When Judging Boerboels, Look for Balance

When Judging Boerboels, Look for Balance

What should you look for when judging Boerboels? See what these top breeders and breed mentors shared about their beloved working dogs.

Kerri Sue Dale

When Judging Boerboels, Look for Balance

I have been showing dogs in AKC conformation shows since the early 1980s. I began with Rottweilers and have raised and bred Boerboels for 16+ years. I have handled a few dogs (Rotties and Boerboels) close to, or to, their championships, but now prefer to let someone with more experience take the lead. I have bred Boerboels that have titled in conformation, obedience, rally, herding, weight pull, lure coursing, ATTS, etc. I believe in the mantra, “A well-balanced dog is titled on both ends.” This is particularly so for any breed in the Working Group. I bred and co-owned Centurion Georgia Peach, the first Boerboel to obtain an AKC title. Peaches was also instrumental in demonstrating a true Boerboel temperament to AKC exhibitors and all animal lovers upon our entrance into FSS and at our first AKC Boerboel Meet the Breeds in NYC. Participation in these events was an integral part of our movement towards full recognition. I am dedicated to maintaining the breed standard as produced by the developers/forefathers of this breed, including temperament and conformation. I serve on the JE committee and as a parent club approved presenter and mentor. Currently, I am also the Legislative Liaison, which is an issue close to my heart.

Which five traits do you look for, in order, when evaluating Boerboels? What do you consider the ultimate hallmark of the breed?

1) Impressive. The first thing it should do is impress me with its presence. It should appear to be powerful, imposing, and confident. I consider this to be essential for Boerboel “type.” The more that you are around them, the more distinguishable the “type” becomes. A description from our breed standard reads, in part, “…for the pioneers who settled in South Africa…these dogs were often the first line of defense…” Does the dog I see standing in front of me look like it could perform the function of being my first line of defense?

2) Balanced. Not over exaggerated, but also no lack of bone and/or substance. Though athleticism is an important part of the breed, this is still designated a Mastiff by the country of origin and it is a large dog. However, everything must be proportionate. Front matches rear, head matches body, etc. It can still be athletic and have good bone and substance.

3) Movement. It is VERY close in importance and goes hand-in-hand with number two. My favorite descriptor in our standard is, “Movement is the ultimate test for correct conformation.” I absolutely believe this to be true. A sound-moving dog is beautiful to me. I learned many years ago from Rottweiler judge Joan Klem’s seminars that “form follows function.” This is never so true to me as when viewing dogs in motion. The impressiveness I look for in a dog standing still I want to see present itself in motion.

4) Temperament. In our breed, they can be aloof to very friendly. Either way, the expectation is that they are biddable and have courage while still being a good companion and family dog. It is disappointing to have an impressive-looking Boerboel whose temperament does
not match.

5) Headpiece. I would consider our breed a “head” breed. It is what differentiates us from some of the other similar Working breeds, such as the Bullmastiff, Dogue De Bordeaux, and Cane Corso, for example. That being said, if it is not structurally sound and in proportion, a beautiful headpiece is squandered.

The hallmark of our breed, in my opinion, is its versatility. “Boerboel” in Dutch translates to farm dog. “Farm dog” encompasses a wide variety of tasks. It does not seem to have been developed for one specific purpose. Boerboels have titled in herding, guarding, lure coursing, tracking, weight pull, and dock diving. They should do well in many AKC or AKC-recognized performance events. I have bred and owned Boerboels that will pretty much do whatever you ask of them. They are mutli-taskers.

What faults do you find difficult to overlook?

Poor movement, terrible toplines, and straight stifles.

How has the breed changed since you became involved with it? Do you see any trends you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated?

When I purchased my first Boerboel there were a handful of breeders in the United States. Now, the breeders are plentiful and the availability of puppies (and dogs in rescue) are plentiful too. A Boerboel, like many other working and/or guardian breeds, is not necessarily for everyone and having them end up in the wrong hands is detrimental to the breed. It is incumbent upon breeders AND buyers to ensure they are fully informed about
the breed.

A precarious trend that I see is advice-sharing from the inexperienced—spawned by social media. Many have not owned a Boerboel or lived with one beyond puppyhood, yet they freely dispense advice. In my opinion, this is a phenomenon that has led, and will continue to lead, to the breed ending up in the wrong hands, which, in turn, leads to the breed going into rescues and/or preventable tragedies. Not to sound overly dramatic or sensational, but I do want to express the need for owners to turn first to their breeder and/or veterinary professional before making inquiries on social media about important matters such as medical issues, injuries or temperament (particularly biting) incidents. While there are experienced people who can be of assistance, you will need to wade through a plethora of comments and still not know who those people are.

Exaggerated traits that I see are not unique to large breeds. “If big is good, then bigger must be better.” We, of course, know that this is not the case and a 200-pound Boerboel is moving in the wrong direction.

Is there anything that Boerboel handlers do that you wish they would not?

I am not a very good handler and only go in the ring if I HAVE to these days. I work with great handlers. I trust that they know their job better than I do.

What are your “must have” traits in this breed?

Dark eye, bone and substance, good topline, and a nice head.

What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

Probably just how new Boerboels are as a “regulated” breed, i.e., controlled and registered by an organization adhering to a breed standard. The original organization (and thus, officially, the breed) was founded in 1983. The breed was established with about 73 Boerboels.


Amanda Viljoen Hopkins

When Judging Boerboels, Look for Balance

I was born and raised with the breed in South Africa and have been breeding registered Boerboels since 1993.

Which five traits do you look for, in order, when evaluating Boerboels? What do you consider the ultimate hallmark of the breed?

Most of all, I want a balanced dog. All parts need to fit. A solid temperament; intelligent and obedient. An impressive dog with strong bone and a well-developed and muscular body with sound movement. A good head; it is an impressive and distinctive feature of the Boerboel. A good topline; hard to achieve, but this does not mean we do not have to try.

I consider their impressiveness as their ultimate hallmark. They are a complete package and give that “wow” feeling.

Which faults do you find difficult to overlook?

Weak head, narrow chest, lack of bone, turned-out feet, and unstable temperament.

How has the breed changed since you became involved with it. Do you see any trends that you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated?

There has been some change in the breed, and not all for the better. However, the overall look and purpose are still the same.

A 200+ lb. dog has never been part of the breed. We have a large breed, not a giant breed.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true and fine-boned dogs are becoming the trend.

What are your “must have” traits in this breed?

Call me crazy, but the first thing I want to see is a thick tail as it is an extension of the spine and a sign of good bone structure.

A blocky head, wide chest, and solid rear are also high on my list.

Solid temperament is a must.

What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

I think new judges misunderstand the thickness of bone, which is a very important part of the breed, and also to put the head/height/weight ratio together to get a balanced dog. The biggest dog is not always the best dog.

Morgan Jacoby

When Judging Boerboels, Look for Balance

A Texas native, my husband, family, and I have sheep, swine, and horse farms north of Houston. We have had working dogs for almost 15 years now, starting with our essential livestock guardians, the Anatolian Shepherd, and finishing with the farm versatility and innate instincts of the Boerboel. I started off 30 years ago in the racing and hunter/jumper industry, rounding off a successful career teaching many of today’s professionals in the hunter/jumper industry, and judging at shows. I then had the distinct honor with our Boerboels of winning an all-breed Best in Show with our male farm dog, the first of the breed to earn this distinct honor. This was soon followed by his daughter and her talented handler and co-owner, Ann Claire Wilson, who have won Reserve Bests in Show many times and together are one of the most winning and sports/trial accomplished AKC Boerboels in the history of the breed. We have also been blessed with a third generation of Boerboel in the ring as well as at trials and sports, which has been a real pleasure. I am a CGC and Trick Dog evaluator, Farm Dog judge, educational mentor in other breeds, and actively involved in other canine sports and trials.

Which five traits do you look for, in order, when judging Boerboels? What do you consider the ultimate hallmark of the breed?

First, I’m looking for the specified proportions along with balance. For proportion that starts with a 10:9 body shape, one should not see a square-shaped frame or a body severely out of balance or proportion. This is a serious fault. Roughly 50% of the dog’s height is from foreleg to elbow; chest should be well-muscled with nice pectoral definition. Keep in mind, this is a versatile working dog bred for a multitude of chores and uses. So, the Boerboel must be functional and sound. I should see a level topline, nice balanced musculature in shoulders, chest, rear and thigh, along with a blocky, solid body type with slight tuck-up and high tail set. A male should look masculine, and a bitch should look feminine; no reversal of sex characteristics. Movement should be “with purpose” and with powerful propulsion. There should be bone and substance to the legs, nice lower thigh muscling, slight angling in stifles, and powerful movement without excessive back rolling. Temperament: They should be stable and confident, and they should recognize a legitimate threat. A good Boerboel should enter the ring impressive and confident, moving with power and purpose. They should be trained to accept examination. Head is a hallmark and it is important in relative size and type, though head should not trump functional and sound structure. Ideally, we want to strive for both.

Which faults do you find hard to overlook?

I love a balanced dog with nice breed type, along with matching front and rear angles and a level topline. I think, first and foremost, breed disqualifications must always be on the forefront of our minds as well as breed typical trends like easty/westy fronts, straight stifles, lack of rear angulation, steep shoulders, elbows that are not tight, high rears, and droopy toplines, just to name a few. The out of proportion and out of balanced dogs stand out at first glance. This is a versatile working breed that should have good pigmentation, mental soundness, and body mechanics.

How has the breed changed since you became involved with it? Do you see any trends that you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated?

Many are breeding for size and weight over functionality and structure. We are seeing more health challenges and heartbreaking soundness issues as well as more behavioral issues coming into rescue. Do they have the mind that lends itself to the variety of daily pressures of a farm, canine sports/activities or modern society, and can they spot a legitimate threat or do they react out of fear? Regardless of the attraction, this breed is not a status symbol for just anyone to flaunt. This is a serious breed, with serious jobs, and a dog that takes absolute dedication and consistent guidance and training from their owner.

Is there anything that Boerboel handlers do that you wish they would not?

Handlers need to know the breed standard and a bit about the breed before they take the lead. They, as well as newcomers to the breed, often fail to notice behavioral subtleties. Too many times a dog is coming of age and becomes suspicious and more “guardy,” and the owner or handler becomes scared/nervous or does not recognize the change. It can result in a potential bite or dog aggression outside of the ring. Be honest and know your Boerboel! Spend the time training and enriching the dog’s confidence. Do not overmarket and lose sight of what the breed encompasses and how the breed is meant to function. Too many people are not honest with themselves about their dog’s limitations or their own education, and push them into a tough situation. There is no perfect Boerboel, and presenting them as such is shortsighted and does a disservice to the breed and other fanciers, now and to come.

What are your “must have” traits in this breed?

We live on a farm, so having a functional and sound dog is first and foremost. If our Boerboels start life with connective tissue issues, cardiac problems or other health-related or temperament issues, it will be a real issue for a working dog. We must collect health data and be able to track health trends in these dogs and not ignore or hide them. “Must have” for us is a balanced structure, correct proportion as to handle the variety of farm workload without injury, a slightly more moderate frame, a fit dog without excessive weight, and a temperament that is curious, confident, and able to handle the pressure of the many tasks at hand on a working farm. A nicely balanced and athletic Boerboel should move-out in the field easily, fluidly, and powerfully.

What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

Many judges really want to know what the ideal Boerboel should look like; there is a wide range of different looking dogs being shown, so it is a lot to take in. As this breed continues its journey in AKC, judges, please be considerate and be wary of supporting political off-breed standard trends. Ask questions; this is an amazing breed worth studying. Also, with a shorter wash-and-wear coat, there is no need to spend excessive time touching the dog on exam. It is not a coated breed—what you see is what you get. Though the dog is trained and socialized to be examined by a stranger, please let the handler show you the bite. The Boerboel should be sound.

Kate Wilby Nicholson

judging boerboels

I have had dogs all my life and began showing in obedience with a little Doberman when I was a teenager. I was heavily involved in riding, training, and competing horses until I moved to North Carolina around 1995 or so. I was also working as a veterinary technician until I had my twin daughters in 1998. I got my first Boerboel in 2004. That was the beginning of my love of this breed. There were few breeders back then and much less public knowledge of the breed. I began showing in AKC while the breed was in FSS and have continued until the current day. I have been heavily involved in the parent club, serving as director, secretary and currently president of the board, as well as being a breed mentor and part of the judges education committee. I believe in, and strive to preserve, that which is the original Boerboel; a solid, stable farm and family dog that is versatile and adaptable to most situations.

Which five traits do you look for, in order, when judging Boerboels? What do you consider the ultimate hallmark of the breed?

A. Breed Type. For me, breed type is a large, strong, impressive dog. They must be confident and stable.

B. Balance. Balance is imperative for this breed. They must match from front-to-back; no huge fronts with no rear—or vice versa.

C. Head. Head is a hallmark of this breed. It must be as described in the standard. Tight lips, correct eyes and ears are imperative to distinguish it from other large Molosser breeds.

D. Temperament. This breed is meant to be confident and stable with no outward aggression. Fearful dogs are unacceptable. Some are definitely more social than others, and aloof is fine as long as it is not caused by fear.

E. Movement. Movement should be workmanlike and purposeful. They should seem to be going somewhere without a lot of unnecessary action. Topline should remain stable and level with movement.

Which faults do you find hard to overlook?

I find it hard to overlook lack of substance, poor topline, complete lack of angulation, and bad temperament.

How has the breed changed since you became involved with it? Do you see any trends that you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated?

Having had Boerboels for many years, there have been many changes—many in the wrong direction. Too many new “greeders” in the breed have jumped in solely to make money; breeding unsuitable colors and types, cross-breeding and calling them Boerboels, etc. Many of these places are breeding dogs (when they have never raised one to adulthood themselves) and then giving information to new buyers that is either completely wrong or definitely misguided. Buyers MUST educate themselves and not just go by a pretty ad they see on social media or take to heart advice they receive on message boards from people with little-to-no real experience with this breed who portray themselves as experts. More buyers need to consult their breeder, mentor or vet for sound advice.

Is there anything that Boerboel handlers do that you wish they would not?

Not having the dog socialized and/or trained enough to show.

What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

I think judges misunderstand the true type of the breed. There are many differences in type being shown, but judges need to adhere to the standard—not to what is necessarily winning currently in the shows. These dogs must be large, strong, and imposing; not weedy, narrow, houndy, sloppy or overdone. A tough standard to meet for sure!

Kyle Tomkinson

judging boerboels

I am Kyle Tomkinson and have had Boerboels since 2002. I have titled Boerboels in AKC conformation, tracking, and rally. I am currently an AKC CGC, Farm Dog and AKC TT evaluator. I have served the American Boerboel Club as President and as a director, also serving on the ABC Constitution and By-Law committee, Judges Education and
show committees.

Which five traits do you look for, in order, when evaluating Boerboels? What do you consider the ultimate hallmark of the breed?

Balance in the dog’s structure from head to tail, correct headpiece, level topline, rear angulation, and depth of chest. To me, the ultimate hallmark of the Boerboel is its head.

What faults do you find difficult to overlook?

I find it difficult to overlook a dog that is out of balance. For example, an obviously small head on a large body. I have difficulty overlooking a sloppy topline; sway back or roach back. I also find it difficult to overlook an overly timid or aggressive temperament.

How has the breed changed since you became involved with it. Do you see any trends you think are moving the breed in the wrong direction? Any traits becoming exaggerated?

I see breeders are tending to breed dogs with looser flews and more excess skin. Many of the breeders are looking for a larger, less agile dog; “the bigger, the better.” Boerboels should not weigh 185 to 200 pounds or more. It is my belief that the increase in the size of the dog is negative as it decreases the dog’s functionality which, in turn, decreases its ability to do its original job functions. Of course, the added bulk contributes to joint and general health problems.

Is there anything that Boerboel handlers do that you wish they would not?

I have seen the occasional handler hold the tail up, be it docked or a natural one. This is not necessary for the breed and I believe it detracts from the “look” of the dog.

What are your “must have” traits in this breed?

I must have a balanced dog. I prefer overall balance to an outstanding headpiece with a mediocre structure. I prefer a well-proportioned head and a level topline. It is always nice to see a dog with rear angulation, which is difficult to find. As the Boerboel is a working breed, I must see good movement; reach and drive, able to move with purpose.

What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

The bigger dog is not necessarily the better dog. It should look like a Boerboel, not a Bullmastiff or English Mastiff. Docked tails and natural tails are of equal value; it is the tail set that matters. The head is what makes this breed distinct from other Molosser breeds.

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