The history & origin of the Boerboel

The South African Boerboel is the only working mastiff in the world bred solely to guard and protect. The temperament of the Boerboel is its most attractive and most important characteristic. The Boerboel is the only breed in the world bred with only one purpose, ie to guard and protect the family. These mastiffs are physically and mentally able to complete any task required of a farmer in South Africa, undoubtedly the harshest country in the world. The Boerboel is a confident dog who is not nervous or jumpy and does not bite out of fear. A Boerboel is able to recognise your fear, which any Boerboel owner will confirm. When protecting from a real threat the Boerboel will growl like a lion and fight ferociously without taking his own safety into account. Aristotle named the forefathers of these dogs: Leontix (sons of lions). The Romans believed that these dogs were created by crossing a dog and a lion. They are not dog or animal aggressive as they are often required to work together. Boerboels should not chase animals such as chickens, sheep or others farm animals as they were developed on the farm and were required to co-habitate with all forms of livestock. Because the Boerboel is primarily a family and property guardian, he is happy in the family environment where he can establish his area to call his own. He is not prone to wander or bark without reason, rather he stays close to his family home, quietly doing exactly what he was bred for. The Boerboel should qualify himself as your best friend. He should know when you approve or disapprove of a person and share your feelings. The breed has been developed to be completely at ease around friends and family, not hyper or outwardly aggressive, yet an intelligent and loyal companion who is willing to lay down his life for his family. The Boerboel will accept the whole family, not just one person, as their master because they feel their primary duty is to respect and protect all of you. Boerboels are good companions for children, he is a child’s friend and playmate. Many stories have been told about a Boerboel spending hour after hour guarding a little baby in a pram. He feels the whole family belongs to him and his sole purpose is to protect them, with his life, if necessary. The Boerboel is not just another big dog. It combines substance with soundness, athleticism and the wonderful Boerboel temperament, the ideal family dog and great home protector.

The Boerboel was developed in South Africa over 400 years from Bullenbijter and Barenbijter dogs bought by settlers in the early 1600’s. These dogs were bred to indigenous breeds, original bulldogs and mastiffs introduced by English settlers in the 1800’s. Only the hardiest dogs were bred and any dog who was not tough enough did not survive. This led to the rise of mastiff type dogs used by the Boers. These dogs were originally used for hunting, cattle work and guarding but more recently they have principally been used as guard dogs. The name Boerboel literally means ‘Farmer’s Mastiff’. The original working Boerboels of South Africa were almost lost in the early 1900’s. Increasing urbanisation caused cross breeding with any dog who would bark. In the early 1980’s a group of people came together and formed the South African Boerboel Breeders Association. The group set out covering thousands of kilometres to find the best Boerboels in South Africa to return the original Boerboel to its rightful place among pure breeds of the world. SABBA has developed the appraisal system to ensure only the best Boerboels are being bred and the breed is now well established not only in South Africa but all over the world. Throughout history Boerboels were bred foremost for temperament and function, and as a result of this very practical and careful breeding process, the Boerboel has evolved into a loving companion with an even temperament. Boerboel Australia will continue to follow this basic rule to produce the most loyal and strong Boerboels in the world.

It seems that the accepted pure bred dogs have been moving towards their modern forms since dog showing gained popularity roughly 100 to 150 years ago. Many of the Utility type and Working type come originally from dogs that have been forged by their tasks. This allowed for greater diversity as regardless of a dog’s appearance the performance of the individual was regarded above aesthetics and an atypical dog would be used for breeding if he or she could perform their chosen task well. Performance cannot be judged in a show ring, so purebred dog breeders had to breed to a standard which is an agreed upon form deemed perfect for the particular breed’s task it was required to carry out. So therefore a breed standard causes the breeders all to attempt to breed dogs that look exactly the same, diversity is the enemy of the FCI purebred dogs or any breed that is bred to a specific breed standard. Surely this must be a good thing if the breeders are all moving towards a common goal which is the perfect conformation for their particular task. The problem with this is that the perfect conformed breed standard designed dogs do not cut it against the individuals of the same breeds that are still bred for their actual purpose. Many examples can be given to the differences of show vs working bred dogs; sled dogs like Huskies or Malamutes never win the big sled dog races, the American Pitbull and the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier were the same dog 60 years ago, many were dual registered up to 20 years ago. However now there is a very big difference between the two in appearance, working ability, courage and overall health and soundness to the point now that American Staffordshire Breeders need to test the hips of their dogs as many hips are poor. Greyhounds bred for the show ring have, according to their standard, the correct conformation to out run their performance bred counterparts whose conformation is often found lacking if compared to the breed standard. However, the racing greyhounds far outclass the show bred dogs when the theory stops and the running starts. Australian Kelpies and Cattle dogs are breeds that are strongly represented in both the show ring and working circles. The show ring dogs look different to their working counterparts and they cannot compare in the field. I have spent some time hunting with dogs in America, hunting boar in different states with some of the most respected and successful hunters and dogmen. None of them used the dogs I expected. These dogmen usually used mixed-breed dogs, I saw very few purebred hounds in their packs. The next step down from this situation is the dogs that can no longer even perform the actual task they were originally bred to do. Great Danes for example, were originally named the German Boar Hound, specifically bred to track, run down and hold a wild European Boar. However, barely any have the courage or ability to even go near a wild Boar, let alone hold it for the hunter. Look at the modern English Bulldog, it would not even be able to jump high enough to grab a bull by the nose. So it appears that breeding to a strict breed standard creates cattle and sheep dogs that are no good at herding, greyhounds that are slow, boar hounds that cannot catch boar. What has all of this got to do with the Boerboel? I mentioned Australian Kelpies earlier, these dogs, although purebred, vary greatly depending on the type of country and conditions they have to work in. Kelpies working sheep in hot desert areas tend to be 30 to 35lbs with thin legs and heads, and they don’t tend to carry much muscle. Local dog is bred to local dog within that area and it cements the type after a few generations that do best in those conditions. Kelpies working in cold alpine areas are bigger and thicker set, often weighing up to 70lbs. The weight divisions for Korean fighting Tosa is 40 kg class up to 90kg+ class. Performance Pitbulls range from 24lbs to 60lbs +. The Boerboel is being touted as a working dog. True working dogs seem to have a greater diversity in type and size. The Boerboel has a few different types of shapes due to the old influences that formed the breed. Many Boerboels can be tall with a pronounced tuck up underneath, these dogs are often narrower in the chest, they have flatter sides, they have well constructed fronts that are straight, nicely shaped feet and have good rear angulation. They have longer ears and muzzles which taper inwards towards the end. The circumference of the male’s head is usually 2 to 3 inches less than the height at the shoulder; this type of Boerboel is displaying a lot of the hound influence. I owned a bitch like this and I used her for hunting Boar. I found her to have a good nose on the ground and good stamina and speed for her size. Quite a few dogs of this type have been widely used in modern times eg. Piona Rampai, Cabaret Klein Buks. The opposite of the hound type is the Bulldog type. These dogs are shorter and broader; they have more concave lines showing more spring or roundness to the ribs, this also carries to the front of the dog as they usually have bigger chests so the elbows are sometimes slightly out to accommodate the chest. The front legs move slightly towards the centre line and pasterns and front feet turn slightly out to balance this heavier front. The front feet are often large and open, the Bulldog type tends to have a lot of volume in the body, shorter muzzles and are undershot. The head is usually equal to or greater in circumference than the height at the shoulders up to 3 inches greater in some cases. The ear set is high in this type, examples of this type of Boerboel is Avalonia Waldor and Dreifontien Grootpraat. Next type is the Terrier type. Most likely Bull Terrier influence as I have seen stud book entries from 1950 that shows the Bull Terrier being bred into the Boerboel. The Terrier type has thinner legs and is shorter in back length. Can be hyper-active and more prey-driven than most other Boerboels. They have tight feet and the musculature can appear more prominent because of the smaller bone, shorter coat and tighter fitting skin. The head is usually clean of wrinkles, they have scissor bite and good teeth, and they are usually long lived. Examples that have been used a lot are Ysterberg Storm and Mouzer Adolf. The last type is the Mastiff type Boerboel. These dogs have thick legs, broad muzzles, usually an excess of lip and wrinkle. The head is large and usually equal to the height of the dog at the shoulder or a little more. They are quite heavy dogs; the Mastiff type has thicker skin. It is tall and flat sided and usually doesn’t live as long as the other body types. Modern examples are Dandaloo Mack and Ysterberg Troffel. These are all extremes that have been talked about; most dogs are a combination of the types, just as human bodies are a mix of Endomorphic, Mesomorphic and Ectomorphic body types. If we keep moving towards unifying the Boerboel’s body type and conformation, which of the extremes of variation do you think we should cull? By limiting the diversity within the breed we lessen its appeal and its range of functions in the community. How in the future do you increase volume in your dogs if nobody has the Bulldog Boerboel type anymore? And if you only have the Bulldog type Boerboel how do you straighten your fronts and get rear angulation without Terrier or Hound type? Where will you bone and muzzle thickness come from without the Mastiff type? The farmer who wants a dog that can cover ground has no need for a big 80kg bucket head; he needs a Terrier or a Hound type. Every type has its place and they are all of equal importance, sometimes I breed combinations that will produce large Mastiff Bulldog type Boerboels, the males are prized for their imposing structures and are bred on with, the bitches can sometimes be too masculine and are often poor mothers. I also breed Terrier/Hound type combinations, the females are great athletes and have good construction, and both the males and females have drive and are good for working pursuits as long as they don’t get too much over 55kgs. I feel that maintaining breed diversity rather than selecting against it will keep the Boerboel as a useful and respected Working dog. If we follow the FCI breeds into the strict show and standard based formula, the resulting narrowing of type will reduce the quality of the gene pool by limiting variation and as the diversity diminishes so will the effectiveness of our breed.

This article was written by Mr Craig Bloom.

2 thoughts on “The history & origin of the Boerboel”

  1. I enjoyed your article vm.
    I like the large tan breed for protection.
    What is their cost range?
    Thank you vm, MC

  2. Can you recommend a breeder that has the hound variety?
    I need a dog that can gaurd family and land and still hunt with me.

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