Ziost, who won the bitch CC at Crufts 2020 earlier this year. Her win is not a one-off. She has since been made up to a Champion.

As she's slightly turning away in the top pic, here are a couple more showing that her face really is very flat.

The reason it stopped me in my tracks is because the Boston used to have a muzzle and neither were their actual noses pushed back into the face like this.  Here's a champ from 1910.

These winners are from around that time, too.

So how did a breed that once had a muzzle end up without one?

There are three main reasons. First is the pernicious effect of the show-ring which too often leads to exaggeration over time. Second is the cult-like lure of brachcycephaly that has transformed several breeds (and threatens several others). The third, slightly more surprising one, is that the breeders have full-on fucked-up in their reading of the breed standard.

Here's how it happened...

The Boston Terrier was first recognised in the US in the 1890s.

Below is a contemporaneous report and illustraiton of the 1898 Boston Breeders Club Dog Show (in Boston itself, I believe),where muzzles, albeit of various lengths, are very much in evidence.

In the 1910 breed standard it states this: 
"MUZZLE - Short, square, wide and deep, without wrinkles.... the jaw broad and square, with short, regular teeth"
Ten years later, there was a revision that included a max muzzle length (my bolding).
"MUZZLE - short, square, wide and deep, and in proportion to skull;' free from wrinkles; shorter in length than in width and depth, not exceeding in length approximately one-third of length of skull; width and depth carried out well to end; the muzzle from stop to end of nose on a line parallel to the top of the skull"
Also of interest in the 1920 standard are the head faults listed - too short a skull and a jaw that turned up (as in the Bulldog).
"HEAD FAULTS - Skull "domed" or inclined; furrowed by a medial line; skull too long for breadth, or vice versa; stop too shallow; brown and skull to slanting... Muzzle wedge shaped or lacking depth; down faced; too much cut below the eyes; pinched nostrils; protruding teeth; weak lower jaw; showing "turn-up"
In 1919, the National Geographic Book of Dogs described the Boston's muzzle like this:
"The face is intelligent, rather square, the nose, while short, is not pushed in, and the jaws are even, broad and fairly deep. He is in every sense a good practical dog."
And that, indeed, is what the accompanying illustration shows (here with a French Bulldog).

In 1926, breed historian E J Rousuck offered this clarification re muzzle proportions:
"Conforming to outline to nearly every other part of the Boston's head, the muzzle must be square. It should be as perfect a square as possible, its width and depth and length being about equal; the "about" meaning that the slight deviation will probably take place in its length because, inasmuch as blockiness is a true requisite, the aim has ever been toward a short nose.  The muzzle should come out squarely from the stop, its length not exceeding one third of the entire head, that is, the distance from tip of nose back horizontally as far as the set-on of the ears, should measure three times the length of the muzzle." 
Today's AKC standard now says this: 
"The muzzle is short, square, wide and deep and in proportion to the skull. It is free from wrinkles, shorter in length than in width or depth; not exceeding in length approximately one-third of the length of the skull."
And it also now allows an underbite, never a part of the original standard.
"The jaw is broad and square with short regular teeth. The bite is even or sufficiently undershot to square the muzzle"
We now even have some Boston breeders talking about layback - essentially a nose that recedes into the head like this, aided and abetted by the removal of an upturned jaw as a fault being removed from the standard. 

Unfortunately, the max-third demand is now interpreted by show-breeders as something to avoid at all costs and because too-short-a-muzzle has been removed as a head fault, there is nothing to prevent fanciers breeding the face off the dog. 

On my Facebook group CRUFFA yesterday, a US Boston breeder interpreted the proportions of the Crufts winner at the top as being correct with this illustration.

Leaving aside the fact that "muzzle" cannot possibly mean just the mandible (lower jaw), it is a plain wrong interpretation of the breed standard. 

A dog's skull is not just from occiput to stop - it is the whole head, as E J Rousuck made clear in 1926, writing:  "The muzzle should come out squarely from the stop, its length not exceeding one third of the entire head, that is, the distance from tip of nose back horizontally as far as the set-on of the ears, should measure three times the length of the muzzle."  

To suggest otherwise would be considered a nonsense by any anatomist. But sadly, we've seen this error also appear in other breeds where it has also been used to justify increasingly brachycephaly - "brachy creep" as we've dubbed it on CRUFFA.

Now it is true that there has been some variation in muzzle length over the years, and it is possible to find past Champions with a very short muzzle, only recently has it led to dogs as extreme as this dog, a show champion in the US.

And dogs like these in the UK show-ring.

I recently spotted this breeder meme, produced in response to recent legislation in the Netherlands that prohibits the breeding of extremely brachycephalic dogs.

The irony is that if they had stuck to muzzles the length of the dog on the right, the breed would not now be one of the 12 extreme brachycephalics whose breeding has been restricted in the Netherlands. 

In fact, Bostons like this (and yep, they do still exist) are fine to be bred in the Netherlands because they meet the demand for a muzzle that is a third the length of the whole head. It's perfectly within-standard, too, but show breeders would dismiss this dog as "pet-bred"... the wrong colour... and far too "snouty"

The latest trend is for show breeders to claim themselves "preservation breeders", apparently oblivious to the fact that the dogs they are breeding today often look nothing like the original dogs.  They will tell you the dogs are unchanged in 150 years, asking us to not believe our lying eyes. 
So does it matter? After all, we know that the Boston is a better breather than its fleshier cousins the Frenchie, Bulldog and Pug.  

But this is not just about breathing (although some Bostons do struggle). Dogs' muzzles are where you find their cooling system. Crush them and the dogs overheat. Brachy mouths are also almost always a mess with rotated/crowded/mismatched teeth - an under-recognised cause of trauma and pain. A lack of a muzzle also makes eyes very vulnerable - as admitted by the Boston Terrier Club of the USA. 
"Because their eyes protrude and their muzzles are short, there is an increased chance over other dogs that they will scratch their eyes by accident. When walking with your Boston never allow them to come into contact with thorny plants."
So yes, it does matter. All dogs need a muzzle - as a physical buffer, as air-con and for a comfortable mouth.


• introduce a minimum muzzle length into the breed standards of breeds vulnerable to brachy creep
• KCs and breed clubs to educate and encourage honest debate about phenotypic changes in the breed, with an emphasis on what is and isn't an improvement from a welfare point of view
• more emphasis on the perils of shortening muzzles in judges' training
• add "brachy creep" to the KC's Breedwatch for the Boston (and other breeds where it is evident - eg Dogue de Bordeaux, Boxers, Newfies and sadly many others).

And a point of action for me personally: to give the Brachycephalic Working Group a kick up the bum. Set up in 2016 by the Kennel Club after a veterinary petition calling for brachy reform was signed by over 40,000 veterinary professional), progress has been glacial - particularly re changes to breed standards that were reported to be imminent more than a year ago.


  1. Are you aware of any breeders who are working toward a healthy muzzle length?

    1. Actually yes there seem to be some that you can find on the CRUFFA facebook page. The few I've seen were mostly FCI Bostons.

  2. The fact you would use that liver dog as an example of what should be bred speaks volumes of how little you know about the breed quality and health. Those are the poorly bred dogs whose owners come to the Boston forums crying about having to do surgery on their patellas or that their dog has seizures or allergies.
    You're demonizing responsible breeders who health test and breed for soundness while creating a platform for the uneducated and uncaring backyard breeder who churns out poorly conformed dogs without thought to quality. You raise them up on a pedestal on the CRUFFA page as quality breeders, patting them on the back for doing what every decent breeser won't do. .. Breeding whatever is in the backyard to make a buck with whatever poor quality sires and dams they bought on Hoobly or Puppyfind. But the noses are long, so it fits the only thing you want to see or understand. I hope people take a moment to see the true agenda behind this... To eliminate the Boston breed along with anything else that doesn't suit their nose preference regardless of BOAS scores of 0. For a group who criticizes breeders for valuing aesthetics above airway, it's odd they'd push BOAS results aside when they don't like the "appearance" of the nose despite the good health.

    1. Making a breed more moderate in appearance isn’t elimination lmao. I love how YOU guys are totally fine with changing a breed to your own specs(getting rid of the muzzle..hello?) but once someone wants to add some features back that were originally there you guys pitch a dumb fit about animal rights and other bullshit.

      Ohh waaaaaah they want us to breed a bit more muzzle back on our digs like they originally had!!! Omg!! The breed is extinct!! Wow is me!!!

      That’s what you sound like.

      How can you call yourselves breed preservers when you change them from their original form. There is NO benefit to breeding a muzzle off a dog. None. It’s purely for your own aesthetics. You don’t put health first. We all know that the most important thing for you guys in a breed is appearances. Not health or temperament. You like to tell people and yourself that but enough of the mental gymnastics.

    2. I would like to add that yes, there are backyard breeders supporting the breeding of unhealthy offspring, and sometimes breeding for color leads to the prevalence of genetic issues. But the genes associated with color are not inherently linked to health issues! Other than some cases of alopecia in dilute colors like blue and lilac (which can be bred out!), Boston’s of all colors can be bred healthily. Having a breed standard with allows for brindles (which carry for many colors... as do the seals and blacks), predisposes the breed to keep carrying these recessive color genes. Keeping the Boston standard to only three colors also keeps the gene pool ridiculously narrow. I am so sick of this nit picking of Boston terrier colors, and look forward to the day where colored Boston terriers are more accepted. I find it funny that the American cocker spaniel allows for the presence of colors (they have their own subgroup, including dilute colors), and yet it would be an absolute abomination according to many so called “show dog” breeders. The reason you hate those colors is the same reason you want the Boston to have a flat face........ PURE AESTHETIC! What use is a breed standard if not for function and health.

    3. There has been ZERO health issues associated with colored Bostons (I’m not talking about Merle). Alopecia in some dilutes, but that can be successfully bred out by reputable breeders. Any other issues are correlation, not causation. When you limit the breed colors to black, seal and brindle, you are inviting the proliferation of recessive color genes, which will crop up when you least expect it. When you limit the colors so narrowly, you are begging for a weakened gene pool and dogs proned to inbreeding-linked issues! Colors are not the enemy.

      The article above did a good job arguing for the return of a muzzle in the Boston terrier. They were never meant to be wallflowers. Even notable breeders in the US will have a show line or a performance sport line. The performance pups do not do as well in show. The disconnect here is evident.

  3. Extreme brachycephaly is not sound. It's just not. And I would actually categorize breeders who breed for that trait as inherently irresponsible. It's also a logical fallacy to claim that espousing moderation in phenotype automatically gives poor breeders a free pass. How about the "guardians" of the modern Boston terrier step up to the plate to actually take our modern physiology knowledge to heart while maintaining all the other traits that would make them good breeders?

  4. Talking about soundness while breeding the upper jaw off a dog is like breeding three legged cats and claiming there won't be consequences for their health as long as they are bred to a written standard.

  5. Add to these points that muzzle length is defined as the distance from the stop to the tip of the nose, not to the tip of the lower jaw.

  6. go on aunt jemima keep blocking my comments cuz you know your whole website is a sham and you think your a dog expert cause youv owned a few you re the sorriest excuse for a dog blogger i have ever seen!!

    1. Working as a documentary producer (primarily for BBC) hardly seems like lack of credentials...

  7. also i should have known all you anti doggers were retarded democrats