The Boerboel, also called the South African Mastiff, South African Boerboel, Borbull or simply the Bole, is a South African dog whose devotees claim is the only breed in the world specifically bred only to guard and protect. This claim is the subject of substantial controversy. These are large, intelligent, powerful animals that descend from the ancient Boer Dogs and include Bullmastiffs and other large working dogs among their ancestors. "Boerboel" means "farmer's dog," referring to the original function of the breed, which was to guard and protect the family farm. Boerboels resemble Mastiffs and are still used for protection. Calm, loyal and loving to their owners, they are highly territorial and extremely suspicious of strangers. They are surprisingly agile for their massive size, which makes them especially intimidating. Their smooth, short thick coats require little grooming. Boerboels do need plenty of exercise to stay physically and mentally sound. They should be socialized properly from early puppyhood to reduce their aggressive tendencies. Boerboels are not a good choice for first-time dog owners or for families with very young children. If raised and trained correctly, they can make lively, impressive, affectionate companions for experienced owners who are comfortable using firm, kind, consistent and repetitive training methods.
The Boerboel dates back to the mid-1600s in South Africa. Its name comes from the Afrikaan word "boer," which means "farmer." This term refers to early white Dutch farmers who settled in South Africa and used large, Mastiff-like dogs to guard and protect their farms and families. Many experts say that when Egypt was conquered, Assyrian dogs spread to Africa and to the rest of the world. Two basic types of dogs developed from these Assyrian dogs: hounds and mastiffs. Hounds were used primarily for hunting, while mastiffs were mainly used for guarding and protection. According to most reports, a Dutchman named Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape Horn in South Africa in 1652. He is credited as being the colonial administrator and founder of what now is Capetown. He brought a dog with him to protect his family in the wild, unfamiliar and unforgiving new territory. That popular Dutch dog was called a "Bullenbitjer." These were huge, heavy, Mastiff-type animals with extremely strong guarding and protective instincts. Other Europeans who immigrated to Riebeeck's new settlement brought dogs of similar and dissimilar types. They undoubtedly mated with native domestic South African dogs.
During the Great Trek that started in the 1800s, Dutch and other European colonists increasingly moved inland to protest tight British rule in southern Africa. Their Boer dogs became scattered across the region. Those that survived the harsh environment were exceptionally hardy, trustworthy, adaptable and loyal. They lived with people who were isolated from the rest of the world and relied on them for guarding, herding and companionship. These dogs were the first line of defense against wild and human predators. They also were used to track and hold down wounded game, until the hunters could retrieve it and use it as a source of food.
Many Boer dogs were highly inbred during this period, which stamped in their toughness, resilience and strength. Starting sometime in the 1930s, Bullmastiffs were brought to South Africa by the De Beers diamond company to guard their mines. These dogs played an important role in the development of the Boerboel. Rhodesian Ridgebacks and their descendants probably also contributed to the Boerboel, although they show no sign of a back ridge today.
By the mid-to-late 1900s, due to the consequences of the World Wars, increasing urbanization in southern Africa and careless crossings of Boerboels with other breeds, the Boerboel was at risk of extinction. A group of enthusiasts formed the South African Boerboel Breeders' Association (SABBA) to save the breed. In the early 1980s, the founding members of SABBA set out to restore the breed to its original type. They covered thousands of miles, travelling to extremely remote areas, looking for genuine Boerboels of the original Boer dog type. Their goal was to find animals that were unlikely to have come from random, poorly thought-out matings because of their geographical isolation. The group reportedly located about 250 dogs that fit their description. Of these, 72 were formally recognized and registered as Boerboels. As a result of these aficionados' efforts, Boerboels slowly regained their popularity in South Africa, which led to their exportation outside of that country. Nonetheless, Boerboels remain relatively unknown and are extremely rare. They still are used by South African farmers for traditional purposes of guarding, hunting and personal protection. Dog registries in some countries apparently consider Boerboels to be fighting dogs, which has not helped to improve their reputation, popularity or numbers. Fighting is not in their history.
SABBA made a television documentary about the Boerboels in 1990. The American Boerboel Club was founded in July of 2006. The breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club's Foundation Stock Service Program that same year. In January 2010, the American Boerboel Club was designated as the AKC's Parent Club, and the breed was accepted into the AKC's Miscellaneous Class as a member of its Working Group.
Boerboels are generally healthy, living on average about 10 to 12 years. Boerboels have few reported hereditary diseases or disorders. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV); torsion), ectropion, entropion, elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia.
The Boerboel is considered by most authorities to be a relatively reliable, obedient and highly intelligent breed. They have a unique combination of roughness and gentleness that can make them good family pets, when they are raised and treated properly. Generally, they are affectionate, playful, loyal, loving and confident with their families. However, this is a dominant breed. Boerboels have strong watch and guard dog instincts and are fearless and extremely protective of their people. They can be dangerously aggressive when threatened or provoked. Owners should be careful about the situations they put these dogs into, because a Boerboel will protect its family with its life when it thinks it needs to. The consequences of such an event will never be good for anyone involved. Fortunately, with proper introduction by their owners, Boerboels usually accept visitors and family friends into their territories, although they may do so reluctantly and remain on guard. They probably will refuse household access to anyone who they were not introduced to properly or perceive as a potential threat.
The powerful jaws of a Boerboel can easily destroy almost anything, including toys during playtime. However, these dogs are considered to be very good with children that they know, and even with other children as long as they are used to being around kids. Still, it would be foolish to leave any small child unattended around any breed of dog, including this one. With proper introduction and training, Boerboels can be good pets in homes that have other dogs, cats and even birds. They probably should not be given free access to smaller pet mammals, like rabbits, ferrets, rats, mice or guinea pigs. It is not unusual for Boerboels to be belligerent and even aggressive with unfamiliar dogs.
Boerboels need lots of space to move around and exercise, in order to keep them healthy, happy and stable. A large, securely-enclosed yard and plenty of room to stretch inside the house are very important for this breed. Boerboels should be taken on long daily walks for exercise and socialization with the outside world. They love to play fetch. Owners will have happy Boerboels if they get to play fetch frequently. This is a great way to provide exercise and cement the bond between dog and owner. Boerboels thrive when given specific tasks to accomplish. They can compete in obedience, rally, weight pulling, agility, livestock work, protection sports and therapy work, as well as conformation shows. As with any breed, individual animals can vary widely in terms of temperament and intelligence. Because the Boerboel has so much muscle mass, regular activity is important to prevent obesity and ward off other health problems. Activities that help maintain muscle mass and agility of these athletes are critical. A 200-pound obese, bored Boerboel with pent up energy can quickly become incredibly destructive, and maybe even dangerous, in the wrong hands.
Boerboels are intelligent and have natural pack instincts. Puppies can be fairly easy to train, as long as their pack instincts are taken into account and training is started before adolescence sets in. Strong leadership by a firm, confident owner is essential. Boerboels need dominant but kind owners who are willing to give them clear commands that are reinforced regularly and consistently. Because of the Boerboel's size, temperament and intensely-ingrained guarding and protective instincts, it is vitally important for its owner to be absolutely alpha and leader-of-the-pack from day one of their relationship, and every single day thereafter. Due to the Boerboel's easy-going attitude during pre-adolescence, some people mistakenly think that formal obedience training isn't necessary. That is a wrong and risky assumption. Puppies should be exposed to as many different sights, sounds, smells, animal species, people, environments and experiences as possible during their formative months, to improve their trainability, manners and ultimate trustworthiness. Boerboel puppies should also be protected from interactions with aggressive dogs, to reduce the chance of their own fearful or aggressive tendencies later in life. As Boerboels mature, they become increasingly confident, strong, dominant, protective and willing to react aggressively. Owners should be sure they can keep their Boerboels under control in any situation, even when distractions, strangers and unfamiliar dogs are part of the mix. Reward-based training works better than harsh punishment.
Properly trained Boerboels make excellent guard and watch dogs. Nothing quite protects a home or business from intruders like an angry, aggressive 200-pound dog that distrusts strangers and has an attitude. Boerboels are known for being protective when necessary, without being overly aggressive in normal situations. Boerdoels are keenly aware of the presence of wild animals within their territory. With the right introduction, they will accept new companion animals into the family and add them to their list of charges to be protected. Boerboels do best when they live indoors and are integrated into the family. If left alone or outside away from their humans for long periods of time, they can become bored, depressed and destructive. This is a dominant breed that is not well-suited for off-leash romps with strange dogs at the local dog park. They must be introduced to unfamiliar dogs and people carefully. Boerboels don't respond well to dominant behavior from other dogs, especially large dogs of the same gender. Puppies are much more adaptable and willing to settle into an existing hierarchy. If a large dominant dog already lives in the household, choosing a Boerboel puppy of the opposite gender is probably the best bet for a peaceful household.
The Boerboel is a massive, Mastiff-like breed with a blocky, broad, square head and a flat skull. They have strong necks and shoulders and huge hindquarters. They are longer than they are tall, and when viewed in side profile their elbows should reach to the bottom of their chest. Boerboels are known for their impressive musculature and physical strength, both of which are key elements of correct breed type. They also should be agile, with free-flowing, ground-covering movement. Boerboels have short, smooth coats. A black facial mask covering the muzzle up to the eyes is highly desirable in this breed, especially in show ring competition. Boerboel's eyes should be brown and as dark as possible. Any other colors may be faulted, and yellow eyes are a serious fault. The Boerboel's tail is usually docked (surgically shortened) at the third joint shortly after birth, although breeders are increasingly keeping their dogs' long, slightly curved tails natural.
Size and Weight
Boerboels are big dogs. Adult males ideally stand between 24 and 27 inches at the shoulder. Mature females should be between 22 and 25 inches tall measured at the same place. Adults typically weigh anywhere from 110 to 175 pounds, with females usually weighing a bit less than males. 200 pound Boerboels are not unheard of. Males should look decidedly masculine. To get a sense of their size and proportion, Boerboels are taller, thicker and heavier than Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers. Their weight range is about the same as that of the Great Dane, but they are not nearly as tall as most members of that breed.
Coat and Color
Boerboels have short, smooth coats that are shiny and dense. Like other Mastiff-type dogs, the skin of this breed is thick and somewhat loose, but it should not hang in folds or be excessively wrinkly. Boerboels have quite a bit of dark skin pigmentation, especially on their lips, inside the mouth (palate; gums), around the eyes and on the nose, paw pads, toenails, anus and genitals. Red, fawn and all shades of brown are common coat colors for this breed. They also come in brindle, piebald (white with colored markings, with white not to cover more than 33% of the body) and Irish marked (white on up to 30% of the body, with colored socks, neck collar and facial blaze). Small white patches are acceptable on the fore chest and legs, but they are not preferred. Full black facial masking is desirable in this breed. Black Boerboels are not allowed in conformation competition, but they do exist and have no "defects" other than being born an unaccepted color.
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Sources: American Kennel Club