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History of the Boerboel

In dictionaries you will find the following definition of a Boerboel. "A big dog of uncertain origins." Thankfully, this is now something of the past. South Africa’s own dog, the Boerboel, is now a full-fledged breed. Long research has revealed that the ancestry of the Boerboel can be traced as far back as the time of Herodotus and Tibet, Assiria and Babylon. In Assiria, dogs were used as soldiers, even covered with reinforced material to protect them.

 When Assurbanipal conquered Egypt, these dogs were also taken along and thus they were spread further into the known world. Later Alexander the Great was responsible for spreading them to Europe. Apparently in 326 B.C. he received a present of 156 of these large dogs, who had been specially trained to fight lions and elephants. Through the ages these dogs developed into two definite strains, the mastiff, which is mainly used for protection and as soldiers, and the hound, which was used for hunting purposes.

Both these dogs were large and strong and typical working dogs, with only slight differences in appearance and build. It is reputed that all dogs of the Western World are descended from these two dog types. About 600 years ago the Europeans started specialized breeding from these two basic dogs; through fine selection and cross-breeding the different breeds evolved. Some dogs were bred especially for hunting. Others had to retrieve the prey, guard and herd the livestock, and for many other uses they could be put to, but the basis of all these dogs was still the original strong breed of the past.

When Jan van Riebeeck came to the Cape in 1652, he brought his own dog along to protect him and his family in this wild and unknown country. This dog was known as a "Bullenbitjer", a large, heavy Mastiff-type dog. At this time the original dog had been much diversified and many of the Western World countries had its own distinctive, specialized breed of dog. The settlers who came after Jan van Riebeeck also brought along their strongest dogs to protect them against all the unknown dangers of this strange land.

These dogs arrived here from many different countries. As the pioneers moved further and further inland and settled on remote farms, the dogs were forcibly isolated and a lot of inbreeding took place which had the result that the characteristics of the original Assirian dog started to reappear. Survival was of the utmost importance and it was here that the hardiness of today’s Boerboel was bred into the dog.

There was no veterinary surgeon or medicines available for dogs and they had to look out for themselves to a large extent. During the Groot Trek the Boerboel had most of the features that it has today and is clearly recognizable from old drawings. In that period after the Trek, on the distant farms, the Boerboel interbred further and only the biggest and strongest dogs survived. His pioneer owner requested him to be a friend of the family, a worker, provide protection and also to be a fighter. They could not afford to have a disobedient, moody, finicky, sickly dog - they had to be able to rely on him to protect the family,work, kill and fight.

At the turn of the century the characteristics of the old, original dog were clearly visible and the dog was generally known as the "Boel". The years that followed almost brought tragedy to the Boerboel. Urbanization caused cross breeding with anything that could bark and the typical "Boel" started to disappear. It was only in the eighties that a serious search started again for the original farm dog. A few brave people took the initiative and the South African Boerboel Breeders Association was formed.

Their main aim was to let the original Boerboel take its rightful place as a uniquely South African dog among the other dog breeds of the world. A search covering thousands of kilometers followed. Selective breeding started, many disappointments followed, but also immense joys! At last the dog of our forefathers was ready to be registered as a pure breed. In the meantime the Breeders Association has grown to over 900 members.

They are widely spread throughout South Africa and Namibie. Each year in November they have a big get-together and people from all over converge on Kroonstad and dogs and people all look each other over. In August 1990, the first country-wide appraisal tour was undertaken by Jannie Bouwer of Bedford and Lucas van der Merwe of Kroonstad. Lucas’s wife Anneke went along as Secretary. A total of 5500 km. was covered, 250 dogs were seen and only 72 were selected to be registered. The big dream was taking shape…

The Boerboel is a large, strong and intelligent working dog that has been bred in Africa since approximately the 16th century. Various mastiff-type dogs from Europe as well as large dogs from Africa contributed to the development of the boerboel breed. Typical breed qualities show remarkable resemblance with the Syrian dogs of the period up to 700 BC.

The Boerboel was bred from two sources of genetic material:

1) The "Bullenbijter", with its early roots in Albania and Syria and later Europe.

2) The African dog of the black tribes of Africa which descended from the Cynomones of Ethiopia with earlier roots in Babylon during the Persian domination and even earlier via India back to Albania and Syria.

The genetic material that came together again in Africa has more pure, original Syrian bloodlines than any other breed in the world. The Boerboel is considered to be structurally built better than other Mastiff-type dogs.

Please consult the SABT site for more information about the history of the boerboel breed.

 

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