Posts Tagged ‘boxer’

Changing the Bullenbeisser


When Europe was a wilder place, there were lots of big game animals. Bison, brown bears, aurochs, and vast sounders of wild boar were all abundant. Before the Neolithic Revolution entered Europe, these animals were often hunted for their meat and hides, but after the Neolithic, man began to consider these animals pests.

Dogs were used to hunt them, but as the Neolithic gave way to the Ancient World, the dogs began to change. For big game, heavy-headed, big-framed dogs were used to hunt this often dangerous game. The first of these dogs appeared in Assyria, but they soon spread to Europe. Drop all that nonsense you may have heard about mastiffs being the ancient Molossus or have their origins in Tibet. Their origins are in Western Eurasia, and they began as big game hunters.

Supposedly the Alans brought their own form of hunting mastiff in Europe when they wandered west into the Roman Empire. This dog gave rise to the rootstock of the various bulldog breeds.

For centuries after, various European countries had their own rough bulldogs. Spain is pretty much the only one that has held onto its alano dog. Everyone else has greatly modified this creature.

The bulldogs evolved once the big game of Europe ceased to exist. Some of them were turned into a bull and bear-baiting dog. Others were kept at butcher shops to control half wild cattle and swine. Some were still utilized as catch dogs in Medieval hunts. They became symbolic creatures that reminders of a more savage past.

But by the nineteenth century, Europeans turned against bloodsports. The bulldogs were out of a job. The British began repurposing the bulldog into a pet. The original pet bulldog was 3/4 bulldog and 1/4 pug. This “Philo-Kuon” bulldog was heavily promoted as a pet, but other strains were being developed. One was the Sourmug, which eventually replaced the Philo-Kuon as the desired bulldog in England. There were also several smaller bulldogs, which had more pug and some terrier ancestry. These eventually gave rise to the French bulldog and the Boston terrier.

This repurposing of the bulldog in England did not go unnoticed in Germany. The Germans had two rough bulldog types the Danziger and Brabanter bullenbeissers. Brabant is, of course, in Belgium, but this lither bullenbeisser was fairly common in parts of Germany.  It was this breed that was crossed with the Philo-Kuon bulldog to form the modern boxer breed. The Brabanter dog was preferred in the later days of German hunting as a catch dog on wild boar and deer, and it was favored among Bavarian huntsman.

Crossing the Philo-Kuon bulldog with the Brabanter bullenbeisser was an attempt to create a uniquely German pet bulldog.

The modern boxer’s history began at roughly the same time as the modern German shepherd dog.  The SV for German shepherds began in 1899, but earlier attempts to create a standardized shepherd dog in Germany started with the Phylax Society in 1891. The first attempts to standardize the bullenbeisser/Philo-Kuon crosses began in 1894 in Munich, and the Boxer Club was founded in 1896.

So this dog went from being a big game hunter to a pet, but by the time the First World War started, it was then shifted into a dog of war. It was the only war in which it was widely used, though.

There has been a tension in boxers about whether to maintain them as pets or working dogs. Some of these dogs have been good at protection sports, but the vast majority of them are kept as pets.

I know of no one who uses them as catch dogs, but I have heard of a few people using boxer crosses in this way. The Dogo Argentino has a lot of boxer blood.

So here, we have dogs that were used for hunting, then for various sports, then for war, and now are mostly family dogs.


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The closed registry system is so nineteenth/twentieth century. This is what the dogs need now.


David Cunningham comments on this blog pretty regularly.


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Image courtesy of Nara U.  From Megargee work in 1953.

Image courtesy of Nara U. From Megargee work in 1953. 

I’ve heard two histories of the boxer dog.

One of them is just as Megargee describes it– a dog like a dogue de Bordeaux that was bred down into a German boar catcher.

I’ve even heard it suggested that the South African boerboel is actually almost entirely derived from the Brabanter bullenbeisser, which supposedly looked like a bullmastiff or dogue de Bordeaux in its original form.  However, there is also a lot of evidence that the boerboel’s affinity with the bullmastiff comes from heavy crossbreeding from bullmastiffs that were imported by the De Beers diamond company.

I don’t know enough about boerboels to vouch for the veracity of either theory, but I do think there may be a bit of an error in assuming that the boxer was just a bred down dogue de Bordeaux or bullmastiff.

My take on it is that the original bullenbeissers were actually virtually indistinguishable from the dog that we call the Alano Español or “Spanish bulldog.”

Here’s an image of a modern alano:

alano espanol

And here are German bullenbeissers on a boar hunt:

bullenbeissers and saufinder

And here is the famous image of a German bullenbeisser:


I would even go as far as to suggest that the bullenbeissers and the alano are actually the same breed. If you think about it, it may have been that the Spanish introduced this dog to the Low Countries, which Spain once ruled, and to parts of the German-speaking world, where the Spanish and Austria Hapsburgs ruled various kingdoms and principalities.

The bullenbeissers of yore and the Spanish bulldog of today are both larger than the typical boxer, which was bred down through the use of English bulldog blood, but that was not to produce a hunting or working dog.

It was to produce a fancier version of the bullenbeisser type. Stockmann, the man quoted in the piece, actually was instrumental in changing the bulldog-type boxer back into something longer-legged and more athletic, a dog more suitable for use as a sentry and messenger dog in the First World War. (Stockmann’s prose in the preceding link is probably the best description of boxer dog behavior and attributes that I’ve ever read.)

The boxer went from being the bullenbeisser to the bulldog cross show dog back into a working bulldog.

Stockmann was correct in saying that the boxer was bred down from the bullenbeisser, but the bullenbeisser was not like a dogue de Bordeaux, a Bullmastiff, or a boerboel.  It was more like a big alano-type bulldog.




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Guide boxer

guide boxer

W. Ross Peterson with his guide boxer, 1956. Photo courtesy of Nara U.

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Reader Franziska Könnecke sent me these photos of “Cäsar” her grandparents’ boxer. Franzi writes about her golden retriever “Anna” on her blog, Anna and I:  A Retriever’s Life.

Cäsar is a quite long-muzzled dog with an intelligent expression in his eyes. Unlike boxers in modern Germany, he is docked and cropped. I am unaware of exactly what lines he came from, or if those from the German Democratic Republic were different from those in the West.

But he was quite an amazing looking dog.


herbert konnecke boxer 1965

caesar boxer

caesar boxer adult

caesar as baby

boxer caesar

east german boxer caesar

east german boxer pup caesar

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Boxer hog dog

Warning: Video not for animal rights activists!


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This is Lassie, one of the last two “pure” St. John’s water dogs.  Despite the name, he was male, and he was featured in Richard Wolters’s history of the Labrador retriever.


Although he had a thicker coat and more high-set ears, it always amazes me how much he looked like Kizzy, the late “golden boxer” (golden retriever mother, brindle boxer father).

Her mother must have been a golden retriever that was masking dominant black with e/e preventing any black pigment from appearing on the fur.

Those St. John’s water dog genes are quite prepotent.

Many golden retriever crosses are mistaken for Labradors or Labrador crosses because they are black and smooth-coated.

But the golden retriever traits of a feathered coat and red-to-yellow coloration are recessive, and they are easily lost when crossed to other breeds.

This image used to get me a lot of hits via Google Images, but I guess she didn’t look enough like what people expect to see from a golden retriever/boxer cross.  I no longer get many hits from people looking for images of “golden boxers.”

But I can tell you that both her parents were known. The mother was so definitely a golden retriever that no one would mistake her for anything– and she had papers.

People have a very poor understanding of the inheritance of coat and color in domestic dogs.

I bet she would have been listed as a Labrador mix at any shelter, even though she had no Labrador ancestry.



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