The Boerboel is a working breed native to South Africa that is considered to be a member of the Molosser or Mastiff family. The Boerboel was originally developed by crossing a variety of European breeds brought to the Cape of Good Hope by European colonists and with native African dogs. Once a general purpose working dog, the modern Boerboel is primarily used as a protection animal and a companion dog. The Boerboel is most well-known for its protective temperament, large size, immense power, and great courage. The Boerboel is also known as the South African Boerboel, African Boerboel, South African Mastiff, African Mastiff, and the Boer’s Dog.
The Boerboel was first developed in a time when few records were kept of dog breeding, and was primarily developed by working farmers in remote areas. As a result, much of its ancestry is shrouded in mystery, though some facts are known with certainty and others can be assumed. What is most clear is that the Boerboel was developed almost entirely in what is now the nation of South Africa and that it is primarily the descendent of European breeds of the Mastiff or Molosser type. These early imported European breeds would be further mixed with other imported European breeds brought to the area and the native African dogs.
The Mastiff/Molosser family is one of the oldest of all types of dogs, but is also the most disputed. Countless claims have been made about the origins of these dogs, but most are based on little more than pure speculation. Also known as Alaunts, Alanos, Dogos, Dogues, and Mastinos, the Molossers are typified by their large size, brachycephalic (pushed-in) heads and faces, great power, protective instinct, and European or Near Eastern ancestry. This family is thought to be very old, possibly extending as far back as 5,000 B.C. There are many different competing theories as to the origin of Molossers, but they can be simplified into six general categories. Each group of theories has persuasive evidence to support it and to dispute it, and the full truth may never be known.
Many claim that Mastiffs were developed by the very first Middle Eastern farmers. According to this theory, the farmers needed to protect their recently domesticated livestock from predators such as lions, bears, and wolves, as well as from human invaders. Based on surviving breeds, these first farmers developed a race of gigantic, long-furred, white guard dogs, which then spread across Europe and the Near East with agriculture. These dogs were later adapted to local conditions and became the ancestors of the many breeds of Molosser and Lupomolossoid. Because this theory would have taken place almost entirely before the development of writing or the creation of long lasting artifacts, it is almost impossible to assess its authenticity. Another similar theory holds that Mastiffs were first developed by the Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians. This theory holds that greater food production led to the development of social classes and stratified societies. The new kings and emperors used their power to wage war on their neighbors in a constant attempt to increase their own power and wealth. It did not take ancient generals long to realize that the loyal, courageous, trainable, and sometimes aggressive dog could be turned into a powerful weapon of war. Leading to the creation of massive and ferocious dogs that were bred to attack enemy forces. The use of war dogs must have been very common in the area as numerous artifacts from as early as 7,000 years ago show huge dogs engaged in battle. Those who believe this theory hold that Mastiffs were spread across Europe by Phoenician and Greek sailors on their countless missions of trade and conquest. This theory is greatly preferred by many Boerboel breeders, who draw a connection between their dogs and the ones owned by the Ancient Assyrians. Known and feared across the Ancient World for their skill in battle and great cruelty, the Assyrians controlled much of what is now the middle east from the 24th century BC until the end of the 7th century BC, and throughout the majority of the 8th and 9th centuries BC controlled the greatest empire the world had ever seen. This theory has as much archaeological or historical evidence to support it as any other, but it is completely unclear if the dogs depicted on artifacts are actual Mastiffs or just similarly large and fierce dogs.
One of the most prevalent theories holds that the first Mastiffs were developed in Tibet from large dogs kept chained outside the entrances to dwellings. This theory holds that the Tibetan Mastiff is the progenitor of all other Mastiffs, and that it was introduced to Europe by Roman, Chinese, and Persian traders operating along the Silk Road. While incredibly ancient and superficially similar to European Molossers, recent genetic evidence suggests that the Tibetan Mastiff may not be in any way related to those breeds.
The most commonly held theory suggests that Mastiffs are the descendants of the Molossus, the greatly feared war dog of the Roman and Greek armies. The Molossus was originally developed by the Molossi, a Greco-Illyrian Tribe native to Epirus, a region now comprised of parts of Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and Montenegro. The Molossi, as mentioned by many writers including Aristophanes and Aristotle were greatly respected in battle due to their ferocious war dogs. Longtime allies of the neighboring Macedonians, the Molossus would spread across the Ancient World with the armies of Philip II of Macedon and his more famous son Alexander the Great. The Romans first encountered the Molossus during a series of wars conducted against the Greeks in retaliation for their support of Carthage, Rome’s greatest rival. The Romans were so impressed by the Molossus that it became their primary war dog until the Empire’s fall, and accompanied the legions wherever into the many lands they conquered. The term Molosser was created to define the group supposedly descended from this dog. However, surprisingly few descriptions of the Molossus have survived, and even fewer visual depictions. Those that do exist seem to be contradictory, and many do not accurately describe a typical Mastiff. Many now question the true identity of the Molossus, and believe it was either a sight hound or a medium-sized general purpose working breed similar to an American Pit Bull Terrier or Catahoula Leopard Dog.
Yet another theory holds that the Mastiff was first developed in the British Isles and that the English Mastiff is the ancestor to all others of the type. This theory holds that the ancient Celts possessed a tremendously large war dog, which they pitted against Roman forces during the subjugation of what is now England and Wales. The Romans were so impressed with the Celtic dogs that they imported them throughout the Empire as property guardians and combatants in gladiatorial arenas. Many records indicate that dogs were one of the primary commodities exported from Roman Britain, and several descriptions of the Celtic war dog exist. However, some scholars believe that the dogs exported were actually either Terriers or Spaniels, and/or that the Celtic War Dog was not a Mastiff at all, but rather the Irish Wolfhound.
A final theory holds that the Mastiff was first developed in the Caucasus Mountains. Just before the Barbarian Invasions of Rome started, Hunnish tribes drove a significant portion of a Caucasian tribe known as the Alans off of their lands. The Alans were forced westward, where they closely allied themselves with a number of Germanic tribes, forming an especially close relationship with the Vandals. The Alans became greatly feared as opponents in battle, largely because of their massive and ferocious war dogs, known as the Alaunt or Alano. Very little is known about the Alaunt, but it was almost certainly a type of Owtcharka, a group of massive guardian breeds native to the Caucasus Mountains.
However and whenever the Molossers were first developed, they were found throughout Western Europe by the end of the Dark Ages. These dogs were especially popular in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, populated primarily (but far from exclusively) by German speaking peoples. Included among the German-speaking peoples were the Dutch, Flemish, and Frisians of what are now Belgium and the Netherlands (all of whom were considered Germans for most of the Middle Ages). In most of Western Europe, Molossers were primarily used as property guardians or war dogs, but this was not the case in Germany. The Germans primarily used their Mastiffs as hunting and farm dog, using them to grab hold of the most fearsome prey in the world and keep it in place. German Molossers tackled boar, bear, bull, and wolf, both in the forest and in arenas. Eventually, Germans crossed their Mastiffs with sight hounds to develop the Deutsch Dogge, better known in English as the Boar Hound or Great Dane. From this point the Great Dane would become the primary hunting Mastiff, leaving the older variety primarily responsible for farm work and arena combat.
Over the ensuing centuries the older breed would be adapated as well, eventually coming to be known as either the Bullenbeiser or the Barenbeiszer, meaning, “Bull Biter,” and, “Bear Biter,” respectively. The Bullenbeiser was particularly valued against dangerous animals because it was powerful, ferocious, and intelligent enough to hold them long enough for them to be captured or killed, compared to most other breeds which would quickly be slaughtered. Due to its usage as an active combatant against animals rather than a property guardian and war dog, the Bullenbeiser remained considerably more athletic than most other Mastiffs. Although still a large dog, the Bullenbeiser also became considerably smaller than most other Molossers. To get a good idea of what the now-extinct Bullenbeiser was like, one should look at its descendant, the Boxer, which was bred from the smallest Bullenbeisers. For many centuries, the Holy Roman Empire and its successor states were a complicated set of thousands of independent polities, each with a different size, population, geography, and political system. The upper and middle classes of many of these polities kept Bullenbeisers, and the breed was very common. Although largely pure bred, at one point there were probably many distinct localized varieties of Bullenbeiser. The Dutch dialect slowly diverged from German until it eventually became a distinct, but closely related, language at which point the Dutch people came to call the Bullenbeiser, the Bullenbijter.
After a long and costly struggle with Spain for independence ended in 1609, the Netherlands gradually became a major international maritime power, and Dutch traders traveled the entire world. In 1619, the Dutch consolidated their holdings around the city of Batavia, now known as Jakarta. From that point on, the Netherlands had a major interest in expanding their colonial empire in Southeast Asia. The Dutch East India Company wanted a halfway point between Amsterdam and Batavia where their ships could resupply. The obvious choice was the Cape of Good Hope, which is located at the farthest southwestern corner of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge. Not only was the Cape blessed with a convenient location, but it is so far from the Tropics that its climate is very similar to that of Europe and thus capable of both supporting European agriculture and preventing the spread of African disease. In 1652, a group of Dutch East India Company employees led by Jan van Riebeeck founded Kaapstad, known in English as Cape Town. Expecting to face dangerous animals such as lions and hyenas, as well as hostile natives, van Riebeeck brought along a Bullenbijter with him.
Always seeking new settlers, the Cape Colony grew quickly as increasing numbers of Dutch, Scandinavian, German, and Huguenot (French Protestant) colonists arrived. Many of these immigrants brought their dogs along with them. Due to the harsh conditions, they tended to bring the largest, most powerful, and toughest available dogs. Because of the cost and difficulty of transport, very few individual European dogs made it to the Cape. Upon arrival in Africa, virulent diseases, harsh climate, rough terrain, dangerous wildlife, and near constant warfare with the indigenous population meant that even fewer of those dogs survived. Because of the scarcity of imported European dogs, any that arrived were summarily crossed with any existing European dogs to keep numbers up and to help adapt future generations to local conditions. Additionally, the fact that each isolated farm might only have one European dog, the settlers also crossed their dogs with native African dogs for the same reasons.
The Dutch greatly preferred the hunting dogs owned by the Khoi Khoi and San peoples, which possessed a ridge of hair on the back that grew in the opposite direction of that found on the rest of the body. Record keeping at the time was spotty at best so it is unclear exactly which breeds arrived and were later entered into the gene pool. In fact, the full truth will likely never be known. However, Bullenbeisers (including possibly the one brought by van Riebeeck) were probably the most numerous, followed closely by mixed-breed Mastiff-type dogs. Great Danes were almost certainly used, as were some unknown types of German and French scent hound probably similar to the modern Hanoverian Hound. Other breeds that have been suggested include the Rottweiler, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Old German Shepherd Dog, Belgian Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd, German Pinscher, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Mastiff, Bloodhound, various sight hounds, and the now-extinct Belgische Rekel and Belgian Mastiff. Some Boerboel groups claim that the people of Southern Africa already possessed a Mastiff-type dog, known as the Indian Dog. This dog was supposedly imported to Ethiopia from India, and subsequently spread to Southern Africa. This claim is based on the flimsiest of evidence and contradicts almost all known historical information.
Gradually, these European settlers became a distinct group, and were known as Afrikaners or Boers, the Dutch words for Africans and farmers. Armed with European technology and weaponry, the Boers continuously advanced deeper into the African Continent. Many of the earliest settlers traveled with just a single family or in very small groups, setting up a new farm miles from their nearest neighbor. Dogs were very important to the daily lives of these settlers as they not only protected livestock (essential to survival) from beasts such as lions and leopards, but also defended their families from both wild animals and ill-intentioned humans. Additionally it was not uncommon for these early Mastiffs to be used for farm work, especially the work that required a large animal to be held in place, or in the hunt of big game, providing both sport and meat for the stew pot. Lastly, these dogs provided companionship and a sense of security in an oftentimes frightening place.
The Boers brought their dogs with them wherever they traveled, including on the much famed Great Trek. The Boers regularly interbred all of their dogs, but two semi-distinct types did eventually emerge. One was more lightly built, possessed greater endurance, had keener senses of vision and smell, and probably had a greater amount of hound blood. This variety was primarily used for hunting, and eventually became known as the Rhodesian Ridgeback. The second variety was larger, possessed greater power, had a somewhat stronger protective drive, and probably had a greater amount of Molosser blood. This variety was primarily used for farm work and protection and eventually became known as the Boerboel. These are all just generalizations as both varieties were used for all purposes and were regularly interbred. It is not clear whether only the Rhodesian Ridgeback possessed the distinctive back ridge, but many believe that both dogs did at one point, and that it was subsequently lost from the Boerboel.
Usually translated as, “Farmer’s Dog,”, the origin of the word Boerboel is a matter of some dispute. The Boer obviously comes from the Dutch word for, “farmer,” and also a term used to describe the Afrikaner people, or at least a specific group of them. The boel part is usually translated as dog, but it is very unclear where the word comes from as the Dutch word for dog is, “Hond.” Some fanciers believe that boel actually means, “Large dog,” “A lot of dog,” or “Mastiff,” rather than dog in general. There is some merit to this belief as several Afrikaner to English dictionaries translate Boerboel as Mastiff. There is also some speculation that Boel relates to the Dutch word for Bull (usually either Bulle or Stier), and that the breed got its name either from its descent from the Bullenbeiser or to differentiate it from the similar English Bulldog and/or Bullmastiff.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was concerned that the French would occupy Cape Town and use its strategic position to disrupt their position in India. To prevent this, British troops occupied Cape Town in 1806, and were granted full control of the colony in 1814. As a result a steady influx of British settlers began to arrive in South Africa, and they brought along their dogs. Bulldogs were especially popular at the time (although the English Bulldog of the 19th Century was a tremendously different animal than his 20th Century descendant), and a number of these dogs were exported to South Africa. A few English Mastiffs arrived as well. Both breeds are believed to have been occasionally mated with Boerboels. The by far the greatest British influence on the Boerboel came through the Bullmastiff.
Beginning in 1928, the De Beers company imported pure Bullmastiffs to guard their diamonds. These dogs were repeatedly bred with Boerboels and are thought to have had a major impact on the modern breed. Most sources detailing the ancestry of the Boerboel also mention that at some point during the 20th Century the British imported a, “Champion Dog of the Hottentots,” which also entered Boerboel lines. However, none give any description of what this supposed dog looked or acted like, where it originated from, when it was, “imported, “or even what it was a champion of. Hottentot is an archaic and somewhat derogatory term used to describe the Khoi Khoi and San peoples. As the dog was supposedly imported, it would imply that it came from a different nation with a population of Khoi Khoi or San. This probably means that the dog, if it existed at all, either arrived from what is Namibia or Botswana.
At one time Boerboels were common throughout South Africa, but they became increasingly rare as the 20th Century wore on. More and more Afrikaners were moving to cities, where there was little room for a dog as massive and energetic as a Boerboel. Additionally, reduced costs and increased ease and speed of shipping meant that a plethora of foreign breeds became popular and available. These breeds were generally considered more refined and desirable than the then only partially purebred and unrecognized Boerboel. By the 1970’s, the Boerboel was in serious danger of extinction. Most of those Boerboels that remained had been heavily crossed with foreign breeds, and had lost much of their uniqueness. Luckily for the Boerboel, its many centuries of loyalty, devotion, and protection had earned it a number of equally loyal and devoted fanciers who wanted to preserve the breed. In the early 1980’s, Lucas van der Merwe of Kroonstad and Jannie Bouwer of Bedford became determined to search South Africa in order to find and aquire the last remaining Boerboels and enter them into a breeding program. The two focused their search on the northeastern Free State, northern Natal, and parts of the Transvaal, eventually covering more than 5500 square kilometers (approximately 3417 square miles). They were able to locate about 250 Boerboels and Boerboel mixes, but only considered 72 of them to be capable of breeding and of sufficient quality to enter into their registry. They did initially allow for additional registrations so that quality Boerboels that they had been unable to locate could be retained in the breed’s small genetic pool.
By 1990, the South African Boerboel Breeder’s Association (SABT) had been founded and the breed had been recognized by the Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA), both of which operated Boerboel registries. Boerboel breeders sought to raise breed numbers, and the dog became increasingly popular in its home country. Once a working farm dog, the Boerboel quickly found use primarily as a protection animal, highly desired in a country with increasing crime rates. Increasing numbers of breeders began working with these dogs, although many of the older breeders thought that they were producing highly inferior specimens. Starting in the mid-1990’s, Boerboels began to be exported to other nations. Many of these exports went to the United States, where Molossers of all kinds have been incredibly popular for several decades, especially dogs such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, Rottweiler, and English Mastiff.
In 2004, World Wide Boerboels (WWB) was founded in the United States, one of the earliest Boerboel registries, today it is one of the largest in the world. Breeders outside of South Africa were less experienced with the breed and their breeding practices did not necessarily produce dogs ideal to the standard. Additionally, many may have crossed their Boerboels with other breeds. Many Boerboel kennels, especially those in South Africa, were producing dogs for the sale rather than to improve the breed. Many of these dogs had poor health, unstable temperaments, and bad conformation. A number of Boerboel breeders became highly concerned about the future of the breed, especially Piet Sprinkhuizen, a renowned international Boerboel judge. Sprinkhuizen joined with a select group of other breeders to found the Elite Boerboel Breeders Association of Southern Africa (EBBASA).
Many breeders of Boerboels want the most aggressive and intimidating guard dog possible, and as a result, the Boerboel has earned a negative reputation for aggression. In 2010, Denmark declared the Boerboel a, “fighting dog,” and entirely banned the breed from that country. In the United States, the Boerboel population is growing slowly but surely. The breed has not yet been recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC), nor has it been granted full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). However, registration with the AKC is the ultimate goal of many American Boerboel breeders, and a group of them formed the American Boerboel Club (ABC) to work towards this goal. In 2006, the AKC entered the Boerboel in its Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS) program, which is the first of several steps towards full recognition with that organization. The ABC hopes that their breed will be entered in the Miscellaneous Class and ultimately either the Working Group or the Working Molosser Group depending on whether or not the AKC realigns its groups. In the meantime, the number of Boerboels in the United States continues to grow, and the breed is becoming increasingly popular as a personal and property protection animal in that country, and to a lesser extent a companion animal as well.
The Boerboel is very similar to most other large Molosser-type dogs, but is considerably more athletic looking than most other members of that group. Due to discrepancies in different breeding programs and different standards, Boerboels vary tremendously in size. In general, Boerboels are very large dogs, and some are truly massive. American breed standards state that the ideal male Boerboel should stand between 24 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder and that the ideal female should stand between 22 and 25 inches. In practice, many individual dogs vary tremendously from this, as much as four or five inches in some cases. A small female Boerboel may weigh as little as 110 pounds, while a large male may top 200 pounds in rare cases. The average weight is somewhere in the middle, roughly between 140 and 170 pounds.
Although quite tall, most Boerboels are even longer from chest to rump and are usually 10 inches long for every nine that they are tall. The Boerboel is very powerful and athletic in appearance, and most are incredibly muscular. This is a breed that should look as though it were capable of performing any feat of strength. All Boerboels have a deep, wide chest, although some are noticeably more extreme in this regard than others. The tail of the Boerboel is traditionally docked to between the 3rd and 4th vertebrae, leaving a longish stump. This practice is increasingly falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries, including South Africa. The natural tail of the Boerboel is quite variable from dog to dog, although most are long and tapering, but not quite as whip-like as those of some other Molossers. The skin on the body is loose fitting and flexible, but should fit closely without major wrinkles.
The head and face of the Boerboel exude the immense power of which they are capable and exhibit a fine balance between the intimidation and power of most Mastiffs without compromising the dog’s athletic working abilities. The head of the Boerboel is relatively large for the size of the body, but not excessively so. Considered by many to be the breed’s defining characteristic, the head of the Boerboel is square, deep, broad, and muscular. The Boerboel’s muzzle is relatively short, approximately one-third the length of the head, but is nothing like that of a breed such as a Bulldog. The muzzle is both very deep and very wide, and should greatly add to the dog’s intimidating appearance. The ideal Boerboel should have a scissors bite, but many of these dogs have an under bite of up to ¼ inch. The lips of the Boerboel are loose and somewhat wrinkly, but those of most dogs do not reach a point where they would be described as jowly. Almost all Boerboels have wrinkly faces, but the amount varies considerably from dog to dog. The Boerboels eyes are medium-sized, neither protruding nor recessed, and are brown in color with darker shades being preferred in the show ring. The ears of the Boerboel should be left in their natural state, although a few owners choose to prick them. The ears should be of average size, v-shaped, and end in a fairly sharp point. The ears fold down and slightly forwards, coming even farther forwards when the dog is at attention. The overall expression of most Boerboels is one of intelligence, determination, and intimidation.
The coat of the Boerboel is short, dense, smooth, and shiny. The Boerboel comes in a number of different colors and patterns. Any of these may or may not have a black mask over the muzzle and eyes, although such a mask is greatly preferred. The most common colors found in Boerboels are brown, red, or fawn, all of which may or may not have white markings on the legs and/or chest. Boerboels are less commonly seen in brindle (any color interspersed with any amount of black striping), pie-bald (a white dog with colored patches, in show dogs the white cannot exceed 33% of the total area), and Irish Marked (a dog with up to 30% white, including socks, collar, and a blaze). Occasionally, Boerboels are found in other colors. These dogs generally make perfectly acceptable pets and working dogs, but are faulted or ineligible in the show ring.
Due to discrepancies in breeding practices, Boerboels are somewhat variable in temperament, with certain lines being considerably more aggressive than others. However, carefully bred Boerboels usually have fairly predictable temperaments. This breed is known for the intense bonds that it forms with its entire family, whom it cares for greatly. Boerboels were greatly valued by early settlers for their intense loyalty and devotion. Some Boerboels are openly affectionate and come to think that they are lap dogs, while others are considerably more restrained. Almost all of these dogs want to be in the constant presence of their owner, and this breed can suffer from severe separation anxiety and boredom if left alone for long periods on a regular basis. The Boerboel tends to be very dominant, even with those it knows best, and this breed is definitely not recommended for a novice dog owner.
Most breed members are very good with children that they know well. This breed is willing to put up with a great amount of rough play, and can handle a fair amount of a child’s well-meaning “abuse.” As is the case with any dog, a Boerboel that has not been exposed to children may have an unpredictable reaction to them.
Boerboels have a very strong protective instinct, and in fact are considered among the most protective of all dogs. With proper training and socialization, most Boerboels become discerning and accepting of strangers, although most always remain reserved and politely aloof. Socialization is extremely important to these dogs as without it they may become aggressive, though overly protective is probably a better description with regards to this breed. Owners must be aware that the severity of even the mildest human aggression is greatly magnified by the massive size and power of this dog. Although relatively slow to make friends, most Boerboels will eventually form bonds with new people such as roommates or spouses.
Not only protective but also highly alert, Boerboels make excellent watch dogs that can frighten almost all wrongdoers with one booming bark. This breed is also generally regarded as one of the world’s top guard dogs. Highly protective and territorial, the vast majority of breed members will not let any intruder enter their territory unchallenged, unless that person is very well-known to them. Although the breed prefers to use intimidation, they are willing to resort to violence if they feel it is required, and this dog is capable of catching and bringing down virtually any target with little to no effort. Although highly skilled as a property guardian, the Boerboel most excels at personal protection. Boerboels will absolutely not allow any physical harm to come to a family member or close friend, and this breed will unflinchingly face down any man or beast to protect its loved ones, unhesitatingly sacrificing its own life if need be.
Bred as working farm dogs for centuries, this breed generally get along well with non-canine animals. When socialized and trained, most of these dogs live in peace with cats, sheep, horses, and other creatures, and often become strongly protective of them. As is the case with any dog, a Boerboel is likely to pursue and potentially attack species with which it is not familiar, which can be very problematic given its size and power. A very large number of Boerboels do have significant issues with other dogs. Boerboel puppies tend to be very adaptable and usually fit in very well with any pack structure that they are raised in, but adult Boerboels are much less agreeable. Boerboels exhibit strong levels of many forms of dogs aggression including territorial and possessiveness, but many have severe issues with same-sex and dominance aggression. Few Boerboels are willing to tolerate any other dog taking a position of dominance over them, and most are unwilling to back down. Most Boerboels do best in a home with either no other dogs or a single member of the opposite sex, and it is probably inadvisable to take one of these dogs to the dog park. Owners must keep their dogs under control at all times, because a Boerboel is capable of seriously injuring or killing virtually any other dog with ease.
Regarded as being extremely intelligent, Boerboels are considered among the most trainable of all Molossers. Owners willing to take the time to work with these dogs find that they are extraordinarily capable, and excel at a variety of tasks such as agility and especially Schutzhund. This dog is also regarded as among the most obedient Molossers when trained by an experienced handler. However, this is far from the easiest breed to train. Boerboels are extremely dominant, and will absolutely not follow anyone whom they do not consider a true leader. Owners who do not maintain a constant position of dominance are likely to lose control very quickly and can end up with an absolute canine monster. Even the most successfully dominant owners will find that a Boerboel is intelligent enough to figure out exactly what it can and cannot get away with, and will life its life by those rules. Additionally, this breed definitely has a strongly stubborn streak, and often is resistant to some forms of training, particularly if there is something else capturing the dog’s attention. Most fanciers believe that Boerboel puppies train much, much easier than adults, making an early start important.
Extremely athletic and active dogs, this breed requires a substantial amount of exercise. A Boerboel will not be satisfied with a daily walk, unless it is very long and extremely vigorous. These dogs need an opportunity to run on a regular basis, either on a leash or preferably in a large, safely enclosed area. Most of these dogs are also extremely playful, and love to play fetch for long periods. A driven worker, the Boerboel does best when provided with complicated jobs that exercise his intelligent and active mind such as running through an agility course or going through obedience training. It is absolutely imperative that Boerboel owners provide their dogs with an appropriate outlet for their energy, or this breed will find one on its own, one that will probably be anything but appropriate. Bored and restless Boerboels are likely to become destructive (a major problem as possibly no dog has the destructive capacity of this breed), hyperactive, overly excitable, excessively vocal, and potentially even aggressive.
The Boerboel’s coat is very easy to groom. This breed never requires professional grooming, and only needs a regular brushing and monthly bath. It is highly advisable that Boerboel owners introduce their dogs to routine maintenance procedures such as nail clipping and teeth brushing from as young an age and as carefully as possible. It is much easier to bathe a 40 pound and adaptable Boerboel puppy than a 200 recalcitrant adult.
Boerboels do shed, but the amount varies substantially from dog to dog. Most breed members are average shedders but some are very heavy or light shedders as well. The massive size of the dog does mean that even the lightest shedding Boerboel will still produce a great amount of hair, and this is not the ideal breed for allergy sufferers or those who simply hate cleaning up dog hair.
As is the case with all massive dogs, Boerboels are more susceptible to a number of health problems, and tend to live shorter lives than smaller dogs. However, Boerboels are known for being of considerably better health than almost any other breed of their size, suffering from considerably fewer health defects than most similar breeds and lower rates of those which they are prone. The average life expectancy of a Boerboel is about 10 to 11 years, on the longer end of average for a breed of this size. However, Boerboels do occasionally albeit uncommonly live to ages of 12 or more, almost unheard of among similarly giant breeds.
One of the most common problems experienced by Boerboels (and dogs in general) is known as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of the hip joint, which results in the leg bone connecting improperly to the pelvis. Over time, hip dysplasia causes discomfort, pain, arthritis, difficulty moving, and in extreme cases even lameness. Hip dysplasia is genetically inherited, but the timing of its onset and its overall severity are impacted by environmental factors. There is no generally accepted cure for hip dysplasia (although there are some promising leads), but there are a number of treatments available, most of which are long-term and potentially expensive. There are several tests available for identifying hip dysplasia, even long-before it takes affect and responsible breeders are working to reduce its prevalence from the Boerboel.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (including hip dysplasia) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems which have been identified in the Boerboel would have to include: