Beneath the Ridgeback’s trademark ridge is a whole lot of hound: Ridgebacks are fast and powerful athletes who can weigh between 70 and 85 pounds, and oftentimes more. They come in only one color – wheaten – which spans every shade seen in a wheat field, from pale flaxen to the burnished red of a maturing crop. Ridgebacks also have two nose colors: black and the less commonly seen brown.
The formidable Ridgeback can be strong-willed, independent, and sometimes domineering. Ridgebacks must be guided with a firm but a fair hand from puppyhood. They are faithful friends, protective of their loved ones, and meltingly affectionate with those whom they trust. Still, a Ridgeback can be too much hound for the novice dog owner.
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The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a unique creation of southern Africa, resulting from crosses between the native ridged Khoikhoi dog and European breeds brought by Dutch colonists, the Boers, including Greyhounds and various Terriers. The infusion of native Khoi blood gave resulting generations a resiliency against local pests such as the tsetse fly, as well as an inborn knowledge of how to navigate their new African environs – and outwit its deadly predators.
In the late 19th Century, big-game hunter Cornelius van Rooyen from Rhodesia incorporated two ridged Greyhound-like females into his pack of lion dogs. He found that their ridged offspring excelled at confronting and confounding the king of beasts, giving the hunter time to sight in his rifle and dispatch his prey. These ridged dogs were also successful at fending off other dangerous animals such as leopards and baboons, trotting effortlessly alongside horse-mounted riders all day, breaking off to course quick-footed game such as antelope to provide meat for the pot, and protecting the homestead from all intruders. They were known then, as they are today, for their devotion to family, and tolerance and affection for their children.
In 1922, a meeting was convened to write the first Rhodesian Ridgeback standard. By then, big-game hunting had already begun to fade in South Africa, and the breed itself was on the brink of extinction. The dogs convened at this meeting ranged in size and appearance from Bull Terriers to Great Danes, and the Dalmatian standard was used as a template to arrive at the standardized vision of the breed that we know today.
- Temperament:Affectionate, Dignified, Even-Tempered
- AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 41 of 197
- Height: 25-27 inches (male), 24-26 inches (female)
- Weight: 85 pounds (male), 70 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: ~10 years
- Group: Hound Group
The Ridgeback represents a strong, muscular, and active hound, symmetrical and balanced in outline. A mature Ridgeback is a handsome, upstanding, and athletic dog, capable of great endurance with a fair (good) amount of speed. Of even, dignified temperament, the Ridgeback is devoted and affectionate to his master, reserved with strangers. The peculiarity of this breed is the ridge on the back. The ridge must be regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback should do well on high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Ridgebacks are notorious “counter surfers,” so be sure not to leave human food unattended. Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback does shed somewhat, but overall his grooming needs are minimal. Regular weekly brushing will help to remove loose hair and keep the coat glossy, and an occasional bath will help to keep the Ridgeback clean and looking his best. The nails should be trimmed often if not worn down naturally, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort and problems walking and running. Many Ridgebacks resist nail clipping, and many respond more positively to a nail grinder.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are strong, athletic dogs who require a moderate amount of exercise, and they can adapt well to various living situations when provided with daily outings such as long walks and play sessions with their owner. They love to run, and they need physical activity to help keep them healthy and happy. The breed can also exercise mind and body by participating in canine sports like tracking, agility, and other activities that the dog and owner can enjoy together.
Because of their very strong prey drive, Rhodesian Ridgebacks should always be in a safely enclosed area when off-leash. The Ridgeback is a devoted companion and needs to live indoors with his human family. They can be strong-willed, independent, and sometimes domineering, and must be guided with a firm but patient hand from early puppyhood. Early socialization and puppy training classes using positive reinforcement are recommended and help to ensure that the dog grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders screen their dogs for hip and elbow dysplasia, thyroid function, and eye anomalies. Dermoid sinus is a tube-like opening in the skin that is occasionally present at birth; an experienced breeder can palpate, or feel, for this defect.
Did You Know
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognized by the AKC in 1955 and is its 110th breed.
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a medium to large dog originally bred in southern Africa to hunt large game, including lions.
- The breed was once called the African Lion Hound
- The first breeder of Ridgebacks in the US was actor Errol Flynn, who reared them on his Hollywood ranch in the 1930s. Sadly that bloodline is now extinct.
- The hallmark namesake of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the ridge of forward growing hair on its back.
More Cool Facts
An athletic breed, Ridgebacks loves to run.
Along with the Ridgeback’s hunting skills, they are speedy enough to keep pace with some of the fastest dog breeds. They tend to perform well at lure coursing.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks only come in one color, wheaten.
Although you’ll see coats in what appear to be varied colors, they’re really just all the different shades, from pale flax to deep auburn. The breed standard details acceptable colors as “light wheaten to red wheaten.”
They make an excellent family guardian.
Not only did the original breed hunt in the wild, but they also protected Boer farms and families in an untamed, often hostile environment. The Ridgeback’s formidable presence will make any intruder think twice.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is highly intelligent with a strong-willed, independent streak.
The breed needs patient and consistent training and a lot of positive motivation from puppyhood to avoid becoming a domineering nuisance.
[bctt tweet=”These ridged dogs were also successful at fending off other dangerous animals such as leopards and baboons, trotting effortlessly alongside horse-mounted riders all day,” username=”alaskadogworks”]
As a rule, the breed is not known as barkers.
If your Ridgeback is barking at someone or something, you’d better investigate, as something may be up.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are worthy competitors in various dog sports, including conformation.
Most recently, A Touch of Class (called “Penny”), bred by Shadowbridge Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Sacramento, California, took first in the Hound Group at the 2019 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a dearly devoted companion.
As imposing as they look, these dogs are whole-heartedly attached to their families, including children. These are ‘people’ dogs that want to be wherever you are. They love you deeply, with unswerving dedication and loyalty.