The boxer is a versatile breed that can serve as a protector, worker, or companion. A breed in the bulldog family that traces its origins to Germany, boxers were once trained as versatile working dogs for a variety of jobs. Today, they make adaptable family pets known for their fondness of play and their protective nature.
The origins of the boxer’s name are a point of contention. Some breed experts believe it derived from the German word boxl, which was associated with their role in butcher shops and slaughter houses. Others contend that the breed’s moniker emerged from its habit of using its front paws extensively when fighting and playing, which reminded observers of boxers.
The boxer is a medium-sized working dog with a short back and a squared muscular physique. It has an impressive musculature and a firm yet agile gait. The breed shares the short coat typical of the bulldog family. However, unlike the modern bulldogs, the boxer is sleeker and less compact, with longer, more gracile legs and a much smoother musculature.
The breed’s most distinctive feature is its short, broad muzzle and wide face. The American Kennel Club’s breed standard holds that the breed’s muzzle must be half the length of its skull. The face is often noted for its wrinkles—a feature the boxer shares with many bulldog breeds.
Boxers traditionally have their tails docked and their ears cropped. This aesthetic practice—responsible for the general pointy-eared appearance of the mature animal—has begun to fall out of favor. Left intact, boxers would have floppy ears. Despite their more pleasant demeanors, the boxer retains its imposing and rugged appearance.
Boxer puppies mature very slowly. They become fully grown after three years, one of the longest puppyhoods among dogs. They live on average between 10 to 12 years.
Males stand approximately at 23 to 25 inches (58.42 to 63.5 cm) and typically weigh about 70 (31.75 kg) whereas females are much smaller at 21 to 23.5 inches (53.34 to 59.69 cm) and weigh at about 60 pounds (27.22 kg).
Despite having fighting dogs in their genetic lineage, the boxer is often friendly and even-tempered, lacking most of the aggressive tendencies of their ancestors. Their gentleness, however, belies a strong protective instinct that make them terrific guard dogs.
The boxer’s fun-loving personality sets it apart from other working dogs. Owners tend to describe their dogs as silly, owing to their energetic and affectionate personalities. Often, young boxers are as eager to play as they are to protect, and they make fast friends with any children in the household.
Although most boxers seem to lose much of their hyperactive demeanor as they enter middle age in favor of a more mellow personality, they almost always retain their gentle temperament and protective nature all throughout their lives.
Boxers do not dig much and will not need to be trained away from inappropriate digging behavior. They do, however, tend to drool profusely. They are also known to snore and snort often. This is a consequence of their shorter muzzles compared with other dog breeds.
In addition, boxers are independent minded and are known to solve problems by themselves. They demand constant stimulation and require a more creative approach to training. A boxer is ideal for a confident, take-charge owner who can be both firm and fun.
The boxer is a dog best suited for an active household. Playtime should be active, engaging, and frequent. Daily 30-minute walks should be done every day, and fetch and other physically demanding games should be part of their everyday schedule. In addition to basic exercise, owners can also keep their boxers active through dog sports such as agility or flyball.
Boxers are remarkably adaptable dogs and can, with the appropriate amount of training and exercise, flourish in a sizeable-enough urban apartment as an entirely indoor dog. They also do well in country estates and farms, where there are plenty of opportunities for them to run around and play.
The breed’s temperature sensitivity should be considered when planning outdoor activities. Because of their low heat tolerance, boxers should be walked during the coolest part of a summer day. Likewise, playtime with the boxer should be indoors during the winter months.
Boxers are fast and agile runners and should not be permitted to run loose outdoors. They should be constantly leashed during walks and kept in fenced areas during outdoor play. Training is pivotal in diverting the breed’s energy early on in life.
Boxers are sociable animals that respond well to affectionate play and positive reinforcement. Their independent and inquisitive natures must be considered when devising a training program.
The boxer is not a breed that responds well to disciplinarian methods of dog training. The headstrong nature of the breed means that they are often willing to challenge anyone who antagonizes them. They will show their insubordination through non-responsiveness.
In addition, boxers also get bored easily with repetitive training. To train a boxer, one would need to think quickly and creatively to help keep them adequately entertained when training. This extra effort pays off well; boxers are fast learners and can pick up tricks and commands rather quickly. When appropriately trained, boxers perform phenomenally in many dog sports, including agility competitions, rallies, and obedience tests.
It usually takes about 4 to 7 months to fully housetrain a boxer, with some taking a bit longer. It is important to train boxers at an early age, as this helps bring a sense of control to the breed’s legendary boundless energy. Enrolling them in a puppy kindergarten early on is highly recommended.
Socialization is a key part of early training for boxers. When trained and socialized early in their lives, they immediately respond well to visitors and family members while remaining competent guard dogs.
Controlling the breed’s well-known energy is also a crucial component of early training. Among the first commands that boxers should be taught is “down,” which can help keep their jumping behavior from becoming problematic.
The boxer has had a storied history that encompasses a proud hunting lineage. It is a descendant of a line of European hunting dogs known as the bullenbaiser—specifically a smaller variety that ultimately hailed from Belgium. These dogs were first attested in the 16th Century.
The founding ancestors of the bullenbaiser themselves are thought to have come from the hunting dogs raised by the ancient Assyrian Empire in the Middle East and the fighting dogs that were first bred in the Tibetan plateau.
The boxer’s ancestors were originally raised as part of the retinue of the lavish hunting parties held by nobles in what would now become Germany. The name Bullenbaiser (“bull biter” in German) referred to bull-baiting, a popular medieval sport where dogs were set loose to attack a tethered bull.
Sweeping cultural and political changes during the unification of Germany spelled the end of the boar hunts of the German rural nobility. By 1865, the bullenbaiser was an endangered breed without a purpose.
While the founding bloodlines of the breed can trace its origins to antiquity, it was in the 19th Century in Munich, Germany, that what we now recognize as the boxer was standardized.
The first true boxers were bred by Georg Alt, who crossed a female bullenbaiser with a dog of unknown origins. The old bullenbaiser was reinforced with admixtures of bulldogs, mastiffs, and perhaps Great Danes and terriers. In 1894, three Germans—Roberth, Konig, and Hopner—stabilized the breed, which was later introduced to the general public in 1895 in a Munich dog show.
Boxers today are still very closely related to other bulldog-type breeds. They were recognized as a distinct breed by the American Kennel Club in 1904 but only took off in popularity in the United States at around the 1930s and 1940s in the wake of the World Wars.
The breed was used extensively in the war effort, and many of the dogs brought over by the returning American soldiers had become mascots of their divisions. Their popularity in the United States truly kicked off when a boxer, Bang Away, won best in show in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Competition in 1951. Today, they are the 8th most popular dog among American families, being staple fixtures in dog shows and in family homes.
Over time, they became largely working dogs. Boxers were frequently employed in slaughterhouses as butcher’s helpers, assisting them in keeping cattle under control. They also worked as guard dogs, hunting dogs, and couriers, and were among the first breeds used as police dogs in Germany. Today, boxers also work as members of search-and-rescue teams and as therapy animals for people with disabilities.
Common Health Problems
Boxers are vulnerable to a host of heritable diseases and may have a genetic predisposition to several types of cancers. In addition, the brachycephalic nature of the breed makes them prone to heat stress. A boxer diagnosed with heritable diseases should not be bred.
The breed is exceptionally susceptible to developing mast cell tumors, brain tumors, and lymphoma. Skin cancer, meanwhile, is a present danger for white boxers and boxers with excessive white markings.
Hip dysplasia is a congenital condition where the thigh bone does not adequately fit into the hip joint, which can lead to arthritis further down the line. Symptoms include pain and lameness around one or both of the hind limbs.
Although the condition is usually inherited, it can sometimes develop through environmental factors such as injuries and growth spurts from high-calorie diets. Treatment varies from joint-health supplements to total hip replacement.
Boxers may also have congenital heart diseases such as aortic stenosis and cardiomyopathy. Aortic stenosis involves the narrowing of the aorta—a major blood vessel leading to the heart—which causes the heart to work harder than normal. Cardiomyopathy, meanwhile, involves a disorder in electrical conduction that leads the heart to beat irregularly. Both diseases require specialist diagnosis and can lead to sudden death.
Caused by hormone deficiencies, hypothyroidism can lead to a host of symptoms such as infertility, obesity, mental dullness, and lethargy. In addition, the affected dog’s coat may experience hair loss. A daily thyroid replacement pill can help manage hypothyroidism. Treatment must be done throughout the dog’s entire lifetime.
Also known as torsion or bloat, gastric dilation-volvulus is a potentially life-threatening condition that can develop in large-chested dogs like boxers. More common in older dogs, gastric dilation-volvulus occurs when the stomach becomes distended with gas and then twists, preventing the dog from expelling the excess gas or vomit and causing blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels.
Owners who suspect this condition should immediately send their dogs to a veterinarian. Lethargy, excessive salivation, and a distended abdomen are some of the symptoms of this condition.
The National Breed Club recommends the following list of health tests for boxers:
- AS\SAS cardio test
- Aortic valve disease test
- Boxer cardiomyopathy test
- ARVC DNA test
- Degenerative myelopathy DNA test
- Hip evaluation
- Elbow evaluation
- Thyroid evaluation
Members of this breed with white or piebald coats also have a genetic predisposition to deafness. This is caused by the absence of pigment cells in the inner ear, which has been linked to hearing loss in dogs. In the United States, approximately 18 percent of white boxers are affected with congenital hearing disorders.
Boxers are low-maintenance dogs. They do not require extensive grooming and need only basic daily dental hygiene and weekly brushing to maintain a healthy external appearance.
They do, however, require plenty of mental stimulation and exercise and cannot be left on their own for very long. Because they pant a lot, they should also receive ample amounts of clean, fresh water at all times to help them regulate their temperature in warm weather.
Despite their active and outgoing demeanors, boxers are not true “outdoor dogs” and fare poorly in the extremes of weather. Their shorthair coats provide inadequate insulation in extremely cool weather. Meanwhile, their short muzzles often interfere with their ability to pant, which make them prone to overheating during the summer months. When temperatures start to rise or fall beyond the average, the boxer should be brought indoors.
Boxers with lighter coloration—either entirely white or have many white markings—are susceptible to sunburns. Before going outdoors, owners of lighter-colored boxers should apply sunscreen on their ears, nose, and coat.
Nutrition and Feeding
Boxers will thrive on a diet comprising high quality dog food. Owners can feed boxers both commercially available dog food and home-made food prepared with a veterinarian’s supervision. Diet choices should be made based on their age.
Much like other dog breeds, boxers are vulnerable to obesity that comes with overeating. Watching their calorie consumption and weight gain is important to preventing them from becoming overweight. Treats—an important part of positive reinforcement—should be given in moderation.
Any changes in the boxer’s weight or diet should be discussed with a veterinarian.
Coat Color and Grooming
The standard boxer has a reddish-brown (fawn) or brindle shorthair coat. Although boxers with white coats and fawn or brindle markings are sometimes encountered, they are typically not recognized by kennel club as part of the standard. The standard facial markings include an all-black mask, a black mask with white markings, and all-white markings.
Boxers shed on occasion. They typically start shedding around springtime.
Grooming is a simple affair for boxers. Their short coats stay remarkably clean; they typically do not need professional attention. Barring messy accidents caused by mischief, most boxers would only ever need to be bathed on occasion. Boxers would typically need to be brushed with a rubber curry-brush or hound glove once or twice a week to keep their coats looking pristine. The wrinkles on their faces, meanwhile, must be periodically cleaned with a damp cloth to prevent dirt accumulation and skin infections.
Nail care is important for boxers. Although a boxer that receives regular exercise or walks on a hard surface may wear down their nails in a healthy manner, they would otherwise need to have their nails trimmed at least once a month to keep them in excellent condition.
Boxers are prone to tartar buildup. To maintain good dental health, they would need to have their teeth brushed often. Brushing at least once a day is recommended.
Children, Family Members, and Other Pets
The friendly temperament of the boxer makes them a popular choice for families with children. Well-trained boxers bond well with older children when socialized early on in their lives. Boxers are known for their fondness for children and become very protective of them.
Because of the boxer’s high-energy temperament, they are not an ideal pet for easily-overwhelmed young children or frail older adults, at least as puppies. The young boxer’s need for constant stimulation and exercise is not a good fit for those who live life in the slow lane. The more mellow temperament of adult boxers, on the other hand, make them ideal lapdogs and companions for both children and older adults.
In general, a well-socialized boxer is likely to get along well with cats, though this may vary between individual animals. Some boxers still retain a strong hunting instinct and will chase cats, which would need to be trained against, while others will adapt well to cats they grew up around. Boxers are also likely to have trouble adjusting to another dog in the house if they are of same sex. A household with another dog should opt to choose a boxer of the opposite sex to avoid conflicts.
One who has chosen a boxer should dedicate ample time and attention to giving them the attention they need. The breed is ideal for a family whose home is almost always occupied. Being around someone they can play with can go a long way in curbing potentially destructive behaviors.
The popularity of boxers as pets mean that they have often been bred irresponsibly by puppy mills. This issue, coupled with cases of neglect and abuse, mean that many boxers find themselves in rescue shelters. Rescue groups provide a reputable and humane alternative to purchasing from a breeder, often offering a modest selection of adoptable puppies and adults.
Shelters are the best option for finding adult boxers for adoption. In the United States, there are several rescue organizations specializing in finding homes for boxers and other specific breeds that often work on a local level. A few of the more prominent rescue centers are listed below:
- Bay Area Boxer Rescue
- Boxer Angels Rescue
- American Boxer Rescue Association
- Second Chance Boxer Rescue
- Boxer Buddies Rescue and Adoption
- Heart of Ohio Boxer Rescue
The American Boxer Club lists down more rescue groups specializing in boxers on its website.
The American Boxer Club is the chief parent breed club for the boxer in the United States and is recognized by the American Kennel Club. Founded in 1935, it witnessed the growth of the breed in the United States.
- Boxers have some of the longest tongues among dogs. The Guinness World Record holder for longest tongue on a dog belong to a boxer named Brandy. Brandy had a tongue with a length of 16.92 inches (43 cm). She lived with her owner in St. Claire Shores, MI, until her death in 2002.
- The peculiar shape of the boxer’s face and snout are breed features associated with their past as hunting dogs. Their squat snouts, undershot jaw, and strong teeth gives them a powerful bite, which would have helped them hold onto prey animals with a vicelike grip. Although usually seen as an aesthetic feature today, the wrinkles also played a role in hunting. They channeled away blood splatters.
- This was meant to help them not only bring down larger animals like boar, wisent, bears, and bulls but also helped them clutch their prey in their mouths. The short snout also helped them breathe while they held onto their catch.
- Boxers express their affection in a number of physical ways, many of which people find peculiar or endearing. Many boxers, for instance, jump around or leap onto a specific human they’ve grown fond of, a behavior that would need to be controlled through early training. Likewise, they may also display what most breed enthusiasts affectionately call the kidney bean dance, where the excited boxer moves its body back and forth in semicircles and start going in circles.
- The boxer is the favorite breed of classic Hollywood superstar couple Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The couple received their first boxer, whom they named Harvey, as a gift on their wedding. Harvey appeared extensively with the couple in many of their publicity photos. They then went on to acquire two more boxers, Baby and George.
- Despite their enduring popularity in America, the boxer is not among the best-represented dog breeds on the silver screen. While boxers were commonly featured in the earliest motion pictures, they are sparsely represented in today’s movies. Some of the more films that they have appeared in after the silent era include Kevin of the North, Good Boy, and the well-known Homeward Bound 2.
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