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Are Boxers Smart? – Here’s Why They’re More Intelligent Than You Think

Boxers are some of the most cheerful and playful dogs you can find. They’re some of the best family dog breeds because they’re affectionate, loyal yet active. But because they tend to have goofy personalities, owners may question the Boxer’s intelligence.

Boxers are average intelligent dogs for obedience & working intelligence. In fact, they’re the 90th smartest dog breed, according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren. Despite this, Boxers are intuitive learners and can easily learn from past experiences. Plus, their versatility also makes them a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to instinctive IQ.  

There’s nothing wrong with being average intelligent. Though Boxers ranked fairly low on the smartest dogs list, there are a number of reasons why they’re actually smart dogs. Let’s further examine the Boxer’s intelligence and see what actually makes them smart dogs.

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How We Measure a Boxer’s Intelligence

According to Boxer owners, these dogs are smarter than you think.

The Boxer just cracked the top 100 list of smartest dog breeds – taking the 90th place. But if you’re anything like me, you may be wondering how the “experts” came to this conclusion?

The ranking of smartest breeds was based on a single dimension of canine intelligence called obedience & working intelligence. It was developed by Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist and pHD, and essentially measured how fast a dog learns commands.

Of course there may be a correlation between breeds that learn quickly and intelligence. However, this is not a true measurement of dog intelligence (though a good starting point). It’s just that obedience & working intelligence is the easiest to objectively measure in dogs.

Coren’s Canine Intelligence Criteria

In Coren’s research, he asked 199 North American obedience trial judges from the American and Canadian Kennel Club to help. The judges were given a criteria to evaluate, assess and rank as many dog breeds as possible. Here’s what they based their trials on:

  1. The number of repetitions necessary for a dog breed to learn a brand new command. Coren believed that a fewer number of repetitions needed means a smarter dog breed.
  2. The success rate that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first attempt. Coren believed that a higher success rate meant a more obedient and intelligent dog.

Though Coren received a huge number of responses from the obedience judges, not all dog breeds made the cut for his final intelligence rankings. Rather only dog breeds with at least 100 assessments qualified to be included in the list. So rarer breeds didn’t qualify.

In addition, not every dog breed was even tested. Only dog breeds recognized by the AKC or CKC took part in the trials. This meant that no intelligent hybrids, such as the Labradoodle or Goldendoodle had the opportunity to show off their intelligence.

Fortunately, Boxers are recognized by both kennel clubs – so they did participate. Also, they’re extremely popular dogs in North America – so finding 100 dogs for the trials was not a problem.

How the Boxer Performed

The Boxer scored in the “average intelligence” class, towards the bottom of the group. Although this may not seem that great, you’d be surprised to see what other popular dog breeds are in the same intelligence class.

For reference, Australian Shepherds, Huskies, Great Danes, Dachshunds, Greyhounds and Shiba Inus were all in the same intelligence class. Coincidentally, these are some of the most popular dog breeds in the world – so it’s great company to be with!

But what does being average actually mean for the Boxer? Being in the average intelligence class means that Boxers were able to learn a new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. You’d be able to teach a Boxer a new command in an hour or so, depending on the difficulty of the command.

On the other hand, Boxers were able to obey a known command on the first try with a 50% or better success rate. Of course, there are reasons why Boxers could have scored so low in this department. But with the right motivators, you may be able to experience a much higher success rate.

Boxers vs. The “Smartest” Dogs

Boxers may not be the most obedient dogs in the world, nor are they fastest learners during obedience training. But how do they compare to the world’s most intelligent dog breeds? 

Dogs that scored and performed the best are in a class of their own. And conveniently, this intelligence class makes up the top 10 smartest dogs.

These smart dogs include the Poodle, Border Collie, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Doberman, Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever. Coincidentally, they’re some of the most popular dog breeds in America too.

The smartest dog breeds were able to learn a new command with less than 5 repetitions. These dogs are at least 5 times faster at learning commands than the Boxer! In fact, they’re able to learn a new command in just a few short minutes (for something basic).

What’s even more impressive is that they’re able to obey a known command with a 95% or better success rate! The top 10 dogs are almost two times as obedient as the Boxer! Not only are they smart, but also some of the most obedient pets.

Why Boxers Ranked Low For Dog Intelligence

Boxers may not be the most obedient dog breeds ever, but is it fair to call them dumb dogs? The biggest flaw with the Stanley Coren dog intelligence trial is the criteria used to measure dog intelligence.

It’s extremely difficult to standardize a dog IQ test. Not all dogs are obedient because different breeds, and even the individual dogs of the same breeds, have different motivators

For example, the top-ranked dog breed is the Border Collie. However, these working dogs love obedience training because they love to work and do it for the sake of working. In other words, they’re wired differently than the Boxer due to their inherently bred traits.

Some Boxers may have motivators such as dog games, treats or pets – it really depends on the dog. It’s worth it for you to take some time to figure out what your Boxer’s motivators are. But once you figure it out, training a Boxer can be as easy as any other dog breed.

Stubborn, Not Dumb Boxers

It’s been well documented that Boxers are stubborn dogs. Generally, the more stubborn a dog is, the less obedient the dog will be, especially with obedience training. So it’s easy to understand why Boxers may not have performed so well on an obedience intelligence test. 

The reality is just because your Boxer doesn’t obey your command, does not mean the Boxer doesn’t understand what you’re asking him or her to do. In that moment, the Boxer just doesn’t want to obey for whatever reason. They will do as they please.

One Boxer owner tells us about his stubborn dog, saying:

My Boxer has turned into a very stubborn little guy. He walks away when you’re trying to tell him to come, or sit even though he definitely knows what they mean.

– Reddit User

Many Boxer owners can relate. Some owners suggest trying different treats if you encounter a stubborn Boxer. This could very well be their main motivator, as it is for so many Boxers. They’re more willing to obey and train if you have some delicious snacks for them.

Also, it’s best to try obedience training with treats before dinner, rather than after. With a hungry stomach, Boxers may be much more willing to comply.

Reasons Why Boxers Are Smart Dogs

The truth is, there’s so much more to dog intelligence than just obedience and work. There are three components of canine intelligence: obedience, instinctive and adaptive intelligence. According to Stanley Coren, the other two may be more important in determining dog intelligence.

The problem is that both instinctive and adaptive intelligence are difficult to measure – at least objectively. The good news is that Boxers excel in both instinctive and adaptive intelligence. With that said, let’s see what really makes the Boxer a highly intelligent dog breed.

The “Working Dog” Intelligence in Boxers

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability, skill or instinct of a dog breed. In other words, it’s what the dog was bred for. Believe it or not, prior to mainstream dog domestication, all dogs were bred for a purpose in society. In almost all cases, they did work that benefited humans.

We have retrievers that helped hunters retrieve shot game. Some served as trackers that would help hunters locate a specific animal. And of course we had guard dogs, such as the Doberman Pinscher, that specialized in protecting a person or property.

Let’s take the Australian Cattle Dog for example. They’re one of the best herding dogs in the world. The fact that no additional training is necessary for these dogs to start herding cattle speaks volume.

But how is herding a type of intelligence? The innate ability to round up cattle, guide them into a formation and drive them to a destination requires a lot of instinctive intelligence. These dogs need to know how and where to cut off the livestock to move them.

But what about the Boxer? Boxers were bred for a lot of very different jobs. Believe it or not, Boxers are some of the most versatile dog breeds in the world. 

To name a few, Boxers were bred for cart-pulling, herding, large game hunting (boar or bison), bull baiting, guarding and even dog fighting. However, they’re mainly great family dogs, guard dogs and service dogs today.

These dogs have a unique instinctive intelligence, where they’re able to excel at so many jobs. And because Boxers were bred for so many different jobs, they’re pretty much the jack-of-all-trades for instinctive dog intelligence. How many dogs are smart enough to do this all?

The Intuitive Boxer – Adaptive Intelligence

Another component of dog IQ is adaptive intelligence. This intelligence refers to what the dog can learn for him or herself. Can the dog learn from past mistakes? Are they able to solve problems? All of these are excellent questions when assessing adaptive intelligence in dogs.

Unlike instinctive, adaptive intelligence can vary great among individual dogs within the same breed. Not all Boxers are guaranteed to excel in this dimension of intelligence. But even so, most owners seem to describe Boxers as a breed with extremely high adaptive intelligence.

One Boxer owner gives us his theory. He says:

I feel like a smart dog learns all the rules very quickly. But a Boxer constantly pushes the technicality of the rules and figures out ways around them – child thinking and figuring things out.

– Reddit User

If that description doesn’t scream adaptive intelligence, I don’t know what does. Learning from past experiences is one of the top indicators of a dog with high adaptive intelligence.

Another Boxer owners call them the most intuitive dog breed he’s met, even compared to the “smartest dogs” (Border Collies). The owner said:

I’ve had two Border Collies and I know a dozen breeds very well, and another dozen well enough. Boxers are among the most intuitive dog breeds.

– Reddit User

A Boxer with good intuition means that the dog is thinking for himself. Again, the ability to think on their own is a clear sign of high adaptive intelligence.

These are just two examples of adaptive IQ seen in Boxers. We went around the internet and into forums and there were plenty more stories just like these. I’ll bet that if you asked any Boxer owner, they’ll tell you very similar stories just like these!

Is Your Boxer Smart?

Sometimes it’s better to get the opinion of real Boxer owners. And surely, that’s what we did. We asked this question and surveyed owners from the popular Boxer Subreddit. Here’s what they had to say about their Boxers.

Real Owner Answers

1. Cr250guy says Yes:I consider boxers to be a fairly intelligent breed in general (I’m a vet). I always tell people, my boxer is quite smart. He will sit and mull over a plan in his head and I can see him thinking through a problem.

2. Squiddsential says Yes:I’ve had labs, huskies and golden retrievers and i’ll say without hesitation that my boxer is the most smart and intuitive breed i’ve had.

3. Jameson837 says Yes:It’s a little bit ridiculous how little respect is given to the intelligence of the Boxer. They’re smarter than any dog i’ve met. Seriously, sometimes too smart for their own good.

4. Thebryantt says Yes:Just showed her what to do and have her treats, she has learned every trick she knows in one day she’s so smart!”

5. Shenochs says Yes:[My rescue boxer’s] progress has been amazing because boxers are SO. SMART. But, of course, when he transitions to my house, he will likely regress until he’s more comfortable with us.

6. Shimmysteph says No: “I’m sorry, there’s no way I can consider my Boxer Franky an intelligent dog. Sure they love me and are fantastic dogs, but they really really don’t like obedience…for the most part.”

7. Clusterphu says Yes:Don’t let the silly faces fool you they are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. They can be a bit clumsy sometimes, they seem to have an innate ability to step on your feet and crotch when you least expect it.

8. Sacreduato says Yes:I’ve had all sorts of mixes, my childhood dog was a Lab/German shepherd mix and I thought she was smart but some of the stuff my Boxer does is downright uncanny.

9. Tonofclay0429 says No:I swear he’s the dumbest thing in the world, but I still love him. He’s the best dog ever.”

10. Juantheman01 says Yes:As long as I have his favorite treats, he’s the smartest do in the world. He’ll bend over backwards to get a piece of those treats…


So is your Boxer smart? Let us know in the comments section below! What makes your Boxer more intelligent than the “experts” give them credit for?

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Karen Bowman

Saturday 30th of April 2022

Boxers were also used in wars and are still highly effective sniffer dogs. Yes they are a very highly intelligent breed! They listen and absorb their surroundings. You litteraly can watch them as they do this.. They feel others out and will comfort you in many different ways. My dog Cody does "emotional welfare checks"on each of the members of our household. If one of us needs him to be close he knows instinctively whom to go and comfort. They love to be close to their humans and favorite furry friends. Obedience training with a breed that actually thinks out things for themselves needs to be tailored for them specifically. They will not learn solely in some standard man made way. They feel, so you need to teach them through their senses. Touch, site,smell and hearing... You have to talk to them, they love that and if you play music or sing they really love that. Every dog has its own learning motivator. How silly it is to judge a breeds intelligence based on standardized human obedience training sessions alone.... Perhaps we are the ones who need to be retrained in regards to judging what an animal can and cannot do. Why is it that we humans like to place restraints and labels on all thing's? Perhaps we should do more observing and place less limiting ideology on all thing's. Never listen to one source just because they claim superiority on a subject. Test all things to see if they are true... Boxers think outside the Box and so should we when it comes to them.

Margo

Friday 8th of April 2022

I think my boxer is smart. She watches everything I do and I've been surprised by things she mimics. She regularly saw me turn on floor lamps and she would mouth the knob to try and turn it on.One day she succeeded and immediately ran to the other lamp to turn it on- failed, but I had to put the first one away because she was turning it on all the time. When I put paper in the wood stove she runs to get kindleing, not trained, just knew it was next. Watches me button shirt sleeves in am as I enter room in am. Needed to train her to leave them alone and not unbutton them. I failed to train her beyond the house socially, but that was my lack of proper time after age 1yr. She has a large understanding of vocabulary. Will learn new names of things in a couple of minutes. On command will go find the orange ball, tickle ball, a pouch or anything I teach her and bring it to me. Knows verbal and sign commands for sit, down, stay/wait She is highly distracted outside by traffic, squirrels etc. and I am not strong enough to keep her in line on leash and she becomes alpha.

Victoria

Sunday 20th of February 2022

I have had many intelligent dogs. Four Dobeermans, three Jack. Russel Terriers and several mutts. I now have my first Boxer. She is now two years old and is becoming more calm, Discipline is a challenge at times that is true but I know she understands and just makes her own decisions. But that said there are other unexpected behaviors that blow my mind. We have chickens. At first she thought it fun to chase them. Now she guards them. She opens doors and lets herself out or in. She "talks" to us and uses various tones and inflections. She has discovered how to open our motion opening trash can. She refuses to drink water from the bucket our Bull Terrier uses. Instead she gets into the bathtub and proceeds to turn on the water. My daughter dropped a grape on the floor. She asked Roxanne to find it and give it to her. Roxy did that and gave the grape to my daughter. My daughter then offered it to her where upon Roxy ate the grape. She is a terrific guard dog also. She loves to meet and greet.

Cpt. Michael R Metzler Sr

Sunday 13th of February 2022

I bought my first American Boxer who I named "Hercules" while I was working as a UH-1N and UH-1H-11 Super Huey Test Pilot in Colombia, South America with the Colombian Army/DOS for the Drug Interdiction Program.

I will say that he was the smartest dog I have ever owned and had the pleasure to work with every single day. He was trained by a good friend of mine who was a Sargeant in the Colombian Army and myself.

We waited to start his training until he was five months old, which is normal for the type of training he was going to endure. The first week after his obstacle course training and other tasks, my friend told me that he had NEVER had a dog complete his course in less than two weeks. He seemed to be as excited as I was and that was hard to top.

I was bringing him to the Army base with me Monday - Friday for his training, which was perfect for me. But Hercules had his own agenda, as he also wanted to go to the base on Saturdays with me. He was so funny! He'd go to the hook on the wall where I hung his leash and remove it and go straight to my Toyota Land Cruiser and jump in when I opened the door. I stopped and said "You don't have to go to school today, baby, but he didn't want to get out. I finally got him out, but then he followed me down the street, so I had to bring him home. Hehehe

He would sit on the bed (my back on the headboard) in front of me between my legs when I was eating and he would put his snout on the edge of the tray and watch me eat and at the same time waiting for his bite.

Things like this happened EVERY single day and he got more intelligent in all three of the types of intelligence cues as well.

He started his training at home with his bathroom duties (Wee Wee and Poo 💩 Poo, which worked out well. If he wee wee'd on the floor I would put his snout in it and the same with his poo poo, but just to let him know it wasn't good and I would do the same thing to him every time until he learned 🤣. I would also put paper on the floor and put him on top of it and also take him outside as well.

I never mentioned it, but I also had his wife Princessa and two from her litters (White girl named Delilah and a Fawn boy named Zeus). Zeus was 25% larger than his father Hercules and was a tough "Son of a Bugger." Hehehe He ALWAYS wanted to fight Hercules, so I had to keep them separated.

Sorry for the long story, but he deserves the recognition and love and much much more.

He was BRILLIANT and I love and miss him so much.

God 🙏 bless all of you and your families! Stay safe!

Cpt. Michael R Metzler Sr.

K. Mattingly

Wednesday 9th of February 2022

If my boxer wants a toy my English bulldog has she simply "alarm barks, then doubles back after the bulldog drops the toy to investigate. This is is not learned behavior. She simply found a solution to the problem. So smart!