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English Mastiff vs. Boerboel: Breed Differences & Similarities

Are you comparing the English Mastiff vs. the Boerboel but aren't sure which of these two Molosser dogs are the better canine companion for your lifestyle? These two giants were bred for very different purposes, but do share some genetic traits. Find out everything you need to know about these two colossal canines!

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Last Updated: July 11, 2021 | 10 min read

English Mastiff Compared to Boerboel

Thinking of adding a colossal canine to your family, and can’t decide between the English Mastiff and the Boerboel? Both dogs are members of the giant breed club. Giant dog lovers across the world all agree that once you’ve had one of these breeds in your home, it’s hard to have anything else!

Despite their ferocious history and formidable appearance, both dogs are loving and gentle with their loved ones. But which one makes a better family pet? Regardless of what you’ve read, both breeds can actually make wonderful family companions. But they do have some distinct differences between them, starting with their activity levels.

In this comparison, we look at everything you need to know about these two gentle giants. By the time you’re done, you’ll know all about their history, temperament, work ethic, puppy costs, and more. Let’s jump in!

Breed Comparison

English Mastiff

  • Height 27 – 30 inches
  • Weight 120 – 230 pounds
  • Temperament Courageous, dignified, good-natured
  • Energy Low
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 6 – 10 years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and up

Boerboel

  • Height 22 – 27 inches
  • Weight 150 – 200 pounds
  • Temperament Confident, intelligent, calm
  • Energy High
  • Health Above average
  • Lifespan 9 – 11 years
  • Puppy Prices $1,500 and up

Breed History

Canine history is not only interesting and full of fun facts, but it is crucial to the research process into whether a dog breed will fit into your life. That’s because their original purpose will shine through their personality and into the family home. Both of these breeds have a fierce past, so let’s see how they compare.

English Mastiff

Large Tan Dog with Black Face in Field
The breed dates back to 55 B.C, making it one of the oldest breeds in the world.

The English Mastiff is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. It is believed that he dates back to 55 B.C, and we know this because Julius Caesar documented a large, beastly Mastiff-type dog in his invasion journals. Back then, the Mastiff of the British Isles was much larger and more ferocious than the adorable pup that we know today. So Caesar took him back to Rome and fought them in the ring against lions and other beastly predators.

Thankfully, over time the human race fell out of favor with bloodsports. Meaning that the Mastiff had the opportunity to showcase his kinder side. He also retained his protective instincts and was used in medieval England to protect his master’s estate and hunt big game. Sadly, his incredible appetite meant that most families (even the rich ones) couldn’t afford his food bill. At the end of World War II, there were just 14 Mastiffs left in England.

American breeders sent some of their best specimens over to England to help save the breed. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the English Mastiff is in the top 30 most popular dog breeds in America. Making him one of the most popular giant breeds. Famous Mastiff owners include Henry VII, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Bay, and Larry Wolfe.

Boerboel

Large Tan Dog Standing in Grass
This breed originates from South Africa to protect their land from predators such as Lions.

The Boerboel is a South African dog breed who rare in America but very popular in his native land. When Dutch farmers migrated to South Africa in the mid-1600s, they took their large Bull-type and Mastiff-type dogs to protect their new lands. Over time, the largest and most protective dogs were bred, and the Boerboel was created. ‘Boer’ is the Dutch word for farmer. Hence, he is the South African farmer’s dog of choice.

His main role on the farm was to protect the family, estate, and cattle from predators such as baboons and lions. He is surprisingly agile and powerful, making him an incredible force against no-gooders. He also assisted his master in pulling heavy carts too, earning his keep. Thankfully, this dog is also family-friendly. He is becoming surprisingly popular as a children’s therapy dog because of his fondness for young ones.

The AKC ranks him as the 121st most popular dog breed in America, out of 197 breeds. And most people have never met one of these pups. He was recognized by the AKC in 2015, and despite being a rare breed, he has grown seemingly popular in less than 10 years.

Appearance

Large Cream Dog and Large Spotted Dog Sitting
Both breeds are similar in appearance with slight differences between the two.

Both dog breeds are very similar in appearance. So much so that they both get mistaken for each other and other similar-looking canines. They both descend from large Mastiff-type dogs, and the Boerboel is often called the African Mastiff. Square and stocky, they will both give you dead legs on the sofa for sure!

Both dogs are heavy-weight hounds. Mastiffs weigh between 120 and 230 pounds, and Boerboels weigh between 150 and 200 pounds. Meaning that the Mastiff can be smaller or larger than Boerboels, and this vast weight range is something to bear in mind. The largest dog known to man was an English Mastiff who weighed a whopping 343 pounds! Although this is rare, your Mastiff could be the next record-breaker.

The Boerboel is the shorter of the two breeds, sometimes by eight inches! This can make him look stockier and more chunky than the Mastiff. This makes the Mastiff look like the older sibling of the two. Facially, they are very similar. Aside from their size, the easiest way to tell them apart is their ears and jowls. The Mastiff has longer ears that reach his jawline and droopier jowls. Whereas the Boerboel’s ears are the same level as his nose and his muzzle is tighter.

Their coats are very similar too. They both have short, dense, double-coats that are relatively smooth to the touch. Mastiffs can sport three coat colors: apricot, fawn, and brindle, with or without a black facial mask. Boerboels have a wider choice of colors: brindle, brown, cream, red, reddish-brown, and tawny. Several different markings are found on their coat, including a black mask, Irish marked, piebald, and white markings.

Temperament

Two Dogs Laying Down in Grass
Both of these breeds make great therapy dogs and are often referred to as “gentle giants”.

The personalities of both dogs are equally similar and different. Their similarities are why we love them. But their differing personalities are how many families choose between the two breeds. Let’s start by saying that these two both make fantastic family pets with the right family. And with the right training, they both make sweet therapy dogs.

They are both gentle giants who both adore their families. Despite their history and ‘scary’ appearance, they are cuddle bugs with their family. These big softies love their bellies rubbed on the sofa. If you are wondering who the cuddliest is, we’d have to say the Mastiff. Boerboels are nearly always in protection mode, meaning they are not always quite as relaxed.

They are both fun family companions who love to have a good time. The Mastiff is a delightfully dopey dog who likes to take the role of family clown. And the Boerboel is energetic and agile, meaning that he is always up for a game of fetch or chase. They also know when to be calm in the home and are great at matching the family atmosphere.

They are both initially aloof with strangers. Mastiffs, depending on their socialization, will warm up to strangers quickly. The Boerboel is an inherently protective dog, and he will not warm up to people outside of the family unit right away. Instead, he’ll keep a close eye on them at all times on the sidelines. He’s not a brute looking for a fight, but he is a serious supervisor when newbies are around. The Mastiff will protect his family in the face of danger, but he’s not quite as protective.

The Boerboel is a very dominant dog breed. He needs an experienced dog owner who knows how to handle headstrong dogs. They are used to patrolling sprawling lands in Africa, taking on lions and other ferocious animals alone, so he knows just how capable he is. The Mastiff is a stubborn breed who needs an experienced owner, but he is not as dominant.

Exercise

Two Giant Breed Dogs Running
Boerboels have a higher exercise requirement of the two dogs.

When it comes to their exercise needs, these two dogs are quite different. The Mastiff is a low-energy breed who only needs between 30 to 45 minutes of exercise a day. And many Mastiffs will try to get out of their daily exercise in favor of the sofa. Compared to the Boerboel, a high-energy dog breed who needs at least 60 minutes of relatively intense exercise. He’ll go stir crazy if you skip a day’s exercise, so he needs a relatively active family.

Boerboels also need plenty of mental stimulation and challenges in between exercise sessions too. Interactive play is a great way of burning excess energy and frustration, plus it’s a great bonding tool. Durable XXL toys and treat-dispensing games are a great way to motivate his mind. The Mastiff also needs stimulation, but not as much as the Boerboel.

Without their needed mental and physical stimulation, they’ll become frustrated Fidos that will destroy everything in their wake. And like all dogs, they’ll become behaviourally problematic too. It’s worth noting here that all bored dogs are dangerous. But dominant dog breeds such as the Boerboel are particularly dangerous. So please only take this breed on if you have the time and energy to exercise him adequately.

Training

Two Giant Breed Dogs Sitting Outdoors
Both of these breeds are known to be strong-willed making them difficult to train for a new dog owner.

Let us start by saying that neither of these breeds are the easiest dogs to train. The Mastiff often finds himself on the ‘dumb dog’ list because of how stubbornly lazy he can be. Boerboels are a very headstrong dominant dog breed who will see themselves as the pack leader unless his master is even stronger-willed. Therefore, new dog owners will find training these challenging canines difficult.

Socialization is also a crucial aspect of training both breeds. Socialization is crucial in the first 12 weeks of a pup’s life. And this is why it is so important to work with a reputable dog breeder. Continue mixing your pup with as many people, dogs, and new experiences as you can. This is especially true for the dominant Boerboel.

The training and socialization of a Boerboel is a lifelong commitment. You’ll notice if you skip a week’s worth of socializing, they can become cranky and problematic. It’s also important never to give them something without making him work for it. He needs to understand who the boss is. Otherwise, he will become the boss. Most average families do not have the time, commitment, or knowledge that his lifelong training needs.

Thankfully, with the right training, the Boerboel can be an obedient pup. Ultimately, the Mastiff is frustrating to train because he’ll never be completely obedient. His love of sleeping and mealtime will precede his desire to be trained. The way to a Mastiff’s heart (and brain) is with treats, and the way to a Boerboel’s heart is strong leadership.

Health

Two Older Giant Dogs Close Up
Giant dog breeds are known to have shorter lifespans.

Both breeds are relatively healthy dogs. The Boerboel is predisposed to fewer health concerns. Sadly, like all giant dog breeds, they have a shorter expected lifespan than other dog breeds. Boerboels are likely to live a little bit longer than the Mastiff.

Reliable breeders of both breeds will test for elbow and hip dysplasia, so it’s important to ask for their parent’s hip and elbow scores. Similarly, they are also both prone to a variety of eye conditions. The most common are progressive retinal atrophy, ectropion, and entropion. Mastiffs should also be tested for cardiac concerns, especially dilated cardiomyopathy, as it is the most prevalent condition in the breed.

Nutrition

Two Dogs Licking Lips
These two breeds will go through a lot of food and require a high-energy kibble diet.

As you might have guessed, both breeds have a healthy appetite. And they can both eat up to eight cups of kibble a day. It’s difficult to say who eats more because it all depends on the size of your pup and what their energy levels are. So, the best advice we can give you is to choose a high-quality kibble and follow the instructions on the packaging. This way, you’re less likely to overfeed them and more likely to meet their nutritional needs.

Mastiffs should be fed a dry kibble formula that has a lift in glucosamine and chondroitin to support their big bones and joints. Boerboels can be smaller than Mastiffs. This means while they need similar joint and bone support, you’ll have more Boerboel-friendly dog food formulas depending on your Boerboel’s size.

Both dogs need to be fed an age-appropriate kibble designed for large or giant breed dogs. This is especially important during the puppy stage up until around 18 months of age. It will help control their rapid bone growth and reduce the likelihood of skeletal problems in later life. Giant breed dogs need high-quality animal protein, healthy omega fats, and glucosamine for their pressurized joints.

Grooming

Two Large Tan Dogs Standing in a Field
Both of these breeds have a low maintenance grooming regimen and will only require weekly brushing.

Both dogs have a very similar grooming regime. They both have a short and sleek coat that is relatively simple to groom. They both need to be brushed weekly to remove dead hair and to spread their natural coat oils. During the seasonal changes, they will benefit from twice-weekly brushing to help manage their shedding.

They also both need bathing once every 8 to 12 weeks to keep them feeling (and smelling!) their best. A walk-in shower will be beneficial for you both, and it’s a good idea to get them used to the shower from a puppy. Otherwise, it could be tricky! Always use a doggy-specific shampoo to avoid skin irritation. The only real difference in their ‘cleanliness is that the Mastiff is likely to be the droolier out of the two. But realistically, they both share their slobber with their loved ones!

Their teeth will need brushing weekly to keep their teeth pearly white, freshen their breath, and avoid periodontal disease. In addition, the Mastiff’s nails will need trimming more frequently than the more active Boerboels. But overall, their grooming regime will not make a difference to your decision-making process.

Puppy Prices

Two Tan Large Breed Puppies
Depending on the breeder both dogs will cost upwards of $1,000.

The price of an English Mastiff puppy is usually a little lower compared to the rarer Boerboel. For example, a Mastiff pup from a responsible breeder usually starts at $1,000 compared to $1,500 for a Boerboel. Many factors determine puppy price, including breeder location, reputation, and demand. An alternative to buying a new pup is adoption, and the costs tend to be lower too.

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s worth repeating that it’s really important to work with a reputable breeder. Especially for the dominant and potentially dangerous Boerboel. Not only will they do everything they can to produce healthy puppies. But they’ll also give them the best start in training and socialization. Together, this will create a better puppy for you and your family.

Final Thoughts

Both of these colossal canines are huge dogs who need lots of room in their new family home. They both need lots of food to satisfy their large bellies, and they are relatively simple to care for in the grooming department. They both make fantastic family canine companions, but as long as they find the right family.

The main differences between these pups are that the Boerboel really requires a more experienced dog owner. While they are only slightly more dominant than the English Mastiff, they are more active and very headstrong.

English Mastiffs are more adaptable to a family’s needs, and their training will likely be less intense.  But, as long as you are willing to work with your pup, both dogs make excellent family pets.

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