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Graphic from the SABBS Illustrated Breed Standard Terminology sheet. How many numbers can you correctly identify? (Scroll down to the bottom of the story for answers.)

The SABBS Appraisal: Boerboels, Inch by Inch

This South African assessment is a worthwhile tool for understanding a dog’s strengths and weaknesses

When we hear about appraisals, we usually think about calculating a monetary value for a parcel of real estate or a fine piece of jewelry.

But in the Boerboel world, there is another kind of appraisal — one that assesses a different, but just as important value.

The SABBS appraisal is sanctioned by the South African Boerboel Breeders Society, the organization officially recognized by the South African government to regulate the breed within its country of origin.

The relationship between SABBS and certain segments of the American Boerboel community — in particular, the breed’s AKC parent club, the American Boerboel Club — hasn’t been without its tensions: Due to the SABBS acceptance of black Boerboels, a non-traditional color that has essentially fractured the breed and indefinitely shelved its recognition overseas, the American Boerboel Club does not permit dogs with black parentage to enter its studbook and, by extension, the AKC pedigree system.

But despite any reservations they may have about SABBS pedigrees, many Boerboel fanciers see value in the organization’s appraisal system: Predating the arrival of the black dogs, the SABBS appraisal is considered a worthwhile assessment of an individual dog’s breed type and, by extension, its breeding potential.


The official SABBS appraisal chart.


Conducted by a SABBS-certified appraiser, the appraisal covers 43 different points in eight weighted categories, which are:

General Appearance – 12%

Head and Face - 26%

Forequarter - 12%

Centre piece [Body] - 9%

Hindquarter - 19%

Coat - 5%

Temperament - 9%

Movement - 8%

Total = 100%

When all these individual traits and categories are scored and run through the SABBS software, the result is an appraisal score. That score, along with the appraisal results sheet, is shared with the owner of the dog. Dogs that score 75% or higher are admitted into the SABBS registration register, which permits them to be bred. Dogs scoring lower than 75% are denied registration and, by extension, breeding rights.

While 75 is a passing score, and the minimum hoped for, a score of 85 or higher makes a dog eligible for the SABBS studbook, a more “prestigious” level of the registry. (Despite its name, the SABBS studbook is open to both males and females. It requires other criteria as well, including passing required health screenings, submitting a DNA profile and having both parents SABBS appraised.)


Philadelphia Story


In mid-October, I was able to attend a SABBS breeding appraisal in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. Hosted by Catalina Montealegre DVM and Chris Cross, the appraisals were conducted by SABBS senior appraiser Yvonne Minnaar of Tempe, Arizona. A native Nambian, Minaar has lived in the United States for 22 years, and she and her husband Jean are the only SABBS-approved appraisers based in the United States.


Welcome to the appraisal.


The appraisal price tag wasn’t cheap: $250 per dog for non-members. The cost for SABBS members was $125, which, even with the $60 annual membership fee, was still a significant discount.

(SABBS, by the way, isn’t the only game in town when it comes to Boerboel appraisals: The North American Boerboel Breeders Association, or NABBA, also does appraisals, though the scoring system is arguably not as stringent as SABBS. When we checked in late January, the NABBA website did not list any appraisals for 2024.)


A Measured Response


Back in the Philly suburbs, first up among the 10 dogs signed up for appraisals was Jagter, a 23-month-old male owned by Ed Clary of Distinguished Boerboels in Lisbon, New York.

The appraisal begins with some basic measurements: First, Jagter was wicketed to determine his height. (The SABBS appraisal is conducted in the metric system: Jagter’s 66 centimeters at the withers was just shy of 26 inches.)


Jagter patiently waits for his height to be measured by SABBS appraiser Yvonne Minnaar while Ed Cary and Dr. Montealegre look on.


Next were head and neck circumferences — 62 and 56 centimeters (24½ and 22 inches), respectively. And finally, the circumference of the leg above the pastern (16 centimeters, or 6¾ inches).

It was here that a solid temperament was critical, as the dogs need to tolerate a stranger picking up their leg and other relatively invasive actions necessary to obtain the correct measurements.

All the values in the SABBS appraisal are static: That is, they are based on an adult Boerboel and make no allowances for the immaturity of a younger subject. So while height is unlikely to change on a dog like Jagter, at just under two years of age, his other appraisal values might very well still increase as he matures and broadens even further.


Appraisal hosts Chris Cross and Dr. Catalina Montealegre, in matching Boerboel T-shirts, sort through some paperwork.


The appraisal lasts for about 45 minutes per dog, and includes assessments of various points of conformation, both statically and in motion.

At the end, Jagter scored an impressive 87.7 in the SABBS appraisal; his littermate sister, Ashanti, scored an 84.0 — both well above the passing score of 75.

“It’s very helpful,” said Danielle Clary, who was handling Ashanti. “It gives you an idea of a dog’s strengths, and areas that need improvement, which you don’t want to double up on.”


Another tolerant Boerboel, Ashanti, lets Dr. Montealegre measure her bone circumference.


Anthony Cocolicchio came from the New York City borough of Brooklyn with his 20-month-old bitch, Sophia, who he describes as a more “working” style Boerboel.

“I think as a whole, it was very informative and a good experience,” he reflects. “[Yvonne] was very hands on, and gave a lot of useful info about the breed, and direction going forward.” Another plus were the dogs themselves: “It’s hard to see other Boerboel people in person if you’re not attending an event like this.”

Cross and Dr. Montealegre, the appraisal sponsors, agree that fellowship is an important byproduct of the appraisals.

"We really enjoy hosting the SABBS appraisals because it gives us an opportunity to see other people's dogs and meet other kennel owners," they wrote in an email. "Seeing dogs in person is much better than seeing pictures on the Internet. The Boerboel community is relatively small, so it's important to make positive relationships with other members of the group. We all need to support each other and help each other whenever possible."


Anthony Cocolicchio and Sophia during their appraisal.


As for Sophia's appraisal, despite the fact that she seemed to be the only one of her style at the event, she earned a very respectable 84.2.  

“She did really well,” Cocolicchio says, adding that the only areas where she could have scored higher was overall substance and muzzle. “Other than that, she scored near perfectly in terms of temperament and structure.”


Appraising the Appraisal


For my part, I found the SABBS appraisal to be an excellent tool for understanding the individual parts of a dog and how they measure up to what the standard holds out as the ideal. And it wasn’t just helpful for newcomers who might be unfamiliar with terms and concepts relating to conformation: Some of Minnaar’s comments that I overheard provided a great deal of food for thought. The importance of black pigment everywhere, including the bottom of the foot pads and the vulva on bitches; the optical illusion of bowing that great muscling on the front legs can create, and the often seen darker line starting at the nape and continuing down the back, which is a visual effect created by the bulging, rounded muscles of the neck and back — those were just a few of Minnaar’s offhand observations, individual marbles of breed wisdom that I snatched up before they rolled away.


Minnaar inputs the values from an appraisal to calculate the final score.


But a strictly mathematical system like the SABBS appraisal does have its limitations. After all, the best dogs of any breed transcend the sum of their parts: It’s not only the individual pieces that matter, but how they mesh in order to create the whole.

That said, if one were to rate these same dogs with a single, universal score — as opposed to the SABBS assessment, based as it is on an algorithm that parses all these individual pieces — the scores might turn out to be different.

But markedly different? Probably not. And while no system is perfect, the SABBS appraisal is certainly a valuable resource for those owners and breeders who want an outside opinion on the dog at the end of their lead. What they need to remember, however, is that it is just that — an opinion, albeit an informed one.

“It’s a tool, like any tool — but you can’t build a house with just a hammer,” Cocolicchio says about the SABBS appraisal. “Nobody’s dog is going to be perfect. And while I think purpose should take precedence over preference, I think there’s room for both.”

To that end, he has devised his own formula: “As long as I’m aiming to be above 90 percent” in the SABBS score, he says, “that last 10 percent is up to my discretion.”



SABBS Breed Standard Terminology


Body length measured from A (prosternum) to B (rear of the rump/croup)

Body height measured from C (withers) to D (ground)

Forequarter: A - C

Back: C - E

Loin: E - F

Centre piece: C - F

Croup/rump: F - G (tail setting)

1. Nose leather

2. Nasal bone (muzzle)

3. Stop

4. Cranial root

5. Plateau

6. Ear

7. Muscular arch on neck

8. Withers (top of scapula)

9. Dewlap

10. Shoulder blade (scapula)

11. Shoulder joint (point of shoulder)

12. Upper front leg (humerus)

13. Elbow

14. Lower front leg (radius and ulna)

15. Front paws

16. Pastern joint

17. Front pastern

18. Tail

19. Ilium (point of hip)

20. Ischium (point of buttock)

21. Primary thigh

22. Femur

23. Knee (stifle)

24. Secondary thigh

25. Tibula and fibula

26. Hock

27. Hind pastern

28. Hind paws




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