As a student in the early ‘80s, I traveled to school each day on an elevated train that towered over the houses below. From this vantage point, it was easy to peer into the windows of the little row homes along the route, although curtains were mostly drawn for obvious reasons.

One house, however, had a very large window and a view that was never obscured by drapery. At this particular address, a collection of figurines stood on display each day for passersby to admire. In this window, dozens of black and white figurines of the “American Gentleman” – the Boston Terrier – awaited the admiring glances of each day’s hurried commuters.

The heyday of the American breed occurred during the 1920s and ‘30s when the “Boston Bull” – as the breed was affectionately known – became an extremely popular show dog and household pet. I imagined the elderly woman I’d seen on occasion dusting the statues had been a supporter of the breed since that time. Obviously her affection for this dapper dog was something she wanted the world to know about.

The breed was developed in the city from which it takes its name and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1893. Originally a fighting dog of the Bull and Terrier variety, the breed was refined in both style and manner to become one of the more stylish companions of ladies and gentlemen everywhere.

Bostons are still companionable characters today, enjoying the company of people sometimes to the exclusion of other dogs. Their registrations for 2011 place them 22nd out of 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Boston Terrier is known as “The American Gentleman.” Photo by Dan Sayers.

Fair and Square

One of the most important characteristics of the Boston Terrier, according to the AKC breed standard, is its “alert and kind” expression, “indicating a high degree of intelligence.” This breed is not only a gentleman; he’s a scholar too!

Head and expression are breed hallmarks, and the characteristic “look” is dependent upon a square conformation of the skull and muzzle. Originally given the nickname “Roundhead Bull Terrier,” this Yankee Doodle Dandy today possesses a skull that is flat on top, with flat cheeks and an abrupt brow with a well-defined stop. When viewed from the front, the breed’s eyes are positioned “wide apart” and are ideally set “square in the skull” with the outside corners “on a line with the cheeks.”

A square muzzle, “wide and deep and in proportion to the skull,” is “shorter in length than in width or depth” in this breed. According to the standard, it is not to exceed “approximately one-third of the length of the skull” and should be “parallel to the top of the skull” from the stop to the tip of the nose. Like the muzzle, the breed’s jaw is “broad and square” with a bite that is even or “sufficiently undershot to square the muzzle.”

The breed’s erect ears are small and may be kept natural or cropped “to conform to the shape of the head,” according to the standard. Set “as near to the corners of the skull as possible,” the ears, together with the breed’s large, round eyes and square head, help to define one of the purebred dog world’s more distinctive and distinguished mugs.

Putting on Weight

The breed was originally much larger than it is today. Forty-pound Boston Terriers were not uncommon in the 19th century. According to the Size, Proportion, Substance section of the breed standard, today’s dogs are divided by weight into three classes: Under 15 pounds; 15 pounds and under 20 pounds; 20 pounds and up, not to exceed 25 pounds. The standard makes it clear that the Boston is a sturdy dog at any size and should appear neither spindly nor blocky and chunky. However, bitches are permitted to bear a “slight refinement” when compared with the males.

As with the breed’s head, the body appears square, with a balance struck between its length and the length of the legs. This squareness appears “striking,” according to the standard, and is accentuated by a tail that is “low, short, fine and tapering.” The breed’s tail may be straight or screw-shaped and should not be carried “above the horizontal.”

Seal of Approval

The Boston Terrier shows up for any occasion in formal wear. Its white markings, including the required muzzle band, blaze between the eyes and its forechest, are ideally expressed evenly and give the smooth-coated breed its gentlemanly appearance.

On an otherwise brindle, seal or black-colored dog, white may also appear over the head as an extension of the blaze, on the neck as a collar, on part or all of the forelegs and on the hind legs below the hocks. These areas are described as “desired markings” by the breed standard, although dogs lacking them “should not be penalized.” Likewise, any dog with a “preponderance of white on the head or body must possess sufficient merit otherwise to counteract its deficiencies,” according to the Color and Markings section of the standard.

The areas of white are contrasted by a base color that is the preferred brindle, a striking black or black with a red cast known as “seal.” This last may be best viewed “in the sun or bright light,” per the standard’s section on Color.

In any color, individuals of the breed should possess deep black pigment of the eye rims, lips, nose, ears and pads that adds to the dramatic dress of this bright and lively concomitant.

The short, smooth coat of the Boston Terrier, bright in color and fine in texture, is a particularly notable feature of this manufactured American original. Square in construction and incomparable in character, the state dog of Massachusetts can stand proudly with that commonwealth’s other notable sons and daughters.

And if I remember correctly, the breed stands pretty nicely in a front window too.