Coat Colors in Boxers and the American Boxer Club, Inc.
By: R. D. Conrad and Ann Gilbert

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 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 instructions for judges. The currently approved Boxer Standard explicitly defines the allowable coat colors and markings for Boxers. There are two 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 so heavy the animal appears to be black with fawn stripes (this is called reverse brindling).

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 The pattern of the white markings on the muzzle, end of the tail, legs, feet, neck, chest, and under side of the body is known as the Irish Spotting Factor. This polygenic trait (an observed trait determined by several genetic determinants) was first described in rats and studied by a geneticist in Ireland. It is observed in many mammalian species and several breeds of dogs.

Puppies at PlayIn The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs, Dr. 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). Approximately twenty-five percent (and this is an estimation as exact records have not been maintained) of all Boxer puppies 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 called checks or parti-colored." A great many white puppies are humanely disposed of at birth because of the following reasons:

  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 percent of the white Boxer puppies are deaf in either one or both ears. The most accurate record of the percentage of deaf white Boxers comes from the current records of Boxer Rescue Services. Rescue efforts in Dallas, Texas, indicate that thirty out of seventy-five white Boxers (40%) that came through their rescue program over a two-year period were deaf, and the rescue program in Virginia and Maryland recently reported that six out of twenty white Boxers (30%) in their program were deaf. In Boxers and other breeds ( Bull Terriers, Dalmations, Great Danes, Collies, Shetland Sheep Dogs, etc.) in which deaf animals sometimes occur, this is associated with the loss of pigment and coat color, but, the mechanisms of inheritance are different from Boxers. It is known that deafness results when the cells of the skin lining the ear canals lack pigment.

  3. It has been reported that some white Boxer puppies may be blind, however, this condition occurs at a low frequency.

As a result of these observations, some breeders may choose to dispose of their white, check, or parti-colored Boxer puppies by euthanasia or simply by placing these puppies, unregistered with the AKC, in homes as companion animals. The practice of placing white puppies should be done carefully. A responsible breeder should require that any white or mismarked puppy must be spayed or castrated if placed as a companion animal.

PuppyThe AKC will register any puppy, regardless of color, as long as both parents are registered -- unless there is a contract signed by the breeder and purchaser of the puppy to the effect that the animal is not to be registered by the AKC. Presently, the breeders have the option of assigning a Limited Registration to any puppy for lack of quality or merit. The AKC will not register any offspring produced by a parent with a Limited Registration. The Limited Registration will permit the dog to be shown in obedience trials (only) at AKC-licensed events and AKC-sanctioned matches. Considering the unfortunate traits associated with the lack of pigmentation and the ABC's Boxer Standard clearly addressing the white coat coloring as undesirable, this should discourage any breeder from registering a white, a check, or particolored Boxer for breeding purposes.

PuppyThe stigma associated with white Boxers is evident. In fairness to all, there should be no embarrassment for those loving and owning a white or check Boxer. We do not understand the genetic mechanisms responsible for the inheritance of the lack of pigmentation and white markings over large areas of the skin. What is important for all to remember is that there are many Boxers (including white check, parti-colored, fawn and brindle) with other undesirable traits that also should not be used for breeding.

* Approved by the Officers and Board of Directors of the American Boxer Club, May 8, 1997.

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

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