A Time of Change

Once or twice in the past I’ve made noises of disenchantment with the whole “Boerboel community.” This was because I realized that many people are really, really helpful with “noobies” who are not at all a threat, but once you show a certain amount of knowledge or ambition, they see you as a potential threat to their market share and try to shut you down. So you learn to not take it personally, and you take a step back, and you hang out with some of the more laid back people who actually know of what they speak. Good learning moments ensue.

IMG_20120523_202020However, we started to think it may be cool to dabble in the breeding side, because what we know can be spread out to other people, and the growth of the breed can only be helped by high quality pups and careful screenings. What we found was that the number of appropriate homes was fairly limited and difficult to vet (with some obviously remarkable exceptions – you know who you are :) ) and thus we worried about the responsibility on our end.

This is something that a few other people find a bit of an afterthought (“we have pups galore, we need ’em gone ASAP!”) and having seen the results on the rescue side, we know what sad things happen when the wrong homes get protection dogs. Some local litters had multiple euthanasias before the second year due to both health and training issues.

With the breeding, we not only wanted to do the right thing by the dogs themselves, we wanted to do the right thing by the breed. That led to registrations with South African registries, etc. Well, frankly, the registries have been embroiled in a bitter, ugly, petty bunfight for market share, and it wears on me. We have dogs, we know where we want them to go as a breed, how they need to improve, etc. and frankly we are wondering if we even care about registries and such any longer. Do we even need them?

It’s been a long year, with the loss of a couple dogs due to age here, and basically it’s a time of reflection and redeployment of some description. We’re not sure what’s next, but it’s not the same thing we’ve done in the past.

This is a year of change.

Registries, clean up your acts. Breeders, clean up your acts. We’ll do the same, here.



When to Let Go – The Geriatric Dog

NOTE: I am writing this independently of any other research or articles, quite on purpose. My old friend is dying, probably a matter of weeks and not months, and I am getting down my thoughts. Some other time I will compare them with those from others, and I encourage you to do the same, but for now, this is what I’m thinking…

I am “of a certain age” and there was a time where dogs were a lot more — disposable — than they are currently in a household like ours.

When a dog did “dumb stuff” like nip people or other dogs, they were “put down.” When they got old and started to have accidents, they were put down. When they appeared to be in discomfort… You get the picture. Generally, we disposed of them as soon as they became a burden. These days, that’s a bit less clear cut, thankfully, as homes like ours have brought our canines deeper into our social lives. A majority of North American homes consider dogs as family, and this change has implications on our end-of-life decisions: When is it time to “put Fido down”?

gsd pup thirteen years ago

Thirteen Years Ago

Let’s not mince words. We’re deciding when to kill our family member. Sure, our intentions are good (hopefully, anyway) but it’s still basically signing off on a death certificate for someone who is depending on us. That’s important for us to have clear in our heads. I am not trying to get all sentimental about that, but it’s also wrong to sugar coat that, as it’s an impossible decision to undo.

Thinking about how their life affects us is definitely a consideration, however, I think we need to measure that against what they want. Have they given up? Have they stopped eating anything, stopped caring about life? Is there no pain management you can do to ease any suffering? After putting up with an incontinent dog for the past two to three years — which is really something that I never thought I’d be willing to put up with — I found that you can adapt and create a lot of systems to help manage issues that appear at first to be “show stoppers.”

There is often some discussion about their dignity, and I can see that concept, sort of. In our case, once my old dog realized both that he can no longer control some of his hygiene issues, and that I don’t get mad at him about it, he doesn’t really care. I mean, he doesn’t like it, but … shit happens. 😛 We adapt.

We are close this week, but my old friend is still growling at the others when they try to steal his food, still wanting to be close to everyone when we go off to watch TV or whatever, so today is not that day. I know that day is coming, and soon, and when it does, I will help him through it. I expect he will — in his own way — say goodbye to me before I do to him.

GSD on Sofa

A recent pic of an old friend. :)

Bait Dog Myth?

Today, on Facebook, I noticed this post:

“The ‘bait dog’ started as a myth created by Animal Rights groups which led to people believing that this was a method used. Their attempt was to lie in order to gather support and donations from the general public, playing on their fear and lack of knowledge on dog fighting.

This is called PROPAGANDA, anti Pit Bull propaganda.

By doing this, they are responsible for every real and made up ‘dog bait’ case out there today. This gave wannabe dogmen the idea that this was how you went about the practice but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The media and rescues soon picked up on this like they do with everything and guess what? Now every dog with scars, hung from a tree, has bite marks, shows fear is automatically labelled a ‘bait dog’. Well that’s just stupid and irresponsible. Again, it helps bring in the donations for those rescues and makes people adopt those dogs because they feel sorry for them.

Bait dog Myth

Is it a myth?? This was sent to me via Facebook.

A dog can act that way for many reasons. An animal that has scars on it does not have to be a ‘bait dog’ or a previous fighter. Dogs can get scars from running into bushes, getting caught on a nail, rough play, a fight with a dog in the same household, a cat, other wildlife or even just from being a stray.

This is very interesting to me. I am actually going to have to say that the bait dog thing doesn’t quite pass the smell test, as they say. It just seems a bit weird to try to train dogs by throwing random dogs at others to fight. However, I’m willing to learn otherwise. If there is anyone who has ever seen EVIDENCE of the bait dog thing (and a dog with scars and wounds is possibly evidence of abuse, but is not evidence of being used as a bait dog) please add a comment below.



Canadian SABT Boerboel Appraisal Tour, 2013!

Good day!

A quick note to all Canadian Boerboel dog owners. The SABT (which is the original Boerboel registry from South Africa — remember that these dogs cannot currently be registered via the AKC or the CKC) is looking for dogs to appraise. Appraisals are a means to determine how closely your dog conforms to the standard. While there is some controversy with this, notably the competing desire for looks and athletic ability, there is a lot of value to see where your dog falls on the scale. Also, if you like dogs it’s a great way to see other dogs, and to meet other dog owners and breeders — and often senior appraisers from South Africa.

Boerboel Dog

A Boerboel doing a fair natural stack

Of course, if you are interested in eventually breeding and registering your litter, it is indeed required that your dog achieve a score deemed worthy of that hefty responsibility. In my opinion it’s money well spent, even if you never do breed, just to learn what are seen as faults with your dog, etc. Dogs must be at least twelve months of age (so if your Boerboel puppy is around six months old or older, an autumn appraisal might be just the thing for you.) There are other restrictions and notes, and I will probably post some of them as the time approaches (or just keep your eye on the SABT North America pages.)

Here is a note from Debora Huebner Malcolm, the current Canadian rep (and rep for some of the mid-west US)


“… If you have or know of anyone who has Boerboels that need to be appraised this year, could you let me know the number of dogs and time that would be suitable, either spring or fall and your location so that we can try to accomodate you in getting your dogs appraised.  We are looking to include spayed/neutered non breeding Boerboels in the appraisal tour this year.


“I’m looking forward to getting to know all of the Canadian Boerboel family and I know that we will have an exceptional year for Boerboels in Canada in 2013.  If I can help you in any way with your Boerboels or any dealing with any problems in the past, please feel free to contact me at your convenience.


“Thank you for your time,

“Debora Huebner Malcolm
“Canadian, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota SABT N.A. Representative.”


I have her email above as an image so that spam-bots don’t send her a million emails, so you will need to type these in exactly to contact her (sorry, but spam is such a hassle!)


Dealing With Fear Aggression

I have in the past written briefly on fear aggression, as it is a fairly common problem.

I am writing about it again now because I was recently discussing with someone about a protection dog with fear issues and I just wanted to explain a bit about what it may mean to those who hope to interact with him.

Basically, fear aggression is about broken trust. For some reason, a dog no longer believes he or she is safe. Simple enough, right?

Your job as someone interacting with such a dog is to do two things:

  1. Keep him or her feeling safe
  2. don’t give them any reason to further betray his or her trust

Again, this is simple enough, but here is the downside: You can lose trust in one simple incident, while regaining trust can take years.

While there are definitely genetic inputs to fear aggression, I suspect that environment is the main driver: Something (or some things) happened to the pup during a formative time which caused them to lose sight of what the rules of life are, and how to live safely in the world without “bad stuff” happening. Not really the focus of this article, but something to consider anyway: He or she is insecure about what they need to do to be safe in our world, for some reason, and we have to deal with it now.

In this example, the dog in question is owned by someone who got him at an older age from an unknown past of multiple owners, and immediately realized that despite a wonderful pedigree he was “just not cool with things.” The owner did not want to give up on the dog, thus discussions about what to do and what not to do to “make him uncomfortable.”

In most fear aggression cases, the main trigger is personal space. Occasionally, there are other issues, such as food, toys, etc. but personal safety (and thus space) is the most common.


Comfort Bubbles

Basically, we all have that invisible bubble around us where we don’t like people pushing into. If we are with someone we trust, we allow that bubble to collapse a bit. If we are being yelled at by a drunk, our personal bubble is a bit larger.

A fear aggressive dog also has a comfort bubble, and that is important to remember. Most dogs have been conditioned to ignore their bubble, so kids walk up to them and hug them tight around the jugular and they know they are safe. A fear aggressive dog may have a bubble that is far, far bigger than this.

More confusing to the casual person who is attempting to interact with such a dog, is that the bubble is not stable. At some point they may be coping fine, thinking “okay, he seems to be cool, he’s not a threat to me.” but then he catches a glimpse of something you are holding in your hand which hearkens back to some dark incident he remembers, and then he suddenly expands his safety bubble to the size of the room, and you are in danger of a bite.

What can you do?

  1. Be constantly aware of any warning signs. Dogs with severe fear aggression have that “baked into” their brain so deeply that they need to constantly reset themselves back to safety. You can sometimes see them doing this in real time. If they get nervous, back off. But to do that, you need to be able to recognize if they are nervous. With fear aggression it can be notoriously hard to see, but most people will report “a stiffening” of stance, etc. that is subtle but telltale. Also, if you’re lucky you will get a warning growl. Don’t count on it, however.
  2. Be aware of both your position in his or her space, and your “directionality” (if that’s even a word.) What I mean is, be aware if you’re walking right towards him or her, even if it’s just to grab a phone that happens to be on the counter behind him or or her. I often suggest when working with a FA dog that I sit down somewhere first, then the dog be let in. That prevents the situation where I have to be the one to test the bubble: It empowers the dog to bring his bubble as close to me as he feels safe. It has the side benefit of allowing one to observe how bad the situation is.
  3. Be aware of quick movements. If he or she is dozing off, feeling relatively safe, a sudden movement of any kind can be interpreted as potentially threatening and may suddenly break the calm. Hand waves, rapid foot movements, even loud noises can quickly turn things sideways, especially if the person doing so is a lesser known person to the dog. A lot of this is potentially related to whatever demons he or she may be battling from the past (for example, a dog that was beaten with a bat like this poor guy would be understandably fearful of people carrying objects.) This is really, really hard, but if you are standing beside a FA dog, remember that simple things like bending over to scratch your leg too fast can set things off. It’s really important to stay self aware.

I have personally been lucky enough to be “bitten” in the face twice by two different protection dogs who were NOT fear aggressive. Both times I just made bad decisions about personal space. One was a horseplay thing, where I fell into the dog’s belly area and she did not appreciate it, and another time I was leaving a house where the dog was sleeping by the door, and reaching over the dog to get my shoes woke him up in “protection mode” which found my face in his mouth very briefly.

In both cases I had minor punctures, but the point is, the combination of protection dogs which are already a bit trigger happy, and fear aggression is not something to underestimate. If things do go sideways, it can get really, really ugly. Keep kids away from these situations, keep people who are not willing to take a risk away from the situation. It is quite possible to live with a fear aggressive dog, but it’s not something to do without a lot of planning and commitment and some common sense (for example, if you’re having a party, lock the dog in a room with a big beefy bone while the party is on to protect them and your guests.)

Again, there is hope for a fear aggressive dog, but it takes thought, work, and time to regain trust.

Finally, if you ever see someone being unduly harsh with a very young dog, I’d suggest intervening and educating, because these sorts of mental scars are sometimes forever, and that’s not a fair thing for a dog to live with.

[As a postscript, I have done enough work in rescue to know that fearful protection dogs are typically destroyed. This is done because of the wonderful concept of “liability.” While this is understandable, I strongly disagree with the belief that this should be the only option is someone is brave enough to take a risk.]

Running with Boerboels, Part II


In this older article I talked about dogs and running. I did a bit of a talk about how humans shouldn’t increase their distance/intensity when they are training by over 10% per week, or they may risk injury. I also postulated that dogs can probably increase faster.

Well, this weekend I was heading out for a 14km run, and at the last minute I decided to take one of my dogs with me.Now, before I get too far into this, I have to say that lots of people run distance with dogs. Schutzhund dogs who are getting an AD have to run 20km, for example, so 14km is not that impressive by itself. The thing is, this dog has never run more than 2km at once with me before.

Boerboel Sitting on Grass

Not stupidly massive, this Boerboel is able to run endurance without any issues

I picked this young, very active one from the crew, for no good reason except it’s good for them and I didn’t want to leave too many dogs in the house for the kids to deal with at once. She has done long hikes with the family before (most notably was a 15km hike that we did when she was just a four month old pup, and again when she was at six months or so ) but no runs greater than two or three kilometers.

However, when she is on off leash walks, she is typically running from the front to the back of the chain of humans with some pretty good enthusiasm, so I figured that doing a 5km walk she’s likely actually doing a 10km worth of intensity.

While we were out there I watched her carefully, but she barely even panted (note that it was about -5C out, so that helps) and ate some snow when she was thirsty, and otherwise was rather bored by the whole thing. She might have slept a bit deeper that night, and ate a bit more breakfast the next day, but that’s the sum total of the impact.

I mention this, because if you look at some recent Boerboels, they don’t really seem to be structured for endurance AT ALL, yet the sort of guard work that they are designed to do would have historically seemed to require a lot of ground to be covered. I wanted to add some pictures of them, but apparently some of the kennels are a bit picky about bad press. So, instead I’ll just add one that I acquired a while ago from someone on a board who was posting historical pictures of Boerboels in South Africa so that you can see what they used to look like:

Paul Stoltz with Boerboels - around 1955

Paul Stoltz with Boerboels – around 1955

Do those look like the massive things we see today? Are big dogs today better able to protect a farm? I’m not really thinking so, if the don’t even have the ability to run to the far end of twenty acres.

I think some breeders are building these tanks for visual reasons as opposed to any sort of ‘preserving the breed’ ideals. So, to potential owners of Boerboels, a word of advice: Consider that bigger is not always better. If you can’t take your dog on a 14km run with confidence, you probably do not have an authentic South African Farm dog, in my ever-humble opinion. :)