The boerboel is a fierce guard dog with a dignified demeanor. They were bred to be aggressive defenders but are fully capable of distinguishing friend from foe.
In fact, these dogs are cuddly enough to be used as therapy dogs, though they’re not right for every home. The breed can be especially challenging to first-time dog owners and people who aren’t familiar with powerful dog breeds.
Make sure that you’re ready for such a large, determined dog before adding one to your family.
Characteristics of boerboels
Boerboel size. Boerboels are big dogs. Males tend to be slightly larger than females.
Males are, on average, from 24 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder. Females reach an average of 22 to 25 inches. Both sexes fall into a similar healthy weight range. These dogs can weigh anywhere from 150 to 200 pounds. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian, though, if you’re concerned that your dog is too far underweight or overweight.
This large size can be a concern for some owners. These dogs can be difficult to transport, so you’ll need to keep your boerboel in mind when making any travel plans.
Body shape. Boerboels have intimidating, highly muscled bodies. They have deep chests that extend to their elbows. Their legs have strong bones and end in large, rounded paws.
Their heads are distinct: blocky, broad, and square. Their muzzles are also broad and narrow toward the nose. Their heads are topped by v-shaped ears that are somewhat leathery and held close to the head.
Other boerboel characteristics include thick tails that are set high on their rears. Some owners dock their tails, but this isn’t necessary to fit the breed standard and isn’t recommended by veterinarians. The practice is purely aesthetic and doesn’t benefit your pet in any way.
Lifespan. The boerboel lifespan is typical for their large size. They live an average of nine to 11 years. You should prepare for about a decade with your dog if you choose to bring one home as a puppy.
Coat. The boerboel coat is short and dense. It’s smooth to the touch and looks shiny after proper grooming.
Their coats can come in six standard colors:
There are also a few standard markings for the breed, including black masks.
Eyes. Boerboels have widely spaced, medium-sized eyes. They come in all shades of brown, but darker colors are preferred for the breed standard. Their eyes can also sometimes be yellow or blue.
Personality. The typical boerboel personality has two distinct facets. They have strong protective instincts that were bred into them. They’ll never back down from a fight.
At the same time, they’re also calm, intelligent animals that are loyal to their loved ones. They’re very eager to please, which makes training them easier. That said, these dominant dogs require a firm hand, or they’ll end up being the master of the relationship.
When they are properly trained, the overall effect is that of a calm, confident, and controlled animal.
Caring for Boerboels
Grooming. Boerboels shed a moderate amount. You should brush their coat at least once a week with a soft brush or grooming glove. This will help remove dead hairs and spread healthy oils throughout the remaining coat.
Your dog will also need an occasional bath. You should bathe them whenever they become too dirty or smelly for your liking.
You should also trim your dog’s nails regularly. Long nails can be painful for your pet and cause problems when they walk and run.
Brush their teeth on a daily basis to help prevent dental disease.
Feeding. Make sure that your pet has access to clean water at all times.
Your boerboel needs high-quality dog food. Try to find a brand that your pet enjoys. Make sure that the nutritional requirements are specific to their stage of life, like puppy- and senior-specific varieties.
You absolutely must consult your veterinarian before choosing to make an at-home blend of dog food for your dog. Making your own food can be a time-consuming and complicated process, and you need to make sure that you’re meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs.
Also, make sure that you know what human foods are safe for your dog to eat before feeding them anything from your kitchen.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation. These athletic dogs need exercise every single day. Long walks are nice. They’ll also enjoy playing with you in a fenced-in space. Playing with your dog is a great way to engage them both mentally and physically.
You can work together to train for dog sports like rally, weight pull, and agility competitions, but keep in mind that boerboels can be very aggressive with other dogs. Their protective instincts mean that they won’t stand down when challenged. You shouldn’t take them to dog parks or allow them to roam around off-leash.
Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Talk to your veterinarian to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs. All dogs will need a core set. This includes vaccinations for:
It’s safe for your dog to get some of these vaccines as early as six weeks of age. There are also other, non-core vaccinations that you should discuss with your veterinarian.
Heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S. Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.
Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, but talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you.
Health Problems to Watch For With Boerboels
Boerboels are relatively healthy dogs but they can develop problems that are common for large breeds.
Boerboel health issues can include:
- Gastric torsion or bloat. This occurs when there is inflation in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract — specifically in the stomach. Your dog’s stomach fills up with gas, food, or liquid and then (in the case of gastric dilation volvulus) twists, creating an often sudden and life-threatening situation. Signs include an enlarged abdomen, retching, and drooling. The condition is typically treated with emergency surgery.
- Orthopedic issues. Examples include hip and elbow dysplasia. Dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket of your dog's joint do not fit or develop properly as they grow. Instead of sliding smoothly, the bones grind against each other, wearing down and eventually making it difficult for your dog to move. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog's joints and see how likely they are to cause problems throughout your dog's life.
- Heart disease. Heart murmurs can be an early sign of heart disease in your pet. With early detection and the proper medications, though, your dog can live for years after their diagnosis. You should have your veterinarian check them regularly to catch the condition early on.
- Wobbler syndrome. This is a neurological condition that can affect how your dog walks. In rare cases, they can become completely paralyzed in all four of their legs. The condition can potentially be managed with either medication or surgery. You should use a body harness, not a collar, if your dog has this condition.
- Eye Conditions. Examples include glaucoma and entropion. Glaucoma can cause blindness. Entropion affects your dog's eyelids and can cause discomfort. Treatment can involve medication or surgery depending on your dog’s exact eye condition.
- Idiopathic epilepsy. This is a condition where your dog can have unexplained seizures. Get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Special Considerations for Boerboels
Considering their large size, boerboels are surprisingly great with young children. They’re moderately friendly with strangers but will only warm up to people once their owner makes it clear that they're a friend.
Early training and socialization are a must for this breed, or they could become unmanageable. Be prepared to handle this dog before bringing one home.
They drool and bark a moderate amount. The American Kennel Club (AKC) rates them a three out of five for both traits.
History of Boerboels
Boerboels originated in South Africa. They were first bred by the Boers, who were Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers that began arriving in the region in the mid-1600s. The word boer means farmer in Dutch.
As mentioned, boerboels are fierce guard dogs. They were specifically bred to protect people and farms from dangerous South African animals including:
- Packs of baboons
Farmers in South Africa still tell stories about the bravery and skills of this breed.
You couldn’t register your boerboel with the AKC until 2014, so they’re a relatively recent addition to the U.S dog population.