By Morieka Johnson, Mother Nature Network
Boxers consistently rank among the top 10 breeds in the United States, but how much do you really know about these four-legged athletes? The annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show kicks off Feb. 13 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Here's a primer on the boxy breed before the show begins.
These cute and cuddly pooches were bred to help hunters in Germany during the 19th century. Strong and athletic, the dogs were bred to run up to 20 miles, then use that infamous underbite to catch and hold their prey until hunters arrived. True to the name, boxers actually do stand on their hind legs and bat their front paws.
"Get two boxers together that like each other and eventually they will get up on their hind legs and they will box; that's the way they play into their old age," says championship breeder Judy Boran of Strawberry Boxers in Arizona.
[ Related: 7 incredibly loyal dogs ]
Large, alert eyes and a massive underbite help boxers stand out from the crowd. Boran says that a strong jaw line helped boxers hold onto prey during those early hunting days. Docked ears and cropped tails reduced the risk of injury during a hunt, and show dogs maintain those features. This muscular breed tends to weigh between 60 to 75 pounds, and reach a height of 21 to 25 inches at the shoulders. Boxers also should be a bit boxy. Boran, who has judged show dogs, notes that the dog's measurement from post-sternum to rear should be the same as the length from the ground to its withers.
"It's harder to find a square boxer, but I think that's extremely important," she says. "It's just a quality that says, 'I'm here, look at me.' It's like in horses; the boxer should own the ground over which it stands."
Atlanta Boxer Rescue warns that the breed requires plenty of attention, exercise and supervision. In return, they will reward you with a lifetime of companionship. Boxers also have a reputation for being loyal and protective, particularly around little ones. When screening prospective clients, Boran says she prefers households with children because boxers thrive in that environment.
"Every boy needs a boxer and every boxer needs a boy," she says. "The most important thing about boxers is that they are people dogs. They need their people and give absolute love and devotion. They have a joy in life."
Their short coat and desire to be near people mean that boxers don't do well as outdoor dogs. Boran and Atlanta Boxer Rescue say the breed thrives inside with its people.
[ Related: Lawsuit aims to prove dogs have souls ]
Common health issues
That short muzzle also means boxers cannot fly in the cargo hold, along with other brachiocephalic pooches such as bulldogs, pugs and Shih Tzus. Snoring is another byproduct that Atlanta Boxer Rescue points out to prospective adopters.
When purchasing a boxer from a reputable breeder, ask if they test for a cardiomyopathy, and a neurological disease called myelopathy that severely weakens a dog's hindquarters.
Keep your eyes open for Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream when boxers take the show ring this month. As 2011 Best of Breed winner, the beautiful boxer will defend her title against other top dogs, including her sister, Winfall I Dream Of Style.
Coverage of the show is scheduled to air on Feb. 13-14 on the USA network and CNBC. For more information about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show and television coverage, visit westminsterkennelclub.org.
Like this story? Follow @MNNPets on Twitter for more just like it.
Meet the Bouvier des Flandres
Four dogs that never won Westminster
5 unusual pet procedures