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Boerboels make loyal friends

A South African Boerboel male patrols the fence line at Deb and Willy Malcolm’s cattle farm near Pine River, Man. The playful, well muscled pups are too heavy to lift by six months old.  |  Karen Morrison photo

Manitoba dog breeders raise these dogs to ward off bears and wolves, but say they also make gentle and obedient pets

PINE RIVER, Man. — Jeremiah, the South African Boerboel stud, eats five cups of food a day and weighs 195 pounds.

This well muscled dog is often seen patrolling Deb and Willy Malcolm’s farm property but can also be found cuddling with them on the living room couch.

The cattle producers from Pine River, Man., breed these Mastiff canines that Willy called Velcro dogs.

“They stick by their owners,” he said, sitting near two oversized kennels housing the newest thigh high pups.

“Their job is to protect and they will with their life,” said Deb.

“I’m being babysat by my dogs.”

That’s important in their area where wolves and bears abound.

“If I go away, I don’t have to worry,” said Willy, a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Mountain.

“Maybe they’re not going to win, but they’re not going to leave you,” he said.

Deb said it’s important to pay close attention to them.

“They sense something that we as humans cannot sense,” she said.

Deb recounted walking with dogs in the field with a flashlight when Jeremiah pushed her back while her female dog stood staring into the darkness.

“The next morning, I could see tracks.”

They use the dogs for guarding the yard but employ their two Catahoula Leopard dogs and horses for doing chores with their cow-calf and backgrounding operation, divided between land here and in Elkhorn, Man.

Deb travelled to South Africa to see the dogs after researching the breed.

Boerboels, which means farmer’s dog in Dutch/Afrikaan, are widely used across Africa in conjunction with high electric fencing to protect agricultural land against high levels of violence directed at farmers in recent years.

The ones used to chase off baboons have their tails docked to make it harder to be grabbed.

In the United States, they are used in agility and nose work (following/finding scents) and herding.

Deb said they are obedient and train well so could also be used for therapy and service dogs.

Before the dogs can be exported from Africa at around eight weeks old, they must be microchipped, vaccinated and have veterinary papers and health and South Africa government export certificates in place.

The dogs must conform to the South African breed registry’s standards for temperament and physical characteristics and undergo a rigorous appraisal by the organization before their owners receive their purebred papers.

“If they score 75 percent or higher, they get their full registration papers, then we can breed them,” said Deb, noting Jeremiah scored 85 percent.

She, as one of few breeders in Canada, currently has eight Boerboels and had two litters in one year. She carefully screens buyers, selling them for up to $2,500 as both pet and breeding stock.

“By six months, you can’t pick them up,” said Deb, noting they like to stay close so can step on feet.

Gentle and obedient with human handlers, they have visited schools where they will drop to the ground to get closer to the height of the children, said Deb.

Females are fully grown by age two and males at three, so Deb advises avoiding hard physical work until they are one year old.

Like other big boned dogs, some will have hip and elbow ailments. The Boerboel’s short coat also does not allow it to live outdoors in Canadian winters.

Andrew Patton of the Canadian Kennel Club said large breed dogs need experienced handlers.

He recommended buying a dog that aligns with your lifestyle.

Maintaining good obedience training and providing adequate exercise and activities are key to a positive outcome with a dog, Patton said.

The CKC, which includes 19,000 members, can act as a resource and connect buyers with breeders in a region.

“Membership is the best indicator that a breeder has met the standards and is engaged in responsible dog ownership and responsible breeding,” said Patton.

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