The Boerboel is a larger than life breed with boundless energy and a zest for life. They were bred to fend off fierce animals and to protect their family from harm. This makes them fantastic guard dogs but presents challenges when they are family pets.
Don’t let this put you off! If you are experienced at training dogs and use the correct techniques from a young age, they can be molded into devoted family pets. They suffer from few health problems and don’t need much grooming but they will need a lot of exercise and food!
Here’s what you need to know about this little-known breed before you rush out and get one yourself.
History of the Boerboel
The name Boerboel literally translates as ‘farmer’s dog’ which tells us a lot about the history of this breed. When Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa during the 1600s they brought large dogs with them which were similar to the Bull Dog and Mastiff breeds that we see today. The dogs were put to work guarding the newly established farms and livestock enclosures from predators.
These European dogs soon cross-bred with the native South African dogs of the area and the Boer Dog was the result. These strong, powerful dogs were used by the settlers for hunting big cats and hyenas and for protecting livestock. Only the strongest dogs survived and the breed became larger and more powerful. Eventually, it reached the proportions of the Boerboel that we see today and was a typical mastiff dog that was fearless, agile, fast and strong. Just what you need to help you fight off a fierce pack of lions! However, the Boerboel needed to have a sensitive side as they had a human family to protect and needed to be clever enough to tell who to protect and who to attack.
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Later, they were also used to protect Da Beers’ diamond mines but as South Africa became more urban, the demand for guard dogs to protect homesteads declined. As the breed declined, the numbers of pure-bred Boerboels seriously declined. Thanks to the intervention of some breed enthusiasts in the in the 1980s, the breed was saved from extinction but is still considered a rarity outside South Africa. In 2015, they were admitted to the American Kennel Club in the ‘Working Group’ category.
To get you started, here are some quick facts about the powerful Boerboel that you may not know:
- They live for around 9 to 11 years and, on the whole, they enjoy excellent health.
- They are a large and powerful breed. You can expect an adult male to reach 24 to 27 inches in height and the female to reach 22 to 25 inches. They weigh around 150-200 pounds when fully grown.
- They are the most agile of the mastiff breeds so whilst they may weigh the same as a Great Dane, they are shorter and stockier and can move faster.
- They have a dense, short coat and shed moderately. The most common color is fawn with a black mask around the face. They have beautiful eyes and some adorable wrinkles on their forehead when they are alert.
- They are, above all, a guard dog and you will need to introduce visitors to them appropriately so they know that your guests are not intruders!
Things You Should Know
The muscular Boerboel is a truly magnificent dog and any household should be proud to welcome them. However, they are not a common breed in the US (they only rank 131 of 193 breeds for popularity with the American Kennel Club) and so there are some things that you should know before you take one on as your companion.
The Boerboel is a very powerful dog that can be physically intimidating and has the ability to cause serious harm to a human should they choose to do so. However, with the right training, they are a willing and obedient dog that will be utterly devoted to their human family and they are exceptionally gentle with young children.
This is not a breed for novice dog owners. They need a highly skilled and experienced dog handler to take control of their training from a very young age. Consistent, gentle, reward-based training methods are needed. They can be bossy and this is why only an experienced dog handler should take them on. Trying to bully a Boerboel into submission with physical force is never going to work and will be counter-productive.
Good socialization is absolutely essential. They need to be exposed to a wide range of people and environments so that they will not be anxious. An anxious and fearful Boerboel is very dangerous to everyone around them. They are highly intelligent and are independent thinkers but they are fiercely protective of their family so they need to be taught appropriate behavior boundaries.
As you would imagine, the Boerboel has a big appetite but they have no special dietary needs. They will thrive on a high-quality dog food which you can buy commercially. If you would prefer to prepare your own food, check-in with your vet for some advice.
The food should be appropriate for your dog’s age and large-breed pups need a special type of diet that prevents them from growing too rapidly. Some Boerboels can become overweight so keep an eye on your dog’s calorie intake. Reward-based training works well for this breed but remember that tasty treats have to be taken out of their daily calorie allocation.
This is not an apartment dog! They need a home with a big yard or garden to run around in. Even then, they will need regular walks, several times a day. Their body is built for physical exercise and endurance so long walks are best.
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. They are an intelligent breed who will get bored easily. The way to overcome this is with regular walks, ball games (fetch) and with puzzle feeders or by scattering kibble in some long grass. Obedience training is a great way to get them to exercise their brains!
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This is vital for such a powerful breed that has an instinct to ward off intruders. It must start from a very early age. Boerboel pups can seem very laid back but this will not last!
Expose them to lots of different dogs, humans and situations. They need a skilled and experienced dog trainer to curb their undesirable behaviors and bring out their best side.
There are no particular grooming requirements for this breed. They have a short, dense coat that needs grooming with a soft-bristle brush, a hound glove or a rubber grooming mitt, once a week to remove dead hairs. This will distribute oils throughout the coat. They only need a bath once a month. More frequent bathing will disrupt these natural oils and could result in skin problems.
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The Boerboel was bred as a strong dog that could fight off formidable opponents so it’s should come as no surprise that they are a very healthy breed. Only dogs that were free of disease survived and so a form of natural selection resulted in a very healthy bloodline.
You will encounter very few health problems with your Boerboel but here are some possibilities.
This is a condition where the hip socket does not form properly and it can lead to arthritis with the associated pain and loss of mobility. It is not that common in Boerboels but all larger breeds could be affected so you cannot rule it out.
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- Elbow Dysplasia
This is also an anatomical problem but this affects the elbow joint. Eventually, the joint can become inflamed and painful and it can put dogs off walking around. It can cause lameness but can be treated with exercises, pain relief and sometimes surgery.
The scientific name for bloat is gastric-dilatation and volvulus (GDV) and it is more common in larger, deep-chested breeds, such as the Great Dane and Labrador and, of course, the Boerboel. It is a potentially life-threatening condition where the stomach distends with gas and twists over on itself. This causes a severe obstruction of the gut which can result in shock and severe electrolyte disturbances. Eventually, it can lead to toxemia and the circulation can collapse which sadly can lead to death in some cases. It is sometimes possible to save a dog that has bloat by getting them to a vet straight away to start intravenous fluid therapy and for surgery to reverse the position of the stomach. Sadly, many dogs do not make it.
You can reduce the chances of your dog getting bloat by feeding them a moist diet that is rich in meat and by waiting 90 minutes after a meal before exercising your dog. A dry diet that is high in grain makes bloat more likely.
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- Cervical Spondylopathy
You may see this referred to as Wobbler Syndrome. It is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal around the neck area. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that lead away from it in this region. You may first notice that your dog is walking strangely – in a peculiar gait that looks like a goose-step. You may also notice that the front and back legs are wobbly.
Many of the mastiff-like breeds, including the Great Dane and Mastiff, are prone to this condition. It is thought that it was acquired from their ancestors in the 1600s.
- Juvenile Epilepsy
Epilepsy occurs in many species including humans. It causes seizures which are thought to be linked to changes in brain activity. There is no physical cause and the seizures can start at a very young age. Some dogs get seizures when they are just six months old. The condition is distressing for both the dog and the owner. The good news is that many cases can be controlled with anti-convulsant medication.
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The Boerboel is first and foremost a guard dog with years of breeding that drive them to fight to the death to defend their family against any foe. This presents challenges when you want them to act like a docile family pet.
However, this breed can learn to be a gentle giant and will happily learn to live in your home and to tolerate children and other animals as long as they don’t think that they present a threat to you and your family. In fact, they have a huge soft spot for children. They have boundless energy and are very playful.
Your Boerboel will be utterly devoted to you and will want to spend all their time with you. They will accept visitors but only when you have made it very clear that they are a friend and not a foe. New visitors need to be introduced properly. It is very important that they learn to understand that it is you that decides who is friend or foe and not them!
Boerboels are only suitable for families where there is an owner who is confident around dogs and who knows how to exert their authority. The dog needs to learn the rules and boundaries of your household. In a household that is not used to dogs, the necessary authority could be lacking and this can lead to a situation where the dog rules the roost. With a dog as strong and powerful as a Boerboel, this is a potentially disastrous situation.
Overall, the Boerboel is a phenomenal breed of dog that will make their way into your heart. Provided that you are an experienced dog owner, you will be able to channel all that power into positive activities and enjoy a long life together.