Training a well behaved Boxer is about cultivating the right mindset in your dog.
Regardless of what particular command you want to teach, a well behaved Boxer should learn a few life skills, such as:
- Impulse control
- The “Reward zone”
- The “People first” principle
- The “Nothing for free” rule
Everything else you ever want to train your Boxer to do will come more easily if you first teach these five basics, which will:
- Improve your relationship with your Boxer
- Build the capacity for good behavior across the board
- Form the building blocks for a calm, well adjusted and self assured dog
- Help break a Boxer of any bad habit
Think of it like bringing up your kids right by teaching them a foundation of good values.
It’s impossible to teach what to do in every imaginable situation that can arise.
However, if you establish a solid grounding, your child (or dog) will be much better positioned to work it out for themselves and come up with a good decision, no matter what happens.
Your dog will find life a lot easier if he knows what’s expected of him as a good canine citizen and member of the household.
Before You Start: How To Train A Boxer To Listen
The good news is Boxers are highly trainable dogs.
“Tractability”, which means being easily managed or controlled, is written into the breed standard as a defining feature of the Boxer temperament.
So, the raw material is there in your dog’s DNA.
All you need to do is bring it out in him with a few basic techniques.
But you’ll have far more success in training an all-round good dog if you approach the task holistically.
Consider the entire picture of how the dog is managed in the household and you’ll usually find ways to make small tweaks that combine to have a big impact on your Boxer’s behavior.
First of all, you need to make sure your Boxer’s basic needs for things like exercise, mental stimulation and a biologically appropriate diet are being met.
Unless you attend to these factors, you’re setting your dog up to fail.
Once those ducks are in line, you’re ready to focus on the training.
Ideally you’ll work on these skills from the time your Boxer is a puppy, but you can equally begin with an adult Boxer.
1. Impulse Control
Impulse control is the ability to resist the urge to chase that squirrel or jump on that stranger.
To a certain degree, it comes with age as your pup grows up and becomes a little less excitable.
But don’t expect good habits to emerge automatically — you need to help your Boxer develop self control.
You can do this by playing some games that all basically involve the skill of waiting.
One example of “Wait” is kicking a ball but teaching your Boxer not to chase after it until you release him.
Here’s how to teach “Wait”:
- Have your Boxer on a long line and tell him to sit and “Wait”.
- Walk out a few meters and place his ball on the ground.
- Slowly return to where you were as your dog holds the sit.
- Finally tell your dog to “Go get it!”
- Play and celebrate.
Start by having your Boxer only wait for a moment.
Then, extend the length of the wait.
Once your Boxer is comfortably doing this without breaking the sit before told, you can up the ante
Now, instead of placing the ball, toss it — underarm and very low key — a meter or two away.
Once your dog is reliably resisting the urge to automatically chase a gently tossed ball, progress to tossing the ball further away, then to throwing it with more gusto and so on until finally you are able to kick the ball full pelt without your Boxer moving a muscle.
It will be more and more difficult for your dog to hold his position as you use more energy to throw or kick the ball.
Don’t progress too fast and give him plenty of reinforcing messages that he is to wait for your cue.
If he breaks from the sit before told, step on the long line and bring him back to where he was, returning him gently but firmly to the sit.
Have him hold the position again before finally releasing him with a “Go get it!”
Anything that requires your dog to defer gratification or override an impulse is strengthening this muscle.
Throw a treat on the ground and teach him to wait for your command before retrieving it.
Another way you can work some impulse control practice into the daily routine is by putting down your dog’s dinner but requiring him to stay back until you give him a cue like “Have your dinner!”.
You might arrive at the beach with your dog but require him to sit politely before being released with an “Off you go!” to rush down to the water.
Good impulse control equips your Boxer to perform a whole heap of other tasks with a lot more ease.
These kind of exercises teach your dog that he can resist temptation, helping to develop his confidence, and your trust in him.
2. How To Train Your Boxer To Focus On You
Your Boxer should learn to focus on you above all else.
If you can teach this, a lot of other behavioral problems will never arise.
Your dog can’t be reactive towards other dogs, for instance, if his eyes are locked on you.
He won’t chase a cat or strain on the leash if his attention is wholly directed towards what you’re doing.
There are ways to cultivate this.
For a start, it’s a good idea to have all food come through you, as the owner.
Don’t let the pet store clerk or the lady at the park give your dog treats.
Even the example of putting down the food bowl but not allowing your dog to begin eating until you give the go ahead reinforces this.
You can develop this further by increasing the length of the wait a little, or by leaving the room, so that your dog practices respecting the rules, even if not directly supervised.
The message is this: the food might be right there in front of his nose, but it may as well be on the other side of the world unless he first gets permission from you.
Another focus game is to literally teach the command “Focus” which means your dog is to make and hold eye contact with you to the exclusion of all other distractions, no matter how tantalizing.
Here’s how to teach “Focus”:
- In a familiar, low distraction environment like your living room, sit with your dog. Have some treats nearby and a clicker at the ready.
- Say the word “Focus” and when your dog looks at you, click your clicker and give him a treat.
- Then let him look away and take a break. After a little while, say “Focus”, wait for eye contact, click and reward.
- Progress this by practicing in increasingly more distracting environments where your dog is required to look away from interesting things, including other dogs, to focus on you.
- As a variation, hold a treat in your hand out to the side and slowly move your hand around while telling your dog to “Focus” by keeping his eyes on yours no matter what your hand with the treat is doing. Click and reward.
- If your pup struggles at any point, click and reward for the briefest moment of eye contact, gradually extending it as he gets the hang of it.
- Reinforce the skill by requiring “Focus” at different, unexpected times and places throughout the day.
A version of this “look away” skill can be used to train a reactive dog to overcome this situational aggression by ignoring other dogs to focus instead on you.
3. The “Reward Zone”
Your dog should learn that the place to be is in the heel position, at your left side.
This means not out front, not lagging behind but right in line with your hip.
When teaching your Boxer to walk calmly on a loose leash, this is the position that will get him a steady stream of treats.
When learning the command “Heel”, taking up this position will trigger a click and reward.
Through all these lessons, your dog learns to associate this spot with good things.
Without teaching the “reward zone” a dog’s tendency is usually to position himself directly in front of you, facing you.
The heel position is a much safer spot for him to learn as his default. Think, for instance, of where you want him to be when you’re standing on the curb, waiting to cross a busy road.
Reinforce this by never treating your dog when he’s front on, facing you but only when he’s in the reward zone.
4. “People First”
Dogs are pack animals and they need to know their place in the hierarchy.
Knowing where he fits and the limits of his power gives a dog a feeling of security.
Your Boxer should know that you’re the boss, that other human members of the household including young children and babies come next, and then him.
From a human perspective being “on the bottom” of the hierarchy might sound like a negative thing.
It’s far more disconcerting for your dog to feel uncertain as to what is role is and where he fits, or to be given the impression HE might be leader, since he gets to call the shots and enforce his will on the humans.
If a dog is not sure of the hierarchy, or is confronted by a lack of leadership or a “vacuum at the top”, he may feel the need to step in.
This results in your dog vying for dominance, which can come out in all sorts of undesirable and dangerous behaviors including aggression and resource guarding.
With you in control and his position clear, your dog can relax into the role of good follower dog, knowing you have things in hand.
The best way to reinforce the hierarchy is by the “People first” principle which means only human members of the household:
- Go through doors first
- Eat first
- Have access to furniture
Humans Through Doors First
At doors to the outside, make sure your dog knows that he is to wait for you and the other humans to go first and that he is only to cross the threshold when given permission.
To teach this:
- Place your hand on the door handle, wait for your dog to sit and eye contact you.
- In response to a sit and eye contact, slowly begin to open the door.
- If your dog breaks the sit or the eye contact, reclose the door until he sits back down and looks at you.
- Slowly begin to open the door again, repeating the closure if he breaks the sit or breaks eye contact.
- Eventually you will be able to get the door fully open without your dog budging. Then, you walk through it. Once you’re through, give him the okay to follow after.
The result should be your dog deferring to you and other humans at all doorways, and waiting for your cue before going through doors that lead to the outside.
A well behaved dog should never barge past humans as though he is leading the way.
People Eat First
Reinforce where your dog sits in the family “pack” by being sure to feed him last, after the humans have eaten, including children.
If this doesn’t fit with your routine, at least make sure you take a bite or two before then allowing your dog to eat.
A good way to underline in your dog’s mind that young children are above him in the hierarchy is to have your kids sometimes be the ones to put your dog’s bowl down for him.
No Dogs On Furniture
Height reflects dominance in dog speak.
Have only people sit on the couch and the dog on the floor or his bed, which is lower.
Likewise, sleeping together is something littermates do.
If you want to make it crystal clear to your dog where he fits, make sure he’s not sharing the humans’ beds.
If this sounds draconian or just isn’t how you want to live with your dog, it doesn’t have to remain this way throughout your dog’s life.
But it’s a good baseline when your dog is a puppy and definitely something to consider if you’re having behavior problems with your dog.
A period where your dog is “put in his place” maybe provide a helpful reset.
A middle ground can be to require your dog to request and receive permission before jumping onto beds or couches.
This way at least he knows you control the access and the privileges.
5. “Nothing For Free”
You can teach your Boxer basic good manners and keep him thinking by having him earn everything.
Dog trainer Susan Garrett calls this the “Nothing for free” principle.
You can instil this in your dog by having him:
- Sit for dinner
- Look to you for permission or a release word before approaching his food bowl
- Offer a “wave” or a “shake” in order to receive a treat
- Wait until told before jumping out of the car
- Eye contact before receiving permission to go off the front deck
These are just a few examples.
Whenever your dog wants something, have him perform a behavior first to “earn” the privilege.
Any behavior will do, the point is to teach your dog that he does what you ask first and, in return, receives what he wants.
In this way, a “Sit” or eye contact becomes like a “Please can I?”, much like teaching a child to ask politely instead of just snatching what he wants.
Good behavior in your Boxer is a habit as much as it is the recognition of specific commands.
It’s also a muscle that strengthens when given lots of exercise.
By integrating a few basic skills into your dog’s repertoire, you’ll enhance his capacity to be a well mannered dog.
Once your Boxer knows how to control his impulses and knows he must earn permission to do things, he’ll be far easier to train all round.
If you’re having any kind of behavioral problem with your dog, add these skills to the mix and you’re bound to see things fall into place.