What Is It About Boxers…?

https://mylittledog.wordpress.com/I’ve always had a soft spot for boxers. So much so, that they appeared on the shortlist of breeds we were considering when we decided to get a dog 3 years ago. Boxers are athletic, loving and playful dogs who make good family pets and my love of them started way back in my childhood with a boxer called Rolf, who was all of the above.

I did not have any pets as a child, Rolf belonged to a neighbour who lived on the ground floor of our apartment block. But, since the neighbour loved children and had no problems sharing his dog, Rolf belonged to the neighbourhood kids as well. He was often part of our games and there was nothing he loved more than the cuddles and attention he received from us. Rolf loved children and children loved Rolf. I still bear the image of this sweet-natured childhood companion in my mind, and haven’t yet met a bad boxer to ruin it.

George, however, feels completely differently about boxers. The mere sight of one is enough for him to go ballistic and start to bark, growl and show his teeth. The hair on his back will rise sky-high giving him a pretty menacing, beastly look. And all these before we even gets close to the poor dog.

In fact, George has never seen a boxer up close, mainly because of his silly behaviour. He has no bad history whatsoever as far as these dogs are concerned. He’s never been attacked or even growled at by one.

Then why is it that my soft, friendly dog behaves in this manner around boxers?

I asked the advice of an experienced dog owner and behaviorist and here’s what I found out.

First of all, this happens whilst both George and the other dog are on the lead. The theory is that, since finding himself at the end of a lead annihilates George’s only reliable defence mechanism – his speed – he feels exposed and vulnerable, and shows aggression in an attempt to scare away those dogs that he feels threatened by. Of, course, he’s clever enough to only act this tough when the other dog is also on the lead and can’t go for him. He’s never behaved this way when meeting other dogs off-lead.

This theory makes sense and I’m ready to accept it. But my dilemma remains: why is he so much worse when the other dog is a boxer?

Well, it seems that it’s quite common for boxers to be picked on by other dogs. Apparently, it has to do with their unusual face. Again, the theory says that other breeds do not perceive a boxer’s face as being normal. So, boxers are not dogs to other dogs, but rather weird, unknown creatures. Depending on the other dog’s nature, a boxer’s face will therefore inspire fear (as it happens with George) or an irresistible urge to investigate and conquer. In both cases, the reaction will be aggressive. Whilst dogs like George will try to keep the boxer at bay by looking vicious, dogs from the latter category will most likely attack and try to assert their domination over the ‘alien’.

This theory kind of makes sense too, but my knowledge of canine psychology is very limited and therefore I’d like to hear other opinions before I make up my mind. So I thought I’d ask our blogging friends. What do you think of the theory described above? What is your experience with boxers? Do your dogs behave differently around them?

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “What Is It About Boxers…?

  1. Hi Didi. I can confirm that Grace behaves more aggressively when she meets other dogs on a leash than without one, but I don’t recall her ever being introduced to a boxer, so I’m no help here. It’s really a fascinating question, though. I read recently that the size of the dog isn’t a concern from one dog to another, it’s their body language that they pay attention to. So perhaps the features of the face would impact their reaction.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Robin. I was looking forward to your comment, because I know you’ve had similar issues with Grace. You’re making a good point about body language.

  2. I read Temple Grandin’s book: Animals Make Us Human; and her theory is that dogs are more aggressive when they meet each other face to face as this is not the way they would do it if they were not on a lead. When dogs had the run of neighborhoods and met dogs casually there was way less aggression. It’s a great book (although I confess I was less interested in the parts about livestock but it was fascinating). She has a great argument about the prevalent theory about dogs needing a pack leader too.

    I dog sat for a friend with a boxer for years and she was the sweetest dog!

    • Thanks for visiting and leaving such an interesting comment, Nancy. That books sounds like a nice read, I’ll have to look it up on Amazon. I, too, have read that, if left to their own devices, dogs have a certain way of approaching each other, but I couldn’t access any more information at the time.
      I’m so happy you’re sharing my opinion about boxers πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Nancy, for mentioning that book. I would like to read it — I did see the movie about Temple Grandin’s life and I absolutely loved it. What an amazing woman; she transformed the cattle industry despite her challenges. It was an informative and inspiring movie about animals and humans. As you said, I was also hoping for more dog “stuff” in the movie but it mostly about the cattle, which was her focus, but still incredibly fascinating. The two schools she went to were both in New Hampshire, literally five miles from where I live, so it was especially interesting to me. I would highly recommend the movie; now I look forward to the book! Thanks!

  3. Kas

    I can definitely attest to what you’ve said in this post. A couple of things. 1) When it comes to any aggressive tendency/behavior, 99% of the time, the dog is going to behave worse while on leash. Diesel has some fear aggression issues that we’ve been working on and they are definitely much worse while he’s on leash (they’re almost nonexistent off-leash). Like you said, a dog feels trapped and vulnerable while they’re on a leash and that in turn causes them to be more reactive. 2) I agree with your theory on a boxer’s face shape. Every single boxer or bully breed (i.e., pit bull, bulldog, pug, etc.) at the dog daycare that I used to work at seemed to either caused trouble or was in trouble with the other dogs. Not one of our dogs likes bully breeds, unfortunately, as we would have loved to have one in the future. 3) Just a tip, especially since it sounds like George is displaying fear aggressive behaviors with this boxer, is to use a harness when you’re walking him near this dog or any dog that causes him to react. You want all pressure off of his neck – when a dog is stressed out/scared, the chemicals in his brain are on overdrive. Any pressure on his neck from his collar/leash is going to increase the release of the chemicals and in turn, escalate his fear/stress/aggression. Just a friendly tip – and this is why I always walk Diesel on a harness and never on his collar.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kas. It’s almost a post in itself, and a great contribution and add-on to my post πŸ™‚ Thanks for the tip, too. I do use a harness with George, 99% of the time (I guess I didn’t make myself clear in the post…sorry, brain on holiday!). He never liked it much when we attached the lead directly to his collar, so we opted for a harness early on and we’ve stuck to it. He’s the only whippet around here who wears a harness, but I don’t care what the others think. I’ve never been comfortable pulling on his neck (I wouldn’t like it, so why should he?), so the harness is a good compromise for when he can’t run around free. I really appreciate both points 1) and 2), as you’ve definitely got more experience with dogs than me, so it’s nice to hear that I’m not way off with my theories (which aren’t mine originally, of course, I learnt them from others). x

      • Kas

        Glad you’re using a harness — all of my whippet friends swear by the wide-banded martingale collars! Your theories are definitely in-sync with mine (which are based on what I’ve read in all of my dog behavior and reactivity/fear books). I’m going to put a list of my reading materials on my blog one of these days, if you’re interested in anything!

  4. I’m with PeopleSense and Kas – Gus is definitely more squirrely when he is on his leash and we encounter other dogs. He’s anxious in general, and the leash just adds another layer of stress.

    I’ve never noticed him more reactive around certain breeds, but your post will make me examine this more closely.

    Maybe George had an unpleasant run-in with a boxer in his former life. πŸ˜‰

    • Ha, ha, you’ve just made me wonder what George might have been in his former life…What an intriguing thought…Hmm…I think he probably used to be Bambi πŸ˜›
      Anyway, I’m surprised to hear that Gus is an anxious dog, I never would have imagined that, he looks so confident in your photos. Just comes to show that you can never tell…He’s doing such a great job posing like he’s the king of the universe πŸ™‚

      • Yes, unfortunately he is anxious. 😦 We realized (too late) that we probably caused most of it. We work with him every day to overcome certain obstacles, but we’re all definitely a work-in-progress. It’s something I’ve meant to blog about for a long time now.

      • What a good mum you are taking the blame for Gus’ behaviour. I, too, have often wondered if it’s me who’s making him act like that by passing on my stress…Although, of course, I don’t feel stressed in these situations. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not, I might just not be aware of it. Does this make sense?
        Looking forward to the post πŸ˜‰

      • Kas

        I think I might actually write a post about this as well fairly soon … As handlers, our reactions, even if we think we aren’t reacting, will escalate a dog’s fearful/anxious behavior. Dogs are so incredibly in-tune to our behavior and body language (they can even detect a subtle change in our breathing or posture) and I know and can see that Diesel can read and see that I’m nervous about a situation in which he reacts. It’s tough because we’ve come to expect something to happen and that in turn causes our dogs to expect something to happen and that of course increases their reactivity.

      • Your comment makes complete sense and confirms some of my theories, Kas. I’m looking forward to your post, I’m sure it’ll be interesting and informative, you’ve definitely done your research by the sound of it πŸ˜‰

  5. Wow, I can’t picture George ever not being friendly, no matter what breed of dog he comes face to face with.

    • I know, I can’t either…Well, I can now, but it’s still hard to believe it sometimes. Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often, some dogs just seem to trigger something in him, and I tell you, he’s got a good bark and can look pretty vicious. I know for sure that he wouldn’t actually bite or fight, because we’ve had to protect him on a number of occassions, but he does a good job looking ‘rough’. I’m not sure if the other dogs actually buy his act, but humans who don’t know him do. It’s always worse with boxers than any other dogs, which is why I posted this. Good thing that there aren’t many boxers around here, we normally bump into them when we go on holiday…It’s like they follow us around just to test George.

  6. I love Boxers too! I used to dog/house-sit for a family with Boxers when I was in college. They were awesome!! Soon after we got Xander, our male whippet, he went bonkers after a Boxer at a pet store. The Boxer was much larger than Xander and we thought he was nuts for acting so aggressive towards it. We learned that Xander was this way toward all dogs he encountered on walks, but he has mellowed with age. It definitely wasn’t Boxer-specific. Hugs to you and George. xo

    • What is it with our whippets that they pick on bigger dogs? Whenever George does it, my husband warns him that he’s going to get his head kicked in one day if he carries on. Not that his words make any difference to George. It’s not even that my whip hates all big dogs, his best buddies are 2 airdales twice his size, and a huge, furry dog of uncertain breed (also called George) who is three times his size. Can’t picture Xander acting aggressive, but then I wouldn’t be able to picture George being like that, either, if I hadn’t seen him. x

  7. lifewith4cats

    Today Im skipping reading the comments as I have a lot of blog reading to catch up on, so I hope I dont step on any toes by saying something somebody already said.
    There are definite behavior rules that change according to on-leash off-leash. But there is also something else to consider. George loves you and so observes every little thing you do. Is it possible that you put out a different ‘vibe’ when you see a boxer because you do like them so much? George might be trying to protect his ‘interests’ by acting like that to keep you, ‘his property’ away from a potential rival.

    I guess this would depend on if George does it all the time, or only with you. I also love boxers a lot, especialy the brindle coat ones. But I dont love the drool, so I will never own one. But they are on my top 5 favorite breeds list.

    • Thanks for bringing in a new point of view. To be honest, it never crossed my mind that George could be acting like this because he’s jealous. It is an interesting way of looking at it, but I don’t think this is the case. First of all, he does it whenever he sees a boxer regardless of whether he’s out with me or my husband. Secondly, he does it to other dogs as well, although the way he picks them looks quite random to me. There just seems to be the odd one that scares the pants off George and triggers his defensive system.
      I’m not too keen on the drool, either, although I would be willing to put up with it …:)

  8. Oscar’s always a little anxious whenever meeting new dogs, but I don’t think the leash brings him additional stress. I make sure to hold the leash loosely in my hand and keep it a bit slack to avoid transferring tension from me to him. I do know that we, as dog owners, should avoid having our dogs meet head-on because it’s very confrontational.

    As for the Boxer’s “unusual” face, it’s that unusual face that makes them so adorable! πŸ™‚

    • You’re definitely doing things properly, making sure that the lead is slack so that you don’t pass on any negative vibes. I’ve read about it and is something I am aware of and try to implement myself. I have often wondered if it’s not us who get stressed when another dog approaches, which in turn makes George react aggressively. So I’m trying to work on it. And I agree about avoiding head-on confrontation with other dogs. I normally avoid other dogs anyway, unless we know them. Yesterday, however, George was playing with two of his friends and a new dog (off lead) came to join the game. Because the conditions were right and they were both off the lead, George and the other dog (a massive mixed-breed) were able to become acquainted with each other gradually, over a period of 3-4 minutes. The ran circles around each other, gradually reducing the distance between them until they eventually came next to each other. Then they did a bit of sniffing (ears, bottom, etc.), decided they’re both OK and went on playing together. I have no doubt that George would have put on his aggresive mask if we’d met the other dog whilst they were both on the lead.
      I agree, boxers are adorable…although not as adorable as Oscar, of course πŸ™‚

  9. How interesting that dogs should view Boxers differently based on their appearances. We haven’t had many encounters with Boxers to be able to attest to the behaviourist’s hypothesis, but Maple was quite edgy that one time when we passed by a Boxer during a walk. Interestingly, the Pugs that we’ve met during our walks also have the same effect on Maple.

    However, when Maple’s off-leash in a dog park, she doesn’t seem to exhibit any signs of fear or aggression towards the Pugs that are sharing th same playspace as her. So, I’m more inclined to think that a leash contributes more to a dog’s stress level and other reasons (like appearances) may be secondary. But, then again, I’m no expert either πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that Maple reacts the same to pugs. They do have similar faces to boxers though, don’t they? Maybe, because Maple is so tiny, pugs, too, look threatening to her. I don’t think George would pick on pugs, as he’s never picked on little dogs before. It’s the big ones he’s got an issue with. But he hasn’t met a pug yet, and it would be interesting to see if he behaves aggressively towards them (because of their similarity with boxers) or not. In line with what you say, it would also be interesting to see if George has an issue with boxers off the lead…Haven’t got the chance to test that yet.

  10. I think there’s truth to the fact that the face of a Boxer looks wrong to other dogs. I’ve read it in several different places. The only dog that Morgan has ever backed off from and had trouble at the dog park with was a Boxer. She was just relentless, and Morgan played with her for a while, but then got tired of it, but the Boxer wouldn’t leave her alone.

    • That boxer must have been quite boysterous to make Morgan back off. Or maybe they just didn’t get along, both being girls, and that. I’ve read that confrontations between bitches can be much more serious than those between male dogs.

  11. Frankie has a ‘thing’ about Boxers too. He’s not so bad with females, he will give them the benefit of the doubt and is OK after meeting them. But males are a different story and his motto seems to be ‘attack is the best form of defense’. Luckily we don’t come across many, or it might be better if we did? I could go on about Frankie and Buster the Boxer and their relationship but that’s probably a blog post in itself:) Beryl isn’t worried about Boxers at all though:)

    Re meeting on or off leash, yes, off leash is much better. But sometimes I prefer to be cautious and Frankie goes on the lead if I see a dog I don’t know and it’s owner puts it on the lead too.

    Maybe George needs to meet more Boxers too (I think they’re lovely clowns!) and learn that they really are dogs?

    • I prefer to be cautious, too, and tend to put George on the lead when we meet dogs we don’t know. It has crossed my mind that meeting a boxer (proper meeting, when they’re both off the lead) could be quite beneficial and could help George get over his dislike of these dogs, but haven’t managed to arrange such an encounter yet. If I ever do, I’ll make sure to write a post about it.
      In the meantime, I’m looking forward to your post about Frankie and Buster πŸ™‚

  12. I too, had a boxer in my childhood that belonged to our next door neighbor. His name was Ali (go figure). I like the lead theory as Sia is the same way although it really doesn’t matter what dog we encounter. Usually I just let her get a good sniff and then everything is okay.

    • That’s such a nice coincidence, isn’t it? Ali…Why not? I like it. Was it Ali from Mohammad Ali, or Ali from Ali Baba?? Just being silly, I’m sure he was really sweet.
      I think letting the dog sniff and assess the other dog is the right thing to do. Not always possible, as people aren’t too keen to hang around dogs that show aggression (be it defensive) towards their own dogs. Just like Sia, George calms down, too, if given the chance to spend enough time with the other dog.

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