Socializing a Boxer puppy means more than just having him play with other dogs at puppy school or the dog park— and, in fact, these settings can be among the worst places to take your Boxer.
Proper socialization of a Boxer puppy involves carefully exposing him to all aspects of life such as:
- Animals including other dogs
- Potentially frightening noises
- Household activities and devices
- “Dog life” experiences like baths, staying home alone
Repeated exposure to a situation will not, on its own, produce a well socialized Boxer — it can backfire by ingraining undesirable behaviors.
In other words, hoping your dog will “grow out of it” is not a socialization strategy.
You need to actively teach your puppy what behavior is expected in each situation and gradually equip him with the necessary skills, so that he can cope.
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1. Start Early
There are critical windows during a Boxer puppy’s growth and development when he is especially sensitive to outside influences.
At these times your Boxer is a sponge, his mind super receptive to learning and his behavior most open to shaping.
Good breeders take advantage of the earliest of these opportunities, from week two to four of life, when the eyes and ears have just opened and a pup’s awareness dramatically expands — but before he has developed any sense of fear.
Sights and sounds that puppies are exposed to at this point will be received as normal and safe.
Even earlier, it’s known that exposure to slight stressors (such as human handling) tends to fortify puppies against stress and anxiety later in life, by giving them experience coping with brief upticks in discomfort or mild distress.
The prime socialization period lasts from three to 12 weeks but peaks between six to eight weeks.
This timing, occurring before your pup has come home to you, underscores the importance of:
- Selecting a good breeder who will socialize your puppy properly in the first few months
- Not bringing your pup home before eight weeks (ideally not until ten weeks) to maximize time spent with his littermates and mom, who teach him how to “be a dog”, including impulse control and “bite inhibition”
Once you bring your Boxer puppy home, you can build his confidence in small ways every day, by exposing him to unfamiliar and challenging situations, so that he gathers diverse experiences and learns to overcome fears.
It can be as simple as learning:
- To walk on strange-textured surfaces like wet tiles, astroturf or pebbles
- To watch a plastic bag blow across a road without chasing it
- To ride in an elevator or on an escalator
- To walk beside a busy road with rumbling trucks and beeping car horns
Every experience counts at this point — habits and associations established before 12 weeks of age can last a lifetime.
Beyond 12 weeks of age, there is a growing tendency to react fearfully to new people and situations .. but learning continues.
2. Introduce Your Boxer Puppy To A Variety Of People
It’s important to give your puppy exposure to a range of people of different ages and appearances such as people:
- With variations in skin colour
- Dressed in uniforms e.g. couriers
- Wearing sunglasses, hats etc
- In wheelchairs, with canes/walking frames, pushing prams, shopping carts etc
You will especially want to teach your Boxer to be calm, relaxed and gentle around vulnerable groups like:
- Children (Including running, squealing children)
- Babies (Including crying babies and babies sitting or lying on the floor)
- Older, frail folks or those with balance issues
This can be a challenge if you live alone and don’t have kids or family close by.
If you have the option, invite friends with kids over from the first days of your Boxer’s life with you.
While your puppy is small and light, he’s unlikely to barrel kids over.
Choose kids who’re already familiar with dogs and unafraid and whose parents are on board with what you’re trying to achieve.
If people are always on chairs and furniture and then a toddler is suddenly crawling around on the floor, it’s likely to be more exciting for your Boxer.
So, sit on the floor with your puppy often and when the kids are over, have them down on the floor as they’d normally be.
Your Boxer will be very inquisitive and the breed is renowned for loving kids and for having an innate sense that they are to be looked after.
Allow sniffing and gentle interaction but interrupt any stepping on little limbs or play that’s too boisterous.
Use treats and calm praise to reward good behavior.
If your Boxer is proving difficult to manage in this situation, put him on leash to give yourself more control.
Ideally the session ends with your Boxer getting so used to the child that the novelty value wears off and he settles down for a nap.
Avoid the temptation to keep children on laps and out of reach of your Boxer puppy — this makes them a kind of “forbidden fruit” and only increases the level of excitement.
Allowing child and dog to interact and investigate each other is part of the process.
Undesirable behaviors you will probably need to specifically work as your puppy grows up mostly stem from the breed’s natural exuberance and excitability and include:
- Jumping up on people especially strangers
- Pulling on the leash (See our Top 5 Recommended Leashes For Walking Your Boxer and 1 To Avoid)
- Ignoring the recall command
- Biting (in very young puppies)
- Being calm around other dogs and owners
All of these issues are easier to manage the earlier they’re tackled.
3. Let Your Boxer Spend Time Around Other Dogs (But Beware Dog Parks And Dog Day Care)
Owners commonly assume socialization means having their dog play off-leash with other dogs in a dog park situation.
However, dog parks, dog daycare and puppy schools can create more problems than they solve because of their tendency to thrust dogs into canine “mosh-pits”.
While some dogs may cope well with these situations, it’s important to remember that dog parks and dog day care are human inventions.
Dogs in the wild go to great lengths to avoid crossing paths with members of other packs.
In other words, dog parks and dog daycare are highly unnatural situations for dogs and can set them up for conflict.
Your Boxer’s pack is his human household.
When we expect our Boxers to interact harmoniously with dogs from “foreign packs”, we are effectively asking them to override their basic instincts — often without having taught them how to do so.
Most often we just throw them in the deep end.
Many dog trainers and behaviorists recommend avoiding dog parks altogether and advise giving a wide berth to all but the most exceptionally-run dog day cares.
When selecting puppy schools, make sure you find out the trainer’s philosophy and understand how the sessions are run before signing your dog up.
Otherwise, you may end up inadvertently instilling problem behaviors you’ll spend the next many years undoing.
Far better to arrange one-on-one play dates with known and trusted dogs in controlled environments.
How Dog Parks And Dog Day Care Will Ruin Your Boxer
The essential problem with day cares and dog parks is that your Boxer puppy, already prone to overexcitement, will learn to associate other dogs with a state of high arousal and wild play.
As a result, you’ll find your Boxer expecting to play with every dog he meets.
This will manifest as straining on the leash and leaping about like a wild thing whenever he spots another dog — even if that dog is on the other side of four lanes of traffic or if that dog is not friendly.
You can see how this behavior may put your Boxer in danger and make life difficult for the both of you.
Good luck trying to sit at a table in a cafe with a Boxer that reacts like this to the dog at the next table.
What you want is a Boxer that is focussed on you, and able to remain calm — and even ignore — other dogs in close proximity.
Spend Time With Your Boxer Around Other Dogs — But Not Interacting With Them
Don’t teach your Boxer to expect interaction with every dog (or human) he sees.
This might be cute when he’s a little pup, but it quickly becomes a problem in your daily life with an adult Boxer.
Dog training classes for Boxers are worthwhile insofar as they give your dog a chance to practice behaving and obeying commands around other dogs, in a controlled environment.
Just make sure you choose a school that prioritizes the right kind of socialization i.e. keeping dogs on leash and giving them space from each other.
Fenced dog parks are great places to socialize your Boxer but not in the way most people expect.
Trying staying outside the fence, working on focus and obedience at a distance at first and then gradually moving closer to the chaos as your dog’s concentration and impulse control improves.
4. Include Cats And Other Animals In Your Boxer Puppy’s Life
Invariably the Boxers that have grown up with cats are wonderful with them.
The same goes for any other pet.
If you don’t have a cat when you get your Boxer puppy, you will have to go to greater lengths to get your Boxer exposure to cats.
If he never interacts with a cat — except as a scampering shadow running under parked cars in the street or hissing at him from atop a garden wall — until he’s fully grown, you are likely to find your Boxer’s inclination is to chase.
Boxers have a strong in-built prey drive and it will kick in unless you’ve raised yours to behave differently.
If the cat is similarly inexperienced with dogs, it will run and things will escalate in exactly the way you don’t want.
Ideally, expose your Boxer puppy to kittens and adult cats that are used to dogs.
But at the very least, know your Boxer’s limits.
Don’t expect your adult Boxer to behave well around cats if he’s not lived with them or spent significant time around them growing up.
Socializing Your Boxer To Squirrels, Chooks, Possums, Rabbits And Livestock
The same basic principles apply to any animal: early, frequent exposure when your Boxer is still a pup is the easiest route.
Desensitizing a Boxer to other animals for the first time as an adult will be significantly more challenging.
You’ll need to follow a process of desensitization by exposing initially at a distance, then moving incrementally closer and closer over time.
Use positive reinforcement and treats to reward good behavior.
Progress at a rate dictated by your dog: don’t advance to a higher degree of difficulty until your Boxer is succeeding 80% of the time.
Don’t make a big deal out of the animal or even look at it.
Instead, build engagement between you and your dog and train him to focus on you: your Boxer can’t chase a rabbit if his eyes are locked on yours.
5. Get Your Boxer Out And About To Different Places And Situations
Places and situations you may want to expose your Boxer to as a pup include:
- The vet clinic
- Visiting or staying over at family member’s houses
- Kids’ sports events
- Being touched and petted by strangers
Don’t expect your Boxer to go from zero to 100 all at once.
Start with short visits and build up tolerance to challenging situations over time.
At first, you might barely be able to buy a coffee at the take-out window, but eventually you’ll be able to eat in a whole brunch with friends while your Boxer chills out by the table.
If your Boxer gets overexcited at the vet’s, you might visit more often, if only to enter, do a lap of the foyer and leave.
Once that’s manageable, maybe you add in a quick weigh-in on the scales in the vet’s waiting room.
Then you might sit down and hang out for a few minutes, and so on.
One important principle is to always work within your Boxer’s threshold, because once a dog is “over-threshold” (overstimulated) he won’t be able to concentrate or succeed at performing the desired behaviors or commands.
Use distance and duration to dial up or down the stimulation and moderate excitement levels to match what your dog can handle.
6. Desensitize Your Boxer To Thunderstorms And Fireworks
Thunderstorms and fireworks can sometimes trigger anxiety in Boxers.
Ideally, you can avoid these fears developing in the first place.
Follow these steps to raise a Boxer puppy that doesn’t bat an eyelid at thunderstorms or fireworks:
- Make sure you give off the right behavioral cues and model the behavior you want to see in your dog — Boxers are masters at observing human behavior. They read our body language and feed off our emotions. If you’re calm, there’s every chance your dog will be too. If you’re freaking out, or a bundle of nervous energy, your Boxer will pick up on this and start to feel uneasy himself
- The best breeders produce well-adjusted dogs with steady temperaments by starting socialization early and exposing litters to low-volume recordings of a variety of potentially fear-inducing noises including fireworks and thunderstorms from the first weeks of life, gradually increasing the volume. Even if your breeder hasn’t done this, you can begin now. Using recordings allows you to give your dog more opportunities to get used to otherwise random and infrequent sounds
- Help your Boxer focus on things other than the disturbing stimuli by engaging them in a activity they find absorbing e.g. if you give your Boxer a raw meaty bone on nights when there are fireworks, he will come to pair the previously unpleasant noises with something he loves, the old fear squeezed out by this new, positive association
- In the early stages, you may find it useful to muffle the noise by closing windows and doors and turning on other comforting sounds like soothing music or a sit-com on the television. You’ll want to build up your dog’s tolerance so that he can eventually handle these noises without any buffering, but take it step by step
- Resist the urge to coddle your Boxer. If we bundle our pups up and nurse them on our laps during a storm or fireworks, we can inadvertently reinforce their fears. There’s nothing wrong with a reassuring touch, but try to maintain normal activity rather than acting like something is wrong or that there is something to be afraid of
Some vets will reach for tranquilizers as a solution to anxiety.
Medication comes with risks, side effects and introduces toxins into your Boxer’s body.
It should always be a last resort.
Far better to address anxiety with desensitization training than with drugs.
Thundershirts like the ThunderShirt Classic Dog Anxiety Jacket can be helpful as a drug-free way to soothe an anxious dog.
They work in a similar way to swaddling a human infant, with constant, gentle pressure providing a sense of security.
7. Acclimate Your Boxer To Household Activities
While your Boxer is a pup, he will see you go through your full repertoire of activities around the house and garden, such as:
- Raking leaves
These are all learning opportunities.
In the kitchen, for instance, it’s a good idea to clang pots and pans and make plenty of noise, so that your Boxer hears all there is to hear.
If you encounter anything that scares your Boxer, it can generally be overcome by giving him a chance to observe from a distance or to safely inspect the object or the source of the noise.
Boxers can have a tendency to chase and bark at brooms and rakes, if only to participate in what you’re doing.
It’s best to discourage this from the get-go — or at least use it as a chance to teach a good “leave it” command once you’ve had a bit of a play and it’s time for your Boxer to quit.
A “Go to your bed” command can be useful in keeping your Boxer out of harm’s way while you accomplish a task.
8. Get Your Boxer Used To Life As A Dog
Experiences you’ll want to acquaint your Boxer with while he’s a pup include:
- Bathtime (But don’t overdo it or you’ll create skin issues)
- Wearing a collar/harness and leash
- Staying home alone
- Car rides
- Spending time in his crate if you’re crate training
- Swimming or paddling in water
Socialization And Puppy Vaccinations
Owners are typically told not to take their puppies outside the house or yard until they’ve completed their puppy vaccinations.
The trouble with this advice is that it prevents socialization during the prime developmental window, when puppies are least fearful and most readily able to assimilate new experiences.
Many holistic vets actually view early exposure to other dogs, and to the environment, as a way to build immunity naturally.
To properly socialize your Boxer puppy, you will want to get him used to a variety of people, animals, places and experiences while he is young and adaptable.
Socialization extends from learning how to stay calm near other dogs and how to have a bath through to how to chill out during a thunderstorm and how to happily stay home alone.
While training never ends, and your Boxer will continue to encounter unfamiliar situations, the habits and associations you establish in the early days will set your Boxer up for life.