October 01, 2020 11 min read

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The Boerboel is not only confident, sweet, and protective, but is also one of the best farm dogs. This breed is used often in South Africa to protect against wildlife and terrorism and is also one of the best dog breeds to have around children if well-trained and well-socialized from puppy-hood. 

With a temperament that is confident and affectionate, the sweet Boerboel can also be aggressive with strangers and is not a dog breed for a novice owner. That said, let’s take a look at why this awesome dog breed is so popular in South Africa.

The Boerboel originated from South Africa. The name “Boer” comes from the Afrikaans word meaning farmer. Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers began arriving in South Africa during the mid-1600s. They brought along Bull Mastiff and Bulldog type breeds to guard farms. 

In 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck and company arrived in Cape Town, they brought along a dog breed called the Bullenbijters for protection.  In 1938, De Beers used Bull mastiffs to guard their mines, and these dogs were then integrated with the Boerboel gene pool.

Other colonists arrived with dog breeds that also guarded dogs. By the 1800s, the British arrived with Bulldog and Mastiff dog breeds. These breeds all interbred and were dispersed further during the Great Trek in 1838. It is believed that interbreeding continued together with the native African dog and that the Rhodesian Ridgeback could also have been involved.

Brief History

The dynamic, yet very family-friendly Boerboel was used to guard farms in Southern Africa, as well as to protect farmers from dangerous wildlife in sparsely populated land. The cross-breeding between the Bull types, Mastiff types, and other European dog breeds brought to Southern Africa resulted in the Boerboel dog breed. These dogs were kept in packs around farms, and during the days would disperse throughout the farmlands.

The Boerboel would also have different jobs on farms like guarding livestock, accompanying farmers, and also keeping farmers safe from wildlife like leopards and lions. In the evenings, these dogs would hang out with family, and become companions. Because they’re a medium energy type breed, they’re perfect around children, if well socialized and trained. The Boerboel used to have their tails docked so as to prevent baboons from hanging on to them.

This dog breed was also known as the Boer Dog. There were numerous adjustments made to the “Boer” dog breed which resulted in a more refined dog breed. The Boerboel is a sensitive and smart dog breed that is very protective of land and family. The Boerboel became part of the AKC, Working Dog Group in 2015. It is part of theUKC, Guardian Dog Group. Today, the Boerboel can be found throughout the world, but unfortunately has been banned in a few countries.

Physical Description

TheBoerboel has a deep, square, and muscular head with a flat skull. It is strong and confident. This magnificent and powerful dog breed has a short muzzle that is blunt. The upper lip is fleshy. The head is blocky, broad, and muscular. The cheeks are filled out, and there is moderate wrinkling on the forehead. The skull is square, flat, and muscular.

The nostrils are black and widely spaced. With dark eyes and tight eyelids, and a black nose, the Boerboel has medium-sized V-shaped ears that hang forward. The facial expression is kind and intelligent.

The Boerboel has a deep, broad chest with muscular loins. This breed has a thick tail that is set high. The coat is short and thick. The skin is thick and loose and comes in a brown, fawn, or red, with limited clear white patches on legs or forecast permissible. There are also piebald, Irish markings, and cream brindle coats. This dog breed may have a dark facial mask, which is desirable. The temperament is dominant and intelligent. The movement is agile and is similar to that of the molosser breeds.


Dogs: 24-27 inches

Females:22-25 inches


Dogs:143-176 pounds

Females: 110-143 pounds

Life Expectancy

 9-11 years

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Activity Level: Moderate

The Boerboel is a strong-willed dog breed that is intelligent, loving, protective, and makes for one of the best companions. Although some may say that this breed is aggressive, if well-trained and socialized, the Boerboel displays a temperament like no other dog breed and can be mellow and super sweet, most especially around children and family members. The Boerboel will defend family to the very end, and although aloof with strangers will not be aggressive if properly trained from puppyhood.

This breed has received a bad rap from people that don’t know enough about the breed, and that have not lived with this dog breed. It’s necessary for the Boerboel to have other dogs, preferably other Boerboels together with him. The pups need to be integrated during puppyhood so that they all get along. This breed may not be good with other dog breeds, and smaller dogs or pets. That said, because the Boerboel has a medium energy level, it’s necessary for this dog breed to have plenty of off-leash exercises to keep them happy and “laid-back.”

The AKC adds that “One should not conclude from this that the Boerboel was a snarly brute constantly spoiling for a fight. Because the breed was created to be primarily a protector of the family, Boerboels had to be sensitive and smart enough to tell friend from foe and to take its cues from those they protect. A Boerboel has never been known to back down when provoked, but their default mode is generally a stately watchfulness. Boerboels are powerful enough to excel at competitive weight-pulling, but they have also had success as docile therapy dogs whohave a soft spot in their huge heart for children,” via AKC.

One should not conclude from this that the Boerboel was a snarly brute constantly spoiling for a fight. Because the breed was created to be primarily a protector of the family, Boerboels had to be sensitive and smart enough to tell friend from foe and to take its cues from those they protect. A Boerboel has never been known to back down when 

Special Needs

The Boerboel needs to be with an experienced dog parent family. This is an intelligent and powerful dog breed that has to have socialization during the first four weeks of puppyhood onwards. Since this breed is territorial, dog parents need to avoid any form of isolation.

Boerboels need to receive care and handling from many people while still puppies. They cannot be isolated, or left alone for many hours during the day, most especially during adolescence. It’s best to start positive puppy training early on. Your Boerboel puppy will enjoy going to dog training classes and meeting other dogs and people.

This is a dog breed that needs experienced pet parents because it may be stubborn during training, and may show early signs of aggression towards other dogs and pets. Pet parents not living on farms should opt for tracking, obedience, rally, agility to satisfy this dog breed’s need for mental stimulation and exercise. This is such a terrific dog breed that is so courageous, probably more so than the Shepherd, but one needs to be in tune with exactly what this breed needs in terms of training, exercise, nutrition, and socialization.

Possible Health Concerns

The Boerboel is an active dog breed that may be susceptible to the following health conditions:

  • Hip Dysplasia is a hereditary developmental disease. HD affects Boerboels. HD occurs when the hip joint fails to develop properly. In Boerboels with HD, the head of the thigh bone does not fall into the hip socket. The imperfect fit results in the joint becoming lose and unstable. This leads to osteoarthritis.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is the name for a group of diseases that cause degeneration of the retina. This will include inherited abnormalities of the light-sensitive cells.
  • Hypothyroidism a deficiency of the thyroid hormone, and can cause weight gain in Boerboels, as well as constipation, and cold sensitivity.
  • Cardiac Issues in Boerboels include heart murmurs. They can be either congenital or acquired. Some symptoms include lethargy, weakness, exercise intolerance, and abnormal heartbeats.
  • Entropion: This is when the eyelid rolls inward, and the eyelashes irritate the eye. This condition can be hereditary. If this condition is not treated it causes serious eye infections. Ectropion also may occur in which lower eyelids may droop or turn outward.
  • Skin Allergies: Boerboels are prone to skin allergies resulting from flea saliva to grass and pollen allergies. They also may get hot spots when the weather is hot and humid.
  • Bloat: This breed is deep-chested, and thus more prone to bloat. Bloat is a life-threatening emergency. It is caused by the twisting of the stomach, together with the accumulation of gas, with or without fluid. It is best to never elevate your dog’s water and food bowls. Stress is also a major factor in causing bloat. Never feed your dog a large meal, followed by exercise. At the first signs of dry vomiting, restlessness, and discomfort, contact your emergency veterinarian. Never wait for a few hours. This is a true emergency that needs emergency veterinary treatment right away.


This very special dog breed needs regular exercise and plenty of off-leash runs. The Boerboel does not do well when meeting new dogs. It is very important to start socialization early on during the first four weeks of puppyhood. Mental stimulation needs to be combined with canine sports for the well-being of this dog breed. Long hikes, swimming, car rides, frequent travel, and exposure to children, people, other dogs, and animals is the way to go with the Boerboel. This dog breed loves to swim, and swimming should be added to his exercise schedule starting from puppyhood.

You’ll need to keep an eye on your Boerboel puppy when he plays with larger dogs. All Boerboel puppies enjoy playing so much that they forget how big the other dog really is. Make sure to protect your Boerboel puppy from injury when he is playing with other dogs.

Because Boerboel pups go through growth spurts, they often become out of balance. Their hindquarters may grow higher than their front, thus shifting the weight load to the front. That said, your Boerboel may place his front feet down incorrectly trying to compensate for being out of balance. He then becomes vulnerable to numerous injuries

This dog breed is a wonderful asset to any home. In addition to being a wonderful family dog, an active sporting partner, the Boerboel tries his best to please you. Organized canine sporting activities like agility, stock work, obedience, tracking, weight pull, and protection work will satisfy this dog breed. Going to the dog park is often not a good idea because of possible negative interactions with other dogs and people.

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When fighting against Boerboel obesity, think portion control! Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your dog needs each day, and will help you address his or her weight issue. Portion control is important in slowing the rate of obesity in all dogs.

Encourage your dog to eat slowly, which will also help to reduce digestive problems and bloat. Try to help your Boerboel by obtaining a Slow Feeder, which comes in different sizes. As with all dogs, feed only a high-quality dog food appropriate for the correct life stage.

Boerboels that are overweight, and that are on restricted diets still need to have proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and all other nutrients that are essential for good health.Supplements are important too1If you’ve decided to reduce your dog’s calorie consumption each day, it’s important not to eliminate vital nutrition in the process. Consult with your veterinarian for advice.

As a Boerboel dog parent you can cut back on the “low fat”, prescription processed commercial dog foods. Instead, opt for the highest-quality, balanced and appropriate diet that you can afford, and practice portion control. This is very important for this large dog breed. It will help prevent plenty of health issues later on in life.

Consult with your veterinarian for the advice! Dog parents need to select the best dog food for their Boerboel and should assess their dog’s activity level, age, breed, and any medical conditions that he or she may be prone to. Healthy, low-fat treats are a must for this dog breed to avoid weight problems.

Keep your Boerboel trim and in-shape by exercising consistently, and feeding an appropriate high-quality dog food formula that is for the correct life stage of your dog. That said, all Boerboel pups should be fed a puppy formula that is formulated for large breed pups. Additionally, if your Boerboel is an adult, opt for adult dog food formulas. If you’re having issues with nutrition, obesity, or your dog is not picking up enough weight, consult with your veterinarian. There may be underlying health issues.


The Boerboel is pigmented to protect against the harsh South African sun. The coat is short, but thick, so grooming is a breeze. The Boerboel’s short coat is very easy to groom, and coat care is minimal. Daily brushing with a rubber mitt or medium bristle brush will aid in removing loose hair, and in keeping his coat healthy and shiny. Nails need to be trimmed regularly. Extra special care needs to be given to a Boerboel’s ears.

Look after your dog’s skin and coat to help prevent skin allergies. Care should be given to nutrition in case of a food allergy. Teeth should be brushed daily, and dental checkups twice yearly with cleanings are recommended. As usual, if your Boerboel enjoys swimming in rivers, lakes, and pools, which most do, increase bathing to get rid of mud and grime.

Adopting a Boerboel

This is a rare dog breed that you’re not going to find easily at any shelter. Because this breed may be prone to aggression, one needs to look into past history when adopting the Boerboel. Positive dog training needs to begin from day one, but most importantly, visit your dog a few times prior to adopting. Take your Boerboel for walks, see how he interacts with people, children, and other pets when at the shelter.

Choosing between an adult Boerboel and puppy Boerboel may be difficult. All of us want to spend time with puppies and watch them grow. Yet, adult Boerboels make for a fulfilling adoption and need to spend less time with their pet parents than puppy Boerboels.

Always adopt a dog with the right temperament for you and your household. Because dogs at shelters may have behavioral issues, your shelter will probably provide post-adoption help. This could include free positive dog training classes, 24-hour behavior hotlines, Skype online dog training help, adoption counseling for pet parents, and even home visitations which work best. Shelters offer free dog training classes and will help you if you ask for help.

Understanding the nature of your Boerboel’s behavioral problems is essential in developing that special human-canine bond. After adoption, one needs to focus on veterinary health care and working through behavioral issues, if any. There are many health issues that are closely linked to behavioral problems. Consult with your veterinarian for the very best advice. Take the time to understand your Boerboel. 

Keeping your Boerboel happy and healthy must be a priority. This dog breed compares to no other! With an even temperament, an intelligent mind, the Boerboel makes for a quick-thinking, family dog that wants to protect and play. The best thing a dog parent can do for this wonderful breed is to provide plenty of socialization, positive dog training, and the right amount of exercise. 

The Boerboel thrives on farms but also needs to be kept indoors with the family. This dog should never be trained as a guard dog or left outside for long periods of time. That said, you’ll need to know beforehand that you can manage such an independent and courageous dog breed, and that you’ll have the time to partake in the right dog sporting activities, socialization, and positive dog training needed.

As usual, make sure that you have the time and resources to take good care of your Boerboel before adopting one!

Meet The Author

Claudia Bensimoun author of The Boerboel

Claudia Bensimoun

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance journalist and author, and specializes in veterinary content, and eBooks. She's a long-time feature writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. In addition, Bensimoun has written for numerous pet websites, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/ humanitarian relief, veterinary research, and veganism.