Boxers are one of America’s favorite pets. They were originally bred to be medium-sized guard dogs that also worked well in the home. They are known for their rock-solid fondness for children and their strong protective drives for property and family. The unique-looking Boxer is one of America’s favorite family pets. So, why are so many Boxers in shelters instead of entertaining children and protecting families?
Why Are There So Many Boxers In Shelters?
So many Boxers end up in shelters because of misconceptions about their needs and behavior. Despite their goofy personalities, they need vigorous daily exercise and firm, consistent training. They are often misidentified as Pitbulls and they don’t do well in shelters, so Boxers have a lower chance of getting out than other breeds.
Boxers’ protective instincts can be misinterpreted as aggression, especially in shelter environments, reducing their chances for adoption. Additionally, their brachycephalic traits, health issues, and potential for drooling and snoring may deter some adopters.
But Boxers are great dogs who are suffering in high-numbers in shelters. Dogs like Boxers are more likely to be returned to shelters than other dogs, and once they are there, they are “more than two and half times more likely to be euthanized” that other breeds (source).
Why? And what can we do about it?
Why People Like Boxers
If you’ve ever met a Boxer, you probably have a pretty good idea of what there is to like about them. Boxers have an infectious joyful enthusiasm for life that lights up any room they’re in.
Boxers keep puppy-like energy and excitement throughout their lives. Enthusiasts of the breed often call them the “Peter Pan” dog for this eternally youthful characteristic. Boxers tend to be “go anywhere and do anything” types of dogs.
Most Boxers are more than happy to occupy themselves for hours with a good chew toy, so families that need to crate their Boxers or keep them quiet periodically find this breed amenable.
Their medium size and highly trainable nature enable them to fit smoothly into any family that understands their needs. Their smooth, tight coat tends not to shed much and requires practically no grooming.
Unlike some other bully-type breeds, Boxers typically do very well with other dogs when properly socialized. They do particularly well with other Boxers, forming adorable and often hilarious relationships.
Boxers have a deep and endearing love and affection towards their families. They tend to bond deeply with the entire family, especially kids. They back up this bond with intense bravery and instinctual willingness to protect.
Besides excelling in protection work, including bite work, Boxers also do great with agility, obedience, and dog sports. They are so in tune with their people that they also do great as therapy dogs, and some are well qualified to be service dogs.
This combination of characteristics: endearing puppy playfulness combined with a deep loyalty and protectiveness of the family, makes the Boxer a unique breed deeply loved by people who understand their particular needs.
Why are There so Many Boxers in Shelters?
Considering how adaptable, loyal, and lovable Boxers are, how are they ending up in shelters in such high numbers?
Boxers NEED Exercise and Training
While Boxers are generally very calm and self-contained in the home when properly trained and exercised, these are not low-energy dogs.
Too many people meeting the apparently lazy, laid-back, fun-loving Boxer assume that these dogs are like roommates: happy to hang out with you in the house and yard.
However, Boxers typically need to engage in active, vigorous exercise or play for a couple of hours a day. If you’re a committed runner, biker, or don’t mind playing fetch for an hour or so in the morning and evening, the Boxer will fit right in.
However, more sedentary homes often find that their Boxers end up having behavior problems. Even for families that want to exercise their Boxer appropriately, there are challenges with this breed. Boxers are a brachycephalic breed, which means they have a shortened airway and can struggle to breathe, especially in hot weather.
Boxers also struggle in cold climates, since their thin single coat offers little protection in the cold. If exercising a Boxer in cold weather, you’ll have to be careful to provide them with a jacket and possibly booties.
Health Problems, Snoring, and Drooling
Most people find Boxers to be charming-looking dogs, but those good looks come with some drips, spills, and splatters. The short face and big mouth mean that Boxers drool. Not as much as some other heavy-jowled breeds, but enough that you’ll probably notice it on your sofa and car windows.
Boxers are notoriously messy eaters and drinkers, highly likely to take their food and water out of their bowl and spread it around the floor. That short nose also means that Boxers snore, grunt, and generally breathe loudly. They also seem to fart and burp a lot (see, charming).
These may seem like relatively small things, but they do contribute to some people deciding that the Boxer isn’t right for them. In fact, a 2020 study published in Animals “demonstrates that adopters prefer [certain physical characteristics of a] shelter dog including those that are puppies, small sized and not brachycephalic.” Unfortunately, that means the large, short-nosed Boxer is more likely to stay in the shelter.
Their health issues don’t end at their nose, though. While Boxers exude a sense of healthy vitality, unfortunately, they are prone to quite a few health problems. They are notorious for heart problems, and cancer is quite common in the breed as well.
As a deep-chested breed, Boxers are prone to bloat. These dogs are prone to hip dysplasia, especially as they get older. They get a range of skin issues including seasonal flank alopecia, which is periodic hair loss, allergies that lead to hair loss, and irritation around the folds on their face. As Boxers get older, they may develop spinal issues, arthritis, or become incontinent.
Because of all of these health concerns, Boxers have a relatively short lifespan, only about 8 to 10 years. Faced with a serious problem in what would be middle-aged in another breed, some people surrender the Boxer rather treating or euthanizing their aging pet.
Behavioral Traits and Training Challenges
Boxers are highly trainable and renowned for their love of children. However, too many new Boxer owners hear about that reputation and end up putting the Boxer and the child in an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation.
While few Boxers would deliberately hurt the children in their families, this vigorous, forever puppy can be too playful and energetic, inadvertently hurting and frightening children or adults. A Boxer’s strong protective drive can be inappropriately triggered if not properly channeled and trained, leading Boxers to behave aggressively.
Because Boxers are serious protection dogs, bred and continuously used for this purpose throughout their history, when they become suspicious of somebody or turn their aggression towards them, the results are often quite serious. Boxers sometimes show aggression for the first time and have a serious bite in the same incident, which is not true of some other breeds.
While Boxers are highly trainable with the right handling, they require a firm but sensitive approach. They thrive on plenty of positive reinforcement while simultaneously not being allowed to get away with anything. Owners not up to the challenge of training this sometimes headstrong breed may find themselves overwhelmed and outsmarted.
Boxers are Highly Social but Not Always Compatible with Other Dogs
So many dogs that I see at the shelter are breeds bred for protection or guarding work that someone bought and stuck in their backyard. Unfortunately, that’s not how training a protection dog works. Very few breeds do well under these conditions, but Boxers may suffer the most.
Boxers thrive on and demand human companionship. A little bit of attention a couple of times a day is not enough. These dogs were bred to live in the household with the family, and that’s what they need. Boxers can become unpredictably aggressive without proper socialization.
Without this socialization, they can become dog aggressive either out of protectiveness of or because of prey drive. Boxers often do best with dogs of the same size and are known to be particularly good with other Boxers.
That said, aggression is a complicated issue for Boxers. One study from the Journal of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals indicates that “Inter-dog aggression between housemates occurs more commonly between same-sex housemates.” Anecdotally, Boxers are particularly prone to aggression towards Boxers of the same sex, particularly females. In fact, many Boxer rescues will not allow you to adopt a second female Boxer if you already have one at home.
“From our considerable experience in dog placement, we believe that placing a female into a home with a female already in residence, is oftentimes not the best situation and therefore have a standard policy not to do so. “ – Florida Boxer Rescue
When not socialized with other dogs at all, Boxers are prone to aggression, which can quickly get out of hand for an unprepared owner.
People Getting Boxers for the Wrong Reason
Unfortunately, too many Boxers are purchased to be something besides a loved family pet. Like other powerful breeds traditionally used for protection work, Boxers are too often purchased as status symbols.
These are muscular, good-looking dogs with a lot of presence, which may lead people hoping to borrow some of that sense of that flare to want them at the end of the leash because of how they look, not who they are. Once these owners realize just what it takes to make that dog walk calmly at the end of the leash, they often decide that the Boxer is actually making them look pretty bad.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people stuck at home and afraid of the world around them bought Boxers to feel safe, but then surrendered them when they realized how much effort these dogs demand.
Adoption Challenges and Misconceptions
Once a Boxer ends up at the shelter, they have a hard road ahead of them.
People typically group mixed breed Boxers with Pitbulls in classifications, and this category doesn’t bode well for any dog, giving them a low chance of a good outcome.
If you’re curious why it’s so bad to be labeled a Pitbull in an animal shelter, check out my article on why so many pit bulls are in shelters for my full mind-dump.
Even purebred Boxers struggle to find homes once they have been surrendered.
When someone gives up on their Boxer or the Boxer runs away, they probably haven’t raised them well. Many people actively mistreat them. The loyal Boxer doesn’t likely intentionally leave their family unless someone treats them very badly, so stray Boxers often come from a bad background.
Boxers that have not been well socialized often show aggression with other pets, making it hard to find an appropriate home for them.
Finding homes for single pet-only families is one of the most challenging placements, even harder than placing dogs with disabilities, in my experience. Whether the Boxer actually has any issues or not, it’s likely the public thinks they do. Misconceptions about Boxers being randomly aggressive, uncontrollably high energy, and messy mean that people may seek out different breeds.
Poor Kennel Presence Plagues Boxers
Add to this the fact that Boxers tend not to show well in the shelter, and you end up with Boxers that too often don’t find their way out. Their natural protective instincts and high energy make protecting the kennel their primary goal in life, which means potential adopters meet a snarling, spitting, apparently feral dog.
Shelter workers and volunteers know differently since they get to know the loyal, loving dog the Boxer really is. However, all too often, they aren’t able to showcase those positive traits well enough to get the dog out of the shelter.
Here are just a few of the boxers that show up in a quick local search of my area:
How Many Boxers Are In Shelters?
It’s impossible to say exactly how many Boxers are in all shelters at a given moment. However, a fair estimate is that there are are at least 45,000 Boxers currently housed in animal shelters and rescues across the U.S.
The Boxer was the 16th most popular dog registered with the AKC in 2022, accounting only for about 1.5% of all dogs.
I think it’s fair to use these statistics as a baseline to estimate the number of Boxers in shelters. Frankly, considering what all we have discussed, I’m sure that Boxers account for more than 1.5% of all dogs in shelters. But let’s go with what we have.
Since the ASPCA estimates that 3.1 million dogs enter shelters each year, and if Boxers represent 1.5% of those dogs, then we can safely assume that there are, roughly, 46,500 Boxers in shelters.
Consider Adopting a Boxer from Your Local Shelter
If the positive traits of the Boxer attract you and you believe you have the kind of energetic, training-focused lifestyle that the Boxer needs, think hard about saving one of these dogs from the shelter.
I guarantee you, the Boxers at your local shelter are unlikely to seem like the most adoptable choice. However, take a shelter worker or volunteer aside and ask them to introduce you to the Boxers at the shelter one-on-one.
You will meet a very different dog, and likely one that could be a great fit in your home. Try taking the dog out for a day, volunteering at the shelter, and fostering before you decide to commit. Boxers aren’t for everyone, but for the right family, they are truly a stupendous dog that will give you unending loyalty and laughs.