Boxer coat colour

Brindle (left) and Fawn

The coat colour of a boxer dog is either fawn (aka red) or brindle with a black mask. The shades of fawn range from a pale tan to deep deer red. Brindles have the same range of background colours overlaid with black stripes, the concentration of which range from just a few stripes to such heavy concentration that the dog has the appearance of fawn stripes on a dark background. Depending on the shade of the base colour and concentration of stripes, a brindle may be described as a ‘light’, ‘golden’, ‘fawn’, ‘red’, ‘mahogany’, ‘dark’, ‘reverse’ or ‘seal’ brindle (those are just descriptions though – the correct term for any shade of brindle is brindle). White markings are permissible, providing that these do not exceed 1/3 of the total coat.

White boxers also exist (about 20% of boxers are white), but the white 'colour' is in fact a lack of pigmentation rather than an actual coat colour. White boxers are, genetically speaking, either fawn or brindle but have a high proportion (even 100%) of the base coat colour obscured by white markings.

A dog that is any other colour than fawn, brindle (or white) cannot possibly be a pure bred boxer because those are the only genes for coat colour that exist within the boxer breed. A "boxer" that is black, or black with brown points, for example, MUST be a mixed breed because the genes required for those coat colours do not exist within the boxer breed (just as, for example, the brindle colour does not exist within the labrador retriever breed, or harlequin within the rottweiler breed).

White, check and mismarked (parti-coloured) boxers

Although not acceptable for the show ring (and these dogs must never be used for breeding), white or check boxers make excellent pets, obedience and agility dogs. The colour of a boxer’s coat makes no difference to its personality and the boxer's natural ability as a wonderful friend and companion. Around the world between 10-25% of boxers are white, occurring most frequently where it is common to breed dogs with a high proportion of white markings (flashy) together.

There are a lot of myths about white boxers being susceptable to health troubles. There is, however, no evidence to indicate that white boxers are more prone to health problems than their coloured counterparts, with the following exceptions: white boxers are prone to sunburn (which, as for people, can lead to skin and other cancers), so need to be protected against the sun. Their lack of pigmentation also makes them susceptible to deafness, which can occur in one or both ears. Survey results indicate that around 20% of white boxers are bilaterally deaf (deaf in both ears), as are around 2% of coloured boxers. It is likely that similar proportions of boxers are deaf in one ear. Puppies that are bilaterally deaf are usually detected at an early age and can be placed in loving homes where they can be trained using hand signals. Unilaterally deaf puppies (one ear) are usually only detected by BAER testing. Deafness is an inheritable trait and breeding dogs that carry the extreme white spotting gene (white boxers have two copies – see coat colour inheritance below) will cause pigment dilution in all offspring. This is one of the major reasons why white boxers should never be bred from.

Coat colour inheritance

Fawn or brindle?

The coat colour of a boxer dog is determined by the genes it inherits from its parents. A puppy inherits one gene for coat colour from each parent. The gene for brindle coat colour (B) is dominant to that for fawn colour (b), with the result that if a puppy inherits a fawn gene from one parent and a brindle gene from the other parent, the puppy *must* be brindle. A fawn dog must therefore have two copies of the fawn colour gene (because if it had one copy of the dominant brindle gene, the coat colour would be brindle not fawn). Breeding two fawn boxers together can produce *only* fawn puppies (because neither fawn parent has a copy of the brindle gene to pass on to the offspring).

A brindle boxer may either have two copies of the dominant brindle gene (BB), or one copy of brindle and one of fawn (Bb). A BB (dominant) brindle can produce only brindle offspring, irrespective of whether the dog it is bred with is fawn or brindle. A Bb (non-dominant) brindle can produce both brindle and fawn puppies if it is bred with another non-dominant brindle or with a fawn. See the following diagrams for a pictorial explanation of the average litter results of various breeding pairs.

Fawn x Fawn = 100% Fawn (always)

BB Brindle x BB Brindle = 100% BB Brindle

Bb Brindle x Fawn = 50% fawn, 50% Bb Brindle

BB Brindle x Bb Brindle = 50% BB Brindle, 50% Bb Brindle

BB Brindle x Fawn = 100% Bb Brindle

Bb Brindle x Bb Brindle = 50% Bb Brindle, 25% BB Brindle, 25% bb Fawn

Plain, Flashy, or white?

White markings are also the result of the genes inherited from a dog's parents, with one gene inherited from each parent. White markings on a boxer results from the absence of pigment cells. This applies equally to the white markings found on 'flashy' boxers and to those whose coats are completely or predominantly white. The gene responsible for a solid coat colour is the dominant S gene, while the gene that reduces the numbers of pigment cells is the recessive (s) gene. There are several different forms (alleles) of the s gene, which bring about different distributions of white coat. It is the extreme form (sw) which results in the white coat colour of the white boxer. A predominantly coloured (either fawn or brindle) coat occurs when the dog has at least one copy of the dominant S gene. Flashy boxers (those with white markings on the face, legs, chest and belly) have one copy of the solid S gene, and one copy of the recessive sw gene. White and check boxers have two copies of the recessive sw gene.

Note that plain, in this context, refers to genetics. Boxers without white markings are anything but plain (indeed, excessive white markings can detract from true boxer expression) and a better term to describe these dogs is "classic". 

Plain (SS) x Plain (SS) = 100% Plain (SS) puppies

Plain (SS) x Flashy (Ssw) = 50% Plain (SS), 50% Flashy (Ssw)

Flashy (Ssw) x Flashy (Ssw) = 50% Flashy (Ssw), 25% Plain (SS), 25% White (swsw)

White boxers should never be bred (even with Plain boxers) due to the intrinsic link between the white colour and deafness.

 If you have questions about boxer coat colours and inheritance, visit our Canine genetics and heredity issues forum.