Information about the Boxer

Developed in Germany, the Boxer is a breed of stocky, medium-sized, short-haired dog. The coat is smooth and fawn or brindled, with or without white markings. Boxers are brachycephalic (they have broad, short skulls), and have a square muzzle, mandibular prognathism (an underbite), very strong jaws and a powerful bite ideal for hanging on to large prey. The Boxer was bred from the Old English Bulldog and the now extinct Bullenbeisser and is part of the Molosser group.

Boxers were first exhibited in a dog show for St. Bernards in Munich in 1895, the first Boxer club being founded the next year. Based on 2011 American Kennel Club statistics, Boxers are the seventh most popular breed of dog in the United States for the second year in a row, moving down from sixth where they were ranked for the previous three years.

The head is the most distinctive feature of the Boxer. The breed standard dictates that it must be in perfect proportion to the body and above all it must never be too light. The greatest value is to be placed on the muzzle being of correct form and in absolute proportion to the skull. The length of the muzzle to the whole of the head should be a ratio of 1:3. Folds are always present from the root of the nose running downwards on both sides of the muzzle, and the tip of the nose should lie somewhat higher than the root of the muzzle. In addition a Boxer should be slightly prognathous, i.e., the lower jaw should protrude beyond the upper jaw and bend slightly upwards in what is commonly called an underbite or “undershot bite”.

Boxers were originally a docked and cropped breed, and this tradition is still maintained in some countries. However, due to pressure from veterinary associations, animal rights groups and the general public, both cropping of the ears and docking of the tail have been prohibited in many countries around the world. A line of naturally short-tailed (bobtail) Boxers was developed in the United Kingdom in anticipation of a tail docking ban there; after several generations of controlled breeding, these dogs were accepted in the Kennel Club (UK) registry in 1998, and today representatives of the bobtail line can be found in many countries around the world. However, in 2008, the FCI added a “naturally stumpy tail” as a disqualifying fault in their breed standard, meaning those Boxers born with a bobtail are no longer able to be shown (or, in some cases, bred) in FCI member countries. In the United States and Canada as of 2011, cropped ears are still more common in show dogs. In March 2005 the AKC breed standard was changed to include a description of the uncropped ear, but to severely penalize an undocked tail.

The Boxer is a short-haired breed, with a shiny, smooth coat that lies tight to the body. The recognized colors are fawn and brindle, and/or white; Often with a white underbelly and white on the feet. These white markings, called flash, often extend onto the neck or face, and dogs that have these markings are known as “flashy”. “Fawn” denotes a range of color, the tones of which may be described variously as light tan or yellow, reddish tan, mahogany or stag/deer red, and dark honey-blonde. In the UK and Europe, fawn Boxers are typically rich in color and are often called “red”. “Brindle” refers to a dog with black stripes on a fawn background. Some brindle Boxers are so heavily striped that they give the appearance of “reverse brindling”, fawn stripes on a black body; these dogs are conventionally called “reverse brindles”, but that is actually a misnomer, they are still fawn dogs with black stripes. In addition, the breed standards state that the fawn background must clearly contrast with or show through the brindling, so a dog that is too heavily brindled may be disqualified by the breed standard. The Boxer does not carry the gene for a solid black coat color and therefore purebred black Boxers do not exist.

Boxers with white markings covering more than one-third of their coat – conventionally called “white” Boxers – are neither albino nor rare; approximately 20-25% of all Boxers born are white. Genetically, these dogs are either fawn or brindle, with excessive white markings overlying the base coat color. Like fair-skinned humans, white Boxers have a higher risk of sunburn and associated skin cancers than colored Boxers. The extreme piebald gene, which is responsible for white markings in Boxers, is linked to congenital sensorineural deafness in dogs. It is estimated that about 18% of white Boxers are deaf in one or both ears, though Boxer rescue organizations see about double that number. In the past, breeders often euthanized white puppies at birth; today, most breeders place white puppies in pet homes with spay/neuter agreements. White Boxers are disqualified from conformation showing by the breed standard, although in 2010, the German Boxer Club opened up an exhibition-only conformation class for white Boxers. They are prohibited from breeding by every national Boxer club in the world, but can compete in non-conformation events such as obedience and agility, and like their colored counterparts do quite well as service and therapy dogs.

The character of the Boxer is of the greatest importance and demands the most solicitous attention. He is renowned from olden times for his great love and faithfulness to his master and household. He is harmless in the family, but distrustful of strangers, bright and friendly of temperament at play, but brave and determined when aroused. His intelligence and willing tractability, his modesty and cleanliness make him a highly desirable family dog and cheerful companion. He is the soul of honesty and loyalty, and is never false or treacherous even in his old age.

Boxers are a bright, energetic and playful breed and tend to be very good with children. They are active, strong dogs and require adequate exercise to prevent boredom-associated behaviors such as chewing, digging, or licking. Boxers have earned a slight reputation of being “headstrong,” which can be related to inappropriate obedience training. Owing to their intelligence and working breed characteristics, training based on corrections often has limited usefulness. Boxers, like other animals, typically respond better to positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training, an approach based on operant conditioning and behaviorism, which offers the dog an opportunity to think independently and to problem-solve. Stanley Coren’s survey of obedience trainers, summarized in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, ranked Boxers at #48 – average working/obedience intelligence. Many who have worked with Boxers disagree quite strongly with Coren’s survey results, and maintain that a skilled trainer who uses reward-based methods will find Boxers have far above-average intelligence and working ability.

The Boxer by nature is not an aggressive or vicious breed but, when provoked, is a formidable guardian of any family or home and, like all dogs, requires socialization. Boxers are generally patient with smaller dogs and puppies, but difficulties with larger adult dogs, especially those of the same sex, may occur. Boxers are generally more comfortable with companionship, in either human or canine form.

The Boxer is part of the Molosser dog group, developed in Germany in the late 19th century from the now extinct Bullenbeisser, a dog of Mastiff descent, and Bulldogs brought in from Great Britain. The Bullenbeisser had been working as a hunting dog for centuries, employed in the pursuit of bear, wild boar, and deer. Its task was to seize the prey and hold it until the hunters arrived. In later years, faster dogs were favored and a smaller Bullenbeisser was bred in Brabant, in northern Belgium. It is generally accepted that the Brabanter Bullenbeisser was a direct ancestor of today’s Boxer. In 1894, three Germans by the names of Friedrich Robert, Elard Konig, and R. Hopner decided to stabilize the breed and put it on exhibition at a dog show. This was done in Munich in 1895, and the next year they founded the first Boxer Club, the Deutscher Boxer Club. The Club went on to publish the first Boxer breed standard in 1902, a detailed document that has not been changed much to this day.
Friedrich Robert and his Boxer, 1894

The breed was introduced to other parts of Europe in the late 19th century and to the United States around the turn of the 20th century. The American Kennel Club (AKC) registered the first Boxer in 1904, and recognized the first Boxer champion, Dampf vom Dom, in 1915. During World War I, the Boxer was co-opted for military work, acting as a valuable messenger dog, pack-carrier, attack dog, and guard dog. It was not until after World War II that the Boxer became popular around the world. Taken home by returning soldiers, they introduced the dog to a wider audience and soon became a favorite as a companion, a show dog, and a guard dog.