He might have a worried look on his wrinkled face, but the Boxer isn't worried about being loved: He's one of the most popular dogs in America. And that's no surprise, since this is a joyful, loyal companion that truly bonds with his human family. A well-bred, well-socialized Boxer is friendly with children and people he knows, suspicious and alert but not aggressive with strangers, and always ready for a walk, a game or just some quality time on the sofa with you.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Boxer is a wonderful choice for an owner who will train him consistently, firmly, and fairly, and who can have a sense of humor about the dog's stubborn streak. This breed also needs plenty of exercise to keep his high spirits in check -- the Boxer is a big dog and can do a lot of damage if he's bored or lonely.

He's willing and able to participate in almost any organized canine activity, including agility, obedience and flyball. While all dog-child play requires supervision, Boxers are generally good with children and make great family dogs.

The Boxer's face is unmistakable: wrinkled and worried-looking, the expression belied by his square jaw, noble head and jaunty walk. He's a big dog, weighing up to 80 pounds or more, with females being quite a bit smaller than males. His short coat sheds, but otherwise he's an easy-care dog.

Variations of the Boxer

The Boxer comes in shades of tan and brindle, as well as white. There is considerable controversy surrounding the white Boxer, largely because for generations, breeders killed their white puppies instead of trying to find homes for them as pets. This is widely considered to be unacceptable now, and more white Boxers are becoming available for purchase and adoption. A few things you need to know:

White Boxers are not albinos and their coloration is not the result of a genetic mutation as it sometimes is in other breeds. In Boxers, white is just a color.

Like most all-white animals, white Boxers are at increased risk of deafness, although only a small number of white Boxers will be deaf.

White dogs tend to burn in the sun and may be at increased risk of skin cancer. (Sun block is recommended!)

There is no evidence that white Boxers have any other color-related health problems, nor is their color associated with any temperament issues.

White Boxers are not some rare variety of the breed that command a higher price. Around a quarter of all Boxer puppies born are white. Be very cautious when dealing with a breeder selling a white puppy. She might be a very ethical breeder trying to do right by her dog or someone trying to exploit dogs for profit.

Health Issues Common to Boxers

Boxer lovers are a dedicated bunch and are very aggressive in trying to reduce and eliminate genetic disease in their dogs. The American Boxer Charitable Foundation has raised more money for genetic research than any other breed club in the world. One of their greatest triumphs was the recent identification of the gene responsible for arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, also known as Boxer cardiomyopathy, a devastating heart disease that is usually fatal.

Cardiomyopathy is not the only heart problem that affects Boxers. Aortic/subaortic valvular stenosis (AS/SAS) is a narrowing of the aortic valve caused by a fibrous ring of tissue. While it's known to be genetic, the mode of inheritance is unknown and there is no screening test for AS/SAS. Diagnosis needs to be made by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and affected dogs should not be bred.

Boxers are also at risk for degenerative myelopathy, a form of progressive paralysis. There is a genetic screening test for this condition that can be used to determine whether a puppy's parents are clear, carriers, or at risk; a puppy whose parents are clear -- neither carriers nor at risk -- will also be clear. A puppy from two carrier parents will be at risk, and a puppy with one carrier parent may be at risk.

Boxers are also more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Boxers are also at increased risk of many other diseases including allergies, skin problems, cancers including hemangiosarcoma, and more. A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent these and other conditions that have no genetic screening test are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.

Make particular note that Boxers cannot tolerate one of the most common sedative drugs given in veterinary medicine, ace promazine. It causes a heart arrhythmia that can lead to collapse or cardiac arrest.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Boxer before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Cardiomyopathy High $500-$1,500
Spondylosis Deformans High $3,000-$5,000
Aortic Stenosis High $500-$1,500
Bloat High $1,500-$7,500
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy High $200-$1,500
Colitis High $500-$3,000

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Boxer Puppy

Be extremely cautious when looking for a breeder of any popular breed, especially the Boxer. Popularity spells profit, and puppy mills, pet stores, Internet pet retailers and irresponsible breeders love to turn a good profit.

Look for a good, reliable breeder. Unlike most breed clubs, the American Boxer Club does not maintain a breeder referral service, suggesting instead that puppy buyers seek out breeders at shows or through one of many regional Boxer clubs, several of which do have breeder listings and referrals. However you find your puppy, make sure the breeder has agreed to abide by the American Boxer Club's Code of Ethics.

Buy only from breeders who have tested their dogs for the long list of genetic health problems that can affect the Boxer. The DNA test for Boxer cardiomyopathy is fairly new, but all good breeders will have used it on the parents of any puppies they've bred. Insist on seeing written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) clearing your puppy's parents of hip dysplasia and thyroid disease; PennHip certification of hips is also acceptable.

Don't fall for a bad breeder's lies. Bad breeders will tell you they don't need to do those tests because they've never had problems in their lines, their dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the thousand other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs. The minute you hear something like that, walk away.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems that affect Boxers don't show up during puppyhood, so by adopting an adult Boxer (or mix) from a rescue group, you can rule many of them out.

Puppy or adult, take your Boxer to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about what to do it if you suspect your dog is bloating and how best to monitor your dog for other potential health risks.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Boxer

Pet insurance for Boxer costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Boxer are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Boxers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Boxer is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.