Wednesday 20 March 2013

Boxers: the heat is on

New research reveals that body condition plays a critical role in thermoregulation in brachycephalic breeds such as the Boxer, Bulldog and Pug.

“Brachycephalic dogs are at greater risk for heat-related illness, presumably due to the structure of their respiratory tract,” explains Professor Michel Davis of Oklahoma State University in an article on the AKCHF website“Dogs rely on the respiratory tract to dissipate metabolic heat, and this process is hampered in brachycephalic breeds due to their airway anatomy.”

This makes endurance activities tougher for brachycephalic breeds. But the research found that carrying too much weight may be an even bigger risk. 

“While brachycephaly had an important impact on our research results, body condition score seemed to have a larger impact,” Davis says. “In other words, being overweight is probably more risky than being brachycephalic and a lean brachycephalic dog may not have that much of a risk. The overweight brachycephalic dogs had two strikes against them.”  

Nevertheless, the article goes on to feature Boxers - a breed that in the main is kept pretty lean and so one would think would not suffer so badly.

Not so, according to top Boxer breeders Linda and Skip Abel from Minnesota, who have bred Boxers under the Storybook prefix since 1993.  The Abels are portrayed as being responsible breeders for taking so much care to avoid heat-stress when travelling with their Boxers and for informing their puppy buyers of the risks: "“I caution new puppy owners about these issues,” says Mrs Abel. “A lot of times they are young families or a young, single person who wants to go jogging with a Boxer. I question them about whether a Boxer is the right breed for them."

And then she adds:

"In general, a Boxer is not a breed that spends a lot of time outdoors. These dogs simply can’t lie around in the sun without the heat becoming an issue.”

Wow. Really?

The Boxer was originally bred as a swift and strong hunting dog, capable of bringing down boar.  They were also once used in Germany as police dogs and they would have been utterly useless in either capacity if they were prone to keeling over through heat-stress.

So what happened?

The 'effin show-ring happened.

Here's what Boxers used to look like:

Over the next 50 years, they became more "refined" (as the breeders like to call it). By the 1940s, the distinctive undershot jaw was well-established and I am sure most people would recognise this dog as a Boxer (as opposed, perhaps, to the one above). But the muzzle still had a really good length to it.
And they could have stopped there. But of course they didn't. Here's a modern show dog, photographed in the UK ring recently. They're not all like this, but some are - and it's a type favoured on the continent, including in the breed's country of origin.

Here's another one:

It's a heck of a "refinement", isn't it?

Of course, the Boxer is not (yet) as brachycephalic as other breeds and I am sure I'll be inundated with breed afficionados telling me how fit and athletic their dogs are. I am sure many are. It is also true that there are videos on YouTube of Boxers bred for work that do not have significantly longer muzzles (although I note that most of them are marked by huge nostrils which must help).  

No, my chief objection here is to the description of the breed as "not an outdoor dog" - and the acceptance that it should be so by the very people that have inflicted the need for air-conditioning on the dog, almost as if they weren't complicit in the whole sorry process.  Because therein lies the road to hell.

Make no mistake about it, that short muzzle and undershot jaw are defects (the latter colloquially known as a Hapsburg Jaw in humans, perpetuated by inbreeding in the Hapsburgs - pretty much as it has been in Boxers, too).

In moderation, neither are likely to present huge problems. In other words,  you should be able to have your Boxer and heat it... safely. The problems arise when things go too far - which, clearly, they have done if you are breeding Boxers that aren't capable of going for a jog with their owner on a warm day.

Meanwhile, there are some bonkers show breeders (not in the UK, thank goodness) doing this to the other end of the dog. Apparently it's done in the belief that it makes the dog look like it has "attitude".


You gonna tell me it's just the stack? 'Cos that's how it started with the GSDs.

Have a look at Pietoro's collection of historical pix of Boxers - fascinating (as his collection is for all the breeds).  You can find the Boxer collection here.

And the inside of the Boxer? That's a whole other story... coming soon...


  1. I once watched a quite lean boxer go down with heatstroke in less than ten minutes on the first warm day of spring. Might have been less than five.

    The teenage dog was doing short drills at a SAR conference. Though he was lean, he was perhaps not very well-conditioned. And he was very brachycephalic. I had ordered an ice tub for the training site, and into it he went, thence to the emergency vet.

    A very overweight Labrador also had problems that weekend, though not as severe, and after a longer period of exertion.

    Any dog can get exertional heatstroke on that first hot day, before he is acclimated. But it took *four hours* fetching balls at batting practice in 80 degree F weather for my GSD to have a problem. (She had escaped from her kennel where she was supposed to be resting after a search while I also napped, and slipped next door to the park, where the kids were thrilled to have her field their balls.)

    The short-nosed young dog got into a dangerous state 24 times faster on a day that was not as hot.

    Which is why I'm such an awful harpy about not accepting brachycephalic dogs in the SAR unit.

    I won't be an accessory to dog murder.

    1. I live in hot humid sunny southeast Florida. I have Boxers, show Boxers.. 6 out of the seven in my house are "AKC" champions the seventh is working on it! FWIW, there are two other Boxer breeders within two miles of me.. also show breeders. All of our dogs tolerate the heat (80 degrees is nothing)and will play and run for hours in it. It isn't that heat that gets them, it is 95 degree along with 95 percent humidity that bothers them, but then again, that bothers most dogs including GSD's and most people.

      If that "lean" Boxer went down from heatstroke in five minutes, there was definitely something else going on.

      PDE once more takes the ultra extreme and tries to make it into mainstream. Yellow journalism at it's finest:-)

  2. I could weep. Words fail me. What ARE they doing and WHO do they think they are kidding?

  3. I doubt, that you can set any dog in this stack. It's something wrong with their anatomy. It would be interesting to find out what. I read, that some spine problem (Spondylosis deformans) is very common in boxers, there is a probability of some connection...

    1. I don't think you necessarily need absurd conformation to achieve that kind of "stretchability", look: and here and in normal stance:

    2. There are a lot of things wrong with this Boxer (if you gonna use it as a working dog), not only that weird stack.

      His body is way too short, his front end is WAY too big and heavy and his hind end looks weak, short in the pelvis and with a small thigh (with a lot of webbing in the groin?) to hide it out.

      Even if you take the head away, I would not trust this dog as a working dog.

    3. I found the website of this kennel... ( )

      All dogs look freakshly huge on the front end and small in the hind end.

      Dogs move pushing themselves with their rear, except from GSD that, like these Boxers, have abnormal hind ends and big front ends that have to carry all the weight.

    4. They've taken the site down, except for the front page!

  4. Hmm...Something doesn't look right here.

  5. Boxers are incredibly popular here in the States. As such, there are lots of backyard breeders. WAY too many boxers end up in rescue as a result, so I am by no means suggesting that is a good thing.

    The only silver lining is that many of these boxers seem to me to have a muzzle much more like the 1947 dog; they are not as extreme. It's the only silver lining, by the way--- I'm not suggesting the over-breeding is a good thing.

    As far as heat, of course we have to be sensible. I have coated dogs and the first few 60 degree days before they shed out is much harder on them than an 85 degree day in August; I intentionally walk with a light jacket on those first warm days so I'm too warm myself and I can tell when we are likely hitting the overheating zone before it happens (since when you walk out, you must also walk back).

    However, Boxers come from climates that get warm. Air conditioning is a modern invention. Any dog should be able to handle heat if they have access to shade and water. Realistically, no dog should be exercising in temps much about 80F unless he regularly has his belly wetted down. Even fit dogs will go down to heatstroke on a hot day.

    So what temps are they jogging in? I mean, I see runners here out on the pavement when it's 90.

    1. A fair point worth raising. Every summer here in the UK we get dogs - of all varities, not just brachycephalic showdogs! - dying of heatstroke after being walked in the middle of the day during our rare hot spells.

    2. Mary, it's regularly above 80 here in the summer and occasionally hits 100. The hotter it is, the later we walk; if it's above 87 or so we wait until the sun sets.

      We also frequently let our dogs wade in a kiddie pool before and after their walks. I'm always surprised when I see people out walking with their dogs or (worse) throwing a frisbee when it's 90F out. NO dog is safe in that weather.

      My dad used to field trial pointers and he drilled it into my head that dogs should not work in temps above 80F, no matter how fit they are. Even swimming you need to be careful, unless the water is cold.

  6. "explains Professor Michel Davis of Oklahomo State University" you mean Oklahoma, not Oklahomo?

  7. Thanks for the link to the old pics... good to see that whippets generally look better than in the past ;) contrary to all the other breeds, unfortunately.

  8. Laughing. From "butcher's dog" to butchered dog. Of course. Take a bow AKC, where form follows function, and the function is to win a ribbon. You want a dog that can do the job, we have them here in America for FREE. They're called Pit Bulls and we KILL a million a year at the local shelters.

  9. I had boxer from 1992, when I was young. She was a pedigree dog and looked more like a dog in 1944 picture (no cropped ears of course).
    I didn't have any health problems with her. She spent all her life by my side. I trained her for agility and she always were together, when I played outside with other kids in the public yard. She was very lean, incredibly fast, no hip problems or lameness on hot days (no snoring breathing too). She lived for 13,5 years old and was put to sleep because of stroke (there were accidental great noise which scared her and the stroke happened, I am sure she would have lived much much longer).
    After her death I wanted the other dog to be of boxer breed too, but I was scared how the breed changed, and occurring health problems were just too much for me. The breed got worse I am sure about it, as I knew a lot of boxers and they were healthy strong dogs, lived long life and never ever were they the "inside dogs". Boxers are built for the great speed and endurance (or I thought so before).

  10. I live in a part of the United States where it regularly gets over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of summer. Almost every boxer I see in my neighborhood has a face like the 1944 boxer. In fact, even though bulldogs are ranking high on the AKC list right now, I rarely see any in my area. Same goes for pugs and frenchies.

    I think the boxer breeders in my area are smart enough not to breed a traditionally high-energy "outside" dog with a smooshy face. Note the show breeder you mentioned is from a northern state. They don't usually experience temperatures like the summers in my area that would weed out any dogs with overly flattened faces that are unfortunate enough to be outside too long.

  11. I`ve seen other dogs put in such position,but the dogs body does look short in comparison with stronger front end to back end.
    I like the original more,and not the type to care if they look too much like Pit bulls,American Bulldogs or Dogo Argentino.
    I saw a recent video of a Boxer hunting Boer,which is really unheard of but I guess possible,all dogs are individuals.

    I`m worried about Rottweilers being bred for short muzzles and as well as a heavier build as well.
    Can't expect those to drive cattle for miles on end. Or make a good military dog.
    The show ones are actually better off then many dogs though.

    1. wait WHAT since when were Rottweilers being bred for short muzzles (excuse my I'm a novice I don't own rotties there are just two that live next door that were trained with prong collars)
      .....I just realized the miniature doxie )(we got from a friend who couldn't care for him), THAT IS MY FIRST purebred dog, our other dog might be a purebred Carolina Dog but there isn't really a DNA test to prove it...

    2. I never seen the more extreme Boxer in Real life or dog shows either,and The Rottweiler doesn't go nearly as extreme but is slowly getting that way.
      When I was searching for a Rottweiler I was having trouble finding one in my area with the original or decent length of muzzle from a breeder. Especially sense the one I liked closed down.
      Here are some more short muzzled and heavy Rottweilers.

      And I can find plenty more.

      The thing is is that show ones are not the worst and pet ones I see except for sometimes being giant are also not the worst. When trying to find a breeder it suddenly become apparent though.
      I`ll admit I`m a bit fussy as well sense I desire a athletic dog that can combine agility with strength. I also don't care for the appearance of short muzzles.
      These are my kinda Rotties,and the ones I was originally used too.

  12. Looking at that last image of a squashed-faced dog with withering hindquarters, I have this ominous premonition they are going to evolve into this:

  13. As a lifelong boxer breeder, I am all for getting closer to the Standard required 1:2 (muzzle:skull) proportions - instead of the much shorter muzzles that are favored in Europe. But we need to somehow convince everybody about why this is desirable. The very short muzzles are favored by most boxer fanciers, not just judges or breeders but also pet puppy buyers. The average pet boxer puppy buyer wants (and generally makes it very clear) a short-muzzled boxer. Many of those prospective puppy buyers have never been to a dog show and have no intentions to show. I am personally aware of the pitfalls of excessive brachycephalic features and I have read some of the relevant literature about it, but this information needs to reach “the masses” of boxer fanciers, not just judges or breeders. In my experience, people does not seem to be very receptive.

  14. I have seen more and more ski slope-backed Boxers (and Dobermanns), as I have commented here previously, but that one you posted was truly the worst one I've seen yet. I'm sure many boxer-breeders would think that dog's absolutely GORGEOUS.
    But all I see is a joke of a caricature. A caricature of a caricature.

    Where does the look of that extreme boxer come from? Well, people get the idea that a wider and shorter head looks stronger, "tougher". So they shorten the nose, increase the stop and make the forehead more steep. More and more and more. Until you get that face. (It happened with bulldogs, it happened with boxers, it's even happening with Rottweilers, Cane corso and my breed, Ca de Bou.)

    And the back? Apparently, high shoulders, a huge, barrel-shaped chest and lower back makes the dog look "proud" or "imposing". In a very mild example (a dog still shaped naturally), yes it does... but what happened with the GSD, and what's happening with the Boxer and Dobermann (same but different from the GSD), is just plain ridiculous. All I see, is a caricature, breeders trying to sculpt their "artwork" into a "mold" they've invented.

    They're ANIMALS, and they're not meant to look like that, regardless of what your sacred "breed standards" (that many breeds don't follow in the show ring anyway) say. "It is purely breeder whim", as David Hancock said about the bulldogs (not in PDE).

    SOME of it is in how they're standing. I saw a video of a boxer show where they were "aggravating" three male boxers on each other, had them staring at each other very close up, stretching their leashes until they stood in that awful pose, just to look "nice" in front of the judge. But some of it (if not most of it) is in the construction, for sure. None of the dogs I've lived with (shelties, whippet, Ca de Bou) could stand like that, or like show GSDs for that matter.

  15. I am a boxer owner and breeder of many years, and I think the issues that are raised here are important ones. There is no doubt that the quest for "breed type" has gone way too far many places, so that the breed specific traits often are exaggerated into an unfunctional caricature of the breed. The point is, though, that this is not in accordance with the breed standard. The standard describes a head, f ex, that is very "un-extreme" and not at all very short and squashy. If you bring a dog with the proportions that the standard asks for, however, the dog will usually be dismissed as being untypical. Perhaps the unpleasant focus from this blog can help change this and make people breed boxers that are more in accordance with the words and intention of the standard.

    However, it is important to remember that the boxer world is very complex, and that there are huge differences between boxers from different parts of the world. the exaggeration that are described here, are mainly a European problem.

  16. Back when I was in vet school, I remember one of my professors stating the following:

    "If you examine a Boxer that's over six years old and you don't find a tumour - you haven't looked very well."

    Harsh, but pretty much true. Unfortunately, Boxers are one of the most cancer-prone breeds there is.

  17. My dad rescued a boxer pup from death in the 70's. The breeder was going to have it killed because it was born the wrong colour! She was white.

    We lived in Africa. White dogs with little pigment lots of pink skin are prone to cancers and other things like allergies etc in hot sunny climates. However the breeders reason for wanting to put down this gorgeous puppy was that it wasn't allowed because the standard didn't include white dogs.

    Georgi as the dog was called turned out to be an extremely healthy dog and never got any skin problems or cancer. She was incredibly athletic and very fast easily running down small deer. I used to take her and the rest of the pack with me on out rides she had no problems at all with breathing. She survived many snares almost being cut in two at one point but lived to be16 in fact we never had a dog that didn't live to a ripe old age.

    That was in the seventies. Recently I went to a dog show in Rotterdam and saw the boxers briefly, I was heading to the borzois which are my interest. I couldn't believe these boxers were the same breed as Georg. They had no substance at all more like hounds and they were highly strung strange behaving animals foaming at the mouth. All seemed to be having difficulty breathing.

    Could breeding for a limited colour play its part in weakness too?

    Breeding for one physical trait at the expense of everything else? Should pedigree dogs come in any colour? I know the borzoi does and its relatively free of trouble though exaggerations have definitely changed this breed too and they have a few problems if too closely bred.

  18. OFA Hips - GOOD - BX-4587G24F-VPI
    OFA Elbows - NORMAL - BX-EL516F24-VPI
    Spondylosis - NORMAL - Grade ZERO as of 9/2011
    Brucellosis - NEGATIVE - as of 9/2011 & 10/2011
    OFA Thyroid - NORMAL - BX-TH610/24F-VPI
    Auscultation/Echo Doppler - SAS CLEAR / MURMUR FREE - BX-CA2246/21F/P-PI
    ARVC - NEGATIVE as of 7/15/2011
    Eye Cerf - NORMAL as of 10/30/2011 - BX-359624 This is a totally different dog but may I say I AM IMPRESSED. Has longer nose (not as long as the original boxers though) has a nice back that isn't so whacky looking.

  19. American boxers have longer noses, and are definitely not an "Indoor Breed"! But they have a tendency to arching swan necks, lack of bone, and little protection drive.

  20. And our obsession with high amounts of "Flash" leads to the birth of many deaf white boxers.