One of the most popular dogs in America, the Boxer was originally developed in Germany toward the end of the 19th Century. Boxers are descended from hunting dogs and general purpose working dogs but the breed’s primary modern purpose is companionship. While every individual dog is different, the Boxer breed is known for its loyal and playful nature, and this dog is considered one of the great clowns of the canine world. Boxer fanciers make an informal distinction between two major Boxer varieties, German Boxers and American Boxers; although dogs from both lines may freely interbreed and most major canine organizations do not make a formal distinction.
Although the Boxer is a relatively modern creation, not having been standardized into the modern breed until the last years of the 19th Century, the breed’s ancestors are several hundred, and perhaps several thousand years old. The Boxer is a member of a family of dog breeds which is sometimes known as the Mastiffs, Molossers, Alaunts, or Dogues. This family is known for having brachycephalic (pushed-in) faces, tremendous size, great strength, and a strong protective instinct. This family is quite ancient, between 2,000 and 7,000 years old depending on which origin story is to be believed. Because these dogs were created in a time long before written records were kept of dog breeding (and possibly before the invention of writing itself) very little is known of their origins. Most of these theories are little more than pure speculation, or the evidence supporting them is inconclusive at best. Some of the most prominent have these dogs being descended from ancient Eurasian livestock guarding dogs, Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian war dogs, Tibetan guard dogs, the Greco-Roman Molossus, the Celtic Pugnaces Brittaniae (possibly the English Mastiff), or a breed known as the Alaunt which was kept by a barbarian tribe known as the Alans who invaded the Roman Empire.
However it was that these dogs were first developed, by the fall of the Roman Empire they were found throughout Europe and the Near East. One of the places where they became most common and beloved was in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, an area which comprised most of the lands inhabited by German-speaking peoples (as well as several others). In more modern times, German speakers came to know the Mastiff-type dog as the Bullenbeiser, or Bull Biter, or more rarely the Barenbeiszer, or Bear Biter. Although most countries used Mastiffs as livestock or property guardians, Germans preferred to use the breed for hunting. These powerful dogs were used to bring down Europe’s most dangerous quarry; large and fearsome beasts such as the bear, boar, wolf, and bison. The original Bullenbeiser was probably very similar to other Mastiffs, especially those of Italy and France, although possibly more athletically built. At some point, the Bullenbeiser was crossed with some variety of sighthound to develop the Deutsche Dogge, better known in English as the Great Dane, which became a very accomplished hunter. The success of the Great Dane meant that there was a reduced need for giant Bullenbeisers, and the breed gradually shrunk in size.
At the time, Germany was divided into thousands of distinct polities, some only a few square miles in area. Many of these states had their own nobility, and many German nobles kept Bullenbeisers for hunting. The Bullenbeiser was pure bred for a number of centuries, although there were probably many distinct localized varieties. The breed was highly valued because of its toughness and likelihood for survival during a hunt. Whereas most dogs would be killed quickly by a boar, the Bullenbeiser was smart and tenacious enough to control the animal until it could be killed. In the 1700’s, John E. L. Riedinger of Augsburg was quoted as saying “The Doggen (Great Dane) and Bullenbeisser, however, knew instinctively how to tackle the game from behind and hold it in a way that kept them from serious injury yet gave the hunters time to reach the kill therefore they were more valuable to the hunt and were accordingly highly prized and painstakingly bred." Unfortunately, the breed did not have great tracking ability and scent hounds were used to locate the boar, often at the cost of their lives.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, social change gripped the German-speaking lands. Larger states began to unify the country at the expense of smaller ones. Additionally, new philosophies such as democracy and republicanism led to major disruptions in the established social order. The end result was that most of the pre-existing German nobility lost their traditional lands and rights. Similar changes were happening across Europe, and in many countries the hunting dogs of the nobility were no longer cared for and became extinct as a result. The Bullenbeiser, had it not been for its versatility and adaptability would likely have suffered that same fate. Well-suited to many other purposes besides hunting, the German nobility either gave or sold their Bullenbeisers to other members of other social classes who also found the breed to be useful fulfilling a variety of roles. The toughness and prey drive that made the Bullenbeiser a ferocious hunter of wild game also made it a skilled cattle drover and butcher’s dog. Workers in the German agricultural and meat industries began to use these dogs to drive cattle and other livestock wherever they were needed to go, to market, to the slaughterhouse, or into a different pen. The breed’s loyalty and protective instincts made it a popular choice as an urban guardian and occasionally as a police dog. The aggressive nature of the dog meant that it was sometimes used in blood sports such as bear baiting, bull baiting, and dog fighting. Because the Bullenbeiser was now kept by those who could not easily afford to keep a breed as large as a Mastiff (even a small one) the Bullenbeiser continued to shrink in size. By the early 1800’s, the Bullenbeiser had become a medium-sized dog which was very similar in appearance to the English Bulldog, which at that time was a very different animal. It has long been suggested that the Bullenbeiser and the English Bulldog had major influence on each other’s breeding, but any actual connection is now unclear. What is clear is that both breeds were brachycephalic, incredibly muscular, athletic, and aggressive.
During the 1800’s, one of the most distinct varieties of Bullenbeiser was a type supposedly developed in the Belgian city of Brabant. These dogs, known as Brabanters, were considerably smaller than most other Bullenbeisers, and traditionally had their ears cropped and tails docked. The smaller Brabanter became popular and slowly began to replace larger Bullenbeisers across Germany. The Brabanter’s rise in popularity coincided with the importation of foreign breeds into Germany. One of the most popular imports was the English Bulldog. These dogs were crossed with the Bullenbeiser to improve the tenacity and fearlessness of the breed. Some of the most notable side effects were the introduction of white coats and stockier bodies into Bullenbeiser lines. Prior to this time, all Bullenbeisers were either Brindle or Fawn with black markings. Other breeds were also crossed with Bullenbeisers, possibly including Bull Terriers and mixed-breed dogs. By the end of the 19th Century, the Bullenbeiser was considerably smaller and more variable in appearance than its ancestors.
In the mid-1800’s, dog shows became incredibly popular and there were movements to standardize and pedigree the many native breeds of Britain. This movement spread across the channel, first to France and then to Germany. At the time, Prussia had just completed the unification of most of the German-speaking regions creating the modern nation of Germany in the process. German nationalism was very high at the time and there was a strong drive to standardize and promote native German dog breeds. There was also a desire to create new and “perfect” breeds based on the recent scientific discoveries such as the Theory of Evolution. German breeders wanted to standardize the Bullenbeiser, as well as return the breed to its older form. These efforts were centered in the city of Munich, where the first Boxers were exhibited at a dog show in 1895 and the first Boxer club was founded later that year. This club created the first written Boxer standard between 1902 and 1904. These dogs were called Boxers and not Bullenbeisers, although the reason has been lost to history. While frequently claimed that the breed was named by a visiting Englishman, who noticed the breed’s propensity to stand on its rear legs and make punching motions with its forelegs, this is most likely not the case. There are instead two different, and equally likely, explanations. Boxer and Box had entered the German language from English at the time and were commonly used to describe punching or boxing, and the breed may have been named as a result. Alternatively, Boxer may have been the name of an individual dog or dogs, which early breeders favored. It is known that Boxer was a common dog name in both England and Germany at the time. To standardize the Boxer, German breeders selected the most desirable Bullenbeisers and English Bulldogs, as well as a few dogs of unknown origin. At first, the Boxer was probably about half Bullenbeiser (primarily from Brabanter lines) and half English Bulldog. However, breeders began to greatly favor the introduction of greater amounts of Bullenbeiser blood. This was done primarily to eliminate the white from the coat and to create a more athletic and lean dog. No doubt a certain amount of nationalist pride factored in as well. As was the case with many other German breeding efforts of the era, early Boxer breeders used a tremendous amount of inbreeding in their program, and most of today’s Boxers descend from a very small number of dogs. By the time of World War I, the Boxer was probably closer to 70% Bullenbeiser/other German breeds and 30% English Bulldog.
The first Boxers were exported to the United States in the closing years of the 19th Century. The American Kennel Club (AKC) was quick to recognize the breed as a member of the Working Group, granting the Boxer full recognition starting in 1904. However, the breed did not immediately catch on in its new homeland. Although imports continued until World War I, the breed remained quite rare. Among the most important of these early Boxers were a number of dogs from the Von Dom Kennels of Germany. This kennel was operated by Friederun and Philip Stockmann and beginning in 1910 produced some of the most influential of all Boxers. The Stockmanns’ dogs and their descendents comprise all four of the “Four Horsemen of Boxerdom,” the four Boxer sires who are considered the most influential in American Boxer breeding. The “Four Horsemen of Boxerdom” are Sigurd and his grand offspring Lustig, Utz, and Dorien. During World War I, the German Army co-opted the Boxer, which was already in use as a police dog. The Boxer served loyally and with distinction as a messenger, guard dog, attack dog, and beast of burden. American soldiers serving in Europe likely encountered Boxers, but the breed’s popularity in America was not much impacted by the war. This may be due to the great surge in popularity experienced by the German Shepherd, also introduced to the American public as a result of the Great War. Importations and breeding continued in the interwar years but the Boxer remained comparatively unpopular in the New World, although the American Boxer Club (ABC) was founded in 1935 to promote and protect the breed.
World War II resulted in a massive shift in the Boxer’s fate in America. As in World War I, the Boxer served the Germany Army in World War II, and in the same roles. For whatever reason, American troops were much more impressed with the breed in World War II and a number acquired these dogs in Germany and brought them home with them. Others who didn’t own one when they left Germany wanted to when they returned to America. The breed experienced a huge surge of popularity after World War II and has never given up its prominent place with in America since. In 1943, the ABC held its first breed specialty. In 1948, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the Boxer. The Boxer quickly earned a reputation for being intensely loyal and affectionate with its family, as well as being a silly and playful clown. For many years, the Boxer has ranked as one of the 10 most popular dog breeds in terms of AKC registrations, and has long been one of the most common dog breeds in the United States. Unfortunately, this popularity has not come without complications. A number of disreputable breeders have bred Boxers solely for the profit they believe that they can make from the puppies, with little or no regard for temperament, health, or conformation to standards. This has led to the creation of many Boxers with unstable temperaments, poor health, or who do not meet breed guidelines. Other well-intentioned but inexperienced breeders have also contributed to the problem. For these reasons prospective Boxer owners should carefully select a Boxer breeder before they acquire one of these dogs. Another major problem for the Boxer breed is that many families who are unfamiliar with these dogs acquire them without doing the proper research. Many of these Boxers end up in animal shelters or breed rescues when their owners discover that they are not capable or willing to meet the needs of this breed.
In recent years, there are increasing differences between American and German Boxer lines. These differences would probably not be especially noticeable to an average person but are quite noticeable to Boxer fanciers. German Boxers are generally more heavily built and have proportionately larger heads than their American counterparts. However, the two lines are considered to be the same breed by essentially all major canine organizations and offspring of crosses between the two are still considered purebred. While at the current time there is no major sentiment to formally separate the Boxer into two breeds, there may be in the not too distant future. There is also a division among Boxer fanciers as to the status of several Boxer color variations, primarily white Boxers. Boxer standards limit which colors are acceptable, with primarily white dogs excluded. There are a number of reasons for these exclusions, historical, aesthetic, and health (white Boxers are very frequently deaf in one or both ears. It was a traditional practice to euthanize all white Boxer puppies, but this is rarer now. Most kennel clubs find it highly undesirable to breed dogs that do not ideally conform to breed standards but some fanciers do so anyways. These fanciers have their own similar reasons, primarily aesthetic and health (larger gene pools usually means healthier dogs). While there isn’t much popular sentiment to separate non-conforming colored Boxers into their own breeds, it is possible that either such a movement will develop in the future or Boxer standards will change.
As it has for many years, the Boxer is currently one of the most popular breeds in America. In 2010, the Boxer ranked 7th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. The Boxer was developed as a multi-purpose working dog, and the breed serves many different roles today. Outside of the United States, a large number of Boxers serve as seeing eye dogs, police dogs, and military dogs, although other breeds are greatly favored for those purposes in America. Inside America’s borders, Boxers are regularly used as search and rescue dogs, service dogs for the handicapped, therapy dogs, and guard dogs. Boxers also compete at the highest levels of Obedience, Agility, Conformation, and Shutzhund Competitions, as well as being some of the most successful competitors in a number of canine sports such as flyball. Although the breed remains multi-talented and a very capable working dog, the vast majority of American Boxers now serve no other purpose besides companionship. Unlike many other working dogs, when Boxers are properly trained and cared for they make exceptional companion dogs and accept this role with great pleasure.
Due to its great popularity, the Boxer is among the most well-known and recognizable dogs in America. Although considered one of the smallest members of the Mastiff/Molosser family, this is only due to the immense size of breeds such as the English Mastiff and Saint Bernard and the Boxer is actually medium to large in size. AKC standards call for male Boxers to stand between 22½ and 25 inches tall at the shoulders, while UKC standards desire males to be at least 23 inches tall. Standards from both major kennel clubs call for the ideal female Boxer to stand between 21½ and 23½ inches tall at the shoulder. While Boxers should appear sturdy and muscular, they should never look thick. Rather this breed should appear fit and athletic, if not quite lean. The average male Boxer in good condition weighs between 60 and 70 pounds, and the average female Boxer weighs between 55 and 65 pounds. However, overweight and obese Boxers can weigh significantly more and a 100 pound Boxer is not unheard of. The Boxer is a squarely built dog and breeders put a special premium on balance and proportion. Everything about a Boxer’s appearance should suggest athleticism and capability, from its deep chest to its very well-developed musculature. The tail of the Boxer was traditionally docked to between one and three inches in length, and still is over most of America. However, this practice is falling into disfavor and is actually banned in some countries. The natural tail of the Boxer is quite variable in appearance. Most have long and narrow tails, but they range from being nearly straight to being sharply curved.
The Boxer is a brachycephalic breed, which means that it has a shortened or pushed-in face. The head of the Boxer is proportional to the size of the body, being neither too light nor too heavy. This head should be very square in appearance, with a flat skull. The muzzle of the Boxer is quite short, but not nearly to the extent of that of an English Bulldog or Pug. The ideal ratio of muzzle length to skull length is 1:2, meaning that the skull should be twice as long as the muzzle. The face of the Boxer is quite wrinkly, and the breed has definite jowls. However, these features are not overly exaggerated and should not extend to the head or neck. Boxers should have a pronounced under bite, but their teeth should not protrude when their mouths are closed (although those of some Boxers do). The eyes of this breed are of average size and not set deeply into the head. The ears of the Boxer were traditionally cropped and pricked so that they were quite narrow and stood straight up. As with tail docking, this practice is falling out of favor and is subject to legal bans. The natural ears of the Boxer are of medium length, drop down close to the cheeks, and are folded forwards. The overall expression of a Boxer is largely determined by the individual dog. Many appear friendly and happy-go-lucky, while others appear intense and intelligent.
The coat of the Boxer is short, smooth, shiny, and lies flat against the body. There is substantial dispute among Boxer fanciers as to the correct colors of this breed. All agree that the Boxer comes in at least two acceptable color varieties, fawn and brindle. Fawn dogs can be any shade from light tan to mahogany. Brindle Dogs can have a base color of anything from light yellow to dark red, with black stripes down their bodies. The striping may be anything from very light to so full that the dog almost appears black. Both fawn and brindle Boxers must always have a black mask, a marking of black fur that covers the entire muzzle and most of the face. Most Boxers also have black markings on the ears as well. Almost standards agree that some white is acceptable on Boxers, but only if less than 30% of the dog is white. White markings are most commonly seen on the feet, stomachs, and chests. Markings on the flanks or back are considered undesirable and the white should never take over the black mask. Boxers with proper white markings or no markings at all are treated equally in the show ring.
Many Boxers are born largely white, or almost entirely so. Such dogs do not meet kennel club standards and are considered undesirable for breeding but many fanciers prefer them. Boxers with large amounts of white on their coats but not enough to disqualify them in the show ring are sometimes referred to as, “Flashy,” Boxers. Sometimes Boxers are also born which are either almost entirely black or with black and white markings that resemble those of the Boston Terrier. Many of these Boxers are actually just very heavily brindled and are perfectly acceptable provided they do not have excessive white. However, dogs which are actually black are treated in the same manner as primarily white dogs and excluded from the show ring and breeding lines.
Proper temperament is of paramount importance to Boxer breeders and standards, and most reputable breeders work hard to produce dogs of sound and stable temperament. Unfortunately, commercial and inexperienced breeders have created dogs with unstable and often aggressive or fearful temperaments. As a result, anyone interested in acquiring a Boxer should carefully select a breeder or rescue group. Though as a whole, Boxers are known most for being loyal, affectionate, playful, inquisitive, and clownish.
A well-bred Boxer should be both a loving and affectionate family companion and a determined protector. Most Boxers are extremely affectionate with their families, many fawningly so. This can be a problem as Boxers often come to believe they are lap dogs and will try to be on top of their favorite people at all times. This breed is also known to suffer from severe separation anxiety. Boxers are known for their intense loyalty, and form very deep attachments with their family. Few Boxers are one person dogs, and will become close with every family member. The primary area where Boxers exhibit a range of temperaments is in how the breed deals with new people. Boxer standards call for this breed to be distrustful and suspicious of strangers, and in fact many Boxers are wary of new people. Boxers which have not been properly socialized may develop some aggression issues. However, many modern Boxers are not suspicious of anyone, and will eagerly greet and welcome any potential new friend.
Training is a must because Boxers are very likely to jump up on people otherwise. While almost all Boxers are very alert and make excellent watchdogs, the breed’s ability as a guard dog depends almost entirely on the individual dog. Some Boxers, especially those trained for protection, make excellent guard dogs. Others would lick an intruder to death before they would show any aggression. With proper training and socialization, Boxers are very well-regarded with children. These dogs are known for being both playful and gentle with children and often form very close attachments to them. Boxers often become devoted especially devoted guardians of their little friends. However, very young Boxers and very young children may not be the best housemates, but only because overly exuberant Boxer puppies may accidentally bowl over a child while playing.
One of the greatest areas of concern for Boxer owners is dog aggression, especially same-sex aggression. Many Boxers are highly intolerant of members of the same sex, especially unspayed or unneutered ones, to the point where they actively seek to engage in combat with them. It is most advisable that Boxers be kept in a household with a canine member of the opposite sex which is why so many Boxer owners have one male and one female. Proper training and socialization will greatly reduce any potential difficulties, but they may not eliminate them. These problems are much more severe with strange dogs, and many Boxers will at least begrudgingly tolerate a member of the same sex with which they are familiar. In addition to same-sex aggression it is not uncommon for Boxers to develop dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues, as well as general dog aggression.
Boxers are a typical breed when it comes to non-canine pets. Boxers which have been raised with the family cat will probably accept it as a member of the pack and will likely give it few problems. Boxers which have not been socialized with other animals are likely to pursue and potentially attack them. This breed has a relatively high prey drive (although not anywhere near that of a breed such as a Jack Russell Terrier or a Redbone Coonhound) and owners must work consistently with their dogs from a young age to control it. Always remember, a Boxer is a powerful and athletic breed which could seriously injure or even kill a small animal with little effort.
Boxers are a very trainable dog. This breed has been used for a number of tasks requiring intense training and great intelligence such as seeing eye and police work, and Boxers have regularly competed at the highest levels of obedience and agility competitions. Most (but certainly not all) Boxers are highly intelligent and capable of learning a great deal and quite rapidly. However, this breed does pose a number of steep training challenges. Boxers are known for being very stubborn. This breed absolutely does not live to please and prefers to do its own thing. Sometimes a Boxer will refuse to perform a task and that’s essentially the end. This breed also often has selectively listening or chooses not to obey. Many fanciers believe that these difficulties are easily resolved by changing the training method from a correction-based method to a rewards based method. Boxers are somewhat headstrong and resistant to correction but are generally very eager for any reward. As a result, any training regimen involving the Boxer should involve a heavy amount of positive reinforcement and treating.
As almost anyone who has encountered one of these dogs will attest, Boxers are very energetic and playful dogs. The average Boxer always ready to play, and quite eager to do so. Boxer owners must make a dedicated effort to providing their dogs with sufficient vigorous exercise. Boxers need at least one hour of exercise every day, and the more intense the workout the better. This breed needs a long, brisk walk at a minimum, and preferably time to run around in a safely enclosed space. Boxers do not usually make good jogging companions though, as the breed tends to become winded quite quickly. It is absolutely imperative that Boxers are allowed outlets to release their energy; otherwise they will develop health and behavioral issues. These dogs are very likely to become hyperactive, excessively excitable, vocal, aggressive, and intensely destructive. Behavioral problems caused by a lack of exercise are almost certainly the reason they majority of abandoned Boxers end up in animal shelters. Once Boxers have gotten the exercise that they need, most will calm down substantially indoors. However, a Boxer is never a truly calm dog. Although accepting of a walk or a run, most Boxers prefer to get their exercise from play, game, or other activity that will work out their mind as well as their body. Boxers love games such as fetch and excel at competitions such as agility. The activity level of the Boxer is very desirable to many families. Owners who are looking for an active dog that will accompany them on any activity from hiking in the mountains to fishing on the ocean will likely be a good match for the Boxer as this eager breed is always ready to have some fun.
Potential owners need to be aware that the Boxer is not a breed for the fastidious or easily embarrassed. The Boxer is a very “doggy” dog. Breed members like to roll around in the mud, run through the dirt, jump into piles of leave, and then track it all into the house and lay on the sofa. Boxers also drool a great deal. Boxer owners must accept that these dogs will occasionally fling drool all over the place in their excitement. Most breed members are also very messy eaters and drinkers who will leave trails from their bowls to the living room. More disconcerting for most owners is the vast array of unusual sounds and emissions that this dog makes. The shortened-face of the Boxer means that these dogs snort, grunt, and wheeze, which may be disconcerting. The average Boxer snores, both loudly and frequently. The greatest problem results from the Boxer’s flatulence. Boxers pass gas with both more frequency and potency than most other dogs of a similar size which can be highly unpleasant for anyone in the room.
The short coat of the Boxer is very low maintenance. This breed should never require professional grooming; only a regular brushing is necessary. This breed also should only be bathed when necessary to prevent the removal of beneficial natural oils and chemicals. Owners should regularly clean the wrinkles on the face and the ears to prevent the accumulation of dirt, grime, food, water, and other particles which can lead to irritation and infection.
The Boxer is known to suffer from a number of very serious health problems and many of these dogs have very short lifespans. Different sources give different estimated life expectancies for Boxers, ranging from 8 to 14 years. A health survey conducted in the United Kingdom indicated that the median age of death of Boxers was 9.8 years. The leading causes of death were cancer which was responsible for 38.5% of Boxer deaths, old age which was responsible for 21.5% of Boxer deaths, and cardiac and gastrointestinal problems at 6.9% each. Of greater concern to many Boxer breeders is the fact that the average life expectancy of Boxers seems to be decreasing, largely due to increasing cancer and heart problem rates. Boxers suffer from most health problems common to purebred dogs in general (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, etc.) and brachycephalic dogs in particular (wheezing, shortness of breathe, etc.), as well as having a number of breed specific problems. While Boxer breeders are working with veterinarians and geneticists to solve these problems, they remain a long ways off.
Cancer is the health problem of greatest concern to Boxer owners. This breed suffers from higher cancer rates than almost any other breed. This breed suffers from very high rates of many different cancers, most of which are potentially fatal. Boxers are also particularly susceptible to benign tumors as well as cancerous ones. As is the case with humans, cancer is caused by the rapid growth of abnormal cells. The causes of cancer are not entirely understood, and environmental factors are known to play a major role in the development of many cancers. However, genetics is one of the leading causes of many cancers. The treatment options for a Boxer with cancer vary depending on the type and location of the cancer, as long as the point at which it is detected. However, most are expensive and uncomfortable for the dog and often only prolong the dog’s life for a short time.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have it prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems experienced by Boxers would have to include: