Other names: South African Mastiff


A formidable guard dog, the Boerboel (pronounced “boorra bol”) may have a cuddly side – but this does not mean that he is for every family. He’s a big dog. And strong. A very big, strong dog. His ancestors were employed to frighten off hyenas and lions, so you can imagine that aunties and postmen will require nerves of steel each time they grace your doorstep – particularly since your Boerboel will wait for the nod from you before admitting a newcomer to your property.

Still, he’s handsome, loyal, calm, and child-friendly. Those with strong canine leadership skills and plenty of experience with dogs may find a warm friend in the Boerboel.

Key facts about the Boerboel

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Size :

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Origins and history

The Boerboel was developed by European colonists arriving in South Africa in the 17th century (these invaders, when hailing from Germany or Holland, were themselves known as Boers, meaning farmers). The mastiff-type guard dogs they brought with them were crossbred with other European breeds to create a quietly vigilant giant who is capable of wrestling a leopard and at least giving a fright to an unsuspecting lion. He has been slow to find acceptance back in Europe where, in Denmark for example, he is considered to be a fighting dog and potentially dangerous.

Physical characteristics of the Boerboel

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    Adult size

    Female : Between 23 and 26 in

    Male : Between 25 and 28 in


    Female : Between 154 and 198 lb

    Male : Between 154 and 198 lb

    Coat colour

    Type of coat

    Eye colour



    This tall, broad, deep-chested dog has a square, muscular head that adds even greater presence than would his main bulk alone. His beak is broad and deep where it meets the face, but tapers towards the sharp end; the nose peeks out over a mighty jaw. Like other mastiffs, he looks a bit like Ernest Borgnine. Muscled, hefty, but buoyant, the Boerboel finishes with a thick, high-set tail – these are often docked. The female of the species is notably sleeker.

    Good to know

    The Boerboel is not recognised by the Kennel Club or FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale).


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      While the Boerboel is no teddy-bear, a combination of laziness and loyalty make cuddling a possibility; towards children, we can certainly say that affection is not unknown. Indeed, he will suffer if not gladly welcomed into the bosom of the family.

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      He is an intelligent and engaged dog, accustomed – through genetic heritage – to working closely with humans. But the Boerboel is not all serious, so constructive collaboration can easily give way to playful tomfoolery if you have the time and inclination.

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      When the going is good, the Boerboel is a calm and even laid-back sort of a person.

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      Naturally intelligent, the Boerboel’s mind should be stimulated with informed and purposeful training from a young age, else his intellect will go to waste and his behaviour become unruly.

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      The mastiff family is said to have been used to hunt wolves and even lions. But the Boerboel has evolved to be more of a guard dog than a safari enthusiast. Even in his heyday, this formidable creature would have struggled against a lion – although the occasional leopard may have come out the worse for wear. However, his hunting impulse may still lurk deep within, so should a cat or a squirrel cross his sights in a hurry it is possible his dormant instincts may resurface.

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      Fearful / wary of strangers

      This dog is not easily rattled. Although he tends to stay close to his owners, he will not usually be unsettled by outsiders. His guarding instincts, however, are likely to be roused by intruders to the property or his family’s personal space; he is usually wise enough to discern a threat from a non-threat.

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      While the Boerboel is independent by nature, he requires a great deal of interaction and care from his human companions in order to develop into a well-behaved and socialised adult. Your Boerboel may think for himself, but he will seek your society, companionship, and play.

      Behaviour of the Boerboel

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        Tolerates solitude

        The big lug can become lonely and destructive if left alone for long periods of time.

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        Easy to train / obedience

        The Boerboel is generally intelligent but he does require a great deal of training in order to ensure that he does not use his considerable might against the powers of good. He will enjoy training since he is fond of spending quality time with his peers, so long as a responsible, positive-enforcement style education is employed. Those who are not confident trainers of dogs should not consider the Boerboel a good option when looking for a dog to invite into their lives.

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        The Boerboel is no more or less verbose than the average dog.

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        Tendency to run away

        This character is keen on family time and loyal to his owner, and thus is unlikely to exploit the opportunity to roam unless a specific temptation draws his attention.

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        Keep the Boerboel company, and he will not become too destructive. However, leave him alone for too long and he will become bored and even anxious. You should not be surprised if he responds to excessive loneliness with acts of destruction. And because this dog packs quite a punch, destructive behaviour will not be subtle. This dog has the strength to wreck everything.

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        Greedy / Gluttony

        The Boerboel does have a tendency towards becoming overweight, so his meals should be carefully measured and his requests for extra treats considered in depth.

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        Guard dog

         A guard dog par excellence, the Boerboel may tend towards over-protectiveness, which is why he may be more suitable for professional duty than life in a family home. He may become accustomed to regular guests, but will need the ‘nod’ from his owner if he is to tolerate them; he may remain wary towards these outsiders all the same.

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        First dog

        It is not recommended to take the Boerboel into your home as your first dog. A strong and unwieldy beast, he is potentially dangerous if not raised in optimum conditions by an experienced and knowledgeable owner who can train him in a good and proper way.

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          Boerboel in a flat

          This is not recommended as he is an extremely large dog who needs space to manoeuvre and also a reasonable amount of exercise. Ideally, the Boerboel will have free use of a yard in which he has space to build up a gallop, but which is strongly-enough fenced to prevent his venturing beyond the property borders for extracurricular guard dog activities.

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          Need for exercise / Sporty

          This chap needs at least one hour of solid exercise a day. Long walks, obedience games, even weight-pulling and agility contests can help make up the workout he needs – particularly since park life is not especially recommended (he responds aggressively to challenges from other dogs and shouldn’t go off-lead).

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          Travelling / easy to transport

          He’s a big old dog so you may have trouble fitting him in your car – especially when he becomes too elderly to leap to the boot. Other than that, there are no particular transport considerations to consider.


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            Boerboel and cats

            While he can be fine with cats, the Boerboel’s size and repressed hunting instinct may be a recipe for disaster if your cat happens to get startled and dash across the room or garden. Especially if it looks like a leopard.

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            Boerboel and dogs

            If your Boerboel grows up alongside another dog they may continue to get along just fine. But extreme care should be taken when introducing the lad to unfamiliar dogs. The Boerboel is known to respond dramatically to dominant behaviour from other dogs, especially big ones. And in any case, socialising the dog with other creatures when he is still a pup is a very good idea.

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            Boerboel and children

            The Boerboel is known to be generally friendly and even protective of children he knows. He will also tolerate other kids as long as he is acclimatised to the company of human pups while he himself is still a puppy. However, extreme caution should be observed at all times, since the Boerboel can be both massive and over-protective. Never leave a Boerboel (or any dog) alone with a young child. And beware that very small children are susceptible to squashing, regardless of aggression.

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            Boerboel and the elderly

            The Boerboel’s heft and requirement for intensive training may make him unsuitable for older owners if they’re frail, although a similarly hefty and pedagogically-inclined elder human may appreciate the creature’s keen attitude to companionship.



            The average price for a Boerboel dog is approximately £1170.

            The Boerboel can cost around £50 per month to feed and maintain.


            The animal’s short coat needs brushing just once a week or so. This will clean him, remove dead hair, and distribute his natural oils throughout his coat. He should be bathed now and then as his owner sees fit, and have his nails clipped regularly before they grow long enough to trouble him as he trots.  Each of these routines is likely to be necessary about once a month. The Boerboel is not a grooming-intensive hound.


            He will shed a little, but less than the average dog.

            Nutrition of the Boerboel

            You’re building a whole lot of dog when you start feeding your Boerboel, so it’s worth getting him a decent, high-quality dog food. You might also discuss with his vet the possibility of home-prepared meals as appropriate to his size, nutritional needs, and personal history. Use treats to coax him during training, but be careful not to overdo it since this big fellow tends towards unwanted weight-gain.

            Health of the Boerboel

            Life expectancy

            10 to 12 years.

            Strong / robust

            Strong and robust is this dog’s middle name. His bones are hardy and his muscles develop well. He moves with power and as much grace as can be expected from a ‘brick outhouse.’ His only physical vulnerability is the aforementioned design flaw around the joints.

            Withstand heat

            The dog’s colouring was specifically bred to protect against the African heat, but like all dogs it is vital to provide shade and fresh water during the summer months.

            Withstand cold

            His short fur may not seem ideal for cold weather but it is dense enough that you are unlikely to hear him grumble. All the same, extended stays in cold climate regions may not be appropriate for the Boerboel.

            Tendency to put on weight

            The Boerboel has a slight tendency towards porkiness if his dietary discipline is allowed to slip.

            Common illnesses

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