Meet the South African Boerboel

Meet the South African Boerboel

Many read with intrigue and horror the articles of vicious dog attacks and terrifying “killer dog breeds”. Articles feed the hysteria of gigantic dogs bred to bite. These articles make claims of how a dog is “wired” or how “genetics” can produce a savage animal. Individuals have mistakenly used the size and power of the South African Boerboel to misappropriate it into a category demeaning to its true nature and purpose. “Meet the South African Boerboel” is intended to expose the truth about this breed – its origin, history, temperament, standard – and illuminate the responsibilities that belong to those who own a South African Boerboel.

Origin and History

Boerboel history can be traced back to historical figures such as King Saul, David, Solomon, Alexander the Great and Assyrian kings who used the largest and strongest dogs. Through the Roman rule, the dogs were noted to not only be in Europe, but also the British Isles.

Due to trade in the Cape of Good Hope, Jan van Riebeeck set up a trading post in South Africa for the Dutch East India Company and with him came his Mastiff-type breed of a dog – Bullenbijter – “biter of bulls” – Boerboel.

The British settlers brought other Mastiff-type dogs to South Africa beginning in the 1820s – the Bull Mastiff in 1928 and English (long-legged) Bulldog in the 1940s – all of which were purposed guard dogs.

In addition, Babylonian descended dogs known as Indian dogs were known to be used by tribes in Ethiopia (Cynomones) to keep herds of wildebeest from trampling villages.

Between the Indian dog from the African tribes (Babylonian descent) and the Bullenbijter brought by Riebeeck (Syrian descent) we establish the South African Boerboel who by its deeply-rooted heritage is a loyal watchdog, courageous protector and formidable opponent to any threat.

Source: Anemari Pretorius/SABBS

Temperament and Owner Responsibilities

Knowing the history of how the Boerboel came about can make many of the temperament and character traits of the Boerboel easily understandable. They are chiefly protectors with a guardian nature built upon a deep relationship with their owner. Along with their strong protective instincts, they are confident, self-assured and fearless – which further exemplifies their primary use as guard dogs. They are extremely intelligent and one of the most trainable of the Molossers. Placing these character traits together makes a superhero of a dog and with great power comes great responsibility.


Because of the intense protective nature of the breed, an owner must never place themselves in a position where the dog feels it needs to protect the owner. Due to its fearlessness, it will not back down from a threat.

Boerboels will sacrifice everything to keep a family member from being harmed. It is of utmost importance that Boerboels be socialized at an early age to allow them to interact in group setting and recognize normal human interaction verses a true threat. Boerboels also like to be the dominant figure in the home to protect what is theirs.

Boerboel owners must maintain constant leadership over their dog because a Boerboel will not follow anyone they do not consider to be a true leader. Due to their extreme intelligence, even with the most experienced owners, Boerboels will see what they can get away with.

Confident, Self-Assured, Fearless

The ideal Boerboel is even tempered and self-assured in its position in the family as protector. This comes through socialization and proper training from the owner.

A Boerboel should be responsive to the needs of the family. It is against the nature of a Boerboel to be anxious, skittish or fearful and such behaviour most likely is due to improper socialization or irresponsible breeding. Uncontrollably aggressive or fearful Boerboels are unacceptable.

Deep Relationships

Boerboels form deep and lasting relationships with their owners and family. They are sensitive and observant of moods and emotions given off by their owner.

They can experience separation anxiety if kept from their owner. Owners must provide consistent attention and love. It is a relationship in its truest sense. Boerboels are openly affectionate and if given the option, will always rather be alongside their owner. This deep relationship will also extend to children of the family.

Boerboels have a high tolerance and should be able handle typical “rough housing” with appropriate supervision. Again, if a Boerboel is not socialized or exposed to children, their reaction can be more unpredictable, which follows with their primary guardian nature.

Extreme Intelligence

Boerboels are considered one of the most trainable of the Molossers and are capable of excelling at a variety of tasks. Because of their dominant nature, it is much easier to train Boerboel puppies than to assert dominance and train an adult.

Again, the Boerboel will assert dominance when given the opportunity to protect what is theirs.

Owners should never assume that the Boerboel is unaware of its actions but must assume responsibility at all times to maintain control.

SABBS Code of Conduct

The South African Boerboel Breeders’ Society (SABBS) is the legally registered custodian of the Boerboel dog breed. SABBS is responsible for the standards that govern identification, recording, evaluation and improvement of the breed. This organization has set up a code of conduct that they expect every owner of a Boerboel to adhere to. This ensures not only the safety of the breed, but also makes owners aware of the great responsibility they have when owning a powerful protector.

The code of conduct requires owners to preserve, progress and improve on the breed (adhering to breed standards). It also requires owners to provide the best possible health care for their dogs, not limited to food and medical attention, but extending into sterile, proper housing, strong fencing, and space adequate for exercise. The code of conduct prohibits any form of neglect or abuse such as fighting and owners must be mindful not to allow their dog to be a nuisance to neighbours, visitors, or the general public as this is bad for the reputation of the breed.

Regarding children, owners have a responsibility to be cautious – a good principle with any breed – teaching a mutual respect between children and Boerboels. This is a large, intelligent, powerful breed and cannot be expected to tolerate a child’s inappropriate behaviour.

It is clear that along with this breed comes an ethical responsibility to maintain a well-behaved, healthy dog which can interact with the public while also preserving its protective nature.

Breed Standard

Here are the breed standards from the SABBS website:

The Breed Standard is a guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of the breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function.

The aim of this Breed Standard is to provide guidelines to breeders, appraisers and judges, who should at all times be vigilant to avoid obvious conditions or excessiveness, that would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or absolute soundness of the Boerboel.

Type, conformation, functional efficiency, mentality and composure are equally important in the evaluation of the Boerboel as a whole.

The protective character of the breed is evident, as well as its impressive demeanor, good temperament, controllability and mobility.

Although the Boerboel has become a popular breed internationally, the center for breed specific knowledge remains in South Africa, as this is where its character is embedded.


Any departure from the Breed Standard shall be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault shall be regarded, shall be in exact proportion to the degree and its effect on the health and welfare of the dog.


Any serious deviations and/or combinations of deviations from the Breed Standard that may affect the dog’s health and/or performance negatively shall lead to disqualification at the discretion of the senior appraiser.

Temperament and Character

The Boerboel is:

  1. manageable, reliable, obedient, trainable and intelligent;
  2. self-confident and fearless;
  3. a dog with a strong protective instinct and loyal to members of the family;
  4. shows courage when threatened;
  5. steadfast and calm, with a balanced and confident nature when approached;
  6. a dog requiring training and firm handling from an early age.
General Appearance

The Boerboel is:

  1. a large dog with a strong-boned structure;
  2. perfectly balanced within the desired proportions for the breed. The main structural components of the dog should show acceptable proportions to each other. The body is approximately 10 – 15% longer than the height (at the withers) and is measured horizontally, from the prosternum (breastbone) to a vertical line at the rear of the rump;
  3. a dog with prominent and well-developed musculature;
  4. impressive and imposing in appearance, created by a combination of conformation, carriage, confidence and powerful, buoyant and unencumbered movement – notwithstanding its size;
  5. Males are distinctly masculine, larger and more heavily built with stronger bone, while females are distinctly feminine, but without weakness of substance or structure. Sexual dimorphism must be clearly evident;
  6. The ideal height of a male is 66 cm (25.98 inches) but not lower than 60 cm;
  7. The ideal height of a female is 61 cm (24 inches) but not lower than 55 cm;
  8. Height must always be in relation to mass (the ideal ratio for a fully grown dog is 1:1 – 1:1.2 cm per kg), overall balance and conformation of major body components.

It is worth noting that responsible breeders seek to conform to the breed standard, not to merely “breed for size”, create a “hulk mastiff”, or produce the largest of dogs.

In appraisals, dogs are scored based upon their conformity to the standard. At an appraisal, a dog must stand alone and be measured by the preciseness of the breed standard. Any deviation from the breed standard will affect the dog’s overall appraisal score.

Original document by J. Phillips

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