Main Photo: “Hoosier” (Photo courtesy of Ken Gee).
Boston Terriers enjoy and excel in a wide range of performance activities, including Obedience, Rally, Agility, Barn Hunt, Earthdog, Flyball, Tracking, Dock Diving and Weight Pulling. There is a fallacy that Bostons cannot compete or compete at the highest levels, being a brachycephalic breed, but this is not true. Bostons are not only able to compete in most performance events, but compete quite successfully.
At the AKC National Obedience Championship in March, 2014, OTCH Mandy UDX3 OM5 GO VER RE MX MXJ CA DM (“Mandy”, owned/handled by Molly Copelin) took home 1st place in the Non-Sporting
Group. Molly became only the 2nd Boston Terrier in history to earn the top obedience title of Overall Trial Champion (OTCH) earlier in 2014. Bostons can and do excel at the physical sport of Agility. The top Boston Terrier of all time, (per AKC lifetime reports), MACH7 Hoosier Hamburger Padees CD RE MXG2 MJG2 MXP MJP MXF TQX NFP (“Hoosier”, owned/handled by Kelly Misegadis) made the finals at the inaugural AKC Agility Invitationals in 2006 and again 2008 and tried out for the AKC Agility World team on two separate occasions. In 2010, Wannabe Run’s Awesome Dawson RAE MX MXJ MJB MXP3 MXPB MJP3 MJPB NF OFP “Dawson” and owner/trainer Laura Tsuk finished in 7th place in the Preferred finals at AKC Agility Nationals, demonstrating the athletic capabilities of the breed.
This prey-driven breed has the white English Terrier as one of its foundation breeds so it should come as no shock that the Boston excels at sports such as Barn Hunt and Lure Coursing. Some believe only “true” terriers and sight hounds can perform well in prey-driven sports such as Barn Hunt or Lure Coursing but watch a Boston in action and this belief will be quickly disproved. Their terrier heritage quickly becomes apparent through their focus and drive in getting to the prey. “Lexi” (Riot I Want Crazy RATO, owned/ trained by Elizabeth Staley) is the 3rd Boston in history to earn the Open title in Barn Hunt and demonstrate this prey drive.
It comes as a surprise to some to discover that not only can Bostons swim quite well but that many adore the water. Bostons have earned Dock Diving titles and routinely jump further than many bigger dogs and other known “water” breeds, as evidenced by Bosley’s jumps of over 14 feet. The secret to training a Boston Terrier is both quite simple and quite diﬃcult — keep it fun!
The Boston only wants to please its owner and will shut down with hurt feelings if they believe they have done something incorrect or made the owner unhappy with its performance. This means for a top level performance, the trainer must rely not only on treats but also play and toys the dog enjoys. Bostons tend to prefer physical play, such as the owner grabbing the dog’s feet, tugging with a toy, or light tapping of the shoulders and hindquarters. There is nothing the typical Boston loves more than having its owner get on the floor with him and have a good old fashioned wrestling match. The play should be appropriate to the dog’s size so as not to scare or injure the dog. They can be quite obsessive with their toys.
Bostons can and do use their intelligence and mischievous nature by creating their own brand of fun, which can become frustrating for the owner. It is imperative the owner not display frustration or anger with the dog but instead, stop the training session for the day. Bostons do not easily forget hurt feelings! If the owner displays anger or frustration during a training session, the dog may react by being timid, shy, scared or simply refuse to work at the next training session.
This does not mean the Boston should not have rules and manners, however. The breed is playful and can be mischievous so clear cut boundaries with consistent consequences such as time out in a crate or a firm “No” are imperative to both a peaceful household and a strong performance career.
There is a common belief Bostons are more susceptible to having problems working in hot weather but this is not necessarily true. Normal precautions that would be taken for any breed working in the heat must be taken but it is not necessary to stop competing in the summer months. Instead, periodic, very short training sessions during the middle of the day in the summer help acclimate the dog to working in the heat. Always keep these training sessions short and be sure to give the dog access to water. Cool coats, portable fans, access to shade and shallow swimming pools are great additions to summer cooling eﬀorts.
Care must be taken in the cold with the Boston. Short coat and low body fat means the breed will not tolerate cold temperatures very well so boots and coats are a part of most Boston owner’s supplies. This means winter training for events such as agility, barn hunt and lure coursing can be challenging, as the dog cannot tolerate being outside in lower temperatures for very long. Fortunately, the breed is quite intelligent and loves to learn (as long as learning is kept fun) so a little bit of training can go a long way. Short, focused training sessions work well with this breed. Being a brachycephalic breed, Bostons can have problems with inverted (or reverse) sneezing, which can wreak havoc if the dog is about to step to the line for a performance event. While it sounds and looks scary, it can be easily stopped by either plugging the dog’s nose until it opens its mouth to breath or by teaching the dog to relax so it can learn to control the sneezing by itself.
Gently rubbing the dog’s throat while it is reverse sneezing or using calming signals (see Turid Rugaas’ book On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals) can help the Boston learn to control the sneezing all by itself.
Many Boston breeders now breed not only with conformation in mind but performance and overall health as well. One of the most titled Bostons of all times— CH MACH9 PACH3 Wagtime Inde- pendenz@Jo-Clem RAE MXC2 MJB3 MXP8 MXPG MJP8 MJPG PAX3 MXF MFP T2B3 TWBP2 CAX “Indy”, owned/ handled by Dan Haddy (and wife Julie)— has her health certificate from the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) and has produced several champions in both conformation and performance.
Keeping the balanced Boston in mind is becoming more important than ever as people have begun to discover the Boston Terrier is capable of doing so very much. So pick a performance event that sounds fun to you and let the Boston games begin!