Written by Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT, Director, Special Projects, ASPCA Animal Sciences
Imagine fifty to seventy-five pounds of muscle enthusiastically bounding up to greet you when you walk through the door. Or the gentle snorting and snoring of a black-masked, short-faced charmer curled up at your side. How about the impish grin and merry dark eyes of an athletic food thief caught standing on your countertop when attempting to help himself to a forbidden treat? Whether you're planning to train yours to do search and rescue work or merely be a family companion, life with a Boxer is never dull!
Exactly when the Boxer came to be is hard to nail down. The breed can trace its history back to the early dogs of war - the Molossians - along with others in the mastiff family. These were the ancestors of the Bullenbeissers (bull-biters) -- dogs used to hunt down bear, boar, deer and bison on German noble estates, holding the prey until huntsmen could arrive and make the kill. In Brabant, Belgium, a line of smaller Bullenbeissers was developed through natural selection. The resulting dogs were a more compact size and, thus, a better fit to live inside and serve as family guardian. Prior to 1830, all sizes of Bullenbeissers were the traditional color/pattern of yellow or yellow striped with black- colors we recognize today as fawn and brindle - often accompanied by a black mask. Around this time, there was an influx of English bulldogs into Germany and it is surmised that the inter-breeding of Brabanter Bullenbeisser with bull-baiting bulldogs resulted in the first Boxers. Both breeds were similar in form and handled similar work. (The Bullenbeisser became the butcher's dog after the demise of the noble estates resulting from the Napoleonic wars.) The bulldog is credited - or should I say discredited - with introducing the white color into the breed. To this very day, white Boxers or those with "excessive flash" (mostly white) are not desirable and for years, have not been deemed registerable by the parent club, the American Boxer Club.
The first Boxer club was formed in Munich in 1895 and there, members drew up the first breed standard. The breed was recognized in this country by the American Kennel Club in 1904. Early Boxers looked similar to pit bulls and early Boston terriers; but by the early decades of the 20th century, the breed's form was refined to the silhouette we see today. The Boxer has a deep chest but is not as broad as his "bullier" relatives and appears square in his proportions. The short, close-fitting coat makes grooming a breeze. A dozen quick strokes with a rubber curry brush outdoors once a week will keep shedding down to a minimum. The breed's thick, padded upper lip fills out the frontal space created by the projection of the undershot lower jaw which protrudes out and angles up a bit. The black nose tilts back slightly and the dark brown eyes are made more expressive by dark pigment around the eye rims. Traditionally, the lovely moderate earflaps of the Boxer have been cropped to give a fiercer countenance for the guard work for which it was once employed; but today more Boxers' ears are being left au natural. However, most tails are still docked.
The Boxer's nature could be summed up as a stubborn individualist. There is a fair amount of diversity in the breed. Some are solemn watchdogs, while others are friendly to a fault. Some are relatively low-key, while others don't ever seem to be able to get enough exercise. Most are tolerant of the rough handling of children, but their power and vivaciousness may bowl over toddlers. Aggression directed toward other dogs and small household pets is seen in some Boxers. While they are bright dogs, obedience does not come easily to the breed. Begin training early, as they will only get more stubborn as they mature. This stubbornness and the high exercise needs of some Boxers lead certain breed experts to conclude that the Boxer is too much dog for the average household. Yet, they are quite in demand currently and are among the top ten most popular breeds of purebred dog.
The Boxer is physically fashioned for a moderate climate. His short coat does not protect him from freezing temperatures and his short muzzle puts him at risk for over-heating during the dog days of summer. He needs to be an indoor companion both because of his climate sensitivities and his strong desire to be with his people. Left isolated outdoors, he will try every trick (digging, fence climbing) to reunite with his family.
Healthwise, the Boxer is prone to the problems commonly seen in large purebred dogs: hip dysplasia, digestive problems, bloat, hypothyroidism and skin tumors. Two heart problems are of specific concern to the breed: subaortic valvular stenosis and cardiac conductive disease (AKA Boxer cardiomyopathy). Life span estimates differ depending on the resource one consults - one cites 8-10 years, another 11-14 years.
Approximately 25% of the puppies born to parents having white markings are solid white or nearly so. These pups have a much higher chance of being born deaf in one or both ears. This is caused by the lack of pigment in the skin lining of the ear canals resulting in the loss of sensory hairs at 6-8 weeks of age. White puppies also fall victim to sunburn. Since the American Boxer Club forbids registering, selling or breeding white Boxers, they are more apt to end up at shelters or with rescue groups.
One final note: If you are thinking a Boxer mix might be to your liking, please be aware that many shelter dogs listed as Boxer mixes are actually bulldog, or more likely, pit bull mixes. As you can see from the history, the bull breeds shared common ancestors and mixes are hard to tell apart unless you know the fine points of the conformation of each breed. Bulldog and Boxer mixes share the same stubbornness, whereas Boxer and pit bull mixes both demand a serious commitment to exercise. If you live in a community that has breed-specific bans against American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers and/or American Pit Bull Terriers, it is most important that your selection truly be a Boxer mix to avoid legal challenges and heartache.