The South African mastiff, also known as a Boerboel, is bred as a nonaggressive guard dog. Even-tempered, affectionate and obedient, the Boerboel originally hunted big game but has more recently served exclusively as a family pet. The breed is known to be gentle with children despite its large size.
Although its exact origins are disputed, breeders agree that the Boerboel's history can be traced back to the Dutch East Indian Company in 1652 when Jan van Riebeck arrived in the Cape of Africa with a mastiff breed called the bullenbijter. Over the centuries, the bullenbijter and its descendants interbred with local dogs to create the Boerboel, and the breed's history became interwoven with the lives of the Boers, early South Africans who rejected British rule and embarked on a grueling journey in search of freedom. The Boerboels guarded the caravans during this mass exodus. The name of the breed translates to "Boers' bulldog," "boel" being the African spelling of "bull."
The breed nearly went extinct. However, the efforts of the five founding members of the South African Boerboel Association led to its revival. In 1980, they scoured the country and selected 72 dogs they considered the most representative of the Boerboel, breeding the modern South African mastiff from those dogs' descendants.