The Boerboel is a very large domesticated working dog. Muscular, exceedingly strong and loyal to a fault, the South African Mastiff is a tough breed, bred for guarding the homestead in hard African conditions.
The name Boerboel is Afrikaans in its origin and can be translated to ‘farmer’s dog’. Boer is Afrikaans for an African farmer of Dutch decent and boel was most likely constructed from the English word, bull. It is difficult to pinpoint just what breeds were mated to produce the first Boerboels but it is understood that a number of dogs native to Africa were in the mix. It is thought that European dogs like the Old English Bulldog, the Bull Terrier and some mastiff-type animals were mated to produce this muscular, brave and loyal breed.
Boerboels are tough working dogs and have a reputation for being able to adapt to ever-changing and unforgiving conditions. Also used for tracking, the breed has a tremendous prey instinct and shows a great level of alertness while outdoors.
They can be a little bit lazy at times, especially during the warmer months. Getting them outside at least once a day for a long walk is essential to the dog’s health, so they may sometimes need some firm persuasion.
The South African Mastiff are very independent dogs but require a good deal of attention from their owners. They are affectionate with children and very loyal but have a tendency to be a bit pig-headed and times. Training from an early age is important for this breed; they are large dogs and first-time owners may find the Boerboel a bit of a challenge.
The breed is a ferocious guard dog and will defend their family bravely, even to the death, if they feel threatened in any way. For this reason it’s important that strong discipline be introduced early and maintained for the BoerBoel puppy.
The Boerboel is a large dog, measuring between 64 and 70cm and weighing in at between 70 to 90 kgs. A healthy Boerboel will live to between 9 and 13 years of age.
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The South African Boerboel is a very large animal, strong loyal. They have a great reputation with children, although smaller kids may find the Boerboel’s size a touch overwhelming. They are best suited to families with children over the age of eight and supervision during play time is always advisable.
While Boerboels temperament is very affectionate, even-tempered and deeply loyal to their family, they have a long history protecting persons and property from strange people. They can be a bit standoffish with strangers and can show aggression when feeling uneasy. This instinct can be curbed by introducing the dog to lots of new people and pets young—the more strangers your Boerboel puppy is introduced to, the better.
Boerboels are hardy animals, equipped to survive the harsh African climate. They have a reputation for being a very healthy breed, low maintenance and easy going. They require a good deal of routine exercise to remain fit and healthy, even though they may sometimes not look enthusiastic for it.
Good, long exercise sessions are essential. A big dog needs a good workout, even if your Boerboel is lounging about come walk time.
Discipline is very important for the Boerboel’s development and temperament. It’s essential that the owner positions themselves as a strong pack leader and doesn’t allow any misbehaviour or bullying aimed at other animals. Aggression towards other dogs can occur, especially dogs of the same sex but, as always, early socialisation of the Boerboel puppy is key to avoiding such occurrences down the track.
This dominance over the animal is necessary on the occasions that visitors enter the home. A Boerboel will not take kindly to unfamiliar faces unless the owner asserts themselves, establishing control over the situation.
Because of careful selective breeding by SAABA, paired with hundreds of years of hard living in South Africa, the chances of the Boerboel developing any serious conditions is very low.
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Boer settlers began developing the Boerboel as far back as the 1600s. The Boerboel was originally bred to serve a multitude of working dog functions and, later, developed further to guard the property’s homestead.
The modern Boerboel is most likely a mix of at least two or three breeds. Mastiff-type dogs from Europe, together with English breeds like Bulldogs and Bull Terriers may have also attributed to the breeding process. The dog’s uses were very varied in its early history; colonial life in Africa required that the breed be an adequate tracker, a hunting dog, attack dog and intimidating guard dog.
During the Boer War and the migration of the majority of the Boer people inland, the Boerboel became scattered throughout South Africa. The breed found homes with a number of settlers of various European backgrounds, including the English.
After the First and Second World Wars, like many breeds, the Boerboel was facing extinction. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a group called the South African Boerboel Breeders’ Association (SABBA) actively worked at saving the breed. Since this time, careful breeding together with a concerted effort on behalf of SABBA to find genuine Boerboel stock across the country has saved the South African Boerboel from extinction.
In 1990 SABBA filmed and distributed a documentary on the Boerboel’s rich and extensive history in a harsh and unforgiving land. The dog bred for Africa captured the world’s attention and the Boerboel began to generate a great deal of interest overseas.
Today, the Boerboel can be found in many countries across the globe, including Australia. In 2010 the breed was officially accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Working Dog Group.
Boerboels were often used as gun dogs in South Africa, able to track wounded prey across hundreds of kilometres of open bushland.
It has been said that the Boerboels were capable of fighting leopards, even lions to death. While it is unlikely that one Boerboel could in fact take down a healthy lion, the earlier examples of the breed were probably larger and stronger than today’s Boerboels.
Considering the breed nearly faced extinction post World War II, the Boerboel is seeing a great deal of popularity outside of Africa. The United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand all have healthy numbers of Boerboels.
The Boerboel’s tail was docked or cut off in the early days to avoid the dog being grabbed by baboons or other wild animals in a fight.