Boerboel: The Playful Giant

Boerboel with his tail up
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Finding the right big dog can be a difficult task. Most of the large breeds have a short lifespan and a lot of health issues. Plus, most of them are not very energetic and physically active. So, to find a healthy and energetic large dog is quite a joy for a lot of want-to-be dog owners. And this is a joy you can find in the Boerboel breed.

Boerboel dogs are quite large, but also full of energy. They are highly intelligent and love to work, play, follow commands, and perform tasks and tricks with and for you. They make wonderful guard dogs because of their naturally protective and eager-to-please personality.

Below, we’ll take a look at all the specifics and characteristics of this beautiful and special breed. We’ll look at their origins at the far south of the African continent; we’ll see how healthy they are and how much care they need. We’ll also take a look at their fascinating personalities and character, and check out how suitable they are for life with kids or other pets.

Breed Characteristics

Boerboel lying on grass

  • Adaptability: Moderate; need to be given tasks or can get destructive

  • Trainability: Good; very intelligent

  • Health and Grooming: Good

  • All Around Friendliness: Moderate

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance

Dog Breed GroupWorking Dogs
HeightMale: 25 - 28 inches (64 - 70 cm)
Female: 23 - 25.5 inches (59 - 65 cm)
Weight154 - 200 pounds (70 - 90 kg)
Lifespan10 – 12 years

The Boerboel is a very strong and highly intelligent breed. These dogs are very loyal to their owners and live to please. In their protective instincts, they can be aggressive toward strangers, so you’ll need a firm and skillful hand when raising and training a Boerboel dog.This South African Mastiff breed, otherwise known as Boerboel, is a large breed. Initially brought to South Africa from Europe by the Dutch colonists, these Mastiff dogs later cross-bred with native dogs and with further European canine immigrants to form this special breed.

Main Highlights

Boerboel puppy sitting on red bench

  • Boerboels are South African Mastiffs that are descendants of multiple European big breeds and native African dogs.

  • These dogs are quite healthy and can live for up to 12 years, which is good for such a large breed.

  • Boerboels are also highly intelligent, which means that they can be trained to perform a vast array of task and tricks. It also means, however, that they can be prone to boredom and destructive behavior if left alone for too long.

  • Boerboel dogs love their families and are great with children. They’ll do anything to protect their family and keep them safe. It’s those same protective instincts, however, that make these dogs a bad fit for cohabitation with other pets and dogs.

Breed History

Boerboel puppy lying on yellow blanket

The South African Mastiff or the “Boerboel” is a farmer’s Mastiff dog from South Africa. They were bred by the Dutch farmers, as well as by the indigenous population. The name Boerboel comes from Dutch/Afrikaans words “boer” (farmer) and “boel” (dog). And farming was precisely what these dogs were used for.

All-around working dogs, the Boerboel were perfectly suited for work, as well as for defending the farmsteads from dangerous wildlife. Boerboel dogs were also used for hunting of dangerous game.

The Dutch settlers started breeding the Boerboel in the 1600s. The breed is a descendant of both the various large, strong dogs that the Europeans brought with them, as well as the local domestic dogs that already populated South Africa.

Multiple other dog breeds also gave their contribution to the Boerboel gene pool over the centuries—Mastiffs and Bulldogs were brought from England, and Bull Mastiffs were brought in to guard mines.

Since all these breeds were frequently cross-bred with the Boerboel’s initial ancestors, it’s practically impossible to tell which breed makes up the most of these dog’s bloodline. What matters, however, is that today, this breed has quite a strict standard that keeps it pure.

Regardless of which dog breeds make up what percentage of these dog’s genes, only the strongest Boerboel dogs were able to survive the harsh conditions of South Africa. The hot weather, as well as the dangerous encounters with the African wildlife, had made sure that the modern Boerboel is a tenacious and strong breed.

The Boerboel’s history isn’t that straightforward, however. In fact, the breed wasn’t standardized until the 1980s. During the 1800s, the colonists started to protest against the British rule of South Africa, and many of them started moving inland.

As a result of that, the settlers’ dogs became unevenly scattered across the land and became even more diverse in their breeding, from region to region.

As farmers and isolated communities kept using these dogs for farming, herding, protection, and hunting, the Boerboel’s ancestors kept crossbreeding. After the two World Wars, South Africa started becoming more urbanized. This further complicated the Boerboel’s ancestry, as the dogs kept cross-breeding with street dogs that newer immigrants kept bringing from Europe.

It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that South African dog enthusiasts started solidifying a standard for the breed and turning it into a purebred South African treasure.

Today, the breed is exported outside of South Africa and is recognized as pure. Still, despite their fascinating history, great physique, and fantastic qualities, the breed still isn’t that popular outside of their homeland.


Boerboel standing on grass

Boerboels are large dogs, which doesn’t make them suitable for apartment life. Depending on the dogs’ gender and variations, they can range between 23 inches (59 cm) and 28 inches (70 cm) in height.

In terms of weight, a standard Boerboel ranges between 154 and 200 pounds (70 — 90 kg), but they can be a bit smaller or a bit bigger, due to some variations.

With these parameters, these South African Mastiffs are quite sizable giants with a physique to match the numbers. They are incredibly strong dogs, so if you are looking for a powerful pet or working dogs, you can definitely consider the Boerboel.

Personality and Character

Boerboel playing

Playful giant” is a more adequate description for these dogs, rather than “gentle giant.” As most energetic, intelligent dogs, Boerboels love to play and to have fun with their family members.

The Boerboel is happiest when they have something to do. These dogs don’t just work; they love to work. Even if you want a Boerboel just as a family pet, the dog will still look for things to do in order to please you.

See Also: Training a Service Dog

The best way to deal with their desire to please is to just give them things to do. Whether it’s a couple of hours of playtime in the park, work in the yard or the farm, or even some tasks at home, the Boerboel’s huge size doesn’t mean that they won’t love to help you gather dirty laundry from the floor.

All this playfulness doesn’t mean that Boerboels can’t be gentle even if we’d rather strap the label “playful” on them instead. Boerboels are very attached to their families and work well with large households. Despite their sizes, Boerboels love children and are a great choice for big families.

In fact, it could be said that their strong attachment can be one of their negatives. The Boerboels can be so overprotective of their families that their instincts can make them fiercely territorial and aggressive toward strangers. For those reasons, it’s quite important that you have a firm grasp on your Boerboel’s training and socialization.

If you want to use your Boerboel as just a guard dog, territorial aggression might be something you’re looking for, but for a household pet, it’s important that you teach your dog how to treat strangers.

Frequent visits by friends and relatives are very beneficial in order to teach your dog that strangers are accepted in their territory. Also, when inviting people into your home, always meet them together with your dog so that you can show your dog that you approve of the visitors.

As intelligent dogs, Boerboels need a lot of mental stimulation as well. If you leave a Boerboel home alone for too long, you can expect boredom to kick in fairly quickly. After that, it’s quite possible for the Boerboel to form a destructive behavior in order to satisfy their need for stimulation.

To keep such a dog happy and calm, you’ll need to offer him a lot of play, puzzle toys, food puzzles, as well as work tasks, commands to learn, etc.

See Also: Exciting Games to Play with Your Dog

Health and Potential Problems

Boerboel lying sad

Because Boerboels weren’t carefully selected for centuries, but were instead crossbred quite unintelligibly and on a “let the strongest survive” principle, today these dogs are quite healthy.

Still, they are not immune to health problems. A typical Boerboel can go his whole life without serious health issues, but can also develop hip or elbow dysplasia, heart diseases, eyelids conditions, bloat, and vaginal hyperplasia. Juvenile epilepsy is a rare possibility as well.

To prevent such problems as much as possible, you should always take your puppies from reputable breeders only. Such a breeder should offer you health certificates for the puppy, as well as for his parents.

If any unfortunate problems appear after all, consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Care Features

Boerboel standing in the yard

With a Boerboel, the two most important things you should take care of is their mental and physical stimulation. Daily exercise and playtime are a must for a healthy and happy dog.

Aside from that, the rest is nothing irregular. You should trim your dog’s nails, as well as clean their eyes and ears with a damp cloth every once in a while.

Dental hygiene is also important, as it is with other dogs. Since dogs don’t usually share when their teeth hurt, it’s quite common for people to miss something that gives their pets a lot of serious pain. Preferably, you can train your dog to like having their teeth brushed every day, but at least once a week is a minimum you want to cover.

See Also: Brushing Dogs Teeth

Feeding Schedule

Boerboel lying near the tree

As all giant dogs, Boerboels eat quite a lot. Since they are not only big but quite physically active as well, you should make sure that their diet reflects their activity levels as well.

You should consult your veterinarian and nutrition specialist for the best diet for your specific dog. Since Boerboels can vary in size, as well as in exercise needs, a professional in person may be needed so you can get adequate advice.

As far as the feeding schedule of your dog is concerned, it’s better to feed your Boerboel 3 or 4 times a day. Most dog owners feed their pets only once or twice per day, but this is not a good schedule.

Feeding your dog more frequently but on smaller portions ensures a good digestive work, no overeating, slower eating, less time being hungry, and a generally happier dog.

If a 3-or-4-times-per-day schedule feels impractical because you need to go to work, keep in mind that the schedule doesn’t need to be divided into equal 8-hour or 6-hour intervals. You can just as easily feed your dog on a 10/7/7-hour scheme or an 11/7/6-hour one to better fit your own work schedule.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

Boerboel watching her puppy

Boerboels have a short and straight coat that is very easy to take care of. They have a dense undercoat, but the outer layer is soft and shiny.

The Boerboel’s coloring can be different shades of red, fawn, brown, brindle, or black. They can also have dark or light spots on their coat, particularly around the neck, face, and paws.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s considered “a fault” in the breed if more than 30% of the coat is white-ish. There can also be dark markings around the dog’s nose, ears, and eyes.

Boerboels don’t shed too much, but since they have undercoats, they still shed a little. Weekly brushing and monthly baths should take care of your dog’s coat.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Boerboels adore their human families, including the kids. Whether babies or grown children, the Boerboel is certain to love them, unless there are some serious behavioral problems.

Pets are a different story, however. Whether dogs, cats, or other pets, Boerboels can be quite territorial and protective of their human owners. If you want to live with a Boerboel and with other pets at the same time, you’ll need to have quite an assertive and skillful hand in raising and training your dog.

Additionally, while Boerboels are quite obedient and attached to their owners, it’s important to still make sure that your position as the house’s Alpha is secure. If a poorly socialized Boerboel thinks of themselves as the leader of the household, you can expect a lot of aggression toward outsiders, since these dogs can be overprotective of their family at times.

Wrap Up

Boerboel and her puppy

In conclusion, Boerboels are unique, beautiful, and very special dogs. They are big and strong, but also loyal, loving, playful, and intelligent. You can take a Boerboel dog both for farm work and as a household pet, as long as you have a big enough yard.

They are great with kids, and their high intelligence means that you can play with them in an awful lot of different ways.

Do you think the Boerboel is for you? Do you have what it takes to provide for them? Let us know in the comments section below. If the answer is yes, check out our list of African dog names for name suggestions.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.