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Sanity guide for new boxer (or boxer mix) owners

An acquaintance of mine picked up a boxer-mix puppy a few days ago. I don’t know if he’s a previous boxer owner or even how recently he’s had a dog in his life. This got me thinking about the huge number of boxers who eventually find their way into the animal rescue system because well-meaning, warm-hearted owners have no idea what they’re getting into and become overwhelmed by the high maintenance of this particular breed. Considering my buddy has a significant other as well as (I believe) children, the foundation of “patience” and “tolerance” has already been beaten into him. I’m sure he’s going to be a great parent to his newest family member so hopefully my thoughts here serve only to fill a few gaps if they exist. There are endless “how to” guides for new puppy owners on the Internet, so my intention was to focus mostly on my experience with the Boxer breed and the things I learned while sharing my life with one. The easiest way to describe the breed is that they are the dial that goes to 11 where other breeds stop at 10.

The single most fundamental thing about boxers (and many mixed boxers) that you have to learn, quickly, is this…

Boxers are substantially more social than most breeds.

And by social, what I mean is needy.

And by needy, what I really mean is clinically diagnosed obsession.

And by obsession what I mean is… Wait. Did you see that movie with Glen Close and Michael Douglas? I forget the name.

Right. Welcome to the wonderful world of Boxers. Ok, It’s not really that dramatic, but there will be times when it feels that way. There’s a reason why every boxer owner you’ve ever talked to says that boxers are the worlds best “family dog” or the first choice when it comes to being a good companion for children. While all puppies are playful and 99% of dogs develop an attachment to their loving owners, the bond boxers create with their humans, it seems, is much stronger than other breeds will adapt.

They need us.

Their sense of purpose and existence, it seems, is to be needed by the humans that care for them. To not be needed is to live a life of misery. They will poke their head past the vinyl shower curtain while you are showering, lay at your feet while you are folding laundry at the edge of the bed, and sniff expectantly at your face, wagging their tail, while you’re laying on your back connecting AV cables between your TV and XBox or mounting a garbage disposal in the kitchen. They will climb into whatever space you happen to be occupying 1) whether you invited them or not, 2) whether there’s room or not, 3) whether they are a puppy or a 12-year old senior citizen. I can’t recall a single time in 12 years that my boxer didn’t want to be excessively close to me any time I was within earshot, let alone within sight. It’s just the way they are and you just have to get used to it.

Survival tip: It’s important to understand when you tell them to “go lay down”, even if done sternly or loudly, it will have increasing effectiveness over time to a point. The first time they retreat to the couch might last 60 seconds so you tell them again. Then you get a few minutes, then 10 minutes, then maybe as long as 20. Chances, however, that you’ll get more than 20 – 30 minutes where a boxer isn’t “all up in your face” is slim. It’s best to make peace with this behavior and to understand that they have an untreatable, terminal addiction… YOU!

I personally believe this behavior has a higher concentration in the boxer breed, but even studies conclude that dogs not only rely on the proximity of their owners as a “home base” for exploring their surroundings, but that dogs and their human owners have higher levels of Oxytocin after bonding sessions — the exact same hormones secreted by both newborn children and their mothers.

Having said this, you may wonder what happens while you are away and your new boxer is home alone. Here’s another important thing to know about boxers…

Boxers are prone to very destructive behavior that stems from separation anxiety.

(note: I doubt there’s any clinical research to prove this point specific to boxers, but…) This is probably one of the single biggest reasons an uneducated boxer owner will either give a rescued boxer back to the shelter they adopted them from or put a new boxer pup into the rescue system to begin with. Lots and lots of dogs, maybe the majority, have some sort of separation anxiety at some point in their lives, but from my personal experience, this behavior seems to be more common in boxers and other breeds with very strong attachments to humans. Symptoms of separation anxiety can range from simple whining to out-and-out demolition of furniture. So many new boxer owners don’t do any research before getting a puppy, and they somehow end up with a boxer. Since they have no idea what to expect, the destructive behavior is often chalked up to a problem with the dog instead of the owner’s failure to do any homework about the breed.

Sure, any dog can be destructive, but boxers CAN BE VERY DESTRUCTIVE!

Shoes, house plants, wooden doors, dog beds, chew toys, things that aren’t chew toys. There’s really no limit to what merchandise they are capable of destroying. These things cost money to replace and in some cases might be irreplaceable. If your boxer destroys enough stuff, you can start developing second thoughts about bringing them home or even start to resent them for being here in the first place.

Before you can correct this behavior, you MUST understand one thing (oddly, a hard one for some dog owners to grasp). This applies to all dogs, not just destructive boxers. Ready?

It’s not the dogs fault!

Disciplining a dog for ANY unwanted behavior (barking, peeing on carpets, jumping on guests, chewing furniture) is about as effective at getting it to stop as disciplining a newborn child for waking up in the middle of the night crying and hungry. Everyone has heard the phrases “You know better” and “He/She knew they did something wrong”. The bare truth is, dogs do not know better. Their comprehension is limited to the subset of human emotions they are capable of “feeling” as well as what they do instinctively as a response to the stimulus they are presented with in life. As with many characteristics we, as humans, ascribe to our dogs, they are not in fact capable of the emotional nuances and complexities we have evolved with. The bottom line on disciplining a dog in the same way we might spank a child for unwanted behavior is this: it doesn’t work and the only behavior that will be reinforced is fear. Dogs don’t have the capacity to reason like humans do (A = B, B = C, therefore A = C) so change your expectations for what they “should know better” and the lengths you will have to go to in order to stop certain behavior.

Survival Tips:

  • Educate yourself on separation anxiety in dogs and potential solutions
  • Start crate-training as early as possible. (Personal opinion: while the end of this article states that crate-training is not a solution for separation anxiety, which I agree with, the possibility of your dog injuring themselves trying to escape a crate is likely very low for all but the most neurotic of animals. Crate manufacturers have accounted for this behavior over the years.)
  • As soon as you can, if finances permit, hire a professional dog trainer for an hour here and there as the dog matures. The cost of professional training will be paid back many times over by the personal items you don’t have to replace.
  • Keep in mind, if you’ve never owned a dog, you will need training just like your new friend.

Other things new boxer owners need to know

  • Because of their “squished snout” (brachiocephalic), boxers do not transfer heat well.
    Boxers, like all dogs, expel heat through the pads of their feet and through their breathing. Because of the way a purebred boxer’s snout is shaped, they have a hard time getting rid of heat when compared to dogs with normal snouts. This means they are going to be absolutely miserable if forced to live outside in the summer months.
  • Short hair, naturally lean body type
    Boxers don’t carry body fat like many breeds and are naturally disposed to a very lean and muscular physique (similar to a typical pitbull). As a result, you guessed it, they are not going to do well in very cold temperatures. The short story here is basically that boxers are not suitable outdoor dogs without careful environment prep.
  • Boxers don’t chew, they inhale
    One thing that most boxer owners become aware of is just how fast their dogs will eat their regular meal. The last half of my boxers life, I rarely heard him crush the kibble between his teeth. There are two big problems with this that you may have to deal with:
    • Choking
      Several times, the speed of my boxers consumption caused him to choke on a piece to the point where I needed to intervene by sweeping his throat and clearing the obstructing bit of kibble. You will likely have to invest in a special dog bowl that either slows down their eating or gives them smaller amounts of food over time.
    • Bloat
      This is not that feeling of eating too much at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s called Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus or GDV. Boxers have a higher chance of getting this than other breeds and it has a not insignificant chance of being fatal if you don’t know what to look for.
  • Purebred boxers are susceptible to a host of genetic disorders
    Epilepsy, Cardiomyopathy, and Cancer are the highlights. There’s a 100%** chance you will see Mast Cell Tumors at some point in your boxers life.
    Mast cell tumors are especially common in dogs accounting for approximately one skin tumor in every five. The Boxer is at an especially high risk, as are related breeds: English Bulldog, Boston Terrier.

    In my own boxers life, we had probably 3 or 4 surgeries (over the span of 12 years) to remove these tumors and you will need to as well. Every one of them was tested and found to be benign, but get them removed when you find them.

  • You are the best Vet your boxer will ever have
    This is not intended to be a slight to those who choose a career in veterinary medicine. It’s simply a statement of common sense.
    • The patient doesn’t speak english
    • Your vet doesn’t spend 24 hours a day with your dog, so…
    • they don’t know what behavior is unusual in your dog

    Because of the three points above, Vets are limited in their diagnostic capability unlike a medical doctor for humans is. Since just about every symptom can have any number of causes, diagnosis of most stuff is done by process of elimination. Their education and experience will help them narrow down problems, but, unlike human medicine, it’s much less of an exact science and more of a trial-and-error approach. The only reason I bring this up is because boxers are expensive to maintain, medically speaking, and the cost for vet services have gone through the roof in the last decade. You will have your hands full, financially, with the stuff that needs veterinary attention without having your bank account wiped out with tests and treatments you don’t actually need. Use some common sense and do your own homework. This book is an invaluable resource for self-diagnosis of your pets and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In my opinion, no dog owner should ever be without this resource.

  • Get pet insurance now!
    Single biggest mistake I made with my own boxer was being completely ignorant to just how much it would cost me over his lifetime for veterinary care. Again, boxers are expensive when compared to other breeds. They were last dog in the good genetics hand-out line. By the time I realized how many times I’d be at the vet for this’n that over the years, it was too late to justify the cost of insurance versus the benefit I’d be able to get. Do yourself a favor, get it now.

Best places for information

Finally, the help and advice I have gotten from other boxer owners has been fantastic. One “place” in particular is a simple email list called (cryptically) “The Boxer Mailing List”. You can choose either immediate delivery or daily digest. But… you can send email to the list asking any kind of question you have about your boxer and the responses are usually packed with info straight from the keyboards of people who having been living with boxers their entire lives. It’s a wonderful list and a great community of like-minded people. Register here!

Have fun with your new boxer. You have (either knowingly or unknowingly) chosen probably one of the single most loving and loyal breeds in the entire canine species. It’s a lot of work owning and loving a boxer, but the rewards are worth 10 times the investment.

-Brian


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