When George Orwell wrote that “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others” in Animal Farm, he was inadvertently describing the behemoth of the South African plains, the Boerboel.
More commonly known as the South African Mastiff outside of its home country, as its Afrikaans name (which translates as “Farmers Dog”) can be a little difficult to pronounce properly, the Boerboel has been a loyal and trusted defender of homesteads and farms for more than two hundred years.
The Boerboel, much like the American Pitbull is mired in controversy that was largely created by an attention-hungry media and led to the breed being banned in a number of countries (including Denmark, Qatar, and France) and officially regarded as a “dangerous breed” in Russia, Singapore, and Ukraine.
It’s a reputation that’s largely unfounded and is based largely on unsubstantiated fear and hearsay.
The South African Mastiff is a big dog with an even bigger heart and in order to separate fact from fiction, we decided to put together a comprehensive guide to this woefully misunderstood, working dog who would happily lay down his life for his family and the people he cares about. The Boerboel is living proof that some dogs really are more equal than others…
Boerboel Key Facts
Before we submerge ourselves, and you, in all things and everything Boerboel, there are some basic facts about the breed that we think it’s important to discuss.
Owning and taking care of a Boerboel is a huge responsibility, but it’s a responsibility that they reward in kind with an intense affection and devotion that is difficult for anyone who is unfamiliar with the breed to initially understand.
Boerboels are a lifelong commitment, so it’s vital that any prospective owner understands just how much time and money they’ll need to invest in one to make sure that their dog is happy, healthy, and feels like it’s part of their family. So let’s take a quick look at the entry-level information that anyone, and everyone needs to know about the Boerboel.
Big dogs don’t live as long as their smaller cousins do, and the Boerboel is one of the biggest dogs in the canine kingdom. A South African Mastiff usually lives between ten and twelve years.
Minimum Exercise (per day)
They’re working dogs with a huge appetite for life, and need at least an hour of intense exercise every day. Because of their protective nature, and their innate desire to defend their owners and themselves, Boerboels should never be exercised off-leash.
And as they’re immensely strong they shouldn’t be walked in dog parks as the temptation to engage with other dogs in a negative fashion, could lead to them pulling their owners over or escaping from their control.
Instinct can be difficult to overcome, which is why it’s essential for Boerboels to be walked far from the canine madding crowd.
Boerboels are smooth, soft-haired short-coated dogs.
Minimum Cost Per Month
It isn’t just the cost of feeding one of these gargantuan dogs that would-be owners need to think about, they should also be insured to alleviate the possibility of any potentially large vet bills.
To insure a Boerboel and feed it, the minimal monthly costs of raising and looking after one of these dogs can be anything from one hundred and thirty to one hundred and fifty dollars.
Boerboels are large, strong dogs who have an imposing and intimidating build. They are stocky and muscular and have wide heads, powerful jaws, medium-length muzzles, and folded ears that are always alert.
Their short coats can be brindle, fawn or brown, and black. While the South African Boerboel Breeders Society (SABBS) does recognize the latter color, the Kennel Union of South Africa doesn’t and will not acknowledge or register black Boerboels.
Both the AKC (American Kennel Club) and the Kennel Union of South Africa classify the Boerboel as a large dog. Which is hardly surprising as the breed is widely acknowledged as being one of the largest in the world.
So how big is one of the biggest dogs in the world? Males are a minimum of twenty-four inches or sixty centimeters and a maximum of twenty-six inches or sixty-six centimeters tall at the shoulder, while females are a minimum of twenty-two inches or fifty centimeters and a maximum of twenty-four inches or sixty centimeters tall at the withers, the space between the shoulder blades that breeders use to determine the height of a dog.
The Boerboel is famous for being the dog that weighs as much as its owners do, and both males and females can weigh anywhere between one hundred and fifty and two hundred pounds.
Boerboels are often wrongly thought, mainly due to their size and imposing appearance, to be vicious and aggressive dogs, but nothing could be further from the truth.
They are intelligent, confident dogs who are quick learners and are affectionate toward and ferociously devoted and loyal to their families. The old adage about not judging books by their covers doesn’t just apply to literature, it also applies to Boerboels.
Boerboels are big dogs who need a lot of space, and an apartment isn’t the best home environment for them. Ideally, they need an enclosed garden or yard so they can burn off any excess energy they may have, and prevent them from getting bored and turning their attention to your furniture, which they could obliterate in minutes.
Good For Novice Owners
They’re not a dog for first-time owners. Boerboels might be gentle and obedient, but they’re also strong, pull on the leash, and can be destructive.
They also try to assert their dominance at any opportunity, so a firm, fair and decisive hand is a requisite for any owner. They need an owner who is used to handling and has experience with large dogs.
Despite their size, Boerboels are sensitive intuitive dogs and can “read” their owner’s moods and adapt to them. They need to be taught and treated with kindness and positive affirmations, which will help to enforce the breed’s positive characteristics while negating the few negative traits.
Tolerates Being Alone
Boerboels can be crate trained, and they can be left alone for short amounts of time, but if they’re left alone for much longer than that they can, and will make their displeasure known.
And even the strongest crate in the country won’t last long against the might of a determined Boerboel. Due to their devoted and protective nature, the breed is prone to separation anxiety and doesn’t like to be left alone for long.
Tolerates Cold Weather
They may not look like they’re able to deal with the cold very well because they’re a short-haired dog, but again appearances can be deceptive. The Boerboel’s fur is extremely dense, so they can adapt to cold weather quite well, as long as they’re not exposed to it, or left out in it, for too long.
Tolerates Hot Weather
Bred in South Africa, the Boerboel was made to live and work in warmer climates and handles the heat incredibly well. However, like all dogs when it gets too hot outside, the Boerboel needs to be let inside as they can suffer from heatstroke.
Affectionate With Family
Boerboels are loyal to and incredibly affectionate with members of their families. They’re also fiercely protective of their human companions, a trait that can sometimes be mistaken for aggression.
And their affection for their family members is magnified many times over when it comes to the youngest members of the pack. Boerboels adore children and are tolerant of the way that they sometimes get a little over-eager when handling and petting dogs.
However they may not be as tolerant with children that they don’t know as they are with those that they do, and their sheer size means that they’re not the best dogs to have around toddlers. They can knock them over just by lumbering into them and as such are better suited to homes with older children.
Unfortunately, due to their protective nature and being bred to defend their territory from whatever other animals might invade it, Boerboels can be extremely aggressive toward other dogs.
They need to be properly socialized and spend time around strange and familiar dogs alike while they’re young in order to combat their canine related aggression.
Friendly Toward Strangers
And their aggression isn’t just limited to other dogs, as they can (despite their usually placid nature toward the people that they know) be wary of, and standoffish around, strangers.
If they do perceive a stranger as a threat, they can become aggressive toward them, which means that Boerboels have to be carefully introduced to anyone they don’t know or are unfamiliar with.
Health & Grooming
While they’re regarded as being a generally healthy and hardy dog, there are some specific genetic health issues and conditions that Boerboels can be susceptible to, the most common of which we’ll look at a little further on.
First though, let’s take a quick look at the bane of every dog owner’s life, fur, and drool, and how much of each a Boerboel is likely to deposit and leave in its wake.
They don’t shed a lot and their short, dense fur coats are incredibly easy to look after and care for.
As long as they’re brushed for between fifteen minutes and half an hour once a week, and bathed once a month, a Boerboels coat should remain in pristine condition.
Mastiffs are notorious droolers, but the Boerboel drools less than the other members of his immediate canine family. That doesn’t mean that they don’t drool, they do. They just don’t drool as much as other Mastiffs do.
Boerboels are healthy, strong dogs and don’t suffer from any general day-to-day problems or issues.
Common Health Problems
- There are, however, a few breed-specific health conditions that Boerboels can be prone to. These include hip and elbow dysplasia (a painful genetic abnormality in which the joint is malformed, that can lead to further complications such as arthritis) and cardiac problems (an issue that plagues all breeds of Mastiff).
Potential For Weight Gain
Boerboels are no more prone to obesity than most other breeds of dog, and aren’t overly possessive of, and don’t have an innate love of, food. Because of their size, if they do become obese, Boerboels run an increased risk of developing heart and joint problems, both of which the breed is particularly susceptible to.
All dogs, regardless of how big or small they are, benefit from being socialized and trained from an early age. And due to the Boerboel’s protective nature and territorial behavior, it’s important to socialize them with other dogs from an early age in order to curb their possible aggression.
Easy To Train
Boerboels are bright working dogs and the breed is noted for its desire to please its owners and its obedience, but it is also a dominant and forceful dog that constantly tries to assert its position as the head of the pack.
While this isn’t a difficult trait to overcome with positive, reward-based training it does mean that it might take slightly longer to train a Boerboel than it would to train another breed of working dog.
Boerboels are highly intelligent, enthusiastic dogs who can easily adapt to new situations and circumstances. They thrive when challenged both mentally and physically, and benefit from being given “tasks” or jobs to do by their owners.
Potential To Bite
The South African Mastiff is incredibly protective of its family and those it’s closest to, and if it does perceive a stranger as being a threat or a danger to those in its care, the Boerboel can and will bite.
The breed is also particularly aggressive toward other dogs, and can and will bite them if given the chance. Boerboels need to be socialized with other dogs and around strange and new people from an early age to help to combat these issues and prevent them from becoming a problem as the dog grows into adulthood.
Tendency To Bark Or How
They’re not overly vocal dogs, but they will bark at other dogs and at anyone who they don’t know arriving at their home – which is directly related to their territorial behavior. Boerboels will also bark if they’re left alone for too long, which is a direct result of their fear of loneliness and being separated from their owners.
The Boerboel’s history can be traced all the way back to the first European settlers arriving in South Africa in the seventeenth century. Faced with protecting their homesteads and farms from an increasingly dangerous and unknown wilderness and predators, they began to breed bulldogs and mastiffs, which eventually resulted in the Boerboel.
While it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when the first Boerboel appeared, it’s generally accepted that the breed was protecting South African farms by the middle of the nineteenth century.
There are recorded instances of the Boerboel fighting, and beating leopards, and other big cats and this is almost certainly where their reputation for being “dangerous dogs” began.
Even though Boerboels are banned in a number of countries, and on the dangerous dog’s list of others, they were finally recognized as an official breed by the AKC (American Kennel Club) in two thousand and fifteen.
Due to the breed’s rarity in the United States, and some breeders effectively working to try and eliminate some of the dog’s more negative traits, Boerboel puppies are reassuringly expensive.
They can cost anywhere from two to four thousand dollars depending on the dog’s bloodline. There are, however, more affordable options for anyone who potentially wants to add a Boerboel to their family.
While they don’t appear in shelters very often, there are rescue groups dedicated to rehoming Boerboels, and they should always be the first place that anyone looking to home one of these dogs calls before contacting a breeder.
We always say that it’s better to adopt than shop, as not only will the dog that you’re giving a home to be eternally grateful, your bank balance will be as well, as it’s far more affordable to adopt than it is to shop.
Boerboel Fun Facts
- The Boerboel’s docked tail isn’t rooted in a cosmetic attempt to increase the breed’s physical appeal, it’s a practical hangover from the dog’s days on South African farms. The shortened tail made it more difficult for baboons to grab hold of them during a confrontation, which made the Boerboel more effective, and deadly when forced to face and fight the primate.
- While the Boerboel is banned in a number of European, Arabic, and Caribbean countries, and is on the dangerous dog list of others, the only place in the United States where it is illegal to own and register a Boerboel is in Fairfield in Iowa.