Barking, Biting, Lunging, and Growling
Perhaps your boxer is so big now that you can no longer handle him, or you just haven't trained him, so you can't take him anywhere. Don't worry — there's still room for improvement. Since dogs can always learn new tricks, your relationship with your boxer and his with the outside world can still be fixed.
In order to be successful, you must make time to work at it with him. He can't learn those things that you won't teach him. In other words, he can only become as good a dog as you are willing to work and train him to be. And without adequate education and training from you, your boxer's behavior can worsen to the point that it's difficult to live with.
Owners who are not prepared to train their boxers to cope with the increasingly complex real world around them are disrespectful to their dogs and probably should not have one. Not only does an untrained boxer pose a possible threat to people and other animals, but the owner who does not adequately train a boxer to live within the rules of society gives even responsible boxer owners a bad rap.
Humans can't function in society without knowing the rules. Canines can't either. It is imperative that you make certain that your boxer can function in society. If you evaluated your lifestyle and made owning a boxer a lifestyle choice, but you didn't put in your time training your boxer, you need to do so now.
If your boxer gets frenzied in public and barks too much, and you have not trained a “No bark” or “Leave it” command, revisit the section on barking in Chapter 15.
Start this exercise first in your home and your yard so that your boxer has some baseline understanding about your expectations before you take him back into public. An aggressively barking dog pulling at his leash is very frightening to others. In the short term, it might be best to take your boxer out of situations that over-stimulate him to bark or behave aggressively until you get it under control, as you don't want this behavior to become a self-rewarding or self-perpetuating behavior.
A self-rewarding or self-perpetuating behavior is one that is intrinsically rewarding. This is how habits start in humans too. It's part of how we learn. In dogs, barking and being aggressive tends to develop an adrenaline rush that some become addicted to and which can be very hard to retrain. That's why it is very important to prevent these sort of self-rewarding behaviors from happening.
If your boxer has bitten a person or another dog, you are in a serious situation legally and with respect to your dog ownership — even if the victim was a family member. With some dogs, once the bite-inhibition gulf has been crossed, they have less respect for humans than before. It is worth it to train your boxer so he'll never even think of doing this in the first place.
Although humane muzzles allow the dog to eat, drink, and pant, there is some risk that a boxer could still overheat with one on, so you must monitor him carefully. Never leaved a muzzled boxer unattended, and never use a basket-type muzzle or one that does not allow the boxer to pant or to drink water.
If your boxer has bitten someone, consider muzzling him with a neoprene-type humane muzzle (one that allows him to eat, drink water, and to pant, but not to extend his canines to bite and do much damage) when interacting with humans and other dogs. This is a short-term solution until you can retrain him or get help with this issue.
If your boxer is lunging at other dogs or people, you need to step back and get him under control. You may need to do some retraining, but in the short term you are best off taking him out of situations where it is likely to happen. If he is lunging, he is not thinking good thoughts for the most part, and you need to make sure he doesn't injure another person or dog with his lunging and the intent behind it.
This may be a good time to take your boxer back to an obedience class where he must both socialize and learn at the same time. This is not the time to cut him any slack on his behavior. You are right to expect quick responses and a precise performance. Remember, the more you expect of your boxer at this point in time, the more he will respect your leadership. This is also the time to be totally consistent and firm.
If your boxer is growling at other dogs, you need to be very careful that he doesn't provoke some other dog into a fight. If he is growling at people, you need to remove him from situations in which he can intimidate others until you have this behavior under control.
Proofing to make sure you've completely gotten rid of a bad behavior such as growling is also a good idea. Proofing is what trainers call the process of testing your dog's behavior. It usually occurs after the dog has learned what you want and can perform the exercises in a variety of different situations. It is a way for you to find out how much and how well he has learned what you have taught him. People who do competitive obedience always proof their dogs before they show in obedience rings, but the concept is valid for all other aspects of canine training as well.