Learn, Don't Return - Boxer Dog - Breeder Interview w/ Amy Bieri-Shields

Posted by Brian Aho on

Brian:  We're here with Amy Bieri-Shields and she's going to educate us on Boxers. She's gonna tell us what the history of the Boxer is.

Amy:  So the history of the Boxer and what they were bred for; they were bred for hunting large game, bore, bear originally back in the Renaissance age.  They used to use them in large packs and they used to send them out in packs of three to six usually at a time.  And they were bred to hold and pin that large game down until the hunter can come over and take care of the business with the animal so they're actually a working breed, but they were bred for hunting as well, which a lot of people don't realize.

Brian:  Yeah, that's cool. I heard, maybe we'll get into that in Form and Function, but their jaws are very specific.

Amy:  Very strong, yup, and the reason they are Brachycephalic - meaning that they have a short muzzle and they're supposed to have a wide bite, it's supposed to be square.   And it is supposed to be...the inside of their mouth is not supposed to be any more wide than a pencil width - the width of the mouth.  And then very wide and square and that's so that they could grab on to like a boar or a bear and still be able to breathe through their nose.  So they can hold and pin a large game down.

Brian:  Very cool. What else can you tell us about the Form and Function of the Boxer?

Amy:  Well, they are a very athletic breed.  They are very well musculared, they can run really fast and leap and jump, so they can clear fences.  They are a very athletic breed for sure.

Brian:  What's it like living with a Boxer?  Something that is so athletic and something that if you don't have it on the leash and you're not trained properly. Just give us a little bit of that information.

Amy:  Well they can have a high prey drive; meaning that if they see a small animal, a squirrel or a rabbit, they would definitely take off after it, if they are not trained.  So they do have that kind of prey drive because of their hunting in the past.  So you do have to be careful - I would leash walk it, make sure you have a fenced-in yard, and sometimes you have to make sure you have a high fence.  Like a 6-foot fence or a privacy fence because they can easily get over fences because they are very athletic and they can jump and leap really high, so you have to be careful with that.  But they are very intelligent and they want to please their people even though they have a little stubborn streak in them.  But they are a very trainable, very intelligent breed.

Brian:  Living with the Boxer is it somebody who's older, or younger; who should be looking at a Boxer as a pet?

Amy:  That is a really good question - they are great family dogs - they are wonderful with children.  So, if you're looking for a nice family dog a nice companion - as long as you have the room for the dog to exercise.  Because the problem with Boxers is if they don't have enough exercise they can be very mischievous.  So they will chew or you know - they'll get into things, so they need things to do because they are a high-energy breed and so it's important that they have enough room to run, a fenced yard, or someone has the ability to - they make great exercise companions if you are a runner or jogger; but they
do need a lot of exercise.

  • They're not a breed that...they're not couch potatoes.

Brian:  So, not an apartment dog?

Amy:  Not an apartment dog unless someone jogs or exercises and makes sure that dog gets enough exercise, but otherwise no they really do need a lot of exercise when they are younger, for sure.

Brian:  As far as a backyard goes, do you recommend a fence - you did say a pretty tall fence; what about collars and invisible fence types of products?

Amy:  So I did when I lived in my previous house, I did have an underground fence system and I had three Boxers living in my house and they were very respectful of the fence.  So, I didn't really have issues but you do have to be careful if you have intact (male) Boxers.  You have to be careful that there's not too much of a desire for them to wanna leave the yard.  So if they are intact and someone has a dog in season you have to be careful that they wouldn't want to leave the yard.  They see a squirrel or a rabbit; so it's also important that the invisible fence - that they are properly trained on it.

  • It's important that the stimulation and the correction are enough that's going to - that they're not going to want to leave the yard.  Because yes, any dog will leave an underground fence if they'll take a hit on that collar if it's enough of something that they want to go after.

Brian:  The reward exceeds the penalty.

Amy:  So the invisible fences are great but you have to be careful with any breed really.  But, Boxers are very easily trainable and they are very smart and they do not have the desire to want to run like a Husky.  There are certain breeds that wanna just go and just take off.

  • A Boxer is not necessarily like that breed, but they definitely are mischievous.  And they would definitely have a desire to leave if it was enough of one.

Brian:  And now we're going to talk about the health issues of the Boxer.

Amy:  So, Boxers have quite a few health issues, which is unfortunate; but as breeders, we do our best to health test the dogs, and the dogs that were utilized for a breeding program we make sure that we test them for heart issues.  And there's a DNA marker for a disease called degenerative myelopathy which is where they lose the myelin down their spine and as they get older, it can be after the age of six, and they can show signs and symptoms of this disease all the way up until they reach ten, eleven years old.  But unfortunately, they lose the use of their back legs and they can't walk and then when they get to that point they're
either pulling a cart around or you have to euthanize them.

Another issue that Boxers have is heart issues:

  • So, as a breeder, we make sure that we do proper health testing - we yearly halter monitor the dogs because they have something called cardiomyopathy which they can actually fall over and die from a heart attack.
  • And another issue is they have a lot of issues with valves and so we do a cardiac workup with a cardiologist and they do an ECHO (Echocardiogram) and when they do that ECHO they check flow rates and they make sure that the size of the heart is normal.
  • And then the other issue they have is cancer...

So, you just have to keep tracking your pedigrees and know what's behind the dogs and try very carefully when you breed not to double up on some of the lines that had some cancer issues but yeah - those are some of the issues that we have unfortunately in the breed.

Brian:  I think it's pretty standard with a lot of the dogs.

Amy:  Yes

Brian:  It's not like oh I'm going to find the one breed that doesn't have issues.

Amy:  That's true

Brian:  They all have...

Amy:  Even mixed breeds can have some too because they're a derivative of a purebred dog or they have different purebred dogs in them so they can come up with some of those issues too.

Brian:  Oh, for sure.

Brian:  And now we are going to talk about the expenses associated with a Boxer dog.

Amy:  So, expenses when it comes to owning a dog in general would be:

  • veterinary
  • food expenses
  • and training...

Veterinary expenses can be costly especially if your dog starts having some health problems, but if you have a healthy dog and healthy puppy then you're looking at:

  • vaccinations yearly
  • heartworm tests nearly yearly,
  • making sure they get on their heartworm medication depending on the area that you live.

So, you know, average veterinary expenses for:

  • spaying or neutering your pet -
  • those expenses can cost on average probably a couple of thousand dollars a year.
  • You want to make sure can...you can even buy insurance for your dog
  • and then go on to food, I recommend a raw diet, that's my number one choice for feeding a dog and a Boxer.  And, some of the brands that I really like are:
  • Stella and Chewy's; they also have a freeze-dried kibble and so if you don't want to do a straight raw diet, you can do a kibble.

Some of the other brands that I have used in the past;

  • FROMM is a very good food for Boxers and
  • (Purina) Pro Plan - I like their sensitive skin and stomach formula because Boxers can have some stomach issues.  They have a little bit of a sensitive digestive system so I sometimes go - or recommend some of those foods.

Now with the - going back to the raw diet:

you can also make your own raw diet for your Boxer or for your dog. But you have to add supplements to those and you have to do a little research and make sure that you are feeding them a proper diet.

    You can't just go buy like ground beef at the store and just feed them that as a raw diet, you know so...you want to make sure you add certain things and you want to make sure that they get certain - you switch your proteins around, so one week I feed turkey, another week I feed chicken, another week I might feed beef, so it just depends, and it's also really good for dogs that have allergies - a raw diet.

    And then going on to training. If you want to talk a little bit about that?

    Brian:  Sure, absolutely.

    Amy:  Yeah, training any dog is super important, especially a Boxer.

    They can be a little bit stubborn.  But it's really important to socialize, so you want to get your dog to different places.  You want to socialize them with people and other dogs.  You want to make sure that they get out enough that when you take them to places they're not afraid, or shy, and they don't become aggressive or fear-biters.

    So, it's really important to take your dog out to places. So, it's really important to take your dog out places and I always recommend taking them to a very well-recognized training facility where you can work with trainers that are knowledgable.  And a lot of trainers that come from facilities that are very knowledgeable, know a lot about a lot of different breeds.  And when it comes to a Boxer when you train your Boxer, they're very smart but they can be stubborn. So, you always want to make sure that they think it's their idea.

    Brian:  That's cute.

    Amy:  It's true.

    Brian:  I believe you.

    Brian:  Who do you recommend and not recommend getting a Boxer?

    Amy:  Well they're a great family dog, so they're wonderful with children.

    As long as they have a good temperament, and you want to make sure you get a dog from a reputable breeder.  I don't recommend backyard breeders.  A lot of backyard breeders don't do health testing and they don't know years of lineage in those pedigrees.  So, they are definitely a good family dog but not probably for someone living in an apartment, that's got a single life and enjoying themselves and going out you know.  They need exercise and definitely need, they definitely need like a yard to run in or someone that's very active. So they're very active dogs.

    Brian:  So someone elderly, not recommended?

    Amy:  Unless they're familiar with the breed and they have a yard where the dog can run.  I have had people purchase puppies from me that - people that were elderly, just as long as they're familiar with the breed and they know what they are getting into.

    Because the dog - the breed itself is very active breed and so, but I've had elderly people buy puppies from me and they're great, they bring them to class, they take him for walks.  So as long as that dog is trained right.  Trained not to pull on the leash, they know sit, they know down, they know stay, they come when they're called. So training and socialization are super important, especially with a Boxer, but any breed in general - really needs to be trained properly.

    Brian:  True. Very good point.

    Brian:  Here are some leashes and collars that Amy recommends.

    Amy:  For your Boxer or for any dog in general, just depending on the breed, depending on the temperament right.  Even within our own breed the we breed Boxers, there are some of these products that I would or wouldn't use depending on the dog's temperament, and personality - it might be a soft temperament where it's a little shy, it needs its confidence built.

    • So, I might not use something like a prong collar.
    • Or I might have a dog that is a little more bold, has more prey drive and you need to control the manners a little bit.
    So some of these things I recommend, but depending on the dog itself.  So first off, if you have a puppy, I love Martingale collars - these are great, so you can clip these, and then you can give a little bit of a correction on this collar.  When you pull it it tightens up a little bit around the dogs neck and gives a slight correction, so when the dog is not doing something that you want it to do, you can give a little tug and release.  And this will pull and release on the dog and allows the dog to understand that you don't want it pulling or whatever it is. And I like these too because they're a little bit wider.  If you put a little narrower collar on a dog sometimes they're a little bit more hesitant, because they feel that pressure a little bit more.
    • So these are great for training puppies.
    • You can use them on adult dogs too...

    these are called Martingale collars.

    And then the prong collar; we have a couple of different kinds so this kind is just your general standard prong collar and there are different sizes, this is a medium, so a medium is probably a good size for a Boxer.

    But, we also have a micro-pinch collars, which the prongs are smaller, and the smaller the prong the more of a correction that dog is going to get.  So, with this size - this is a little bit larger, this is probably a good size for an adult Boxer.

    And so the whole concept behind a pinch collar is that when the dog pulls or you want to correct the dog - these prongs tighten up around the dog's neck and it kinda takes the dog back to when it was a puppy. Because, if you ever watch a mom interact with the puppies, she will grab them by the neck sometimes pin them down, so it's a correction that they've already had.  So these are really nice tool too, but again - you want to use this with a trainer.  Don't try to use some of this equipment on your own if you are not familiar with it, have not used it before - it's always good to get a trainer's assessment and they can help you recommend something for your dog for training or your Boxer alright.

    And then this is a Fuzzywupets collar - this is a great brand, so we sell these here. I like these because they're covered, so they look really stylish and beautiful on the outside.  They have an assortment of colors and sizes, so this all just depends on the breed.  I grabbed this - this is an 18", this is probably about the size of a Boxer would fit. Anywhere from like an 18" probably on up to, or even a 16" through a 20" or a 22".  Depending on the size dog, but depending on if it's a male or female and a little bit if it's got a thicker neck, or if it's a little bit narrower in the neck. But these are great too.  So, again, it's kind of like a Martingale cause when you pull this tightens up, but then it releases. And what's nice about this is people don't see - because sometimes people are a little bit hesitant about putting a collar like this on a dog, because it looks scary right?  Or somebody sees the dog on the street and they think that you know that - the dog is being - that the dog is being abused or - you know - but it's all education, and it's all understanding why we have these products, and why we use these products, and how effective they are.

    • And again, not every product that I'm recommending is for every dog - you have to definitely talk to a trainer, and have an assessment of your dog.

    And then another thing I love is leather leashes. These are my favorite!

    Brian:  Just a basic leash.

    Amy:  Yes, I'm old school when it comes to some of my equipment.

    So I really like a basic leather leash, and you know, they will soften up with the oils on your hand - over time.  So, this is a new one so it's not real soft, but it - they do soften up over time.  You can also take an oil - a leather oil and you can also, if you want to soften it up sooner, you can use an oil on your leash and then hang it to dry.  But I love 6-foot leashes for your healing, for your basic training, and your basic obedience.

    • And then a long lead, these are really great because you can use these for training your dog to come. So, you hook this up and let your dog get a little bit of a distraction, and the dog doesn't come. Then you encourage it in with this leash. I love, I'm positive reinforcement.

    I love to use food when I train my dogs because I think it helps get their focus, their attention on you.  Some of the treats that I recommend are Stella and Chewys.  They have great little freeze dried treats. BilJac - they have the peanut butter ones, the dog love those.  So, you can go and get any treats from the pet store, you can also use your own food at home.  You can cut up a hot dog, or you can use a cheese stick, but you want to make sure that the treat that you're using when you train your Boxer, or your dog in general that it's enough of a value - is a high-value treat so that they are focused and they'll pay attention and you can use it to redirect behavior and teach them to watch you.  So, I love using food for training the dogs - but anyway yes.

    Amy:  So these are a couple of things that I recommend.

    Brian:  That's awesome.

    Brian:  So Amy, why do you love the Boxer so much?

    Amy:  Well I love my breed because they're very good family dogs.  They're loyal, they're intelligent, they're athletic, you know.  I love to exercise myself, so i love to take my dogs jogging - running.  They're just - they're funny, they're silly - they're very entertaining.  A Boxer is such an entertaining breed and yeah, I just love the breed.

    Brian:  I have not been around a Boxer very much.  When I was a kid a friend of mine had a Boxer, and of course I didn't live with the Boxer, you know.  But that was the amount of exposure I got.  And he was always kind of wagging his tail, you know - and he was always a good dog.

    Amy:  But they are a guard breed too.

    So, you have to realize that's why they need to be socialized as puppies.  Because they can start resource guarding and being overprotective of their family.  But I love that about them too, right? Because instinctually they are protective, so you know, they might not just let somebody walk into your house.  But if they are well socialized they should be able to, instinctually know that it's okay for that person to come in; or obviously, if someone comes in your house, like an intruder, they should know the difference between that person's body language, how you react and respond to them. So they are a guard breed too but yeah, socialization is important.

    Brian:  I was reading the AKC manual on the Boxer before this, trying to get knowledgeable on it, and that's exactly what they were talking about.  As far as - the dog literally needs to know if the person coming into the house is family or foe.

    Amy:  Yes, exactly.

    Brian:  I'm like, how do they know that? But it's instincts.

    Amy:  It's instincts.

    Brian:  It's pretty...unless you experience it, like you being a breeder and advocate for the Boxer you just can't believe that a dog is that innate into its abilities and the needs of the family as well.

    Amy:  Right.

    Brian:  So, Amy, can you tell us how you got started?

    Amy:  Of course, so I started out as a Veterinarian Technician and I ran a practice and really just love dogs so much that I wanted to make my career something where I could support myself, right?   And being a Vet. Tech. I really couldn't support myself financially, so I had to think about what direction I wanted to go.

    So I had to think about what direction I wanted to go.  And I love dogs so much I started out teaching puppy classes out of the animal hospital that I worked at.  And then I started pet sitting dogs, so I wound up just working really hard and, working several jobs along the way; to establish my facility here - now today.

    And as far as the Boxer goes, my first dog was a rescue.  And he taught me a lot because he was an aggressive dog.  He was aggressive toward people and I went - I worked with three different trainers and two of the trainers told me to euthanize him, but I was committed and dedicated and, you know, I didn't have a family at the time, like kids or anything like that so, I was single, I was in my 20's and so I could put the time and effort and resources into the dog, and that dog wound up living to be like 15, and you know.  He was just this great dog and I just fell so in love with the breed that I wanted to breed Boxers.

    So I joined a Club, then I joined some of the AKC Clubs, such as; we have the Happy Tails Ranch working dog club in Island Lake (IL), so we started our own Club.  But you know as you breed dogs you start to learn a lot more about behaviors and behavior training.  And I'm actually - I specialize in behavior modification, and we also specialize here in reactivity.

    Because we want to help:
    • people that have dogs,
    • or rescue dogs, and
    • those dogs might have some behavioral problems or traits that they can't handle.
    So that's one thing we do is that we like to step in.  And we work with a lot of the rescue organizations too.  And I'm a firm believer that if you're going to breed a specific breed, you also need to be a part of rescue.  I think it's a super big deal that, you know, that you help your own breed with rescue.  And I've rescued a lot of dogs and rehabilitated a lot of Boxers over the years.

    Amy:  That's one thing I didn't really share with you.

    Brian:  Wow, that's awesome! The fact that, I mean you're giving back all the time.

    Amy:  Ya, I'm very passionate.

    Brian:  And you're a resource for the rescues and stuff like that.

    Amy:  Yes, and we foster - we foster for a couple of organizations locally, and you know - we give discounts when people come to our facility and they rescue dogs because you know, it's important those dogs get out and they get socialized and they get trained.

    Especially like from a young age, when you have a puppy a lot of people drop the ball on those puppies and those puppies grow up and now they're not cute and cuddly and little anymore, and now you have, you know - they have separation anxiety, or they weren't socialized so they're afraid of things or they become fear-biters.

    So if they're not trained and socialized from a young age then later on they can have serious behavioral problems and then you know - a lot of that could have been prevented.  A lot of people don't realize but a lot of issues with dogs when they're older could have been prevented when they were younger.

    Brian:  And what's the name of your facility in McHenry Illinois?

    Amy:  We are Happy Tails Ranch and we're located off of Roberts Road - we're actually in Island Lake, Illinois.  But, we've been here - I established Happy Tails in 2000.  So, we've been here for quite a long time.  And I've been breeding Boxers since 1998.

    Brian: Wow. And then we met you at a show.

    Amy:  At a dog show.

    Brian:  At a dog show and you had a couple...

    Amy:  I had the Briards on the table.

    Brian:  Which were fantastic.

    Amy:  Yeah, they are a cool breed.

    Brian:  I've never seen one of those in my life, and will probably never see one of those again - in person, who knows.

    Amy:  Yes.

    Brian:  Tell us about how you ended up there.

    Amy:  Yeah, so actually - breeding Boxers, I wanted to start putting a title on them, right - so, and I actually started in Obedience before I actually started to breed and show dogs in AKC Conformation for their Championship titles.

    For their Conformation Championship titles - I started in Obedience, so I put a lot of like CD's and CDX's and Rally titles and Agility titles on a lot of my Boxers over the years.  So, I enjoyed performance so much and then I wanted to breed the dogs and people were telling me that if you wanna breed them you should put these AKC Championship titles on them.  So, I started showing my dogs in the AKC ring to get their Championship titles.  And since then I put about 150 championship titles on Boxers.

    Brian:  Wow!

    Amy:  And I've bred over 100 Champions myself.

    Brian:  Wow! That's awesome.

    Amy:  And I've had a lot of success, I'm very fortunate over the years.  I've had, I've gone Winners Bitch at the Regional twice for our American Boxer Club.

    I have gone Reserve Winners Bitch at the National.  I've had dogs from our lines win Futurity.  So, I'm very, very fortunate that I've had a lot of success within my own breed.  I've even judged the top 20 at our American Boxer Club - that was super fun.  I've judged Sweepstakes, you know, so I'm starting to dabble a little bit in that but...I'm a professional handler right now and I show all breeds.  That's why when you came over, I had the Briards on the table.

    Brian:  But so do they contact you - the Briards (owners) if they need a professional handler?

    Amy:  Yes.

    Brian:  Are you available for those, for that?

    Amy:  Yes, so as far as the professional handling goes - I teach Conformation classes here at Happy Tails.

    I teach two days a week, and so a lot of my professional handling business - I'm fortunate that people hire me because they know me from Happy Tails, and they come here for my training classes.  But I show all breeds.  I've shown everything from Rottweilers to Vizslas to little dogs like Boston Terriers, and I actually bred Boston Terriers for a little while too.

    Brian:  Did you? So, a true dog advocate.

    Amy:  I love them.

    Brian:  That's cool! And that's it. Thank you so much for joining us.

    Amy:  Thank you for having me today.

    Brian:  You're very welcome - thank you.


    Amy Bieri-Shields

    (847) 651-2419
    Happy Tails Ranch
    4319 N. Roberts Rd.
    Island Lake, IL 60042

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