5 Things to Know About Boxers

Boxers are affectionate, playful dogs who are great for families with children. However, it’s important to understand that Boxers have unique health risks.

boxer breed profile
Boxers are patient and affectionate, making them potentially good dogs for children. Photo: iStock.com/Alona Rjabceva
AKC GroupAKC Group
Working
WeightWeight
60-70 lbs. (male);
50-65 lbs. (female)
HeightHeight
23-25 in. (male);
21.5-23.5 in. (female)
Life ExpectancyLife Span
10-12 years

1. Key Characteristics of Boxers

Boxers are medium-sized dogs with well-developed muscles.

They have unique, chiseled heads and a smooth coat appearance over their toned muscles underneath. They’re also said to have the longest tongues of all dog breeds.

Boxers have dark brown eyes and coat colors that come in fawn, brindle, black or white. The tails are usually docked, a practice that is increasingly seen as cruel and unnecessary.

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2. Where Boxers Came From

The Boxer likely descends from a line of different dogs, mostly from Europe, dating to the 16th century. One of these ancestors may have been a fighting dog from Tibet. Boxers also carry lines from bulldogs and terriers.

Boxers were originally used for dogfighting and bull baiting, until those practices were outlawed. Boxers were also used in hunting, with the dogs pinning down large animals until the hunters arrived.

The breed was refined in Germany in the 19th century and exported to the United States after World War I. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1904.

Boxers were exported to England in the 1930s in limited numbers. A breed club was formed, which in turn heightened the dogs’ popularity.

boxer breed profile
Boxers are protective, courageous and intelligent. Photo: Kristy May/Petful

3. How Friendly Are Boxers?

Boxers are patient and affectionate with adults and children. They are also protective, courageous and fearless, and these qualities lead to the desirability of the breed.

They are intelligent dogs who are easily trained. Boxers are also energetic and playful dogs with a natural curiosity.

Properly socialized Boxers can live with cats, but you shouldn’t leave your Boxer alone with small animals.

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4. Is This the Right Dog for You?

Exercise Needs

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HIGH: Although Boxers are active indoors and do well in apartments, they also need a long, brisk walk every day at the very least. Note that they’re sensitive to temperature extremes (both hot and cold).

To be happy, these dogs need a ton of interactive play. In other words, you can’t just put your Boxer outside and leave them alone. Boxers who aren’t socialized, trained or allowed to expel energy regularly can become stubborn and difficult.

Grooming Needs

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LOW: Shedding is average for this breed. A weekly brushing is usually sufficient. Bathe your Boxer as needed, but not too often — doing so would strip the coat of its natural oils.

Clip your Boxer’s nails regularly, brush the teeth and clean the ears. Some people report that their Boxers clean themselves like cats by self-bathing.

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Health Problems

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HIGH: Unfortunately, the Boxer is susceptible to a host of health problems. Some of the most common include:

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cell tumors account for 20% of all skin tumors in dogs. They are worthy of mention because they have the potential to be life-threatening and sometimes mimic less serious skin lumps and bumps.

Some breeds, like Boxers and bull breeds, are more likely to develop mast cell tumors than others, probably because they share a common ancestor. Early diagnosis makes all the difference to the outcome. Check your dog’s skin once a week and get any new lumps (regardless of how innocent they look) checked by a vet.

Ulcerative Colitis

This condition also goes by the name “Boxer colitis” because it is inextricably linked to the breed. Symptoms develop in young dogs, typically around 2 years of age, with males more often affected than females. The signs include vomiting, a particularly unpleasant bloody diarrhea, and weight loss.

This condition used to be a showstopper because dogs responded poorly to treatment, only getting thinner and weaker. However, we now know the cause to be a particular bug invading the mucosal lining of the gut and damaging it.

Happily, a course of a special antibiotic makes all the difference, so again, early recognition and treatment means a happy ending.

Heart Disease

Boxers are prone to many types of heart disease, ranging from a narrowed aorta to fluid around the heart, and a problem with electrical conductivity that can cause sudden death in otherwise healthy dogs.

Heart disease linked to the Boxer includes:

  • Aortic stenosis (a narrowing in the major artery from the heart)
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (a.k.a. “Boxer heart”)
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged, saggy heart)
  • Pericardial effusion (a buildup of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart)
  • Atrial septal defect (a hole in the wall dividing the entrance chambers to the heart)
Eye Ulcers

Unfortunately, Boxers also have a reputation when it comes to eye problems. The breed is prone to indolent ulcers, non-healing ulcers that are frustrating to treat.

Indolent ulcers go by a number of names, including “Boxer ulcers” and the less user-friendly “spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects” (SCCEDs). As that last name suggests, the ulcers arise spontaneously with no underlying cause or history of trauma.

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It’s believed that the ulcer forms because of a weakness in the glue holding the sheets of corneal tissue together. Much like wallpaper peeling away from the wall, the tissue lifts away — leaving a gap behind.

If your Boxer persistently blinks, they may be trying to tell you their eye is sore. Indolent ulcers are tricky to treat and may require referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Just remember, a blinking eye in a Boxer signals distress — it means a trip to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Boxer eye problems
Indolent ulcers in the eye often arise with no underlying cause. Photo: schluesselbien

Other health problems seen in Boxers include:

This is a daunting list, so remember that superior health care and regular vet visits will help keep your Boxer healthy.

More Stats About Boxers

Friendliness★★★★☆
Ease of Training★★★★☆
Barking/Howling★★★☆☆
Shedding★★★★☆
Tolerate Being Alone★☆☆☆☆
Very Good With Kids★★★★☆

Check out why Boxers are such beloved pets:

5. How to Adopt a Boxer

If you are considering getting a Boxer of your own, please check rescues and adoption resources first. Even purebred animals can end up in shelters. Try Petful’s online adoptable pets search.

Finding a Boxer through adoption resources may be difficult. You can also check with rescue groups and breeders.

If you do choose to go to a breeder, make sure the breeder is reputable and doesn’t exhibit any of the puppy mill warning signs. Quiz the breeder on how many of their dogs have died unexpectedly (Boxer heart), and if their breeding stock has been scanned for heart defects.

References


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The “Health Problems” section of this article features contributions from a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS.

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