In 1609, the Netherlands became a major maritime power, and while Dutch traders traveled the entire world, their holdings were consolidated in what today is known as Jakarta. With significant interest in expanding their colonial empire in Southeast Asia, the Dutch East India Company wanted a halfway point between Amsterdam and Batavia to resupply their ships, and the obvious choice was the Cape of Good Hope. When Dutch East India Company employees led by Jan van Riebeeck landed in Cape Town, they brought with them large, heavy mastiff-type dogs known as “bullenbijters” (literally, “bull biters”) to deal with the dangerous animals they expected to find. Over time, other settlers from Germany and France also brought dogs, mostly hounds and other mastiffs which bred amongst themselves, as well as with local African hunting dogs known as the Khoi dog. The result was a tough dog tolerant to heat, tick bite fever, and able to look after itself.
As Dutch settlers migrated inland to escape British rule, survival was paramount. With no medicines or veterinarians on which to rely, only the fittest dogs survived the harsh climate, rough terrain, dangerous wildlife, and near constant warfare with the indigenous populations.
Gradually, these European settlers became a distinct group known as Afrikaners, or Boers (the Dutch words for Africans and farmers), and the dogs were called “Boerboels,” the word deriving from the ‘Africaans Dutch’ word for “farmer,” and thus translated to ‘farmers dog’ or ‘Boer’s dog’ in ‘Africaans Dutch’. The dogs were hugely important to the daily lives of these settlers as they not only protected livestock, but the farmers’ children whose job it was to move the stock. Boerboels were required not only to fight off leopards, but show only gentleness to their young charges. Any Boerboel displaying even a hint of aggression or poor temperament was summarily shot, and as harsh as it seems to us today, the calm, stable, and confident Boerboel we have today was the result of such demands.
Sadly, urbanization saw the original “bole” begin to vanish. By the 1970’s, the Boerboel was in serious danger of extinction. Many of the Boerboels that remained had been heavily crossed with foreign breeds, and had lost much of their uniqueness. In the early 1980’s, Lucas van der Merwe of Kroonstad and Jannie Bouwer of Bedford began a search for the original Boerboel, determined to find the last remaining Boerboels and enter them into a breeding program. After covering 3,400 miles, only 250 dogs had been found, and of those, only 72 were chosen for registration. By 1990, the South African Boerboel Breeder’s Association was formed leading to the breed’s recognition by the Kennel Union of Southern Africa. Boerboel breeders endeavored to raise breed numbers, and the dog became increasingly popular in its home country.
The American Boerboel Club was founded in July of 2006, and accepted into the AKC Foundation Stock Service Program at that time, and in 2015, the breed became eligible to compete in the Working Group. The AKC will maintain an open registry for the breed until January 1, 2020.
Image appears courtesy of the AKC