'Backdoor breeders give our dogs a bad name'

By Time of article published Jan 11, 2005

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By Omeshnie Naidoo

Poor breeding and inappropriate care may be to blame for aggressive behaviour in boerboels - a breed being labelled a killer, after one dog's vicious attack on its owner last week.

This is the opinion of some irate owners and experts, including vets, who have leapt to the defence of the breed's character.

Last week an elderly Clare Estate, Durban, man was attacked by his pet boerboel when he tried to prevent the dog, seemingly afraid of an early-morning thunder storm, from entering the house.

The man is in hospital with severe bite wounds to his head.

But while some argue such behaviour is in the breed's nature, others say it's a question of how the animal is raised and cared for.

Boerboel owner Norma Rockwood-Turner was adamant that her two-year-old pet, Rocket, disproves some theories.

"He's a male boerboel and is incredibly placid. All you have to do is look after your dog, the way you would your own children.

"I have a 10-year-old son and our boerboel loves him and people in general. They're good dogs," said Rockwood-Turner, of Pinetown.

According to Greg Eva, of the Kennel Union of Southern Africa, people cannot blame an entire breed for the actions of one dog.

Eva says: "It's all in the training. The boerboel is typically a farm dog and it can tend to become frustrated when enclosed in a small space."

Durban breeder Alan Pittan was furious at the claim that a boerboel could attack anyone.

"These dogs are not pure boerboels. When we breed these dogs we ensure the dog is bred for good temperament.

"As a member of the Boerboel Association of South Africa I simply cannot register an aggressive dog.

"When buying a dog people need to ensure that it is registered and should see the papers. They should also look at the price. A boerboel being sold for R600 can't have been reared on the proper diet."

Chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Boerboel Club Hester Grobbelaar said they had heard of a number of cases of attacks by boerboels only to find that the dogs were in fact not registered.

"Somewhere down the line these dogs have probably been cross-bred. I have nine boerboels on my premises and they're well-disciplined, lovable dogs. But as long as people want vicious guard dogs, backdoor breeders will go to any length to breed them.

"I sell pets. It has come to a point where I don't sell dogs to people who want guards."

But Dr Marianne de Vries, veterinary behavioural specialist at the University of Pretoria, says some breeds are more aggressive than others.

"The problem with the boerboel is that it has become very popular in the past few years. Many South African families go for the dog because it is known to be loyal and good with children, while it is also a good watchdog.

"But many backyard breeders have reared this potentially temperamental dog haphazardly. The boerboel inherits part of its temperament and when two aggressive dogs are thrown together they produce an aggressive dog.

"I would suggest that when buying a dog you ensure it is registered and you have seen it's parents. If the father is so aggressive that the owner will not let you near, that is an indication not to buy.

"One should also steer away from buying a dog between 18 months and three years of age. This period in a dog's life is equivalent to the human teenage years. This is the time a dog will be more aggressive and less obedient."

"The boerboel is a dog that needs hierarchy. These dogs need to know humans are in charge, otherwise they will enter into a battle for dominance with their owner.

"As far as the case of the Clare Estate owner goes, just from looking at the area of the bite, one is prone to believe the dog did not only bite from fear of the thunder but from a status-related issue.

"A dog that bites out of fear will attack the person anywhere. Head and neck bites are usually done out of aggression. This is the dog's way of showing he is in charge."

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