Get to Know the Boerboel: A South African Pioneer

You had to be tough to survive in South Africa in the 1800s; the Boerboel was the dog of choice for protection from animals and other humans.


He may look like a Mastiff or Bullmastiff at first glance, and he is in fact a member of the Mastiff family, but the Boerboel is more like the African adventurer of the family when compared to his estate-dwelling kinsmen.

Read more interesting things about the Boerboel:

  • Though they may be confused with many of the Mastiff breeds, Boerboels are the only ones with docked tails. Of course, some Boerboels have undocked tails, which complicates things. They are smaller than Mastiffs, and compared to Bullmastiffs their heads are much less wrinkled and massive.
  • The breed has its roots in the Dutch East India Company. When the company sent Jan van Riebeeck to South Africa in 1652 to establish a trading post (which became Cape Town), van Riebeeck brought his Bullenbijter with him for protection. Subsequent colonists also brought large protective dogs.

  • More Bulldog and Mastiff breeds arrived with British settlers in the 1800s. These dogs all interbred and were further dispersed northward during the Great Trek beginning in 1838, and were likely also crossed with native African dogs. The Rhodesian Ridgeback may even have played a role.
  • The name Boerboel (pronounced BUR-bul) means “farmer’s dog.”
  • The Boers (Dutch/Afrikaans for “farmers”) used the dogs for protection from dangerous animals and humans in the sparsely populated land, often keeping large numbers of them around the farm. During the day the dogs would disperse to different duties, guarding different groups of livestock, controlling oxen, or accompanying the farmer.

  • A single Boerboel could kill a leopard. The dog could not kill a lion alone, however, as is sometimes claimed.
  • Tail docking is said to have originated to prevent baboons from grabbing the dog by the tail.
  • In 1938, the diamond mining company De Beers imported Bullmastiffs to guard their South African mines, and these dogs were subsequently integrated into the Boerboel gene pool.

  • In the early 1980s, two fanciers searched Africa for authentic Boerboel dogs, eventually locating 250 and selecting 72 for registration.
  • The breed has since spread throughout the world, but it has been banned in at least one country as a fighting dog.
  • The breed will join the AKC Working group in 2015.

  • The Boerboel is a quiet, confident, courageous dog, extremely protective and capable. It is not a breed for a novice owner, as the dog tends to be headstrong and domineering, and can be aggressive to other dogs and pets and suspicious toward strangers.
  • The Boerboel is the most agile of the Mastiff breeds.
  • At present, no celebrities are known to own Boerboels. They’re not exactly a Hollywood dog, but we expect some celebrity who values canine protection to show up with one soon.

Do you own a Boerboel? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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3 thoughts on “Get to Know the Boerboel: A South African Pioneer”

  1. V Kasidy Kristoffersen

    I have two adults, and 9 (6 week old) puppies. I am loving this, let me tell you!! I have beautiful babies, they are the best dogs ever! My male is very protective.. He doesn’t tolerate anyone yelling at me, or even raising their voice to me. (I am a 63 yr old US Army disabled veteran. Was in the Women’s Army Corps back in 1975.)
    My boy, Azi, is incredible. He is my Battle Buddy, my Sidekick, my confidant, my Guardian, my Protector, and my Best Friend. He has come to my aid more than once, and has been trained as my Service dog. I am incredibly blessed!!
    Best dogs on the planet. Absolutely the best!! (But if you’ve never had a mastiff before? You shouldn’t get a Boerboel. They can be tough, and all due respect? My dog is smarter than anyone I’ve ever been married to. Trust me on that!! (I trust their opinion of people better than my own. Truthfully. )

    1. Why do you say that one should own a mastiff before trying boer boer?
      Cos, I'm considering owing a boer boer, but I haven't tried owning any dog yet. I'm 24 years old.

  2. We have a pure breed female Boer Boel . She is one year and six months old.Though I have always lived with dogs since I
    Was a little boy. My father was a dog friendly man. My two boys are crazy y about dogs.
    This our boer boel is everything you desire in a dog. She will be crossed
    .with a pure male boer boel soon after her second heat not far from now.

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