Intimidating in appearance, the astute Boerboel was developed in South Africa as a guardian for the homestead. Translated to English, the name means “farmer’s dog”, which correctly defines its use by Dutch and German settlers who began migrating to Africa in the 1600s. Used to protect the home and farm from everything from human invaders to baboons to lions, the Boerboel, a descendant of the early Mastiff, is not only strong, but agile and quick. They are not known to back down when provoked, but prefer to maintain watchfulness rather than attack without need.
Although bred as a guardian, the Boerboel is not simply bred to pounce on anything that moves. The dogs are quite discerning, not only determining who is friend and who is foe, but taking cues from their loved ones.
At first glance, the Boerboel is very similar to the Mastiff breeds seen today, particularly in the appearance in the head. Males generally range 24-27 inches in height, females slightly smaller at 22-25 inches. The dogs may weigh 150-200 pounds. Their blocky head is home to powerful jaws and slightly drooping jowls. The dog’s coat is short, and they come in many colors, including tawny, cream, brown, red, and brindle. They may have a black mask, piebald markings, or white spots.
Historically, these dogs’ tails were docked for their safety. For instance, a long tail could be easily grabbed by a vicious baboon. Modern owners may choose to dock or not depending on personal preference and the dog’s role as pet or protector.
The skin of the Boerboel is dark all over, including on the roof of the mouth. This was originally for protection against the African sun.
Temperament & Personality
While the Boerboel is a steadfast protector unwilling to back down from a threat, they are also smart and sensitive. They can quickly discern between friend and foe and are adept at reading cues, both verbal and nonverbal, from their masters. These dogs are still used as guardians today, but they have taken on many other roles as well. For example, they have been used as therapy dogs for children. They are excellent family dogs who quickly become devoted to their loved ones. Still, this breed is not necessarily recommended for the novice dog owner.
Their intense devotion to their family often means that these dogs want to be in their constant company. This can lead to separation anxiety if the dog is left alone for long periods.
If not trained appropriately from a young age, these dogs may develop a dominant personality as an adult. With proper introduction and training, Boerboels can live in harmony with cats and other pets. As protectors, they are likely to pursue or “defend” unfamiliar species.
Caring for the Boerboel
Boerboels are not for those who have never owned a dog before. They are a unique breed that require unique considerations for care that one should keep in mind before taking the plunge into Boerboel ownership.
Any high quality dog food, canned, dry, or a combination; is fitting for the Boerboel, providing it is veterinarian approved and meets the caloric needs of the dog’s activity level. An individual dog’s weight should always be monitored to determine if their food intake is appropriate. Treats should be given in moderation. Fresh water should be available to all dogs 24/7.
Daily exercise is a must for the Boerboel. Long, on leash walks on a secure collar or harness are one option, or play in a fenced in area. Due to their protective nature, they should not be off-leash. Dog parks or play with unfamiliar dogs are generally not recommended, since Boerboels do not respond kindly to being challenged by strange animals.
In addition to physical exercise each day, Boerboels must have mental stimulation and regular interaction with their humans. They truly thrive on being part of the family Puzzle or interactive toys can aid in mental activity. These dogs also enjoy competition, such as weight pulling. Surprising agile for their size, Boerboels have been successful in agility trials as well.
A long term focus on training is a requirement of Boerboel ownership. Training must begin early and continue throughout the dog’s life. Socialization must begin early and with caution, due to the pet’s unique bond with its family. Boerboel puppies are known to be very easy going, and often give their owners the impression they will remain that way. However, their guardian instincts will come into play later in life, making consistent response to obedience commands and other training attributes a must.
Typically, Boerboels are healthy and low maintenance, but as with many large breed dogs, they do carry the risk for some bone and joint issues. It is recommended that Boerboels be tested for hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Responsible breeders typically screen for these health issues in advance of breeding, and it is important to ask about when acquiring a new puppy.
In addition, eye problems called ectropion and entropion occasionally occur in Boerboels. In these conditions, the eyelid turns either inward or outward, which can cause problems with irritation. A veterinary opthamologist can easily diagnose and treat these situations.
Boerboels should be brushed regularly to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Nails should be trimmed as needed to prevent pain or any problems with walking and running.
Several other breeds can trace their ancestry back to the Mastiff-type dogs with which the Boerboel shares its heritage. Here is a sampling:
- Bullmastiff: A historical cross between Bulldog-type and Mastiff-type breeds, the Bullmastiff was originally used to give poachers in England a taste of their own medicine. At over a hundred pounds, they are not as large as the Mastiff itself, but still create a menacing appearance.
- Cane Corso: An Italian breed that has an impressive history of battle and home defense, the Cane Corso had become all but extinct by the mid-20th century. Fortunately, a group of passionate Italian Cane Corso lovers banded together to bring the breed back, and its popularity has surged since, currently coming in at #32 on the AKC’s most popular breeds list.
- Perro de Presa Canario: Translated as “The Canary Dog of Prey”, the Perro de Presa Canario has a history as interesting as its name. Though its roots are not certain, the breed was used for exterminating wild dogs, herding cattle, guarding farms, and unfortunately, dog fighting. The banning of dog fighting in the 1940s and introduction of new breeds such as the Dobermen led to its near-extinction, with regeneration efforts beginning in earnest in the early 80’s.
- Dogue de Bordeaux: The oldest of the French dog breeds, the Dogue de Bordeaux has the largest head, proportionately, of any AKC dog breed. Very powerful, these guardian dogs are short, stocky, and muscular.
- Neapolitan Mastiff: A truly unique breed in appearance, the Neapolitan Mastiff, also known as the Mastino, is heavily wrinkled and droops profusely, particularly around the face. Its startling appearance is sure to make an intruder think twice, which may have contributed to its use as a guardian since ancient times.