The Boerboel is a large South African breed that belongs to the Molloser type of dogs, having a solidly-built body, heavily boned, pendant ears, a relatively short but well-muscled neck and a short broad muzzle. The Boerboel is also known as the South African Mastiff and was purposely bred as a guard dog. It has an average height of 60 – 70 cm from shoulders and weighs around 65 – 80 kg (male) and 50 – 65 kg (female). This dog has strong and heavy bone structure with well-developed musculature. It is an impressive breed that displays confidence, calmness, and power and is popularly used then and now as an effective guardian of livestock and property. It is also a utilitarian dog suitable to a variety of farm works. One of the striking features of the Boerboel is the shape and size of the head – muscular, square, broad and deep with moderate wrinkles when alert. The broad and deep muzzle tapers slightly to the front while the stop is well-marked and definitive but not steep. The nose is black with wide nostrils. Some Boerboels have a black mask. The neck gradually widens from the head to the shoulder adding to the impressive look of the breed. The forequarters and hindquarters are well muscled with good bone structure, with defined muscular ridge above the shoulder. The thick tail is set fairly high, sabre-shaped with a length that reaches to the hocks. It is carried with a slight upward curve when the dog is moving or alert but naturally hangs slightly curved when it is standing. All four legs have large, well-padded round feet with the front feet slightly bigger than the hind feet. The Boerboel is covered with a sleek, short and smooth coat that comes in all shades of brown or fawn, brindle, piebald or Irish.
The name Boerboel is a mix of two words: “Boer” is a Dutch word meaning farmer, while “Boel” is the Afrikaans word for bull (mastiff), so the literal meaning is “farmer’s bull” or “farmer’s dog”. The Boerboel was originally bred for hunting big game and as a guard dog. The exact origin of how the breed came to be is clouded in uncertainty much like other breeds with a long line of breeding history. It is generally believed that it is a product of indigenous African landrace dogs interbred with other breeds brought to Africa by European settlers. According to historical investigations, Jan van Riebeeck was sent to Africa by the Dutch East Indies Company to establish a trade post. He arrived at the Cape in 1652 together with a large mastiff-type “Bullenbijter” (bull biter) as a personal protection dog. German and French settlers also arrived in southern Africa in the years that follow bringing with them their molossers and other large dogs. These dogs and their generations of litters eventually interbred with each other and other indigenous African dogs to create a dog fit for local conditions. Then in the early 1900s, these local dogs were further crossed with other imported breeds including the Bulldog, Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Bull Terrier, Bullmastiff and the Rhodesian Ridgeback which produced the Boerboel we know today.
Bred to guard properties, this massive dog is reliable, obedient and clever with a strong guarding instinct. It has a fearless character and highly protective of its owner and its family but at the same time very playful and gentle. This combination of roughness and smoothness in character makes it a wonderful family pet, especially if raised and cared for properly. The Boerboel is naturally gentle and affectionate but can be dangerously aggressive when provoked or threatened. It will accept strangers or visitors if they are properly introduced by the owner but will still remain cautious and on guard. However, early and extensive socialisation can help reduce the chances of the dog being overly shy or protective.
This breed has a tendency to be assertive and is not recommended for a first time pet owner. It needs an owner who is experienced in handling large breeds with strong guard dog instincts and someone it can respect and trust. Training should be done consistently and assertively but never in a harsh way. Proper early socialisation (as much exposure to many people, animals, and places as possible) and training will produce a well-balanced, reliable and obedient Boerboel.
The Boerboel’s short bristly coat sheds moderately and is quite easy to groom. Brushing can be done occasionally with a rubber curry brush mainly to help remove loose dead hair. Bathing can be done on a monthly basis using a mild dog shampoo. The rest is standard dog grooming – nail trimming every two weeks and toothbrushing on a regular basis.
The Boerboel is generally a healthy dog but like other breeds, it is prone to a few health issues including:
The average life expectancy is 10 years.
The Boerboel needs plenty of exercise time, being a large working dog that it was bred to be. A Boerboel who is not properly exercised can become bored and has a tendency to develop destructive behaviour as an outlet to his boredom or dejection. Daily long walks, jogging or hiking and other similar activities are ideal physical exercises for this breed. This intelligent breed should also be given mental stimulation and should be allowed to play puzzle toys and be given problems to solve as a way of learning new things to keep his mind occupied as well.
This breed has a high tolerance for children, is a very devoted companion and has a strong desire to be with his family all the time. Although it is generally good with children, it should not be left alone with very young kids because it may easily knock a small child down with its innocent play. Small children should also never be allowed to “rough play” the Boerboel no matter how patient it may seem. It usually gets along well with other dogs and animals if it is raised with them at an early age.