Sometimes owners are told – by strangers at the dog park or by vets or trainers — that their Boxers “don’t look purebred” or “aren’t full Boxer”.
Though you can’t go solely on looks, you can generally tell whether a Boxer is full blooded or a mix by examining the dog’s features and seeing how well they match the breed standard.
Sometimes a Boxer’s features may vary from the classic Boxer look not because he’s a Boxer cross, but because he has been “poorly bred” or comes from a bloodline unfamiliar to the person making the assessment.
If you got your Boxer as an adult from a shelter or from a breeder who wasn’t registered and didn’t give you any papers, your best bet may be to try a DNA test.
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What Features To Look For In A Boxer Dog
Boxers are are highly recognizable dogs — not just because they figure each year among the most popular breeds in the United States (ranked 14th by the American Kennel Club in 2020).
They have distinctive qualities that set them apart from other dogs and that are found consistently in Boxer after Boxer, defining the breed.
If the dog in front of you is a Boxer you will see:
- A deep-chest tapering to a narrow waist
- A lean, muscled physique that oozes athleticism
- A square, “boxy” head
- A short, or “brachycephalic”, nose
- Large, dark eyes with an alert, intelligent and kindly expression
- Short, tight-fitting coat colored either fawn or brindle, with or without white markings
- A height that puts them on the upper end of the scale for technically “medium” sized dogs
- A friendly, inquisitive attitude with a playful approach to life and a definite sense of humor .. matched by a fearlessness when challenged
What It Could Mean If Your Boxer Doesn’t “Look Purebred”
If your Boxer doesn’t look as expected, possibilities include:
- Your Boxer is purebred but has “poor conformation” i.e. is not bred to standard and doesn’t represent the classic Boxer features
- Your Boxer is purebred, and well bred, but just not a “show quality” specimen
- It’s a Boxer cross
- You’re noticing the difference between European or British bloodlines versus American e.g. American Boxers tend to be sleeker and more elegant with longer noses whereas German Boxers are more solid with shorter muzzles
- You may be looking at a photo of the dog which distorts his features or coloring
- It’s a phase of development and your Boxer will grow into his features
- Your dog’s care has influenced his physical form e.g. neutering or spaying a Boxer younger than two years old leads to taller dogs by interfering with the closure of the bone plates, unnaturally prolonging the growth phase. Neutered/spayed dogs are also more prone to be overweight
- Your dog sports one of the coat color variations that are less common but still acceptable within the Boxer breed standard
- Your Boxer has natural ears and a long tail, which may not look “right” to those used to seeing their Boxers with surgically cropped ears and docked tails, as is the norm in the US but illegal on animal cruelty grounds in much of the rest of the world including the Boxer’s birthplace of Germany
Signs That A Boxer Puppy May Not Be Purebred
There are plenty of “sure-fire ways” to supposedly tell if a Boxer is purebred.
Some people have the idea that the roof of a purebred Boxer’s mouth will always be pink, not black.
Others insist the tiny bottom front teeth will always be crooked in a true Boxer.
More reliable indicators that may suggest your Boxer is not purebred include:
- Absence of a black mask on the muzzle
- Nose “too long” i.e. lacking the “smush” face (Although American Boxers have longer snouts than European bloodlines)
- Angle of the muzzle is either too upturned or too downfaced
- Head shape lacking “boxiness”
- The Boxer temperament is missing (character is as distinguishing a feature of the Boxer as appearance)
Signs Of A “Poorly Bred” Boxer
Your Boxer may be 100% genetically pure, but carry one or more “faults” as a result of being “poorly bred” by a non-professional breeder.
Faults in Boxers include:
- A tongue that protrudes from mouth when at rest i.e. not just when panting
- An overly pronounced underbite, or lack of underbite
- Teeth visible when the mouth is closed
- Blue eyes, or eyes brown but “too light”
- Improper head set i.e. “Flying nun” ears, rather than ears that sit in neat triangles against the side of the head
- Too much forehead wrinkling (“wet”) or too little (wrinkles should appear when the ears are pricked)
Technical faults don’t always mean the puppy comes from an irresponsible breeder.
It could just mean this particular dog is not “show quality” i.e. does not represent the breed at its absolute best and should not be bred from.
These Boxers will still likely have the winning Boxer personality, although poor breeding can extend to temperament.
These dogs may lack steadiness and have a higher likelihood of developing behavior problems.
Proper breeding doesn’t start and end with genetics.
- Maternal nutrition
- Weaning of the litter onto a fresh, natural raw diet
- Careful attention to early development and socialization of the puppies in the first weeks of life
…all of which sets dogs up to reach their full potential as exemplars of the Boxer breed.
DNA Testing: How To Find Out If A Boxer Is Purebred
DNA testing is available to owners wondering about their dogs’ lineage.
It can also indicate whether a dog may have a higher likelihood of developing some of the diseases seen in Boxers.
Partnered with Cornell University’s veterinary school, Embark bills itself as “the world’s most accurate DNA testing”.
Embark’s Breed + Health Kit screens for more than 200 genetic diseases as well as breed and ancestry.
You’ll also get a “wolfiness score” for your dog and a family tree allowing you to potentially connect with your Boxer’s relatives.
There is no blood test or vet visit required, just a cheek swab you can do at home and send in.
Results are usually available with two to four weeks.
Be aware that while a DNA test may satisfy your curiosity, it doesn’t take the place of papers provided by a registered breeder.
Without this documentation, a dog has no traceable lineage and won’t ever be officially considered purebred.
Does It Matter If Your Boxer Is Purebred Or Not?
It’s tempting to think it doesn’t matter whether a pet Boxer is purebred or not.
After all, most of us aren’t looking to show our dogs, or breed from them.
On one level, a Boxer’s purebred status is irrelevant — once the dog has been brought home, he’s a member of the family and will be loved regardless of his pedigree or lack thereof.
However, breeding matters very much when it comes to health.
It’s not so much about the dog’s appearance and whether his nose is too long or short to please a show ring judge.
More the concern is the poor breeding practices that tend to accompany Boxers of uncertain lineage.
The value of getting your Boxer from a breeder who is not only registered, but reputable, is that this person has likely dedicated a lifetime to breeding, gaining valuable experience and specialist knowledge.
And if this breeder is truly ethical, the focus will have been as much, if not more, on breeding vitally healthy, long lived dogs as well as ones that look the part.
Registration of breeders introduces a higher degree of accountability and increases the likelihood that all possible efforts have been made to not breed from dogs carrying genes for heritable diseases.
Rigorous testing and careful selection of dams and sires helps mitigate the health risks created by the reduction in genetic diversity that necessarily occurs in purebred dogs.
Purebred dogs, in contrast to mutts, are produced by repeatedly breeding the same relatively small number of dogs together (inbreeding) to give uniform, desirable characteristics.
A trusted breeder will have done a battery of tests on your Boxer’s parents and several previous generations, to make sure that dogs with hip and elbow dysplasia, various heart abnormalities and the genes for degenerative myelopathy are excluded from breeding programs.
This is what’s meant by the expression “betterment of the breed”.
As Kaco Boxers told Boxerforums.com, “Papers are not just for those interested in showing or breeding. They are much more than that. They help protect the breed we all love.”
A poorly bred but pure Boxer may be more likely to end up with one of the diseases the breed is prone to, as a result of the breeder not bothering to conduct health screening.
A Boxer cross is the usually result of similarly random breeding, but at least benefits from what’s known as “hybrid vigor”.
Hybrid vigor refers to the protective effect of the greater genetic diversity created when dogs of different breeds mate.
How To Make Sure You Get A Purebred Boxer Puppy
The best way to make sure you’re getting not only a purebred Boxer, but one that’s as healthy as can be, is to do your research and find an ethical, reputable registered breeder.
This kind of breeder will provide you with papers detailing your puppy’s pedigree going back at least five generations, naming the specific dogs your puppy is descended from.
These papers then allow you to register your dog as a purebred Boxer.
Note that a “limited registration” just means you don’t have the right to breed from your dog, something many breeders stipulate in order to retain control of their bloodlines and prevent “backyard” breeding by owners without the necessary expertise.
Without papers a Boxer may be purebred but will always be officially regarded as a mix, in the sense that the dog’s offspring will not be able to be registered as purebred Boxers.
Once you’ve settled on a breeder, the next challenge is to choose the right puppy from the litter.
This is a 5-Step Guide For How To Pick A Boxer Puppy.
It’s thought that the presence of a pronounced “smart bump” in a young Boxer puppy leads to a better head shape in the adult dog.
“Other” Types Of Boxers
There are a range of Boxers that look a little different from the standard fawn or brindle specimen.
The extended Boxer family includes dogs that are very much still purebred Boxers such as:
- White Boxers (don’t meet the US breed standard which requires no more than one third of the body to be white, but these dogs are 100% Boxer)
- Bobtail Boxers (produced by crossing Boxers with Corgis to introduce the gene for a naturally short tail)
- “Black” Boxers (actually just very dark “reverse” or “seal” brindles
It also includes some dogs that are firmly in the Boxer cross category, like:
- “Mini boxers” (produced by crossing Boxers with a smaller breed, often a Boston Terrier)
And then there are:
- Long-haired Boxers (We’re as intrigued as you are and will be reporting more on these luxurious anomalies in future, but their owners say DNA testing shows they are 100% Boxer)
Breeds Sometimes Mistaken For Boxers
Sometimes a Boxer “not looking purebred” is due to pure observer error.
Breeds sometimes mistaken for Boxers by those not familiar with either Boxers or the other breed include many of the “bully” breeds such as:
- Bull Arabs
- American Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
If something doesn’t look quite right about a Boxer, and you don’t have papers, you may begin to question whether your dog is purebred.
You can often reach a pretty reliable conclusion by comparing the dog’s features to the breed standard, but a DNA test is the closest you may come to certainty.
In any case, there are many worse things than not being purebred, and a Boxer cross may well be healthier than a poorly bred purebred Boxer.
American Boxer Club, Official Standard for the Boxer, 2005
American Boxer Club, Recommendations for Health Screening of Boxers in Breeding Program
Federation Cynologique Internationale, Deutscher Boxer, 2008