The Boxer

Sleek and muscular, the Boxer is a loyal family companion with a streak of joy


Blunt face, steady gaze with a hint of mischief, an undeniable joy of life, and incredible grace, the Boxer is affectionate to children and a steadfast friend and guardian to the whole family.

What more could a dog owner ask of his best friend?

Low maintenance? The Boxer is a clean canine with a short coat that needs little more than a wipe-down and an occasional bath.

Intelligence? The Boxer scores well in the smarts department.

Versatility? The Boxer does well in obedience, agility, and therapy work and has served credibly as a war dog and a police dog.

The talented Boxer is another gift to dog owners from Germany. He is cousin to many breeds developed from the massive Molossian Hound, an ancient Greek guarding, fighting, and herding dog. From Greece to Rome to Europe and Britain, these dogs gave birth to a number of large, square-headed breeds that assisted men in the hunt and at war.

In Germany, the Molossian type became the Bullenbeisser, a courageous dog that hunted the fierce aurochs, a wild progenitor of domestic cattle. The Bullenbeisser diverged into two types, known as Danzigers and Brabanters after their areas of origin. The Brabanters were the smaller of the two; the Boxer developed from this branch of the family tree.

By the end of the 18th Century, the great hunts organized by noblemen had all but faded into history. Brabanters moved from castles and great manors to butcher shops, cattle farms, and theaters to ply their new trades of cattle management and acting. Somewhere along the way, dogs of this type became known as Boxers, perhaps for the manner of play that resembles a pugilist's sparring, perhaps for their box-like head.

Late in the 20th Century, German breeders took charge and established guidelines for improvement of the breed. In 1895, they founded the first Boxer club in Munich, and in 1904 held their first show. The breed came to the US in 1903, and began to gain in popularity in the 1940s.


The Boxer is a muscular, short-coated, square-headed dog with tight skin and a docked tail. Males stand 22.5-25 inches at the withers and weigh about 70 pounds. Females are a bit smaller at 21-23.5 inches and about 60 pounds.

Boxer ears are generally cropped in this country, but more and more pet owners opt for the uncropped, hang-ear look.

The Boxer nose is broad, and the top of the muzzle appears slightly pushed in, leaving the jaw a bit undershot the lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper jaw and curves slightly upward. The blunt muzzle leaves him susceptible to hot, stuffy conditions and can cause wheezing and snorting.

The only acceptable body color in the standard is fawn, and the only acceptable pattern is brindle. White markings on muzzle, chest, belly, feet, neck, and inner legs are permitted to cover up to one-third of the body. The face must have a black mask, but a white blaze-line is permitted from the muzzle upward between the eyes.

The fawn can range from light tan to mahogany; the brindle must show clearly defined black stripes on a fawn background. White, mostly white, and black dogs are disqualified from the conformation ring but can be registered and can compete in obedience and agility.

The Boxer is an athletic dog with a smooth, graceful, ground-eating stride. He has a well-angulated rear with long haunches for great power. His back remains level when he moves for efficiency and endurance.

Character and temperament

Although the Boxer is a loyal and intelligent family companion, his somewhat stubborn and self-confident character and high prey drives require careful consideration. He must be obedience-trained to control his exuberance and guide his mettle into acceptable channels. He is, after all, a big, strong dog.

He is also good-natured, suffering the pokes and prods of children with stoicism, accepting friendly strangers, and always ready for a romp or a game. Left to his own devices, he can get into trouble. Writer and gentleman farmer Louis Bromfield had several Boxers in his home at Malabar Farm outside Mansfield, Ohio. These dogs learned to open the French-handled doors and, so the story goes, managed to escape the house, climb in a visitor's automobile, release the brake, and roll the car into a pond across the road.

Above all, a Boxer should be even-tempered, dignified but with a touch of impish spirit, and full of courage. Aggression, extreme shyness (not to be confused with independence), and hyperactivity are unacceptable in the breed; those who are considering a Boxer should al least check the parent dogs for these undesirable traits before even looking at the puppies.

Care and maintenance

Although the Boxer needs exercise and play to stay in shape and satisfy his nature, he can do well in an apartment with daily walks and a frolic in the park several times a week.

His short, hard coat does shed and needs some grooming with a soft brush. His coat's natural sheen can be enhanced with occasional rubdowns with a chamois cloth. His short coat all but requires that he be a house dog in cool or cold climates, and his shortened muzzle makes hot humid weather uncomfortable for him.

Otherwise, the Boxer is an easy-keeper.


Unfortunately, the Boxer is susceptible to several potential health problems, including hip dysplasia, bloat, aortic stenosis (a heart ailment), digestive problems, hypothyroidism, and cancerous and benign tumors.

Hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism affect many breeds of dogs and their presence can be determined by testing breeding stock before mating. Dysplastic dogs should not be bred; thyroid dogs should be bred carefully to non-thyroid dogs. Thyroid disease can be controlled by medicine; dysplasia cannot be controlled and can be corrected or alleviated only by surgery.

Prospective Boxer buyers should ask breeders for proof the litter's sire and dam are free of dysplasia and for the thyroid status of both puppy parents.

Bloat is a life-threatening disease of deep-chested dogs. The incidence may be lessened by feeding adult dogs twice a day; sticking to a premium dog food diet without table scraps -- especially spicy or rich table scraps; and by allowing a dog to digest his meal before indulging in strenuous exercise. However, bloat cannot be completely prevented, so vigilance is necessary to make sure that the dog gets to a clinic as soon as possible after the symptoms are noticed.

Potential Boxer owners may be tempted to reconsider their preference upon learning of potential health problems, but should think again. The incidence of these diseases is not high, and buying from an ethical breeder who provides health certificates, answers questions about her breeding stock, and offers a contract that backs up her dogs improves the chances of getting a healthy pet.

The Boxer is an affectionate and trustworthy pet for an active family. He is easy-care, intelligent, athletic, and faithful. What more could an owner ask?

For more information about the Boxer, check out Boxers, A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, by Herta E. Kraupa-Tuskany. This paperback book is written especially for pet owners and is available in bookstores for about $6. It is a perfect present for anyone considering a Boxer.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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