Coat Colors in Boxers and the American Boxer Club

For each breed that is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the AKC also recognizes an organization termed, "the parent club." Each parent club (in this case the American Boxer Club [ABC]) is responsible for establishing and writing a breed standard, a document describing the characteristics of that breed. Breed standards are not written to discriminate.

Quite simply, the standards are designed as guides to determine the structure and desirable traits to be used for selecting breeding stock and to instruct judges in the show ring. The currently approved Boxer Standard explicitly defines the allowable coat colors and markings for Boxers. There are two acceptable coat colors, fawn or brindle.

There are no stripes in fawn coats. Those Boxers exhibiting black stripes on the fawn background are termed brindle. The fawn coat ranges from light yellow to dark red. Brindling can be sparse or heavy, and sometimes it is so heavy the animal appears to be black with fawn stripes (this is called reverse brindling – boxers do not carry the gene for an all black coat color). The ABC's Boxer Standard defines the desired colors and markings one should strive for in the ideal Boxer.

The Boxer Standard requires that two-thirds of the coat color on the total surface of the skin must be either fawn or brindle. If white markings exceed one-third of the total surface of the skin, the Boxer would be excused from competition by the judge. In show terminology this is called a disqualification. Such color restrictions are very common in breed standards.

In The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs [1954], Clarence C. Little indicated that white Boxer puppies are not true albinos as albinism is defined by geneticists (a complete lack of pigment in the skin or hair and blue eyes), as evidenced by their dark eyes and nose. Approximately twenty-five percent (and this is an estimation as exact records have not been maintained) of all Boxer puppies born to parents having white markings are either white or almost all white, making white puppies neither" rare" nor "unusual." Some of the pups may have brindle or fawn spots on the head, trunk, or base of the tail. These almost all-white puppies are sometimes referred to as "checks" or "parti-colored."

Other issues to be considered with the white Boxer gene include:

  1. Some of the white pups, with little or no pigment in their skin, must be kept out of the sun because they sunburn. This is similar to a condition observed in Collies, which is called "Collie nose."
  2. A certain percentage of the white Boxer puppies are deaf in either one or both ears. In Boxers and other breeds (Bull Terriers, Dalmatians, Great Danes, Collies, Shetland Sheep Dogs, etc.) in which deaf animals sometimes occur, it is known that deafness results when the cells of the skin lining the ear canals lack pigment. [1]
  3. It has been reported that some white Boxer puppies may be blind, however, there are no sound statistics to establish this as a severe problem as this condition appears to occur at a very low frequency in the Boxer.

Originally the American Boxer Club wote the standard clearly addressing the white coat coloring as undesirable because of the unfortunate traits associated with the lack of pigmentation. As a result of these observations, breeders are still forbidden in the use of white Boxers in their breeding programs.

Currently, ABC members and members of affiliated clubs are now offered the option of placing white puppies in homes as companion or performance animals and offering an American Kennel Club Limited Registration to the new owners. This Limited Registration offered by the AKC will assign the dog an AKC number for use in performance events. AKC will not recognize the use of the dog as a breeding animal by denying registration of any puppies produced by a dog with such registration. The American Boxer Club’s Code of Ethics clearly defines the breeders’ responsibilities and the guidelines for this option, which includes proof of spay/neuter prior to registration.

White Boxers have been a part of our breed's history from the very beginning. The introduction of the all-white gene into the Boxer gene pool is often blamed on early crosses to a white English Bulldog in the 1890s, yet white Boxers existed long before the crosses to the Bulldog were made (as demonstrated by a photo of a white Boxer from 1870 that was killed while being with his master in the Franco-German war of 1870/71[2]).

White Boxers were accepted for registration and breeding by the German club up to 1925. They were banned then because the club viewed the Boxer as a guard dog and white was considered unacceptable for that work. Any physical problems related to the white gene were not found until much later.

The American Boxer Club remains constant in their disqualification of the white boxer for either conformation classes or breeding. Other than the undesirable physical traits (deaf or blind) sometimes associated with the white gene, white Boxers are exactly the same in temperament and structure as their pigmented siblings. Please remember there are many Boxers (including white, check, parti-colored, fawn and brindle) with other undesirable traits that also should not be used for breeding. The color of a Boxer's coat has nothing to do with the wonderful Boxer personality we all have grown to covet and love.

For comment or questions, you may contact the authors directly:
Dr. Robert Conrad      Ann Gilbert

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