South Africa has many dog breeds but 2 breeds stand out because they are unique to the country historically and otherwise. These two are the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Boerboel dog.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is the South African national dog breed. It’s homegrown in the sense that its roots come from the early settlers from Europe. These European pioneers began to cross-bred local dogs like the hunting ridge dogs of the Iron Age Bantu, the Khoikhoi dog, Mastiff, and deerhound dogs. The result was the Ridgeback, also known as the African Lion Dog.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is famous for its hunting prowess especially in keeping lions at bay. It was adopted into the South African Kennel Union in the mid 1920s and is known to be the only dog with a genuine South African origin.
Although it is called a Lion Dog, it cannot hunt lions. This is a legendary tale of a dog with the strength of a lion that has become common belief. It does have hunting skills and can help distract the attention of a lion but that would be the extent of its lion-hunting skills.
The name comes from the fact that it was in Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) where the breeding guidelines were first established. This was done under the supervision of a Rev. Charles Helm who wanted the dog to be recognized officially as a dog breed. The Reverend brought the dog to the Cape and begun testing them as hunting dogs.
Their outstanding hunting skills impressed a big name hunter at the time, Cornelius van Rooyen who decided to continue breeding them. This is why some people call this breed the van Rooyen Lion Dogs.
Over time, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was adopted for farm use and as a guard dog. They are now also being shown in dog shows around the world and often winning awards as Best in Show.
The Boerboel dog belongs to the Mastiff dog breed and used to guard homes and farms. They are known for their speed, agility, courage, and strength. Literally, their name is translated to mean “farmer’s dog” or more specifically, “Boer farmer’s dog.”
The line of the Boerboel dog remains undetermined because its history shows cross-breeding several times with dogs that have been brought in from Britain, France, and Denmark and African native dogs.
For instance, many claim that the Boerboel dog is a cross breed of the Bullenbijter and a domestic African dog while others say it is a cross breed between the Bullmastiffs, which were brought in by De Beers to protect its diamond mines, and local dogs.
Over time, this dog breed has become popular among South Africans and among many dog lovers around the world. They have a protective nature, calm but confident and courageous. They are also territorial, easy to train, and very intelligent. They fit well in both city and agricultural settings.
Sadly though 2 years ago the breed was tested severely when it was banned in Denmark because the government believed they were being used for dog fighting gambling games. At that time, Denmark banned a total of 13 dogs which meant no trading of these breeds and owners would have to keep them leashed and muzzled at all times. Fortunately, it did not affect its popularity and along with South Africa national dog, continues to be loved by many South Africans.
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