Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mismark Case Study: Boxer

These three boxers shows some of the color variation seen in the breed. Image is from under a Creative Commons license.
The AKC boxer breed standard allows for four color variants: classic fawn, flashy fawn, classic brindle, and flashy brindle. Classic boxers are also sometimes called "plain" due to the minimal amount of white seen on the dog. Flashy dogs have "flash," or prominent white markings, and dogs with flash are overwhelmingly preferred in the show ring. Here are the mismarks in the breed:

  • Too much white
    • Over 1/3 of the dog is white, usually where the dog is mostly or completely white
    • Dogs who are white except for a small colored patch are known as "checked"
  • Solid black (either classic or flashy)
    • Heavy brindle is okay, but fawn must be seen somewhere in the coat
  • No mask
    • The mask is considered "vital" for the "proper boxer expression"
  • Lack of skin pigment
    • Either of the eye rims/haws or nose

This boxer is a checked white mismark
Plain dogs are genetically solid, which explains the small amount of white. Flashy dogs, though expressing what is to be expected from dogs who are homozygous for Irish white markings, are heterozygotes, having one copy of the solid gene and one copy of the extreme white gene. This is where white boxers come from. Breeding two flashy dogs together leads to a one in four chance of producing a homozygous extreme white dog. This is why so many boxer breeders advocate only classic/classic and classic/flashy matings, despite the fact that a classic/white mating would produce an entire litter of the preferred flashy phenotype. The white puppies were once culled for being born the "wrong color," and as such for quite some time the color was rather obscure and considered incredibly rare. However, the color is far from rare. This is partly thanks to that preference for flashy markings in the show ring.

This boxer is a white mismark
On top of that, the white coloration was quite prevalent in the breed's foundation stock and was once perfectly acceptable. It only fell out of favor when the breed began to be used more often as guard dogs, since the white coloration made the dog more visible in the dark. Since the breed is now rarely if ever used for this purpose, it seems silly to continue to exclude them from the standard for a reason that is no longer relevant. Also, since the current preferred appearance among the dog show crowd is flashy markings, arguing that the tradition of a guard dog should be upheld holds no water. Flash would also make a dog more visible in the dark when compared to a dog with little to no white. In addition, narrowing the amount of available pairings due to color restrictions and movements to avoid white puppies alltogether can easily cause a loss of genetic diversity and all of the negative health issues that can come from that. Breeding for health and temperament should always be the top priorities in dog breeding since the majority of the dogs bred end up going to pet homes. Color should be one of the last factors that come into play.

This boxer is a black mismark.
Black boxers seem to be the new trend in the breed. If you search around online for boxer puppies, some of the first sites you will come across advertise black puppies, sometimes referred to as "sealed brindle." Brindle is very common in the breed, including very heavy and "reverse" brindles. However, the brindle dogs all have at least some fawn stripes. It is difficult to say where the black coloration has come from. It could be recessive black that appeared very rarely in the breed but has since been bred for by selfish breeders wanting to profit off the selling of the unusual. The color could have also come from an outcross to a breed that resembles the boxer and where black is quite known, such as the American bulldog or a pitbull type. Some of the breeders who sell black dogs call them "sealed brindle," saying that it's as if the stripes have been sealed together. They sell the dogs at exorbitant prices, usually significantly more than their non-black siblings. As I keep emphasizing in these mismark case studies, color shouldn't matter. As such, any breeder who is charging significantly more for a dog for color reasons is likely not a very honest or trustworthy breeder.

As for the last two mismarks, they seem to be the most unusual. The mask seems to be fixed or nearly fixed in the breed. Since the masking gene is dominant, it is quite possible that some boxers may very well be heterozygous for the gene. This would make it very possible for a maskless boxer to be  produced if the right two dogs are bred together. As for lack of pigment, it is far from unheard of for a dog with white markings to have a loss of pigmentation to the skin as well as the fur. It seems that most boxers are born with a pink nose, which is also normal for dogs with white markings. Though most puppies will grow up to have a fully pigmented nose, it is very possible for pink skin to be left.


  1. Oh the "black" boxer is often advertised around these parts.

    I once came upon a flashy black boxer mix with tan points. His owner claimed he was purbred although it was obvious he was mixed.

    My sister however, has a lovely flashy brindle boxer named Cassius, and he has the cutest hush puppy face.

    1. I have never heard of a tan pointed boxer before, and that's after a lot of searching through websites, including many that offer the "rare" colors for high prices. I bet that dog had some Rottweiler or pit bull in its background.

      I do like boxers, partly since the few I have met have all been total sweethearts, but I worry sometimes about their health since some breeders are breeding for super short muzzles. They're still much better off than the bulldog, though.

    2. I have a check boxer and a fawn boxer and they have twice produced tan pointed boxers and flashy boxer pups.

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  3. Every "sealed brindle" so called boxer I have ever seen is obviously a crossbred. However, as the NBT boxer breeding program has shown, you can get correct type back within 4 generations.
    My closest friends sister just bought a "black boxer puppy. I wonder if I can convince her to do a DNA and see if the pup tests for the brindle gene..
    If these so called sealed boxers test to actually be brindle, I will admit I was wrong, but seeing as none of the people I have seen selling these dogs have proved their dogs are actually brindle, sealed or otherwise, I stand with my opinion of a related breed cross, either Am Bulldog, or pit bull.

    1. Just a follow up.. even with me offering to pay for the tests, she would neither agree to allow me to test for brindle coloration, nor would she allow me to do a Wisdom Panel. As an adult dog, her dog is even more obviously a pit bull cross than she was as a puppy.

    2. A study in 2013 on brindle and black-and-tan, using Boxers, Danes and a Doberman for a control, found ALL the Boxers and Danes to be KB/k'y' and also E'm'/E'm'. As well they had a'y' -sable- at the agouti locus.

      They did not have a brindle allele (k'br'). They were heterozygotes for dominant black (KB) carrying k'y'. KB has now been shown to have a different phenotype to the eye than solid black.

      In sight-hounds 'shaded' grizzles (E'g'/-) are also KB dominant. Depending on what is at agouti these dogs can have a variety of colors and patterns.

      There has to be another modifier that hasn't been found or considered. The 'sealed' black Boxers would be useful to study as they likely are 'black' and don't have the modifier(s) that changes black to brindle.

      At the same time in another study brindle Akita Inus were found to be KB/k'y' as well.

      Here are the study titles and links -

      Characterization of different 5′-untranslated exons of the ASIP gene in black-and-tan Doberman Pinscher and brindle Boxer dogs

      and - Mutations in the Melanocortin 1 Receptor, β-Defensin103 and Agouti Signaling Protein Genes, and Their Association with Coat Color Phenotypes in Akita-Inu Dogs.

  4. One of my vets says my dog is a full-blooded boxer. The other says she's a boxer mix. The vet assistants say she's a pit bull. I think she's a boxer / lab mix. She has a significant underbite but her muzzle isn't as short as most boxers'. She has webbed toes. No mask, just the really dark brindle. About 55 pounds. Any way I could send you a pic to look at?