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Black Boxers - Fact or Fiction?

More and more frequently we have been seeing ads for, getting questions about, and hearing from people who have purchased black Boxers. Sometimes this is just a simple misunderstanding - the dogs are actually very heavily striped brindles, which some people call "black brindles" and mistakenly shorten to "black". All too often, however, the dogs are touted as being solid black (with or without white markings). The problem with this, of course, is that the Boxer simply does not carry the gene for a black coat color. One would think this would be the end of the discussion, but sadly there are still those who insist they have purebred, pure black Boxers.

Our essay on Coat Color & Marking Pattern Inheritance discusses Boxer coat color genetics a bit more in-depth. To quickly summarize, all Boxers have a fawn base coat color; convention is to call brindle a coat color, but it is really a marking pattern of black stripes covering the fawn. This fawn coat color is recessive to solid black - if a dog has one copy of the gene for black coat color, it will be black. In over 100 years of recorded Boxer breedings, the only time a solid black coat has appeared was in a handful of dogs descended from a cross between a Bulldog and a Schnauzer.

Frau Stockmann, widely considered the mother of the breed, discusses these black dogs in her book, My Life With Boxers:

Lore von Eisleben, the granddam of both black Boxer bitches, had been a Bulldog bitch. During an exhibition she came into season and was accidentally bred by a Schnauzer. Even the breeder would not deny that.... I met black Boxers through their originator, Mr. Schachtner. He had bred them well, but knew little about good sportsmanship and stirred up opposition just by his personality. The extinction of black Boxers has to be laid at his feet.

Ironically, those who claim to be breeding solid black Boxers often use Frau Stockmann's writings as "proof" that there is such a thing. As is evident, however, Stockmann makes it quite clear that the black dogs were not purebred Boxers, that the coloring came from another breed, and that they were quickly eliminated from the Boxer gene pool. At that time in Germany, the Munich Boxer Club strictly controlled the breeding of Boxers. A dog had to meet conformation and working standards before it could be bred. In 1925, the standard was changed so that a black coat was no longer an accepted color in Boxers. The Munich Boxer Club did not want black Boxers, so they did not allow them to be bred. It's possible, though unlikely at that time, that some "unapproved" breeding went on - but these dogs would not have been registered with the Boxer Club, so would not have been part of the gene pool that has come down to us today.

The question, then, is this: If the original black coloring came from a Schnauzer, and black Boxers from this cross became extinct in the early 1900s, what breed is responsible for the black coat color this time? (Not surprisingly, not a single breeder of "black Boxers" has been able - willing? - to answer that question when asked.) Black in Schnauzers is a dominant trait - a dog that has even one copy of the gene will be black, so a non-black dog could not be carrying, hidden, the gene. Since black Boxers were unheard of for 75 years after the Schnauzer-Bulldog cross, until the recent resurgence in the US non-show population, it's obvious that the trait has not been passed down for generations. While mutation is a possibility, the odds of it are enormously high - and the odds of it happening in several separate breeding populations are astronomical - enough so that we can safely rule out mutation for the majority of black Boxers out there. The only viable option, then, is the genetic influence of another breed.

There have been claims of a recessive black coat color gene in Boxers, but those making the claim also state that recessive black is lethal in Boxers. This means that a puppy with two copies of the recessive gene for black coat color will not survive. However, there is no documentation to support this theory, and it has been discounted by the Boxer breeder-geneticists that we know. In light of this, we are unable to give it credence here.

in 2011, the American Boxer Club published a position statement on the so-called "black Boxers", which includes the following:

In recent years there have been a growing number of people advertising “black Boxers,” or worse "rare black Boxers," usually at inflated prices. The American Boxer Club condemns this practice because the Boxer breed does not carry a gene for a black coat....

As a dominant color, a black coat cannot lie hidden for generations. Therefore, any Boxer with a solid black coat must have another breed in the background.

We must also question the ethics of those breeding black Boxers. Even with the false assumption that these are truly pure-bred Boxers, there are other factors to consider. The first, and most obvious, is that the AKC does not have a color code for a black coat in Boxers. That means that any AKC-registered black Boxer is actually registered as a brindle or, occasionally, the lamentable "black white and tan" (a code that has no business on Boxer registrations, as it describes the coloring of a Foxhound. Thus, either the breeders are falsifying information with the AKC, or they are freely admitting that the dogs have fawn (tan) on them and so are not black Boxers. Why they then continue to advertise their dogs as black - often "rare black" - is incomprehensible.

The other less obvious consideration is that the breed standard disqualifies Boxers that are any color other than fawn or brindle. So these breeders are purposely breeding disqualifications. While there is nothing at all wrong with owning a dog that has a breed disqualification, it is another matter entirely to breed them. (See our Standard Schmandard article for more information on the importance of breeding to the standard.) If these dogs are truly brindles, as they are registered, then we go back to the standard, which states that fawn must clearly show through any brindle striping. If no fawn is visible to a judge, the dog will be either excused or disqualified from competition, even if it is genetically a brindle. (We have yet to hear of any person breeding black Boxers that has even considered exhibiting their dogs in the conformation ring, much less actually done so, however.) So again, these breeders are ignoring the standard and the welfare of the breed, in favor of some other motivation known only to them (and, perhaps, their checkbooks?).

Last, but most certainly not least, there is the overall issue of responsible breeding. Ignoring for the moment the questionable ethics of these black Boxer breeders, we have yet to come across even one who follows the basic tenets of responsible breeding: breed only to improve the breed (you can't do that with disqualifications); know your bitch's strengths and weaknesses (these breeders don't show their dogs, and don't seek out objective evaluations of them from other breed experts); choose the dog that best complements the bitch (these breeders invariably have one stud dog and a number of bitches who are all bred to him, usually repeatedly); and health screen all breeding stock for genetic diseases (a list of appropriate health testing can be found at the American Boxer Club website).

Further information on choosing a responsible breeder can be found at our Questions to Ask Breeders page.


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