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What Were Boxers Bred For? – The Roles, Jobs & History of the Boxer

Boxer dogs were bred to do various tasks, including bull baiting, cart pulling, herding and more.
Written by Richard Jeng

The Boxer has been one of the more popular dog breeds in America, ranking 11th out of 193 possible breeds. They’re intelligent, loyal, and hard working dogs. You could say they have it all! However, they have an interesting history too.

So, what were Boxers bred to do? Developed in Germany over 200 years ago, Boxers were first bred to be bull-baiting dogs that later became assistants to butchers in slaughterhouses. After coming to the United States, they continued to be working dogs, though they’re mainly kept as a loving family pet.

The Boxer has many ancestors such as the Bulldog, Bullenbeisser and the Mastiff. All of which, were crucial components in developing the ultimate working dog. Let’s look into the history of the Boxer to learn more about their breeding purpose. 

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The Boxer is a dog that’s full of energy, often giving off a cheerful vibe. They are playful yet intelligent, and dogs that prefer company. The unwavering loyalty and companionship are what Boxer owners love the most about this breed.

Boxers make great pets for large families with busy households. And as long as they receive plenty of exercise, these adaptable dogs will be happy in any home environment – be it a city apartment or a large country farmhouse.

My childhood boxer was a sweet and dainty female who would check each room at night before going to sleep. She made sure everyone was where they should be.

– Frabjousday (Dog Forums)

Though Boxers are vocal dogs, they don’t excessively bark like many other breeds. Instead, a Boxer tends to make growling noises as a way to communicate with humans. Perhaps it’s why they’re often viewed as aggressive or dangerous dogs.

However, the Boxer has an interesting history as a working dog with many roles in society. For example, they were one of the first working police dog breeds. Plus, they were also bred to be guard dogs, family pets and loving companions.

The Origin of the Boxer’s Name

There are many different theories on the origin of the breed name, “Boxer.” One theory is that the Boxers got their name from the way they fight, which can be seen either when they play with other dogs or when they defend themselves.

For instance, they tend to stand on their hind legs and “box” with their front paws. This quality in their fight strategy resembles that of a real professional boxer. While it’s not something that all Boxers do, anecdotal evidence claim this is the case.

Even so, it’s unlikely that modern Boxers “box” in this manner. Rather, they tend to box with the head and not the paws. That is, they’ll strike another animal with their heads (without biting them) – think of it as a head-butt.

Another theory is that the name is derived from the Bullenbeisser’s nickname, “Boxl.” As I mentioned, the Bullenbeisser breed was one of the main ancestors in developing the Boxer. It only makes sense to name them after their ancestors, right?

A hint comes from the German dictionary translation of Boxer as prizefighter, which suggests that they got their named for their dog-fighting qualities, not the technique. Of course, there are no records of how the Boxer officially got his name still.

Boxers in America

Boxers began their journey to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the first ever Boxer to be registered was in 1904. His name was Arnulf Grandez.

The first World War saw the Boxer’s popularity soar. Since the Boxer was used during the war as a working dog, many soldiers became familiar with the breed and fell in love with them. Many WWI soldiers returned home from the war with a Boxer in tow.

Despite arriving in the U.S. relatively early on, the popularity of the Boxer dogs did not become significant until the late 1930s. Thanks to the original four Boxers that made up the foundation, plenty of puppies were bred into the country soon after.

Why Did We Breed Dogs?

Since people want different things from their dogs, they look for different physical attributes and behavioral characteristics in their dog. Long before they were pets and companions, every type of dog was bred with a particular role in mind.

Perhaps they were hunting dogs, guard dogs, retrieving dogs or just companions. Whatever the designation, breeders chose characteristics to make the dogs more favorable for their role. As a result, dogs come with all types of different qualities.

For example, a dog that is bred for companionship will have vastly different behaviors and traits compared to a guard dog. Likewise, herding dogs will contrast in physical qualities, work ethics and personalities to that of a lap dog. 

Despite the original intention of the dog breed, most of them are able to transition into fantastic companions and family dogs today. But because most dogs don’t work anymore, what were Boxers originally bred to do in society?

What Were Boxers Originally Bred For?

Boxers were originally bred to be bull baiting dogs, which is an illegal blood sport now.

Boxers have a long history. In fact, this breed’s ancestors can be traced back to 2500 BC with Assyrian war dogs. The modern Boxer has its roots in 19th century Germany when it was bred from the Bullenbeisser, a now-extinct “‘bull biter” dog breed.

In other words, Boxers were bred as a bull-baiting or hunting dog. They had very similar jobs and roles as the ancestors of both the Pit Bull breeds or bulldog-types.

And in case you were wondering, Bull baiting is a cruel blood sport where dogs would taunt a bull in a large pit. Because the bull would be chained up, the taunting would happen until the bull gave up or the dogs “killed” the bull.

Fortunately for both animals, political changes saw the Bullenbeisser breed fall out of favor as the sport was outlawed. However, it was not the end of the Boxers’ ancestors. Breeders took them in and crossbred them with mastiff-type dogs to become the modern Boxer

The result was a dog that was more elegant and sleeker-looking. Plus, the overly aggressive nature needed for the blood sport was slowly bred out in favor of a docile, affectionate and friendlier dog. They needed attractive temperaments for casual owners. 

Evolution of Boxers in Society

As generations passed, the role of the Boxer began changing. As a result, different traits were brought into this breed. With bull-baiting becoming illegal, there was no real purpose to having a muscular and aggressive dog.

Even so, Boxers weren’t limited to just blood sports. In fact, they’re some of the most versatile working dogs in the world. So much so, that Europeans often called them the jack-of-all-trades working dog for this very reason.

The Boxer has seamlessly transitioned and adapted into society fairly well. They’ve done many jobs in society over the years. For instance, they’ve been war dogs, guard dog, herding dogs, police dog, watchdogs, board/bison hunting dogs and fighting dogs. 

Initially, when hunting was the purpose, breeders chose to breed dogs that were brave and courageous. This meant they became pretty great guard dogs and so their role shifted from hunting to guarding and other similar jobs.

However, the transition into a family companion came during their guard dog days. As the dogs began to have more frequent interactions with people and families, society finally realized just how special and friendly they could be.

Breeding Boxers for the Job

There’s no denying: Boxers are great looking dogs. But in reality, their features were chosen for a very specific purpose. That is, to have them excel at their intended roles of a hunter, guard dog and fearsome fighter.

Though these physical traits aren’t necessarily essential in today’s world, they are still apparent in modern-day Boxers. As a matter of fact, these traits are what makes these dogs so unique. Let’s examine 4 physical traits of Boxers and their purpose:

1. The Jaw

It is thought that their jaw, being undershot and wide, was developed into the Boxer in order for them to be able to hold onto their prey until the master could arrive. It’s why Boxers are famously known for their underbites.

Back when Boxers were used as hunting dogs, the jaw was a particularly useful quality. These dogs had to buy some time for hunters to catch up. In addition, the wide jaws was also useful in bull-baiting, as it helps them pin down the bull.

2. Face Wrinkles

For the most part, Boxers are muscular and lean dogs with the exception of the face. A slightly contentious thought is that the wrinkles on the side of the face were bred into the Boxer so that excess blood couldn’t get into the dogs’ eyes when hunting.

Wrinkles, though relatively unique, are not exclusive to the Boxers or other bull-baiting dogs. In fact, this is a physical characteristic seen in many of the top fighting dogs of the world, such as the Japanese Tosa Inu or the old Shar-Pei.

3. The Nose

If the mouth is being used to hold onto the prey, it was necessary for these dogs to have a large nose with wide and open nostrils. Without the mouth, larger nostrils would allow the dog to breathe more efficiently during the struggle with the game.

Nowadays, we know that breeding dogs to have flatter faces can actually cause issues, such as breathing problems. However, back when this dog breed was being developed, this wasn’t known and was thought to be more beneficial than hurtful.

4. Coat Coloring

The Boxer’s coloring allows it to blend into the surroundings and different elements of the environment, such as long grass and trees. Think of it as a natural camouflage for the dogs on their hunting trips or when protecting property.

Unlike many other dog breeds, there are only 3 main colors of these dogs recognized by the AKC. You won’t find unique colors, at least from a reputable breeder. And if you want to take a closer look at the different color variations of the Boxer dog, check this out.

What Boxers Are Bred For Today

The modern Boxer is bred to be great companions and family dogs.

We now know what Boxers have been bred for throughout their history. They served many roles and have an interesting background that all dog lowers can appreciate. However, the majority of Boxers are family pets today.

What makes them great with humans is their playfulness and their patience, particularly with children. They’re friendly to others, though wary of strangers. Perhaps this instinct is why they still make great guard or watch dogs today. 

And with early socialization, Boxers become a well-rounded and friendly dog that is outgoing and a true companion for life. They need to play with both dogs and humans (preferably kids) at a young age. In fact, the earlier you start the better.

Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to these dogs. They’re consistently on the top 10 most dangerous dogs list (in America). Though numbers don’t lie, it doesn’t tell the full story either.

Most of the Boxer attacks occur when the dog is without proper training and socialization. The Boxer without socializing can be dangerous to children due to the combination of the prey-drive, instincts, strength and size. 

As a result, most of the Boxer attacks that occur are with small children and an untrained dog. It takes both the owner and dog to development a favorable family-friendly temperament. They won’t know how to act around kids without socializing.

Should You Get a Boxer?

Boxers are considered smart because they have high adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

Boxers are not the same dogs they once were. But should you get a Boxer? Because Boxers were bred for so many jobs they did exceptionally well with, some may still have those strong instincts that may not be suitable for passive owners. 

As long as you provide proper socialization and train with a consistent yet firm hand, Boxers will be able to thrive in just about any household. Whether in a big family or a single owner home, Boxers have the opportunity to become excellent pets.

Always do your due diligence to see if these dogs match your personality and needs. You will also need to dedicate much time to raising one. With that said, Boxers are some of America’s favorite dogs for a reason. You won’t regret bringing home a Boxer!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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