Popular Dogs: Boxers
Get to know the Boxer's personality.
In an ideal world, Boxers could log onto their own social networking sites, list their personality traits and what they’re looking for in their ideal owner, and send those lists into cyberspace for you to see. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. That being the case, we’re here to help you get a true sense of the Boxer. Here’s what you need to know about your Boxer’s temperament before you fall in love with his soulful eyes and droopy jowls.
He Looooves His People
No one wants an aloof or shy dog for a companion. On a “loves-his-people” scale of 1 to 10, the Boxer skyrockets off the charts. “Boxers are very loving and will lavish you with sloppy kisses all over your face and ears,” says Diana Atfield, a Boxer owner from Falling Waters, W.Va. “You can be gone from their sight for a few minutes or a few hours, but when you return, they are so happy to see you again. My Boxers always bring a toy to greet me.”
Close contact is very important to a Boxer, Atfield adds. “No matter how old or large they are, they still think they are lap dogs,” she says.
The Boxer’s devotion to his people isn’t surprising, given his history. Flemish tapestries dating as far back as the 16th century depict ancestors of the breed hunting stag and boar, and in the 19th century, Boxers would hold large game such as bison and boar until a hunter could arrive for the final kill. In Germany, Boxers were among the first breeds selected for police-dog training. In these instances, the Boxer needed to be devoted to his human partners in order to be fully effective.
The Boxer doesn’t warm up to just anyone, however. As the Boxer Club of America’s breed standard (the written specifications of an ideal representative of a breed) states, “With family and friends, [the Boxer] is fundamentally playful … [but] deliberate and wary with strangers.”
Of course, the ability to hunt large game and work as a canine police officer requires a Boxer to be much more than a devoted companion to his human partner. A dog engaged in such pursuits also must have plenty of courage. Fortunately, the Boxer has this quality in spades.
That courage developed not only from hunting and police work but also from the Boxer’s earliest origins, though certain aspects of those origins aren’t entirely clear. The breed’s ancestry possibly dates back to the time of the ancient Assyrians at around 2000 B.C., according to the American Boxer Club. Judy Voran states in her pamphlet “Short History of the Boxer Breed” that a strain of powerfully built, courageous dogs was bred by the Assyrians for use in war. The American Kennel Club, however, speculates that the Boxer’s origins are in the high valleys of Tibet where dogs were bred for fighting.
Whatever the case, the Boxer’s beginnings were those of a fighter, and successful fighters are not faint-hearted. Today, the Boxer saves his courage for those people to whom he is irrevocably devoted. Specifically, he’ll look out for his people and possessions. “Boxers are very good at guarding their territory,” says Deborah Marshall, a Boxer breeder in East Aurora, N.Y.
“Boxers are not barkers, unless they need to warn you of a strange noise or person approaching your property,” Atfield says. “Always take their barking seriously.”
The Boxer might be gutsy, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t sensitive. Dog trainer Victoria Schade says that her Boxer, Sumner, “has a way of understanding and processing the world around him. If I heave a sigh — a sign that I’m unhappy about something — he gets up and leaves the room, as though to make room for his grumpy mama.”
Marshall agrees. “Boxers are wonderful companions and seem to know your feelings intuitively,” she says.
When you begin training your sensitive Boxer, use only positive training methods. Even though some Boxers can be stubborn, these dogs (like all dogs) “do not require harsh training methods and prong collars to achieve excellent training results,” Atfield says.
When Atfield and one of her Boxers, Ruby, began training for competition, they ran into some serious problems. “My veterinarian recommended a specific trainer,” she recalls. “After two training sessions, I knew he was not the trainer for me. He wanted to put a prong collar on a 4-month-old dog and jerk and throw her around. I left the second training session in tears and never returned.”
A second trainer seemed OK for a while, Atfield says, until the trainer threw Ruby on the ground and held her down against her will. “By that time, I was very discouraged about training my dog,” Atfield says. “Ruby and I were very confused about what was expected in the show ring.”
After that second traumatic experience, Atfield decided to stop all training until she could find a professional who used dog-friendly training methods. Even after finding such a trainer, Atfield and Ruby faced steep obstacles. Not only did they have to begin training all over again, there was the question of whether Ruby would be amenable to training after such horrendous earlier experiences.
Fortunately, Ruby’s response was positive. “Boxers are a forgiving breed and really want to please their handlers,” Atfield says. “As a team, we were able to do rally obedience [a sport in which dogs and handlers navigate a course with stations where the dogs must perform obedience cues] and won several titles. Ruby is now retired to being a couch potato, but she taught me a lot. I have learned so much about positive training and will continue to do this type of training with any dog.”
That said, even the most forgiving Boxer — or one who works with a positive dog trainer — might pose a significant challenge to the novice owner or trainer. Many Boxers, especially puppies, are anything but mellow.
“Young Boxers are extremely exuberant,” Schade says. “Their drive to play, play, play often is challenging to channel.”
Juanita Myers, a Boxer owner in Westernville, N.Y., has witnessed Boxers’ unrelenting energy. “Boxers are a happy-go-lucky and very active breed,” she says. “I live in the country and have about an acre of property. It’s nothing for my Boxer, Magic, to race as fast as she can around the perimeter of the property three or four times, just to burn off some of that excess energy.”
Marshall believes that sufficient exercise is crucial to keeping a Boxer happy. “Strenuous exercise helps him to focus on more boring tasks such as learning to sit or lie down on cue,” she says.
You don’t need acres of space to keep your dog happy; you just need a fun, creative way to exercise and train him. “Turn training into a game, and take frequent play breaks,” Schade says. Another good idea: Play active games, and get your Boxer panting before you even start a training session or head to a training class. A Boxer who’s a little bit tired will be much more focused than a Boxer who’s bristling with pent-up energy.
He Loves Jumping
Some young Boxers develop a habit of jumping up on people, which can be difficult to break. This habit is entirely benign: Your people-
loving pooch just wants to get close enough to plant a sloppy Boxer kiss on your face. A full-grown Boxer, however, usually weighs between 50 and 80 pounds. When a dog that size gets airborne, the person he’s jumping on easily can be knocked over.
To nip this habit in the bud, it’s important to teach a puppy that jumping up won’t get him the attention he wants, but keeping four on the floor will. Each time your puppy jumps, simply withdraw your attention — turn your back on him or, if he’s really persistent, walk into another room. Once your puppy is back on the ground, use a treat to lure him into a sitting position, and once he’s sitting, let him have the treat. If you’re consistent, your puppy soon will offer sits instead of acting like a helicopter to get your attention.
In any case, breaking your Boxer puppy of his jumping habit is an effort worth making. “Training puppies to understand that jumping up never works can prevent a lifetime of frustration,” Schade says.
He’s Easily Bored …
Another personality trait that might make training your Boxer difficult is his ability to quickly lose interest in a training session. “Boxers don’t do well with repetitious or boring training,” Myers warns. “You have to make it upbeat and fun.”
Marshall finds that she’s always changing her teaching techniques to keep her dog interested. She adds treats, toys and balls to the mix. She also keeps training sessions short to prevent boredom from setting in. “Instead of 20 minutes at a time, I shorten sessions to 10 minutes two or three times a day,” she says.
… But Still Trainable
Just because your Boxer is active, easily bored and prone to jumping, it doesn’t mean he’s impossible to train. Training just requires a little more work. Many Boxer devotees differ on whether their breed is easy or difficult to teach.
Atfield is firmly in the easy-to-teach corner. “I think the biggest misconception that people have about the Boxer is that he is not a friendly dog and that he’s difficult to train,” she says. “I have never owned a mean Boxer or known a mean one. It’s not in their personality to be mean. Boxers are no different than children: If you are mean to them, they might be mean to you and other people.”
Marshall has the opposite view. “I think people commonly believe that Boxers are easy to train,” she says. “They make wonderful companions and seem to know their owners’ feelings intuitively, but many can be stubborn and destructive if not properly trained.”
Despite these qualities, Marshall is a firm Boxer enthusiast. “I absolutely love their intelligence, their love of people and their beauty,” she says. “Having had many different breeds — Poodles, German Shepherd Dogs, Beagles, Brittanys, English Springer Spaniels, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apsos and Chihuahuas — none have been as silly, playful and sensitive as the Boxer.”
As Schade pointedly says, “When you’re loved by a Boxer, you know it.”
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