Boerboel Face Side View
Boerboel Full Body Side View
Boerboel Face Closeup
This large dog was developed in South Africa to guard property such as farms and diamond mines. He has a short coat that sheds moderately but is easy to care for. The Boerboel is a challenging breed unsuited to a first-time dog owner.The Boerboel, an Afrikaans word meaning farmer’s dog, is a member of the Mastiff family. He was developed by 17th-century Dutch settlers in South Africa to protect their families, farms and livestock.

In appearance, this breed stands out for his blocky head; large, muscular body; and red, fawn or brown coat, sometimes with a black mask. The breed’s Mastiff heritage is evident in his wrinkled forehead; broad, deep muzzle; and titanic size.

The Boerboel is agile for his size and can be energetic, especially when young. Activities in which this breed tends to excel (health permitting, of course) can include agility, obedience trials, protection sports, rally, therapy visits, weight pulling and working stock. The Boerboel is best suited to a home with a securely fenced yard. He should never be allowed to roam free.

Not surprisingly, the Boerboel often has a protective, territorial nature. He is usually wary of strangers and can be an excellent watchdog. Early and extensive socialization is essential to help reduce the chances that he’ll become shy or aggressive. A Boerboel should live with a person or family who is experienced with dogs and will spend plenty of time training, playing with and exercising him.

Quick Facts

  • Predators the Boerboel was expected to drive off included baboons and leopards.
  • Beneath his fur, the Boerboel’s skin is dark, a trait thought to help protect him from the African climate.
  • The Boerboel’s coat can be brindle, cream, brown, tawny, red or reddish brown. Some have a black mask or white markings. Piebald (a spotting pattern of large white areas) and Irish pattern (any color or pattern with white spotting) markings are also seen.

The History of Boerboels

When Dutch farmers went to South Africa, they took dogs with them. One of those farmers was Jan van Riebeeck, who brought a type of dog called a bullenbijter or bullenbeisser, which translates roughly to bull biter. This nameless Mastiff-type dog, along with indigenous African dogs, was one of the ancestors of the Boerboel. The farmers needed tough dogs they thought could withstand the hot climate and harsh surroundings and stand up to predators such as hyenas, big cats and baboons.

The Boers, as the farmers were known, created a dog who would be loyal, obedient and protective. Later, when diamond mining became an important industry, the dogs were bred with Bullmastiffs, who had been brought in to guard the mines. Rhodesian Ridgebacks also contributed to the Boerboel’s development.

In the 1980s, South African dog lovers set out to establish a standard for the breed. They selected 72 dogs that met their criteria. Today, the Boerboel is still considered a rare breed throughout the world.

The American Kennel Club classifies the Boerboel as a working dog and granted it full recognition in January 2015, paving the way for the breed’s participation in conformation showing and other AKC events. 

Boerboel Temperament and Personality

This is a smart dog with a strong work ethic and a self-assured temperament. It’s important for him to have a job. Tasks at which he tends to excel include guarding livestock, protecting property and (health permitting) competing in dog sports.

This dog is generally devoted to his people, especially children, and has a strong desire for human companionship. He usually gets along well with other animals if he is raised with them, caring for them just as he does the rest of the family. If you already have a dog, it’s best to choose a Boerboel of the opposite sex to help avoid intermale or interfemale aggression.

Most Boerboels are reserved toward strangers, although some are more social than others. Although the Boerboel tends to be good with children, he is not a babysitter and should never be left alone with young children. Conversely, children should never be allowed to poke, prod or otherwise torment him, no matter how patient he may seem.

The Boerboel seems to think he’s a natural leader. He needs an experienced owner whom he can respect and trust, so he doesn’t feel the need to run things himself. This can make him a challenging prospect for inexperienced dog owners. The people who live with this breed should be patient, consistent and assertive but never harsh.

With proper socialization, structure and training, the Boerboel should be reliable and obedient. That’s assuming, of course, that he gets plenty of exercise and attention. A Boerboel left to his own devices can be highly destructive in an attempt to relieve his boredom and depression.

As with any large breed with protective tendencies, early socialization — exposure to many different people, places and situations — is essential to help reduce the chances that a Boerboel will become shy or aggressive. Dogs need to learn what is normal so they can react appropriately.

Be sure to give this intelligent dog plenty of mental stimulation. Puzzle toys and regular training practice, as well as learning new things, will all help to occupy his brain. Balance the mental stimulation with long walks, hikes and other physical activity, and you will hopefully have a dog who is content to relax while you do other things.

Most important, remember that any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, food stealing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.

Start training your Boerboel puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with.

If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limiting exposure to other dogs and public places until the puppy series of vaccines (including those for rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until his puppy vaccinations are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect Boerboel doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and one who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.    

What You Need to Know About Boerboel Health

Boerboels are generally healthy, but all dogs, purebred and mixed breed, have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Boerboels can develop certain health problems, including:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Heart disease
  • Ectropion (eyelids sag outward)
  • Entropion (eyelids roll inward)
  • Vaginal hyperplasia
These conditions will not necessarily affect every Boerboel, but you should be aware of them as you seek out your puppy.

Breeders should gladly show you up-to-date health certifications for hips, elbows, heart and eyes, indicating that both of a pup’s parents are free of these conditions.

Health clearances you should expect to see:

  • An Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) evaluation showing that the parents have good elbows
  • An OFA or PennHIP test showing that the parents have good hips
  • An annual eye exam by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist certifying that the parents are free of physical abnormalities such as ectropion and entropion
  • An OFA evaluation, including an echocardiogram, by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist
It can be difficult to predict whether an animal will be free of these conditions, which is why it’s important to find a reputable breeder and insist on seeing independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries such as OFA come in.

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines or because her dogs have been vet checked, or if she gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of her dogs, walk away immediately. And if you think that health testing is important only for show dogs, think again. Even dogs intended to be pets should have parents who are screened for genetic diseases.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in many cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

Will your Boerboel get any or all of these diseases? Not necessarily, but it’s smart to know the possibilities.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems in all dogs: obesity. If you can’t see your Boerboel’s waist or feel (but not see) his ribs, it’s time to talk to your vet about a weight management program. Keeping a Boerboel at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.    

The Basics of Boerboel Grooming

The Boerboel has a short, bristly coat that is easy to care for. Brush him weekly with a rubber curry brush to remove dead hair (and help keep it off your clothing and furniture). Bathe him as needed using a mild, pet-safe shampoo.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every week or two, and brush his teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.

Finding a Boerboel

Whether you want to go with a reputable breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Boerboel Breeder

Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems.

The American Boerboel Club does not yet provide a list of member breeders, and it offers only generic tips on finding a healthy, well-bred puppy. Do a Web search for “Boerboel breeders,” and interview them carefully. It’s best if you can meet the breeder in person and see her kennels and dogs before purchasing a puppy. A pretty website can hide many flaws.

The Boerboel is a rare breed. Don’t expect to be able to purchase one on a whim. You may face a wait of several months or even a year or two before a puppy is available. Some people travel overseas to purchase or import dogs from breeders in other countries. If you go this route, it’s important to be familiar with regulations for exporting and importing dogs. And it’s just as important as it is in this country to interview a breeder carefully.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as showing, obedience or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she’ll take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.

Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for eye abnormalities by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and hip and elbow dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Hip clearance by the PennHIP method is also acceptable.

Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It could save you money and frustration in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store or another source, remember the adage “let the buyer beware.” Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals) and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization or other reliable source for healthy puppies.

And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Boerboel might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Boerboel may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. You can find adult dogs to adopt through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.

If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From a Boerboel Rescue or Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Keep in mind, however, that the Boerboel is a rare breed. Few are found in shelters or through breed rescue groups.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder and can have you searching for a Boerboel in your area in no time flat. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Boerboels available on Petfinder across the country). can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Boerboel. That includes vets, dog walkers and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescues

Most people who love Boerboels love all Boerboels. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Boerboel Club may be able to put you in touch with a dog who needs a new home and may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for Boerboel rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

  • What is his energy level?
  • How is he around other animals?
  • How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
  • What is his personality like?
  • What is his age?
  • Is he housetrained?
  • Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
  • Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Boerboel, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopter’s Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or rescue, take your Boerboel to your veterinarian soon after acquiring him. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that may help you avoid many health issues.