Training Secrets for Boxers
Learn what makes your Boxer tick so you can train him better.
Kim Campbell Thornton
The Boxer breed standard (a written description of how the ideal Boxer should look and act) calls for a dog that is alert and dignified. With family and friends, the Boxer is playful yet patient, but deliberate and wary with strangers. Faced with a threat to family or self, Boxers respond with matchless courage, but despite the breed name, they are not known to start fights.
"The typical Boxers I see in training classes are happy, excitable dogs, especially when young,” says dog trainer Kim Toepfer of Fresno, California. "Boxers bounce, clown and rarely take anything seriously — including training — and they can be a bit mischievous. Boxers require a good deal of physical exercise and mental stimulation, but clever minds and loyalty make them very satisfying companions when those needs are met.”
To bring out the best in your Boxer, teach him with firm and fair training methods, and start when he’s young — as soon as you bring him home. Waiting until he’s 6 months old is a serious waste of good training time. At that age, he’ll be much larger and more difficult to control.
In contrast, an 8- to 12-week-old puppy is a more manageable size and will soak up everything you can teach.
By the time he’s 4 months old, your puppy can be doing extended versions of the commands sit, down and stay. All it takes is positive motivation — the use of food treats and toys — and gentle guidance with your hands to show him the moves or restrain him as necessary.
Working with a trainer who knows and understands Boxers can give you a head start on giving your dog structure and discipline.
"Boxers get so big, so strong, so fast that if you don’t go to a puppy obedience class and learn good techniques early, you’re going to have a hooligan, even if he’s a good dog,” says Laura Noll, a dog trainer from Jamul, California. "He’s going to accidentally hurt people just by running into them and knocking them over. That will scare people and make a bad impression.”
Consistency is a must, as well. Puppies are good at spotting loopholes, and they’ll take advantage of you any time they see one. The instant a Boxer puppy sees that you don’t always mean what you say, he’ll start pushing and prodding to see what he can get away with. This calls for firm measures to make sure your Boxer doesn’t get out of hand.
"I tend to rely more on traditional training methods with [physically] strong breeds like Boxers,” Toepfer says. "Although I believe that it is important to use the most positive methods possible to obtain a result, the working background of the Boxer seems to dovetail with methods that include fair corrections delivered at the appropriate time and with the appropriate firmness.”
Such corrections become appropriate when a Boxer reaches about 6 months of age.
"I begin by introducing firm corrections for failure to execute the requested behavior,” Toepfer says.
"Once I am convinced that the dog knows the command but is testing his ability to refuse to respond, I will issue fair consequences for failure to do so. I don’t advocate the use of harsh corrections, but I do use enough firmness to elicit a positive response. That way, I am able to teach the dog that good things happen when the dog complies and that compliance is not optional.”
When you give a verbal correction, let your Boxer know that you mean business. If you want to express that something he did was not acceptable, deepen your voice or speak in a growling tone. He’ll get the idea. Conversely, use a happy tone of voice for praise and a firm, no-nonsense tone for issuing commands.
You can use your voice effectively in other ways, as well. Be specific when you give commands and avoid using the word "no” unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your Boxer jumps up on you, say "off,” not "down.” If he’s barking and you want him to stop, say "quiet,” not "no.” And try giving the "quiet” command in a low tone of voice. You want your Boxer to be quiet and concentrate on hearing you, not bark louder because he thinks you’re joining in.
Save "no” for major misdeeds, such as chewing on electrical cords or peeing in the house. Say it in a tone of voice that demands instant obedience: deep, loud and firm.
To prevent problems in general, decide from the start what you want your Boxer to know. He should understand from day one — through consistent corrections — that rummaging through the trash, running out the door, barking uncontrollably and jumping up on people aren’t acceptable behaviors for the well-mannered Boxer.
Instead, teach alternatives to those behaviors. These include the leave-it command for items that you want him to ignore; the sit command for meeting people or approaching doors or gates; and the stay command for hanging out in a quiet corner of the kitchen while you prepare dinner. Your Boxer also should understand that he’s not allowed on the furniture without your say-so.
One of the best ways to keep your Boxer’s behavior on the straight and narrow is to provide him with lots of activity. That’s because a Boxer left on his own is fully capable of devising his own undesirable (to you) entertainment.
"Boxers are high-energy dogs,” Toepfer says. "They can be destructive if not given structure, training, exercise and good management within the home. I suggest that owners find good, healthy outlets for their Boxers by providing them with structured exercise such as retrieving a ball or flying disc, swimming or getting involved in sports such as agility or flyball.”
To get a head start on understanding and living with your Boxer, work with a trainer who knows and loves the breed. The Boxer’s exuberance can make him a handful when it comes to training, but a well-trained and well-socialized Boxer is a joy.
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