Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Boston Terrier and the French Bulldog

The Boston Terrier and the French Bulldog are often the subject of casual comparisons. To some, the breeds are more like variations on a theme; to others, like night and day.

By Luis Sosa | Posted: June 11, 2014, 3 p.m. PST

Boston Frenchie Head
Left: A bitch head with the preferred markings, and a large, dark, round eye. The bitch's head is slightly more refined than the dog's. Tom Weigand photo. Right: Correct bitch head with broad underjaw, broad muzzle, dark eye, correct bat ears and ear set. Note refinement in comparison to the dog's head (shown below). Luis Sosa photo.
 

The American Gentleman and the Clown in the Cloak of a Philosopher — the Boston Terrier and the French Bulldog. These two breeds, related to one another genetically and historically, are often the subject of casual comparisons. To some, the breeds are more like variations on a theme; to others, like night and day.

Both breeds have their roots in the English Bulldog and local breeds, although the French Bulldog’s ancestry is a bit more clouded than the Boston’s. The Frenchie was developed from Toy Bulldogs in the mid-to-late 1800s. When England outlawed bull baiting in 1835, there were variations of the Bulldog that suddenly didn’t fulfill a purpose. When the increase in mechanization during the Industrial Revolution forced English lacemakers out of the Nottingham region of England and into the Calais area of France, they took their Toy Bulldogs with them. A number of other breeds, most notably the Pug and Terrier Boule, were possibly interbred to set size and type. Originally seen with both erect and rose ears, the Petite Boule quickly became the star of the Parisian working class and the favorite of the Belles de Nuit, or ladies of the night, who introduced the breed to the upper classes.

American tourists brought the breed back from France, and it was the American fanciers who preferred the erect ear over the rose-eared varieties. When the breed was first exhibited at Westminster in 1896, the English judge selected rose-eared specimens as winners over the erect-eared ones. This so incensed the American fanciers that in 1897 the French Bulldog Club of America was formed, which set the bat ear as the only acceptable ear type, with other ear types disqualifying. It was through this American effort that type was set in the breed.

The Boston Terrier’s American heritage is more obvious than the Frenchie’s. Through inbreeding in the last quarter of the 19th century (and possibly breeding to the French Bulldog, the white English Terrier, and other local bull-and-terrier type breeds) a handful of dogs was used to develop the Round Heads or American Bull Terriers as they were then called. In 1889 the American Bull Terrier Club was formed in Boston. As time went on, there was considerable objection to the name from both the Bulldog and Bull Terrier fanciers. Because Boston was where the club was organized, in 1891 the name of the breed was changed to the Boston Terrier, and the Boston Terrier Club was formed. In 1893 the American Kennel Club recognized the breed for registration in the stud book and the club as a member club. Many years of breeding would be required in the early 20th century, however, to standardize the breed and develop the type that would be recognizable as the Boston Terrier of today.

In general appearance, the two breeds share similarities. They are both brachycephalic, active, expressive, intelligent, compactly built, small to medium in size, and short-tailed with a smooth coat. Balance, expression, color and white markings should be given particular consideration in the Boston Terrier, and neither breed should have a feature so prominent (from either lack or excess) that the dog appears poorly proportioned.

 

Size and Proportion

Boston Frenchie Front
Left: A Boston bitch showing the straight front legs with a rectangle formed under the chest. Note the much narrower front than the Frenchie. Sosa photo. Right: A French Bulldog male showing good head and front. Note the width of front in comparison to the Boston. Holloway photo.
 

The French Bulldog standard does not describe specific body proportions, only that the distance from the withers to ground be in good relation to distance from withers to the onset of tail so that the animal appears compact, well balanced and in good proportion. The key here is "well balanced and in good proportion.” The word "compact” must be taken in its historical context, when the Frenchie was a much longer-backed breed than what we see today. "Compactly built” means short yet still having some length of loin, so the correct French Bulldog will still have some overall length; and we must be careful not to prefer overly short, "cobby” dogs. Without a correct length of loin, it is not possible to have the correct roach topline or the pear shape, which are characteristic of the breed. Compact does not mean square, and in my experience, most "well proportioned” Frenchies are typically about 12 to 15 percent longer than tall.

In contrast, the Boston standard states that the body is rather short, with the length of leg in balance to give it a striking square appearance. The Boston is sturdy and neither spindly nor coarse, and again, it is well proportioned. Weight is divided into three classes: under 15 pounds, 15 pounds and under 20 pounds, and 20 pounds and not to exceed 25 pounds. Unlike the Frenchie, whose weight disqualifies at more than 28 pounds, the Boston only has a class excusal for weight with no weight disqualification. The Frenchie has no minimum weight, although a bitch much less than 18 pounds or a dog much less than 22 pounds may be of doubtful value in a breeding program.

The influence of sex is also different for the two breeds, with the Boston having only a slight refinement in the bitch’s conformation, whereas the Frenchie calls for due allowance to be given in favor of bitches that do not bear the breed characteristics to the same marked degree as do the dogs. This does not mean that a bitch should be favored over a dog in the ring, but rather that a bitch should look like a bitch and a dog should look like a dog.

 

Head

Both breeds are considered "head” breeds. The French Bulldog’s head is large and square when viewed from the front. "Large” is in relative proportion to the body, bearing in mind that this is a moderate breed. And in fact, the head and underjaw are the only two "squares” foundº in the Frenchie standard. The Boston’s head is also square, but flat on top and free from wrinkles, with flat cheeks, and an abrupt brow with a well-defined stop. The Frenchie standard calls for a well-defined stop that causes a groove between the eyes, but unlike the Boston, it has heavy wrinkles that form a soft roll over the extremely short nose. Another significant difference between the two heads is that the Boston’s head is flat through the forehead, whereas the Frenchie’s is slightly rounded. The Frenchie’s head layback in profile extends from the tip of the underjaw through the slightly up-tilted nose to the top of the stop from which it rounds slightly to the top skull. It is unfortunate that we are seeing apple-headed Frenchies with overly rounded top skulls.

The Boston’s ears are small, carried erect and either natural or cropped to conform to the shape of the head. The Frenchie’s ear, known as the "bat ear,” is naturally erect, rounded at the top and broad at the base, carried with the orifice toward the front and set not too close together. The ear is moderate in size, neither too large nor too small, but in proportion to the size of the head. The Frenchie’s ears are ideally set high on the head at approximately 11 and 1 o’clock. The top skull of both breeds is flat between the ears. The Boston has no ear DQs; the Frenchie has a DQ for any ear other than a bat ear.

The Frenchie’s eyes are round in form and of moderate size, neither bulging nor sunken. They are preferably dark in color and set low down in the skull as far from the ears as possible. In lighter-colored dogs, a lighter eye is acceptable. While more pleasing, pigmented eye rims are not required by the standard. In contrast, the Boston Terrier has large, round and dark eyes set wide apart, with blue eyes or any trace of blue in the eye disqualifying.

Moving to the nose, which in the Boston is black and wide with a well defined line between the nostrils. A Dudley nose disqualifies. The Frenchie’s nose is black and extremely short with broad nostrils and a well defined line between them. A nose other than black is a Frenchie disqualification except in the case of lighter-colored dogs, where a lighter-colored nose is acceptable but not desirable. "Lighter-colored dogs” refers to creams and self-masked fawns whose nose color can typically range from black to self-colored. However, there must still be some pigment and without pink spots, as that would be a multicolored nose, which would disqualify. Black-masked fawns (and BMF pieds) are not lighter-colored and must have a black nose. Brindle pieds are also not lighter-colored, as the pied gene is a pattern gene, and they are actually patterned, brindle dogs that must have a black nose. Cream and white pieds or "honey pieds” would be considered lighter-colored because their base color is cream or self-masked fawn.

The Boston’s muzzle is short, square, wide, deep and in proportion to the skull. It is free from wrinkles, shorter in length than in width or depth, and not exceeding in length approximately one-third of the length of the skull. The muzzle from stop to end of the nose is parallel to the top of the skull. The Frenchie’s muzzle is typically shorter in length than the Boston’s, and is broad, deep and well laid back, with well developed cheek muscles. Its extremely short nose results in an extremely short muzzle. Both breeds have broad, square underjaws which in the Frenchie is deep, undershot and well turned up. In the Boston, the underjaw is level or sufficiently undershot to square the muzzle, without the upturn called for in the Frenchie. In both breeds, the flews should cover the teeth when the mouth is shut.

 

Body

Boston Frenchie Side
LeftL A lovely bitch with good head and natural ears, level topline with rounded croup and low tail set. Note the square proportions. Markings far exceed the required but are a bit shy of the preferred. Photo Sosa. Right: A French Bulldog bitch showing good head, front, topline and proportions. Note the refinement in comparison to the male (shown above).
 

The Boston must possess a short enough back to square off the body. The topline is level, with the rump curving slightly to the set-on of the tail. The shoulders are sloping and well laid back, with straight forelegs, set moderately wide apart and in line with the upper tip of the shoulder blades, allowing for the Boston’s stylish movement. The Boston does not possess the broad, deep, full chest of the Frenchie and has a much narrower front. The Frenchie’s body is pear-shaped, broad at the shoulders and narrowing to the loin. A "square” is formed under the Frenchie’s chest and inside of the straight, muscular forelegs. This area is rectangular in the Boston.

While the Boston’s topline is level, the Frenchie’s roached topline has a slight fall close behind the shoulders and rises to the loin. Although not detailed in the standard, the topline description in the Bulldog standard is applicable:

"Topline — There should be a slight fall in the back, close behind the shoulders (its lowest part), whence the spine should rise to the loins (the top of which should be higher than the top of the shoulders), thence curving again more suddenly to the tail, forming an arch (a very distinctive feature of the breed), termed ‘roach back.’”

It is unfortunate that we often see Frenchies with level Boston toplines and Bostons with roached Frenchie toplines in the ring. A correct topline is probably one of the most difficult characteristics to breed, which is why we find such variety. If either breed has a correct topline, it will likely have a correct low tail set. The Frenchie’s tail, like the Boston’s, is either straight or screwed, and is set low and carried low. The Boston tail must not be carried above the horizontal, and neither should the Frenchie’s. A docked tail is a disqualification in both breeds, as it would be considered an alteration in the Frenchie. Correct set and carriage in both breeds are more important than actual tail length, and in the Frenchie the tail may be so short as to almost not be apparent; however, there will still be a tail. In almost 40 years of owning and breeding Frenchies, I have never seen a Frenchie with an ingrown tail.

The Frenchie’s forelegs are short, stout, straight, muscular and set wide apart. "Short” must again be taken in its historical context, when the Frenchie was a much rangier, longer-legged dog. Although Frenchies are not a square breed, they should also not be reminiscent of caterpillars, with long bodies and overly short legs. Such dogs are often achondroplastic dwarfs and must never be rewarded in the show ring. The Frenchie’s hindquarters are strong and muscular and slightly longer than the forelegs such as to elevate the loins above the withers.

The Boston’s forequarters are well laid back, with sloping shoulders, which allows for the Boston’s stylish movement. The forelegs are straight in bone and, unlike the Frenchie, are set only moderately wide apart, resulting in a narrower-appearing dog. Hindquarters have strong, well-muscled thighs, with good bend of stifle and short hocks; straight stifles are a fault. The Frenchie standard does not mention rear angulation, but being a moderate breed, they should neither be over-angulated nor straight behind. Moderate angulation allows the free, vigorous and unrestrained movement called for in the standard.

 

Movement

The Boston Terrier is a sure-footed, straight-gaited dog, with both the forelegs and hind legs moving straight ahead in line with perfect rhythm, each step indicating grace and power. With this description and being similar in width both in front and behind, the Boston will double track, with crossing over at either end being a serious fault.

The Frenchie standard describes the gait as double tracking with reach and drive; the action is unrestrained, free and vigorous. Double tracking in the Frenchie, however, is quite different from the Boston because the Frenchie is pear shaped with broad shoulders and a narrower loin. In a mature Frenchie, the front legs will move wider than the rear, creating a wide set of tracks, while the hind legs will track narrower, creating a narrower set of tracks. These two sets of tracks, or the Frenchie’s "double tracking,” is different from what we would see in the Boston and many other breeds.

The Frenchie standard does not mention a roll, but given his ancestry, a very slight roll is often seen. The Bulldog’s loose-jointed, shuffling, sideways motion, which gives it the characteristic "roll,” is totally incorrect in the Frenchie. But this very moderate action can still be compatible with the Frenchie’s (and Bulldog’s) unrestrained, free and vigorous action. The Boston, by contrast, should not exhibit any type of roll and is more straight-gaited and terrier-like in its movement.

 

Coat, Color and Markings

Both the Boston’s and Frenchie’s coats are short, smooth, bright and fine in texture. The Frenchie’s skin is soft and loose, forming wrinkles in the head and shoulders. Again, the Frenchie standard describes a "moderate” breed; the wrinkling should be moderate and never overdone or reminiscent of a different breed.

The Boston is a brindle, seal or black dog with white markings. Solid colors without the required markings or any color not described in the standard are disqualifications. The required markings are a white blaze between the eyes, white muzzle band and white on the forechest. The desired markings are a white muzzle band, an even white blaze between the eyes and over the head, a white collar, white forechest, and white on part or whole of forelegs and hind legs below the hocks.

The Frenchie comes in a variety of colors, and all colors are equally acceptable except for those that constitute a disqualification. The disqualifying colors are black & tan, liver, mouse (blue), solid black, black and white or white with black (black meaning without a trace of brindle). Mouse can be seen as a brindle, mouse pied or mouse-masked fawns, but being a dilute, all will have a lighter nose, which will also disqualify. Markings, ticking and patterns are not described in the standard, although brindle and white, and fawn and white pied patterns are common in the breed, with or without ticking. The evenness of the pied pattern or markings is not described, thus all are equally acceptable. Dogs of both breeds that are of allowed color and markings should be judged as though colorless, emphasizing only structure.

 

Temperament

The Boston Terrier is a friendly, expressive and lively dog. He is intelligent with an excellent disposition — truly the American Gentleman. The French Bulldog is generally active, alert and playful — truly the Clown in the Cloak of the Philosopher. The differences between the Boston and the Frenchie are both subtle and profound, but there’s one thing the breeds irrefutably have in common: Both will always bring a smile to your face.

 

From the June 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Boston Terrier and the French Bulldog

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Jennie   klamathfalls, Oregon

7/26/2014 10:34:09 AM

I am looking to adopt a frenchie for a family pet doesnt have to be akc regesterd and I dont want to pay alot if any are out there please email me at gypsyjennieb@hotmail.com thanx p.s preferably close by thanx again .

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RJ   San Diego, California

6/12/2014 12:59:46 PM

This might be blasphemous to lovers of purebred Frenchies and Bostons, but my dog is actually half French Bulldog and half Boston Terrier. I constantly get asked if she's one or the other since she has many of the defining traits of each breed. She has the square shaped, wrinkled face with the "bat ears" of the French but at the proportion of a Boston. She has the Boston markings and color, but more of the French body shape. I always say she has the Boston disposition because they have more energy and enthusiasm than Frenchies in my opinion.

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