BULLMASTIFF VS BOERBOEL
Top-left is a… red Bullmastiff male, followed by a brown Boerboel male. We often get these questions – what are the differences… is there any difference… what is a “mastiff”?
In short, as much as there are obvious similarities, there are major differences between the Bullmastiff and Boerboel. The differences may become obvious on the surface of appearance, but may be elusive unless one digs deeper. We have this unique South-African breeding challenge which creates major confusion and which gets highlighted for good reason – parents are usually concerned about the safety of their children around a potential new pet.
We also explain this due to cases of often unprovoked dog attacks being blamed on “Mastiffs” in general. The following is our experienced opinion on the identifyable traits, differences and similarities between the breeds. It is not a comparison of breeds by standards and aims to assist anyone interested who does not necessarily have a specialised eye for either breed’s standard.
WHAT IS A BOERBOEL?
The literal definition of the word, “Boerboel” in the Dictionary (HAT / Handboek van die Afrikaanse Taal) translates as, “A farmdog of uncertain origin”. According to the SABBS (South Arican Boerboel Breeders Society) the Boerboel is routed in various and somewhat unknown origins of large breeds dating back centuries while its modern day version was bred as “…a Mastiff-type dog…” and “…a dog that would not retreat from any form of danger”. The modern day Boerboel is a local South African breed and beyond inter-breeding with the Bullmastiff may also have a mix of Rhodesian Ridgeback, Labrador Retriever, Cane Corso (which, arguably, gives some Boerboels its black coat genes) and a couple more breeds, including various large terriers. This has historically led to unpredictable temperament in some lines after reaching maturity (18 months+ of age).
Some are fantastic companions, though some have turned on their owners. Olden day South African farmers bred this way aimed at producing huge dogs to protect their farms. This creates a negative connectation to some, despite more positive than negative owner experiences and strict standards set by the SABBS on proper breed temperament, which also sets disqualification criteria for breeders as an overly agressive and/or uncontrollabe dog, a timid or insecure dog or a dog that bites its owner. The guarddog instinct undoubtedly relates to the Bullmastiff, but the other influencers in terms of temperament resides in a mixture of breed history. The Boerboel was not considered an official breed by our breeding registries until recently, otherwise more lines might have been bred with proper consideration by breeders for temperament. A guarddog needn’t necessarily be aggressive and dangerous in all aspects of protective instinct. We would not recommend placing any temperamental breed of dog with young children. Breeding of Boerboels with Bullmastiffs will always produce another boerboel-type dog. We do not endorse this practice.
WHAT IS A BULLMASTIFF?
Please refer to the origin section on our breed standard page.
WHAT IS A “MASTIFF”?
There are heaps of different Mastiff breeds. The Bullmastiff, which we breed with mainly because it’s rated internationally as a trusted family companion and protector (and has a few hundred years’ track record to show for that) was bred from the English Mastiff and old, extinct English Bulldog to jump down game poachers, intimidate and corner them. Both English Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs are Molossers even though some may confuse bulldogs as a terrier-type (eg. “Bullterrier”) breed and people often call Bullmastiffs and English Mastiffs all just “Mastiffs”. This is incorrect, even though they are all Mollossers and do not relate to Terriers. The inter-breeding of the “Bulls” and the “Mastiffs” began as early as 2000 B.C by the Romans for amphitheatre figting and used in bloodsport, today referred to as “bull-baiting“.
Technically, the term “Mastiff” (when used alone) refers specifically to the English Mastiff breed. Terriers were also predominantly inter-bred with the old, extinct English Bulldog. There are multiple major differences between Mollossers and Terriers as much as there are major differences between all the Mastiff-type breeds in terms of nature, temperament, size, behaviour, training methods to be used, lifespan etc.
Breeds such the Bullmastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, Fila Brasileiro, Pyrenean Mastiff, Spanish Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, Cane Corso, and many others fall into a large category of “Molossers”, which are of Mastiff-type, but are thus not Mastiffs and should not carry genes from Terrier lines, contrary to the Boerboel, which may carry terrier genes.
CONTEXT TO WHERE THE CONFUSION STARTED
Boerboels are clearly a local mix of local, British and European breeds even though they somewhat resemble the Bullmastiff and English Mastiff. History – DeBeers brought Bullmastiffs to South Africa to guard their mines, while our farmers then mixed them with an already African-mixed-made Boerboel to form an aggressive, yet loyal dog.
A Bullmastiff by standard always has a proper black mask, black nose and rarely barks unless there’s danger or extreme excitement. A Boerboel may or may not, by standard, have a black mask. Bullmastiffs are also much less common in South Africa than Boerboels and are likely to get along with other breeds and animals. Boerboel males have been reported to weigh up to 110kg (240 pounds) while very large bullmastiff males weigh in at 70kg (145 pounds). The Cape Bullmastiff Club, for instance, aims for a Bullmastiff male to be ideally not more than 59kg (130 pounds). As a result, these breeds also consume considerably different mealsizes – up to 30% difference (700 grams vs 1kg per day). Due to size, many Boerboel owners prefer to dock the tail shortly after birth, however very few breeders would endorse this practice. A Bullmastiff’s temperament is formed in the first 12 months and seldomly changes much thereafter. Young Boerboels are less jumpy than young Bullmastiffs and usually comfortable without getting their front paws onto you as regularly. The Boerboel has a longer nose (about 2/5 to 1/2 muzzle-to-head ratio), while the Bullmastiff has a 1/3 muzzle-to-head ratio. Since 2008 the Boerboel can also be registered with the SABT (South African Boerboel Breeder Association) with a black coat, but not on the KUSA Boerboel standard, so a buyer needs to decide which standard to follow. If the dog has a black coat or is the descendant of a dog with a black coat it cannot be registered with the AKC, KUSA, BI or Ebbasa. The black coat has presently been accepted by DAFF (The Dept. of Forestry & Fisheries) and subsequently by the SABBS as well. Steel-grey and other black variants have not been accepted by any breed societies. Bullmastiff is limited to the four breed colors according to all international standards.
Don’t be fooled by many people trying to sell crosses, usually unregistered, as Bullmastiffs, Boerboels or English Mastiffs. Never buy a Boerboel from a breeder who is not associated with the SABBS and who is not registered with KUSA or SABT. You may end up buying a problem. We say this with great respect for those who breed these breeds responsibly. True Molosser breeds have more heart than teeth. Demand a KUSA-registered Bullmastiff. This means the previous generations have documented heritage to help us predict what we get! There are no guarantees with dogs and they remain animals despite being tamed by humans over many years. Respect this fact and educate yourself properly on your breed of choice, especially with a large breed.
Both breeds are known to somehow get along with Jack Russell Terriers. Both may weigh in similarly before 12 months of age. Similar masks. Similar silhouette. Similar Bark sound. Similar height at maturity (approximately 55 – 69 cm). Both are likely to thrive on physical affection, strict rules, structure and pampering. SPECIAL NOTE: It may be very hard to distinguish these breeds by looking at puppies before 12 weeks of age. Always demand to see the papers and meet the owners and parents!