Boxers are one of the top 20 breeds of choice for dog lovers in the U.S. because of their playful, enthusiastic natures and dedication to their human companions. They have a great sense of humor and are quite cuddly, considering their stocky selves to be right at home on your lap—even when they reach up to 80 pounds!
"They crave affection and attention. They love their people, they love to please, and are extremely intelligent, loyal, and protective—although not aggressive or mean," says breeder Marc Hatten, owner of Mountain Crest Boxers in Huson, Mont. "They want to be with their families to play, run, and romp, and are typically great with kids and other animals, especially if you get them as puppies and socialize them from an early age."
A boxer is ready for action: blunt muzzle pointed upward, round chocolate eyes gazing at you with sweet anticipation of the next walk or ball throw, with a muscular body poised and eager to go.
Boxers have a short, glossy coat—usually a fawn, brindle, or white color—that's soft to the touch, often with flecks of white across the chest, face, and paws. His square head is a unique feature, lifted high above a strong back and tapered hindquarters.
Most boxers have broad, black faces, also known as masks. Their ears create a floppy frame around their masks, although some dog owners crop the ears so they stand up. Don't let the downward frown of the jowls fool you—they're happy dogs!
Because boxers weigh between 50 and 80 pounds and top off at nearly two feet high at the shoulder, they're considered medium– to large–sized dogs.
While your boxer is a puppy, introduce him to as many adults, children, and other pets as you can so it develops strong connections and learns good manners. Boxers do have inherent protective instincts, so the earlier they interact with other animals and families at a dog park or in the neighborhood, the better. However, they might have an issue with other dogs of the same sex if they sense a threat.
A boxer dog's temperament is naturally friendly and fun without being overly jumpy, barky, or excitable—once they graduate from their awkward puppy phase, that is! They reach full maturity in about three years, which is longer than other dog breeds. So positive reinforcement training is a must to help properly channel a young boxer's abundant energy. Fortunately, they're easy to train and eager to please, so they respond well to commands and leash training. They dislike routine, so teaching them new tricks from time to time keeps their curious minds engaged.
Boxers were bred to be working dogs, so if they’re left alone for hours and restless, they’ll occupy themselves by getting into mischief! Hatten recommends two essential reasons for crate training boxer puppies: to curb bad habits caused by boredom and to provide a sense of security. "They will most certainly find ways to entertain themselves if left unattended in a living room—think ripped-open couch cushions, uprooted house plants, shredded books, and so on," he says.
"Although crate training takes some patience and persistence, it pays off in huge dividends later as boxers grow and become accustomed to their crates, often voluntarily going in them to sleep even when their owners are home, as they come to feel safe and secure in them," he says. "Which is the feeling an owner has as well when leaving them alone, knowing they can't get into trouble or inadvertently harm themselves when left alone to explore a house full of potential dangers."
Crate training is also essential if you’ve rescued an older boxer. This provides a safe retreat as he adjusts to new people and surroundings, also referred to as a “decompression period.” Make the space cozy with a soft blanket and a chew toy, and keep the dog’s water and food nearby. Some experts recommend that the crate—with door open—be placed in an area where your new companion can easily see you and approach for reassurance whenever he needs to, reinforcing the new bond. Ask your veterinarian or a certified trainer for more tips to ease your boxer into the family.
Owning a boxer means you want a dog that can keep up with your lifestyle and be a true canine friend. "It's not conducive for them to be left alone for extended periods or relegated to the backyard and not allowed to socialize with their family," Hatten says. "Boxers are extremely social and need that interaction. They wouldn't be well-suited to an individual or family that couldn't provide these basic activities and socialization aspects."
Classified as working or guard animals, boxers must keep busy to be their happiest selves. It's not unusual for boxers to need at least 30 minutes—or more—of exercise and dedicated play each day. Because of their dutiful personalities and intelligence, they’ve been trained to work in K9 Units with police, as messengers during WWII, cattle wranglers, and guides for people with visual impairments.
So with this type of energy and attention to detail, it's no wonder they thrive with people who are active in the great outdoors and enjoy running, hiking, camping, enjoying family outings in the park, working on farms, and exploring other environments that provide healthy engagement. American boxer dogs have lean, muscular bodies designed for movement and short, easy-care coats, so they're ready to go when you are.
Clean your boxer's teeth every day if possible to prevent tartar buildup. Fortunately, a specific doggie toothbrush and toothpaste makes this an easy task. Ask your veterinarian for tips. Sparkling teeth and healthy gums also help reduce drooling, which boxers don't do as much as other breeds, but can happen regularly depending on the size and shape of your dog's nose and jaw.
Beyond that, this pooch is pretty low maintenance. Keep his coat sleek and shiny by brushing it a couple of times a week with a hound glove or rubber curry-brush. They don't shed a lot, but regular brushing helps control it. Because boxers are generally clean, they only need a bath about once a month, and that's a good time to trim their nails and clean their ears, too.
Some boxer dogs have deeper facial folds than others, so you might need to wipe these clean with a damp washcloth, especially after a vigorous romp outside nosing through dirt.
Since boxers have short coats, they often need sweaters or jackets to protect them in cold weather.
They're also more sensitive to hot temperatures. They don't sweat, and their snub noses and fleshy mouths can't provide adequate cooling from panting like other dogs. So if it’s warm out, time walks in the early morning or late evening when the sun isn’t at its hottest. If you notice your boxer is a bit overheated, apply chilled water to his ears, belly, and genitals, where blood vessels are closer to the skin. Because they're so playful, they might also enjoy a quick cool down by frolicking in a small wading pool placed in a shady backyard spot.
According to Upstate Veterinary Specialities, particular boxer health problems include cardiomyopathy—specifically, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), which appears in some dogs 5–7 years old. This is a genetic disease that occurs in nearly 40 percent of boxers. The heart muscle is gradually replaced by fibrous, fatty tissue, and causes an irregular heartbeat. Symptoms of ARVC include fainting, shortness of breath, and difficulty exercising. Unfortunately, some dogs don't present any symptoms of ARVC at all, and may die suddenly because of it.
Hatten says other potential medical conditions include hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy—a progressive disease that affects the hindquarters and spinal cord—thyroid issues, and mast cell tumors.
When you're looking for a boxer puppy, ask specific testing questions of your breeder. "Many health concerns can be mitigated, if not completely eliminated, by health testing," Hatten says. "Thus, anyone serious about bringing a boxer into their lives should only seek out those who strive to promote healthy lines within the breed and take as many steps as prudent to raise healthy puppies." Hatten also notes that in his 20 years of breeding boxers, "studies suggest much of the issues with cancer come from environment, diet, or overbreeding within a particular line."
A boxer's lifespan is usually 10–12 years, so talk with your veterinarian about key checkups at various stages of its life and specific care needed to help prevent problems.
The fun-loving boxers we know today come from an ancient lineage of fierce war dogs known as the molossus, popular in the Assyrian empire in 2,500 B.C. In the 19th century, German and Belgian breeders created bullenbeissers from other dogs of that line, including the mastiff and bulldog, and used them as large game hunters and for cattle control. Further refinement of that breed revealed a sleeker type of dog—the boxer.
Some canine historians believe the name boxer comes from a German reference for the bullenbeisser's role in slaughterhouses—boxl—while others say it describes how the dogs use their front paws in play or fighting.