Breed Priorities – The Boxer

Breed Priorities - The Boxer
Nikki Riggsbee

The Boxer is the most popular working breed based on AKC’s registrations.And they are often one of the larger entries at dog shows. And the quality often has one or more individual dogs competing successfully at high levels.Their standard is helpful in directing attention to areas it considers more important when evaluating their breed. For instance, the General Appearance paragraph includes this instruction: “In judging the Boxer, first consideration is given to general appearance and overall balance. Special attention is then devoted to the head, after which the individual body components are examined for their correct construction, and the gait evaluated for efficiency.”

But to get more information, we invited 40 Boxer breeder-judges to participate in a survey on Boxer priorities when judging their breed. Twentyfour agreed to participate, and twenty completed surveys were returned. These breeder-judges averaged nearly 35 years in their breed and nearly 12 years judging it. Some judge only Boxers, while others judge multiple groups. More than half have judged their national specialty, and all have judged Boxer specialties.


The survey included a list of virtues taken from the Boxer standard. The breeder-judges ranked them by importance. They are listed below in sequence by the average of the judges’ ranks, with one being the most important.

1.Body in profile…square

2.Broad, blunt muzzle

3.Alert, dignified, self-assured; constrained animation in the ring

4.Ground covering stride with a powerful drive

5.Tip of the nose slightly higher than the root of the muzzle

6.Distinct stop

7.Moderate layback of muzzle when viewed from side

8.Shoulders long, sloping, with upper arm long and approaching a right angle to the shoulder blade

9.Neck of ample length

10.Incisor teeth of the lower jaw in a straight line

11.Forechest well-defined and visible from the side

12.Medium size (males 23 to 25 inches; females 21½ to 23½ inches)

13.Eyes dark brown

14.Chin perceptible from the side as well as from the front

15.Legs well-angulated at the stifle

16.Tail set high, docked, and carried upward

As clear as the standard is and as knowledgeable as the Boxer fanciers are, I expected a great deal of agreement among the breeder-judges. But only three virtues garnered a majority.

The greatest agreement, with fourteen, was on “Body in profile…square” (1st). Even so, five experts placed it midpoint or below. Twelve concurred on last place, “Tail set high, docked, and carried upward” (16th). The only other virtue with a majority was “Broad, blunt muzzle” (2nd); still, another five experts had it in the second quartile.

The “Muzzle” placing second is consistent with the Boxer standard which states, “The chiseled head imparts to the Boxer a unique individual stamp. … The broad, blunt muzzle is the distinctive feature, and great value is placed upon its being of proper form and balance with the skull.” Six of the virtues above describe the muzzle. Of the six muzzle characteristics, four ranked in the top seven.

None of the other virtues had half in agreement; most had split decisions. Several had nine agreeing with a smaller rump group with a different opinion which changed their relative rank position in the list. Virtues with this type of result included the following:

• “Alert, dignified, self-assured; constrained animation in the ring” (3rd) were placed near the top by nine, but six had it at midpoint.

• “Tip of the nose slightly higher than the root of the muzzle” (5th) also placed near the top, but seven placing it midpoint lowered the relative rank.

• “Shoulders long, sloping, with upper arm long and approaching a right angle to the shoulder blade” (8th) was placed towards the bottom by nine, but another nine ranked it above average.

• “Medium size (males 23 to 25 inches; females 21½ to 23½ inches)” (12th) were in the middle or slightly below for nine, but eight had it towards bottom.

• “Chin perceptible from the side as well as from the front” (14th) was at the three-quarter mark or below for those that agreed, but the other surveys varied more.

• “Legs well-angulated at the stifle” (15th) was in the third quartile for nine, but eight considered it much less important.

Other characteristics had less agreement on their value. “Ground covering stride with a powerful drive” (4th) was placed near the top by eight, six thought it middling, and the rest were all over.“Distinct stop” (6th) ranked in the second quartile for eight, but six had it in the third quartile. Eight experts considered “Moderate layback of muzzle when viewed from side” (7th) below average in importance, but seven thought it much more important.

Eight placed “Neck of ample length” (9th) in the second quartile, while another eight ranked it in the third. “Forechest well-defined and visible from the side” (11th) was relatively unimportant for eight, but six had it closer to middling.

“Incisor teeth of the lower jaw in a straight line” (10th) was important for seven, but not at all for the same number. “Eyes dark brown” (13th) was ranked around midpoint or below by seven, but six had it towards bottom.


The breeder-judges also ranked a list of Boxer faults taken directly or indirectly from the standard. The following is the list of faults in sequence by the average rank from most serious to least serious, with 1 being the most serious.

1.Teeth or tongue showing when the mouth closed

2.Shyness, lack of dignity, or (lack of) alertness

3.Muzzle slanting down (downfaced)

4.Back not short, straight, muscular, firm, or smooth

5.Gait stilted or inefficient

6.Front surface of the muzzle not broad and squarish

7.Cheekiness (on skull)

8.Feet not compact, turning either in or out, or without wellarched toes

9.Tie - No black mask

9.Tie - Overlip obscuring the chin

11.Deep wrinkles (wet)


13.Croup more than slightly sloped

14.Hock joints leaning in or out

15.White on the flanks or on the back of the torso

16.Topline not slightly sloping

There was greater agreement on the seriousness of the faults, with seven having a majority with common opinions. “Teeth or tongue showing when the mouth closed” (1st) had seventeen experts rank it at or near the top. Nearly as many agreed on “Shyness, lack of dignity, or (lack of) alertness” (2nd), which was placed first by eight experts, more than any other.

Thirteen breeder-judges concurred on two faults: “Muzzle slanting down (downfaced)” (3rd) and “Topline not slightly sloping” (16th). “Cheekiness (on skull)” (7th) was valued fairly highly by twelve, but another seven had it below average, lowering its average rank.

“Feet not compact, turning either in or out, or without wellarched toes” (8th) had the smallest majority agreeing. The same number felt similarly about “Hock joints leaning in or out” (14th), although seven had it midpoint or more serious.

Half of the experts valued several of the faults in the same way.“Gait stilted or inefficient” (5th) had half rank it below average, but others raised its position. Half considered “Front surface of the muzzle not broad and squarish” (6th) fairly important, but others placed it all over, from first to last.

Ten had “Overlip obscuring the chin” (tied at 9th) less important, but six ranked it much higher. “Sidewinding” (12th) had a similar split decision.

“Back not short, straight, muscular, firm, or smooth” (4th) was placed near the top by nine, but almost as many had it in the third quartile. Nine also agreed on “Croup more than slightly sloped” (13th) below average and “White on the flanks or on the back of the torso” (15th) towards the bottom, but the others put them all over.

Boxer Outlines

Pick Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex

“Deep wrinkles (wet)” (11th) had eight place it above average, but nearly as many had it towards bottom. The smallest group – seven - had “No black mask” (tied at 9th) ranked in the last quartile, but other scores raised its average.

Almost two points separated the second and third ranks, emphasizing the seriousness of the first two faults. Additional input would break the tie at nine and might also change the position of “Deep wrinkles” (11th) whose average was very close behind.

Note that “Temperament,” both as a virtue and as a fault, ranked fairly high. This is consistent with the standard saying, “Character and Temperament…are of paramount importance in the Boxer.” Again, as with virtues, four of the faults are of the muzzle, and three of those are placed in the top six.


The breeder-judges were asked to name four to six characteristics that a Boxer must have, essential features they look for when they judge. Two tied for first: balance and head. Attitude was close behind. Movement, especially side gait, was the next most frequently named as was a square dog.


The judges were asked to place six Boxer dogs and six Boxer bitches based on outlines only. The outlines were of real dogs from some time ago, all good quality Boxers. Just like real judging: none of the outlines are perfect dogs. When placing them, the judges must prioritize and decide what to reward and what to forgive.

The breeder-judges’ placements of the outlines were averaged to determine their collective selections. The experts were more consistent in selecting the outlines than they were on agreeing on priorities in the lists above.

The top male based on the best average placement was Boxer “A;” he was also placed first by more than half of the breederjudges.Those who selected him said he had “more overall type,” “balance,” “outstanding outline,” correct “tail set, angulation, head shape,” and “good topline.” Boxer “F” was a distant second. Those who selected dog “F” chose him because he had “balance, length of leg,” “type, head,” and a “neck that flows smoothly into topline.”

The bitch with the best average placement and the most first placements was Boxer “X;” she, too, was placed first by a majority of the judges. Those that picked her said she had “best balance overall,” a “pleasing profile, square, firm topline,” “elegance,” “good type and head,” and “correct proportions.” With an average placement almost two points lower was Boxer bitch “U.” Those who chose her said she had “squareness, balance” and a “more correct tailset.” Boxer bitch “X” and dog “A” were placed first the same number of times. Bitch “X” had a slightly better average placement score than Boxer “A” had when competing with their respective sexes.

But Boxer dog “A” was selected Best of Breed almost twice as often as bitch “X,” so Boxer “A” is the breeder-judges’ choice.

Bitch “X” was the only outline never out of the ribbons. Dogs “B,” “C,” and “D” and bitch “Y” were not placed first on any survey. Dog “C” was unplaced on all but one survey.


Some of the comments offered by the Boxer breed-judges:

• Type, which means impeccable temperament, a beautiful typical head, square proportions, and medium size – these are hallmarks of the breed.

• First and foremost is temperament.

• It is a head breed; therefore the head should fit together properly.

• Excessive white could be emphasized as a fault since it is one of our two disqualifications.

• Markings are supposed to enhance. If they distract, then you penalize the degree to which you believe the dog deviates from that statement in the standard.

• A proper Boxer head includes good bite and expression.

• The Boxer outline holds together when gaiting – the topline doesn’t fall apart.

• Boxers with excessive white have tight haws which affects expression.

• Look for the overall picture and the way each dog presents itself – with great presence.

• Absolutely the most important aspect of a proper bite is the corner upper incisors fitting snugly in back of the lower canine teeth. Without this, the jaw cannot grip adequately for the Boxer to do what it was bred for.

• The head is the hallmark of the breed.

• We must remember that the Boxer is supposed to be medium sized.

Thanks to all the Boxer breeder-judges who shared their expertise.

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