Posted: Wed May 22 00:00:00 PDT 2002
By Marry Sorensen
All Boxer-owning households share one thing in common: laughter. Giggles slip out when Mr. Dignified suddenly drops to the floor and rolls on his back while grunting like a pig. Chuckles give way to tears as Ms. Geriatric rips through the house like a puppy, beginning by circling the table and ending with a hearty game of chase the tail. And what Boxer lover hasn't let out a hearty guffaw as a look Sir Pooch intended to be serious (read: "Yes, yes, yes. Give me a cookie!") turns silly when some excess upper lip curls under at the wrong time?
Sometimes hindsight is the only way to see the humor of a situation, as when an exhibitor finally learns to smile about the time her Companion Dog Excellent Boxer (CDX) gave in to the "Boxer Buzz" and performed laps around the ring, growing more excited as the crowd laughed and its owner grew more red-faced.
"If I was allowed just one adjective to describe the Boxer, it would be the clown," says Tracy Hendrickson, president and founder of the American Boxer Rescue Association in Tulsa, Okla., and a 42-year Boxer enthusiast who competes with her Boxers in obedience and agility events.
Luckily, there's no reason to place such unnatural constraints on singing the praises of this complex breed. Stoic but silly, protective but playful, the outgoing Boxer is an enchanting paradox. Though its clownlike tendencies prevail throughout life, the Boxer also earns tags as varied as alert, dignified, self-assured, independent, loyal, spirited, playful, deliberate and curious.
Perhaps the Boxer's most notable characteristic, though, is its desire for human affection. "If you can say a 75-pound dog is cuddly, Boxers are cuddly," says Shirley Bavilacqua, a private trainer and obedience competitor in Chico, Calif., who's worked with Boxers for 16 of her 40 years with dogs. "Boxers want to be wherever you are."
Toss a ball, and your Boxer is up for a game of fetch. Grab the leash, and it's ready for a walk. Go into the kitchen to cook dinner, and your Boxer is on your heels waiting for goodies that might fall on the floor. Sit down to watch TV, and your Boxer will be by your side ... or in your lap, depending upon how tolerant you are.
"There's no ignoring a Boxer," says Pam Rohr of Dreamweaver Boxers in Denton, Texas. Rohr was taken with the breed the first time she saw one and has bred the dogs for 13 years. "Boxers are people dogs. They're so sensitive and so vengeful. I always remind people that this is a social dog. If you ignore them, they'll get your attention. You can't throw these dogs out in the backyard and forget about them. They won't let you," Rohr says. When told to settle down after a raucous play session, Bavilacqua's Boxers let out loud sighs just as though they were disappointed children.
Children at Heart
Make that children who never truly grow up. From the long-sought-after Fountain of Youth to the dreams sold in pots and tubes at makeup counters across the country, legends of eternal youth abound in Western culture. In the Boxer, breed enthusiasts have discovered perhaps the closest thing to a wellspring of youth, or at least the spirit of youth. Not known for longevity, Boxers seem to make the most of each moment life offers. "Boxers always act like children, even when they reach senior citizen status," said Christine Stander, proprietor of Sentry Boxers in Garden City, Mich., and a Boxer breeder for 30 years. "Our Boxers are our kids."
Like a child, a happy Boxer has an assortment of toys strewn throughout the house and yard and rarely puts them away when done playing. Tennis balls, chew toys and stuffed animals in the house are replaced by chewed-up soccer balls, Frisbees and ropes in the yard, where a crew of Boxers can stay entertained for several hours by romping, tossing and tugging.
"A Boxer is a busy dog," Bavilacqua says, w arning that it takes time and thought to channel that energy. "If they feel like they have a job to do, you are going to have less trouble with them. Retrieving a ball could be a job to them. It burns off energy and lets them be with you. If you are a person who works 12 or 15 hours a day and comes home tired, this breed is not right for you. They're willing to be alone for several hours, but afterward you have to be willing to devote some time to them."
The big, active Boxer may enjoy little more than a romp in the great outdoors, but don't mistake it for an outdoor animal. Breeders insist this ultra-clean dog must be kept inside. "They're family dogs that don't like to be outside," says Lois Trist of Escondido, Calif., a Boxer breeder for more than 25 years. "This is no Arctic breed. Boxers don't like to be cold. They don't like to be uncomfortable. They love to sleep with you or hang out on the couch. They like their comfort. If you're not willing to make a place for them in the house, don't get a Boxer."
Boxers tend to thrive in active family environments and are known for their affection for children. Although adult Boxers are typically gentle around their young human wards, breeders usually warn new Boxer owners that puppies can't always be trusted to show good sense around toddlers. Dashing and wiggling its way throughout the house, an exuberant Boxer may frighten or even injure a small child by knocking it over accidentally, Bavilacqua warns.
A Sensitive Side
Most well-socialized adult Boxers are astute, respecting a child's small size and cuing in to its owners moods. "They read people very well," Hendrickson says. "When my mother was dying of cancer, my first Boxer slept right next to me licking the tears from my eyes. They are really keyed into your emotions, and they want to please really badly."
Ironically, to read the Boxer's history, one might expect a ferocious beast to have emerged. With possible links to ancient Tibetan fighting dogs and Assyrian warring Molossians, the Boxer may also be distantly related to the French Dogue de Bordeaux and almost certainly has connections to the German Bullenbeissers, or bull baiters. The only ancestral ties known with any certainty was the formation of the Boxer Klub in Munich, Germany, in 1895. Outbreeding is suspected to have occurred with English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, English White Terriers, English Black and Tan Terriers and Great Danes.
From its early days as a fighting dog and bull baiter, through careful breeding the Boxer has evolved into today's much-loved companion. It has maintained the best qualities of its ancestors, breeders say. Perhaps it is this varied background that explains how a Boxer can change gears seemingly without effort. Not a big barker, the dog's guarding tendencies emerge as a stranger approaches or when it senses a threat to its property or family. Always alert, a Boxer can switch from playful companion to watchful guardian with the twitch of its expressive wrinkled brow. Such flexibility made the breed one of the first to be used as police dogs in Germany.
Like most dogs, Boxers are known for same-sex aggression and require socialization to be reliable around other dogs and pets. Bavilacqua offers the following example to people who consider the Boxer aggressive on the basis of looks alone: "My male Boxer is a big boy," she says, "but he just thinks all dogs are to play with. My standard Poodle, on the other hand, doesn't like any other dogs."
Breeders and enthusiasts agree that Boxers are not born perfect. They are trained perfect. An owner must work with a dog to direct its energy and ensure it grows into a reliable companion. "They need a lot of obedience training," Bavilacqua says. "It may not be formal obedience training, but they certainly need to know to come, sit, down and so on. That's true of any dog, but Boxers have a tendency to jump fences and to run. If you don't have them under control, you are either going to lose your dog or you are going to have a dead dog."
Many Boxers that do not get training early in life end up in shelters. With the number of Boxers registered each year on the rise-the Boxer reached 9th place ranking in the American Kennel Club's litter registration statistics in 2000 with 38, 803 dogs registered (up from 36,345 and 12th place in 1998)-rescue numbers are also increasing, Hendrickson says. "The Boxer is a very loyal dog, very willing to please," she adds. "Sometimes, though, Boxers are smarter than their owners and, honestly, that's what gets a lot of them in trouble. Owners don't know how to properly correct a dog getting into the trashcan or onto the countertop or digging in the backyard. We then get the disposable dog."
For those who invest the time in training and early socialization, there is no other breed like the Boxer in terms of companionship and nonstop entertainment and none with such a sense of humor about its own antics.
Marry Sorensen is a free-lance writer based in Costa Mesa, Calif.
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