Many American breeders of black Boerboels take a philosophic approach to the conundrum in which they find themselves.
“I’m not here to defend the fact that they have been around, or weren’t around, in the beginning, but I am here to defend fact that they are here now,” says Mark Wallrath of Waldrodt Boerboels in Texas, adding that he gets more inquiries about black Boerboels than any other color. “I love the dogs, all of them, not particularly the black dogs. I don’t think just because a dog’s black he should be thrown away.”
The blocky, broad, deep and fairly short head is a distinctive feature of Boerboel type.
While some breeders of black Boerboels, at least in the States, acknowledge that the origins of their dogs might be problematic, they also note that the breed as a whole has arguably bigger problems. New breeders are multiplying exponentially, with few mentors to support and guide them. “There are a lot more puppies on the ground than there were even a year ago,” says Christina Ross of Revelation Boerboels in Courtland, Virginia, who bred her first litter last spring. And not least of all, having existed as a land race for centuries before it was standardized some three decades ago, the Boerboel understandably exhibits great inconsistency – regardless of color.
“It’s the lack of type and conformation alone that hurts your head sometimes,” Ross says, noting that the breed’s giant size and relatively recent standardization make it a “challenge” to breed. “I don’t even know what half my dogs’ great-great-grandparents looked like.”
Even if the membership of the South African Boerboel club gives a thumbs-up to its proposed standard embracing black dogs, that hardly spells the end of the story. Some diehard fanciers are considering abandoning the Boerboel label entirely, and are debating registering as a new breed under the banner of “Plaas boel” or “Boerboel type.”
“Things are going to get pretty interesting,” Seaman says. “And it may get ugly before it gets better.”
Back in Black, Take 2
Though their breeds hail from the same part of Africa – and arguably share a good deal of genetic material – there is not much cross pollination between today’s fanciers of Boerboels and that other native breed of southern Africa, the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
South Africa’s two native breeds, the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Boerboel, were very likely crossbred to each other over the centuries.
But the Ridgeback, too, has had its modern-day upheavals over the color black, albeit with decidedly different results.
Likely because of the involvement of British fanciers in Rhodesia, who were arguably more obsessed with pedigrees and standardization, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognized more than a half-century before the Boerboel. Though today the Ridgeback has only one permissible color – wheaten, ranging from a light gold to a richer red shade – the original breed standard of the 1920s contained many of the same colors and patterns considered acceptable by most Boerboel fanciers today, including reds, fawns and brindles (as well as some now unacceptable ones, such as Irish marked).
Black was never cited in the original Ridgeback standard, and, as with the Boerboel, no early photographs of black dogs have surfaced to date. The general consensus among modern Ridgeback fanciers is that black was an unsuitable color for a dog expected to hunt and trot all day in the hot African sun.
More than a decade ago, some Ridgeback breeders began producing black-and-tan dogs, which have a patterning that is identical to a Doberman Pinscher – solid black with tan points. This was not a breed-wide phenomenon, but rather cropped up in a handful of unrelated lines in Africa, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom. Breeders of these dogs have pointed to some of the foundation dogs
, which included Airedales, as the source of this color pattern, while their more skeptical colleagues note that the Ridgeback/Doberman cross was and still is a very popular one in Africa, as it bestows a bit more “edge” to the Ridgeback temperament.
In the case of the Ridgeback, intense pressure from senior breeders across the globe has stifled any movement to have the black-and-tans accepted as an allowable color; the color pattern also appears to be recessive, and is more difficult to produce in the breed. In 2005, a black-and-tan Ridgeback was brought into the ring at an American Kennel Club show, and was excused by the judge. Still, many prospective owners consider the color pattern “rare,” and are willing to pay a premium for it.