Boerboels: Is This Breed Too Aggressive to be a Family Dog?

Last Updated on April 8, 2023

Also known as South African Boerboel, South African Mastiff, Bole, or Burbull, the Boerboel dog (pronounced as “boo-er-bull”) is an intimidating guardian that’s also a big softy.

Don’t be fooled by its fierce look because they’re equally calm and family-friendly, especially when they’re around children.

If this pooch spiked your curiosity and you’re interested, you’ll find out all you need to know about the breed right here.

Origin: Learning where Boerboels come from

The Boerboel breed descended from the ancient Molosser-type dogs around the mid-1600s in Africa.

Its name was given by the Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers, where “Boer” means farmer and “boel” means dog. It’s an old Dutch/Afrikaans term that translates to “farmer’s dog.”

Although it’s uncertain which exact breeds were mixed to create the Boerboel, it’s known that only canines who survived encounters with wildlife and the harsh weather conditions are used to produce this big pooch.

Bullenbeiser - the Boerboel's ancestor

Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of the Cape of Good Hope and the Dutch settlement, brought a mastiff breed that was bred with other hounds and mastiffs of the other settlers. They called it Bullenbijter or Bullenbeisser – an extinct bull-baiting dog.

Interbreeding the dogs of the European bloodlines in South Africa brought about the no-nonsense Boerboel.

The farmer’s dog’s default mode is being watchful and protecting homesteads, but further development gave rise to the Boerboels. They were initially bred to serve as the first line of defense from predators such as hyenas, lions, leopards, and packs of marauding baboons. Eventually, they also help track and hold down wounded game.

The history of the South African Boerboel shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that they’re barbaric or snarly brutes. They’re also smart and sensitive, which helps them to differentiate friend from foe. But Burbulls are not known to back down whenever they’re provoked.

On January 1, 2015, the breed got accepted to be part of the AKC Working Group, but they’ve been recorded under the club’s Foundation Stock Service since 2006.

Understanding the Boerboels background and purpose is vital. It’s a way to preserve their unique qualities and identity as a South African Mastiff.

What Does a Boerboel Dog Look Like?

A Boerboel dog on a white background

This sleek-looking avenger has a face that features a black mask, with broad and horizontal eyes with shades of brown or even darker. Boerboels have a blocky and broad head, as well as powerful jaws.

According to its breed standard, the Boerboel is a large dog that’s robust and muscular. They have this confident appearance partnered with their agile and free-flowing movement.

You may find Boerboels with a long, straight tail, or docked short. According to its origins, docking their tail is for practicality.

With their job as farm protectors, they won’t be easily held by wild animals they may encounter, like baboons. Tail docking is illegal in some countries, though.

How big can Boerboels get?

Burbulls has an average weight of 150 to 200 pounds (68 to 91 kg). If you’re going to compare the height by gender, females are about 22 to 24 inches (53 to 61 cm) tall. Males are bigger with a height of 24 to 27 inches (61 to 69 cm).

Thinking about the nature of this breed and their size, Boerboels are definitely NOT ideal for apartment living. They’d thrive in a spacious home – one with a backyard and a high fence.

Boerboels coat and color

South African Mastiffs are double-coated canines with a straight and short overcoat, then a dense and soft undercoat.

You’ll see this breed in shades of brown, fawn, red, brindle, and black. Others have white spots on their fur, especially around the face, neck, and paws. Many Burbulls have dark markings or patches around their eyes, nose, mouth, and paws.

If you take a look at their skin, it should be dark as the pigment is necessary for what they’re bred for. It serves as the dog’s protection against the heat.

Boles are average shedders. Unlike other breeds, they don’t require much grooming, which we’ll discuss in a bit.

Boerboel’s Temperament and Owning One as a Pet

This four-legged canine is capable of being a loyal companion and as a working dog. Boerboels are versatile, but they’re happiest when given a task.

If you’re looking for a watchdog, this breed is fitting for the job. They love spending time with their family and are devoted to protecting their adored humans. But without proper training and socialization, they can become aggressive and overprotective.

Whenever they’re around kids, Burbulls are playful. Supervision is recommended, though, as they can get too excited, and may accidentally bump your little one. During playdates, keep your dog on a leash. Due to its natural protective instinct, she might interpret some games as aggression and do something to defend her family.

Just look at this video and see how inseparable this baby and his Boerboel are:

That goes for other pets or dogs, too. They have a trait of being fiercely territorial. If they were raised together with other domesticated animals, the South African Boerboel would do well with them.

With unfamiliar people and dogs, Boles can be standoffish, especially if it’s of the same sex. They tend to be competitive. They may be more suitable to be the only dog in the house. If you wish to get two of these, ensure they have different genders.

That doesn’t mean you have to keep your Boerboel caged or leave her outside the house. This breed can get bored and anxious. If you ignore or neglect them, they become unsafe, headstrong, and destructive.

On certain days that you can’t provide long walks and vigorous play sessions, it’s good to invest in some indoor toys such as puzzle boards. It can also provide mental stimulation while entertaining your Burbull.

Are Boerboel dogs dangerous?

They can be a risky breed to have, but that’s where training comes in. They’re eager to please and trainable, but they should be trained and socialized as a puppy before they become dominant adults.

A Boerboel adult and puppy playing

A Bole requires an owner and trainer who’s assertive, patient, and consistent to prevent aggression. If you’re interested in this doggo, you should know how to set boundaries without being harsh.

Boerboel puppies start as pliant and easygoing furballs but don’t expect them to stay that way. Those qualities fade, so they need a structured, long-term obedience training.

Do that, and you’ll be rewarded with a dog that will excel in competitions such as weight-pulling. Thanks to the breed’s soft spot for kids, they’re also successful therapy dogs.

When untrained and treated poorly, the South African Mastiff can be a threat. Aside from its history of being powerful against larger creatures and a bite force of up to 800 PSI, there are records of Boerboel attacks.

Although you won’t find Boerboels in the most dangerous dogs’ list, they’re one of the breeds you shouldn’t mess with.

Training Boerboels to be aggressive

This section may have you asking, “why would I want my Boerboel to show aggression?” But some owners do it so that their Burbull can serve as guard dogs.

Even if aggression has a purpose, it’s crucial that you teach your dog to know the level and situation that’s appropriate. They should be taught how to restrain their instinct.

With that said, one should know the difference between an attack dog and a guard dog.

It also doesn’t mean that owners of the African Boerboel should intentionally train them to attack or be aggressive. This is for those who choose this breed specifically for guarding or protecting, especially those who live in rural areas.

You can see the South African Mastiff in action here while doing protection training:

Taking Care of a Boerboel

Caring for a Burbull is relatively simple. They mainly need physical and mental stimulation, so you mostly have to worry about having time for lots of play and exercise.

Still, as with most dogs, we have to make sure that our pets are groomed and fed. We also have to take precautions when it comes to their health.

Grooming a South African Boerboel

Boles are moderate shedders, so weekly brushing and monthly baths will do. Getting your canine friend cleaned up will not only remove loose fur, but it will also keep the coat healthy by distributing skin oils and promote hair growth.

Other than that, nails should be trimmed twice a month, ears should be checked weekly, and teeth should be brushed once a week.

Eating habits of a Boerboel

You can feed any type of diet for your Burbull – dry kibbles, wet dog food, and BARF.

A black Boerboel puppy eating

What you need to focus on is providing a dog food that has a nutritional balance formulated to your fido’s age, size, and activity level. For Boerboels, it’s best to make sure that they get calcium, phosphorous, and protein.

If you opt for dry dog food, you may have noticed that each bag differs in size, ingredients, and cup serving suggestions. The most recommended way to know how much to feed your Boerboel is by calories.

South African Mastiff puppies require about 55 calories per pound of their body weight. Continue with this serving until they turn 18 months old.

Each canine is different, so you can use a calculator to get an estimated number of calories your Bole should consume every day.

How much exercise does an African Mastiff need?

At least 2 hours of daily exercise is enough. This canine is athletic and would require constant interaction and stimulation, both mentally and physically.

Whenever you walk your Bole pet, keep her on a leash, and keep off-leash play in a securely fenced area. It’s not also ideal to bring her to dog parks as this breed doesn’t take kindly to other canines challenging them.

Instead, you can have your Burbull compete and join sports like agility, rally, and obedience.

Boerboel health problems

We’ve learned from their background that they were able to survive harsh weather conditions in South Africa, so we can say that they’re generally healthy. But, there are still a few ailments that we have to watch out for.

A gloomy-looking Boerboel laying down

As with most large breeds, Boles are prone to getting overweight. This is something you have control over. You should be careful of what you feed your pooch, and that includes treats. The moment you can’t feel and see your pet’s ribs and waist, it’s time for her to participate in a weight management program.

There’s also bloat or Acute Gastric Dilation, which is easily avoidable. Just don’t feed your four-legged buddy within 4 hours before her exercise and within an hour after being active. Let your pup relax and cool down before feeding her.

Other illnesses that Boerboels are predisposed to are heart disease, elbow and hip dysplasia, vaginal hyperplasia, and two conditions that affect eyelids called ectropion and entropion.

While you’re talking to breeders, you must be allowed to see the litter and their parents’ health clearances. According to the health statement of the official breed club of Boerboels, the dogs should have a record of OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and PennHip results, an eye exam, and an OFA evaluation that includes an echocardiogram.

But with proper diet and exercise, the South African Mastiff has a life expectancy of 9 to 12 years.

Where to buy Boerboel puppies?

You can quickly go online and search for Boerboel dogs and puppies for sale. But before you do that, you have to take into consideration their origin and natural instinct.

Boles are aggressive, so you may want to look into the laws that your city, state, or country has about this breed. If they’re illegal to have in your area, your Burbull will be taken away from you.

Here are the countries that have a restriction for owning a Boerboel:

  • Romania
  • Denmark
  • Russia (subject to mandatory certification and registration)
  • Ukraine (subject to mandatory microchipping, civil liability insurance, and muzzle)
  • France
  • Malaysia, Qatar
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Mauritius
  • Bermuda

Turks and Caicos, Faroe Islands, and Tunisia don’t allow the importation of Boerboels.

In Singapore, existing canines should be sterilized, microchipped, and muzzled, as well as insurance. The same goes for Denmark, and owners in Romania should be at least 18 years old. They should also be psychologically certified to own a Bole.

In the US, it’s only Fairfield, Iowa, that banned Boerboels.

If your location allows South African Mastiffs, you can buy a puppy for an average price of $1,400. With Boerboels coming from top breed lines and has a superior pedigree, it can cost up to $7,000 or more!

two women buying a Boerboel puppy in a breeding farm
Boerboel breeders

Aside from asking to see the Boerboel parents and litters, as well as medical records, you should also question breeders about the age of their previous dogs when they died and the cause of death. It will give you an idea of how long a Bole pup can live and the diseases it can possibly inherit.

While you’re here, let us help you start your search for a protective Boerboel of your own:

  • Boerboels USA (Fulton, MO) –
  • D&K Boerboels (St. Louis, MO) –
  • Black Iron Boerboels (Indiana) –

If you’ve heard of the Elite Boerboels, they’re located in Portugal and South Africa, where this breed thrives where their ancestors did.

Boerboel rescues

The American Boerboel Club has a list of rescue organizations that offer Boerboels for adoption.

But these websites are worth checking out, too. Aside from South African Mastiffs, other dogs get left in shelters and on the road:

  • Big Dogs Huge Paws (Denver, CO) –
  • Mastiffs to Mutts Rescue Inc. (Chambersburg, PA) –

Breeds Compared to Boerboels

Aside from various canines that descended from Molossers, the South African Mastiff is also compared to other mastiffs and large dogs that are considered aggressive or dangerous.

Let’s see the differences between the Burbull and some of these breeds.

English Mastiff vs. Boerboel

An adult English Mastiff walking in the snow
English Mastiff

Mastiffs are colossal beasts, but like the Boles, they’re protectors that are good-natured and dignified. They come from the United Kingdom and are way bigger than Boerboels with a height of 27 to 30 inches (70 to 76 cm) and a weight that can reach 250 lbs (113 kg).

These gentle giants have a fine, smooth coat that sheds moderately. Their hair color is in different shades of fawn.

Being one of the largest breeds, the Old English Mastiff is the heaviest dog in the world.

Great Danes may be taller by 6 inches (15 cm), but they don’t carry the bulk and weight of this pooch.

When it comes to health, this breed is prone to arthritis, hip dysplasia, calluses, and hygroma. And they have a lifespan that’s between 6 to 10 years – shorter than the life expectancy of Burbulls.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs. Boerboel

Rhodesian Ridgeback on a stare stance
Rhodesian Ridgeback

Also known as the African Lion Dog, the hound of Zimbabwe are large canines that stand about 24 to 28 inches (61 to 69 cm) tall and weighs 59 to 91 pounds (27 to 41 kg).

Skillful in tracking and baying, the Ridgeback is an alert and courageous fido, yet loving and playful.

They have a short and smooth coat that’s glossy, and their hallmark is the stripe or ridge of hair on their back, hence the name. You’ll find them in colors of wheaten shade or reddish tan.

Despite their build that gives them this athletic look, they’re not overly active like Boerboels.

You should also know that this dog isn’t pleased when little kids try to climb or ride them, so be careful if you are interested in this breed. Other than that, they’re sturdy and trainable, making them a suitable companion or family pet.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks also tend to have more years compared to the African Mastiff with a lifespan of 10 to 14 years.

Cane Corso vs. Boerboel

A Cane Corso dog laying on a white background
Cane Corso

Most of the time, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Both these dogs have an unfair reputation that they often get overlooked in being considered as a family member.

Reaching a height of 28 inches and a weight of more than 100 lbs, people tend to get taken aback by the Cane Corso (pronounced as /kay-nah-kor-so/).

Believe it or not, these two have soft spots for kids and their humans. But you can count on the Cane Corso and Boerboel for protection.

Hailing from Italy, the Cane Corso has a background in wars and being a guardian. One of the traits that this breed has that the South African Mastiff doesn’t is that they need attention, and they don’t like it when left alone. They also have a higher energy level than Burbulls.

Pitbull vs. Boerboel

An American Staffordshire Terrier

Categorized under Terrier dogs, the American Pit Bull originated in the United States that has a dark history of being used as “bait.”

Simply known as Pitbull, these dogs have a height of 23 to 28 inches (59 to 70 cm) and weigh around 149 to 199 pounds (68 to 90 kg).

They were developed from a mindset of “bigger is better,” but luckily, the American Staffordshire Terrier evolved as all-around farming canines and eventually become nanny dogs.

Even with a bad reputation, Pits continue to break down negativities that surround them. They do that by excelling in sports and competitions such as agility, obedience, and weight pulling.

Still, it’s best for experienced owners to handle a Pittie, especially with a bite force of 235 PSI. Way lower compared to Boerboels, but it’s something to consider if you want a Pitbull.

Kangal vs. Boerboel

Kangal Shepherd dog standing on a meadow
Kangal Shepherd dog

The Kangal Shepherd dog is a herding breed, which is much more like the Bole. Also known as the Turkish Kangal or Kurdish Kangal, this canine is one of the most dangerous dogs to own.

Originally bred to guard livestock, Kangals have a temperament that’s reliable and predictable. With that said, they’re more suitable for owners who know how to handle this giant.

They may be gentle with their family, but it’s best to control an independent and fearless dog while they’re young.

If you’re thinking of having the Kurdish Shepherd dog as your companion, make sure your home is safely enclosed to prevent jumping and digging. You should also consider that this breed loves to bark a lot.

When it comes to agility, the Kangal can reach over 30 miles (50 km) per hour, almost as fast Boerboels that have a top speed 45 miles (72 km). If you’re going to compare the bite force, Kangals have over 700 PSI.

Should You Get a Boerboel or Not?

South African Boerboel puppy enjoying playtime outside
If this is your first time owning a dog, then we don’t recommend you to get this particular breed as they’re not easy to handle. Burbulls may have only a few health problems and are easy to groom, but they’re territorial and confident canines.

They require a handler or a family that is experienced and assertive. Boles also need a home that offers a lot of space for a massive dog to move around.

South African Mastiffs are prone to pulling and chewing, too. So, that’s another trait of theirs to consider.

If you think you and your home are prepared for a challenging four-legged companion, then you’ll be rewarded with a protective and loyal friend.

What do you think about Boerboels? Is this a breed you would consider getting? Let us know what you have to say about this breed by typing your comments below.


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