This question is frequently asked by the general public when they hear about a working boxer. However, this question is rarely asked when speaking about the German Shepherd, Border Collie, or Retriever. Those breeds have retained their identities as working breeds even though today they are commonly seen as family pets. What has caused the Boxer to no longer be considered a dog that can carry out a function?

“Read the boxer breed standard, then you will know what a boxer should look like.” This advice has been offered to many of us at some point in time as a novice. We spend hours looking at photos, attending shows and listening to the advice/opinions from the ringside on what is correct and incorrect. Whether honest, or biased, the opinions from the ringside can leave you with more questions than answers, especially if the exhibits presented contradict the written standard.

Breed specific seminars, literature, videos and conversations with veteran breeders, were some of the many opportunities I used to educate myself. With time and experience I began to understand the structure of the boxer and the ability to select dogs from the lineup that were the most correct. But there was something missing. Dogs are exhibited in the conformation ring to judge their structure against the written standard but how do you test their temperament, drive and endurance as a working dog? 

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These questions led me to the sport of IPO (International Utility Dog Trials) or Schutzhund, depending on where you live. IPO is comprised of three phases; tracking (in grass or plowed dirt), Obedience and Protection. The international Utility Dog trials are the litmus test for the working dog breeds.

My first impression of watching a Boxer compete in IPO was one of amazement. The fact that a Boxer could track for articles, perform high level obedience and engage in protection was very impressive. Not knowing exactly what was required to do the sport, I was interested in learning how I could get involved with my dogs.

IPO is a sport where handler and dog compete as a team. It’s also a sport that needs a team of support to be successful. With the guidance of an accomplished trainer you will be able to learn what it takes to become a successful handler/trainer. A mentor can teach you how to build a bond with your dog, a bond that is a necessary element in building a strong foundation. An understanding of dog behavior and their learning processes will also be useful in interpreting the actions of your canine partner. Body language; acoustic and physical cues that are directed to your dog can be helpful but also hinder the response you are trying to achieve. These components, however minor they might seem can have a big effect on your dog.

Understanding the type of dog that you have is another part of the equation. Genetically, your dog might be highly driven to the point of hyperactive; or low in prey drive, very accommodating and obedient; or possibly a dog that is highly aggressive. All three dogs might be excellent candidates for the sport and with specific training methods you can produce a balanced dog that has good drive, focus and calm in all aspects of the work.
Breeders do a great injustice to the breed by putting more weight on the physical attributes and not the functionality and working ability. With sound structure, good health, strong temperament and the ability to perform the duties of a working breed, we are headed down a path to producing the complete boxer.

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Published in Boxer Quarterly Magazine (UK) Oct. 2017

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