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Rhodesian Ridgeback

These handsome Renaissance hounds from Africa sport a trademark ridge of backward growing hair on their backs, and have gradually turned from lion hunters to family companions and guardians.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a quiet and calm dog but with a high energy level.

Being a hound dog, it is intuitive and smart, but a tad reckless when it senses an interesting scent or when it sees a fast-moving small animal.

These dogs are independent and yet loving family dogs and companions and are among the top 45 most popular breeds in the USA.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about the unique Rhodesian Ridgeback breed.

Highlights

Temperament: even-tempered, proud, loving

Height at the shoulder: 25-27 inches for males, and 24-26 inches for females

Weight: 85 lbs. for males, and 70 lbs. for females

Life expectancy: about 10 years

Breed Group: Hound Group

About the breed

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are all-purpose hound dogs and natural hunters which have a natural impulse to chase just about anything.

Although the name of the breed refers to the backward hair ridges on their backs, the fact is that some purebred dogs from this African breed do not have one.

Bred to hunt and hold at bay large prey such as boars, bears, and lions, they are exceptional trackers and bayers, but not killers.

Even though dogs from this breed are still used for large prey hunting today, and some have even been adapted to pointing and retrieving, the majority of the Ridgies are living as loving family pets.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks love their families, enjoy playing with the children and are excellent protectors of their humans and property.

They are not loud dogs, but when they do bark – you should pay attention because either something is wrong, or they are bored. Either way, it is a good idea to check out why your Ridgeback is barking.

The dogs from this breed are elegant, symmetrical and muscular. They are great athletes and are capable of amazing endurance when running at a high speed.

They can reach a weight of 75-80 lbs. and sometimes even more. Their height at the shoulder reaches 24-27 inches, but while they are large dogs, they are much leaner than most other large dog breeds.

The breed comes in a single color which is wheaten – from pale to burnished red.

Their soft and short coats require very little grooming. You will need to brush them once a week and clean them with a damp cloth.

They are very clean dogs, shed minimally and have little or no doggy odor, which makes them excellent house dogs.

The temperament of these pups is dignified and calm, and while they adore their owners, they are wary of strangers.

These African lion hounds were first discovered by European traders in the 18th century. Their ancestors had the typical ridges on their backs and were bred by the African Khoikhoi population.

The Europeans noted that these dogs were not particularly attractive, but they displayed superb guarding dog skills.

As a result, the traders from the Old Continent began breeding their own dog breeds with the native one, and as a result, created the first Rhodesian Ridgebacks. It was the Dutch settlers in South Africa who began crossbreeding the European and local breeds to come up with exceptional hunting and guard dogs.

The resulting dogs were used for tracking and pinning large prey including lions, while at the same time cleverly avoiding snakes and crocodiles.

They became especially popular in Zimbabwe, where the breed was first developed.

When they were imported to Rhodesia they were used as all-purpose farm dogs which protected the farms and the herds and were occasionally used for hunting as well.

Being independent, strong-willed hound dogs with a strong prey drive, and protective instincts, Ridgies require firm, close, fair and continuous guidance from an experienced and confident owner. If left without proper control, these African dogs can become domineering.

They are also strong-willed and stubborn which requires patience and consistency when it comes to obedience training.

Due to their instinctive suspicion towards strangers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks need to be properly socialized from a very early age as well.

The breed is definitely not suitable for timid or first-time dog owners.

They have high energy levels and do require a lot of outdoor activities, which makes them suitable for active owners who have the time and energy to spend time exercising with their dogs every day.

The Rhodesian Ridgebacks do well in all kinds of weather because they were initially bred as outdoor dogs for the hot African weather conditions. They can thrive in the cold as well, as long as they have adequate protection.

These pups are not the best option for apartment living, unless they have access to outdoors, or unless you can spend a good part of the day with them outside.

Dogs from this breed are exceptional performers at dog sports and events like agility, obedience, tracking or lure coursing. They are also superb jogging and hiking buddies for active owners.

As puppies, they are highly active and quite exuberant, but once they mature, Ridgies turn into calmer dogs with moderate exercise needs. Although these dogs love children, as puppies, they can be too rambunctious for families with toddlers.

Rhodesians will live peacefully under the same roof with your other pets, especially if they are all raised together, but they can be aggressive towards other animals and same-sex dogs, especially the males that have not been neutered.

They will feel perfectly well if you have a well-fenced yard where they can run and play, or if you have the time for long walks and some playtime.

Apart from their physical energy needs, these smart pups also require daily mental stimulation.

Without this, they can easily become bored, and a bored dog of such strength and energy can become pretty destructive.

With proper training, socializing, and care, these dogs can turn into gentle, funny and loyal companion dogs, which are easy to maintain, and which will love and protect their families forever.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1955.

Personality

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is smart and free-willed, which is a combination that can make this dog very rewarding and entertaining, but it can be frustrating as well.

For a dog with such characteristics, and with such strength, obedience training through positive reinforcement should begin from early puppyhood.

Training the dog should be firm and consistent, but never harsh or unfair.

The Ridgie is a muscular and dignified pup which combines the features of a scenthound and a sighthound, and which is not a breed which will sleep on the couch all day long.

These dogs are intelligent, and need mental stimulation, as well as exercise because otherwise they can get bored and start digging huge holes in your backyard or in your home.

The dogs from this breed are the most territorial of all hound dog breeds. This wariness of strangers is an issue which you must address from early puppyhood via extensive socialization. This will not remove the excellent guarding skills of your dog, but will rather allow you to control them so that there is no danger for friendly strangers and animals.

Speaking of other animals, Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be quite domineering with them, and especially with dogs of the same sex. This tendency is especially evident among male Ridgies which are not neutered.

When raised with cats, most dogs from this African breed will not mind living with them. The same goes for other dogs at home. The problem is the chasing instincts which they have towards strange animals outdoors.

You should always keep the dog leashed, or let it roam only in very safely fenced yards to avoid it running off after a moving animal or other moving objects. Also, make sure there are no holes in the fence where stray cats or wild animals can get in.

Their natural instincts for hunting and running need to be curbed, and their exercise need should be met if you want to avoid the dog from becoming destructive and loud.

Overall, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are independent and confident dogs, which like to do thing their own way, and are ready to test all members of their human families in order to establish their position in the family hierarchy.

This is why establishing yourself as the leader of the pack, and consistent obedience training is absolutely crucial.

Once you have established yourself as the “Alpha dog” in your house, your dog will turn into a loving, capable and splendid pet and companion.

As you can see, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is definitely not the best choice for a “starter dog.” It requires proper structure, consistent, firm but fair training, as well as a lot of patience and time, in order to turn into a kind family dog.

Dogs from this breed do not tolerate mistreatment or harsh words and can get their feelings hurt pretty easily if you lose your temper and yell at them or strike them.

Without consistency, these intelligent and strong-willed animals can quickly forget everything you have taught them, which can lead to behavioral problems. This is why training the dog should continue throughout its life.

Puppies are boisterous and energetic, but once they grow up Ridgies tend to calm down and have lower exercise needs.

Gentle and affectionate with their families, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are suspicious of strangers – humans and dogs. They bark rarely, but when they do you should pay attention to the reason for the barking. Without proper socialization, this protective instinct can turn into fearful aggression.

Although Rhodesians love their families, they are way too rough and strong to play and interact with very young kids, especially as puppies.

As with just about any dog, the temperament of every individual Rhodesian Ridgeback depends on its genetics, its training, its socialization, and how it is being cared for.

To make sure you get a dog with the temperament you want, meet the pup’s mother and siblings. Choose a friendly puppy which is interested in communicating with you.

Go to a responsible breeder who cares for the health and temperament of the dogs and not only for the profit.

Nutrition

All future Ridgeback owners need to know that they are often called “the hungriest dogs in the world.”

They have an endless appetite and will drool excessively as you prepare their meals. Left without onlooking, they will use their natural intelligence and size to sneak into cupboards and climb on countertops to get to those snacks and food they crave.

In fact, some Ridgies will eat until they get sick if left unmonitored. This is dangerous for the dog, because they can suffer from life-threatening bloat, or can become obese which also shortens the lifespan.

This is why, you should feed your dog with carefully measured meals twice a day, rather than leave the food out all day long.

The average adult Ridgeback needs about 2 ¾ – 4 3/8 cups of good quality dog food a day.

Then again, all dogs are different, so you should adjust the portion size in accordance with your pup’s activity level, age, weight, health, metabolism, as well as the quality of the food you feed it with.

The higher the digestibility of the food – the smaller the portions should be.

The more active the dog – the more calories it needs to get the fuel and nutrients it needs to stay healthy and well.

You can feed your Rhodesian Ridgeback with high-quality commercial dog food, or prepare its meals yourself.

Make sure you steer away from feeding your pup leftovers, table scraps and unhealthy and potentially dangerous human foods, such as salty, sugary or high-fat snacks.

Make sure the cabinets which the dog reach are properly locked, and keep the kitchen countertops clear from any food, to avoid your dog helping itself when you are not looking.

You should monitor your pet’s weight, and make sure it stays lean and healthy within the recommended weight limits.

Obesity in dogs can lead to very serious and often deadly health conditions, which can shorten the lifespan of your four-legged companion by several years.

If your dog weighs more than it needs to, you should reduce its portion sizes, or choose a weight management dog food, as well as increase its exercise time to help get it back into healthy shape.

Remember that obesity can also be caused by certain health conditions, such as hypothyroidism, so if you are not overfeeding your pup but it is gaining weight, talk to your vet.

In any case, it is a good idea to ask your vet or an animal nutritionist for dietary advice, if you have concerns about your Rhodesian’s weight.

Grooming

The coat of these dogs comes in a single color – wheaten. But it can be in all variations – from light and pale wheat color to dark red and gold wheat colors.

The trademark ridge on the backs of the Ridgebacks usually runs across the spine from behind the shoulders to the rise of the hips.

The ridge usually has a couple of hair whorls, often referred to as “crowns” which are highly regarded in the show ring. Dogs with only one or more than two of these “crowns” are less likely to win dog shows.

In some cases, the Ridgeback may have no ridge at all.

The soft and short coat of the Rhodesian Ridgeback shed minimally and is usually odor-free. The dogs that live indoors shed less than those outdoors which display heavier seasonal shedding in the spring and fall.

Grooming the coat of the Rhodesian is very easy. All you need to do is brush it once a week to remove any loose hair, and then wipe it down with a dampened cloth to keep it clean.

But like other dogs, the Ridgeback needs to have its nails trimmed on a regular basis, especially if it doesn’t wear them out naturally.

Trimming the nails should be done carefully once a month. Use clippers and be careful not to cut through the quick because this can cause pain and bleeding, and might scare the dog.

Ask your groomer or your vet for advice on how to trim the dog’s nails safely and painlessly.

Also, you should brush your pup’s teeth 2-3 or more times a week. This will help reduce the plaque and remove the bacteria, and thus prevent tooth decay gum disease and bad breath.

As you groom your dog, make sure you examine its skin and body closely for any rashes, sores, cuts, lumps, or other problems. Noticing a potential health problem in time will make the treatment much easier.

Also, examine the eyes, nose, and mouth of your pup for any unusual signs of disease or other problems.

Clean the inner flaps of its ears gently using cotton balls dampened with pH balanced dog ear cleaner. Never attempt to insert anything in the ear canals though.

If you notice redness or a foul smell coming out of the ear – these may be signs of an ear infection, so you should take your four-legged companion to the vet.

In order to make the grooming process easier on the dog and on yourself, you should start teaching your puppy to tolerate the grooming from an early age. Reward it for its good behavior, and you, your groomer and your vet will appreciate your efforts later on in life!

Exercise

These strong, muscular and athletic dogs were bred to run, endure, track and guard, so they do require daily exercise. When they are young, Ridgebacks are very energetic, but as they mature they tend to become more laidback.

They may not have high energy levels as other working dog breeds, but Rhodesians still need to run and play every day, in order to stay healthy and to be happy.

While they can adapt to different lifestyles, Rhodesians are better suited for owners and families with more active lifestyles.

They can be perfect jogging, running, cycling and hiking buddies, and will strongly appreciate having access to a securely fenced backyard to roam and play.

Dogs from this African breed excel in dog sports like agility and tracking, and will also enjoy a nice long game of fetch to keep their bodies and their minds stimulated. Plus, they will enjoy participating in just about any activity with their owners.

When the Rhodesian is properly physically and mentally stimulated, it will be ready to spend the rest of the time snoozing and laying around with its owners at home.

Without the proper exercise, the dogs from this breed can get pretty destructive and start chewing on things, digging holes in all kinds of surfaces, and barking. If left outside, they will try all of their tricks to try to escape.

They are pretty adaptable, and can live in all kinds of homes with all kinds of owners, but provided they get their daily exercise, and as long as they are included in the lives of their families.

Although they were bred as outdoor dogs, it is not advisable to keep them outdoors all the time, kennels or chained. They do not take to isolation well.

Even when they are not bored, Ridgebacks are prone to digging large deep holes, where they can lay in the comfortable and cool dirt, so keep an eye on your dog when it is in the yard, and designate a place for it to dig, if you want to save your lawn or garden from starting to look like the moon cratered surface.

When walking your dog, keeping it on a leash is a must, due to its strong prey drive, and because it is prone to aggressiveness towards other dogs of the same sex. No matter how well you think you have trained your pup, it will run after any moving animal or vehicle whenever it feels like it.

With proper socialization, you may be able its aggressiveness towards unknown dogs, but you should always approach dogs you don’t know with extra care.

Training

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a strong, intelligent and domineering dog breed. This means that Ridgies require a firm and consistent direction from a strong leader from as early as possible.

Early puppy socialization and obedience classes can also help make these dogs well behaved and well-rounded ones later on.

Then again, the dogs from this African breed are devoted companions and need to be with their owners and families.

You will need to establish yourself as the pack leader in the family from as early as possible, in order to let the dog know its place in the hierarchy.

It is naturally smart and hardworking, so with the proper direction from its Alpha male, the Rhodesian can learn all basic commands pretty quickly.

Then again, these dogs are used to hunting alone and far away from their handlers, so if left without the guidance and direction, they can quickly forget everything they have learned and may start misbehaving. They also are not so prone to responding to your commands based on praises and treats only.

This is why consistent training is needed, and why it should continue all life.

Ridgebacks are prone to stubbornness, so letting your dog know that listening to you is in its best interest is key to its training.

Help it understand that you are the provider of its food, its treats, its walks, its play, and everything else it loves.

But always use praise and rewards for good behavior rather than punishment and yelling for not following your commands.

Like most dogs, the Rhodesian Ridgeback will respond much better to positive reinforcement and maybe emotionally hurt if you yell at it or punish it harshly or isolate it in a crate or outdoors for misbehaving.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a smart dog that takes jobs seriously. As such, it is important to make him understand why it is in his best interest to listen. Make training sessions fun and rewards clear. These dogs will be very motivated by treats and toys. There’s no need to correct with force.

Most behavior problems are completely preventable. Ensuring that these dogs receive proper exercise can decrease the likelihood that they become destructive and begin to chew or dig. That said, this dog can be naturally aloof and suspicious of strangers. Obedience and exercise alone won’t fix everything!

If you fill your pocket with treats and are patient and eager enough to provide a dog from this breed with fun and reward-based training sessions on a daily basis, you will soon get a properly behaved pup with good manners and with the willingness to listen to you and obey your commands.

They are not as eager to please their owners as other dog breeds like the Labradors, but with the proper firm approach, an experienced owner should be able to handle a Ridgeback.

But this breed is not a recommended choice for novice owners, and for owners who do not have the confidence, the patience and the time to deal with the training of such a smart and independent dog breed.

When you bring your Rhodesian puppy to your home, allow it to settle down in its new environment for a couple of days, and then you can start with the basic obedience training.

Teaching the pup to potty outside or on the designated pad should start as early as possible. Take it out after a nap, and every few hours, to make sure that the puppy does its business outside. Praise it and reward it for doing so. In case of accidents at home, do not punish the puppy, because it is not its fault that nature called and you didn’t take it outside in time.

The obedience training of a young Ridgeback should start with the basic and most important commands such as come, sit, down, heel, stay and leave it. it is for your own good, and for the good of the dog to follow your directions and to obey your commands.

Socializing a puppy from such an independent, strong dog breed with such strong prey and protective drives, is crucial.

Invite as many friends as possible, and take the puppy to meet different people, friendly dogs, and to see new things and hear new sounds every day. Take it to the groomers, the vets, and the pet store, and meet it with neighbors and other people and places it will be encountering later on in life.

This will help make it more outgoing, and less aggressive and suspicious of strangers – human and animal.

You may want to enroll your puppy into puppy class before the age of 12 weeks, and as soon as it is safe for it to meet other dogs after it has received its shots.

Socializing with other dogs from an early age will make it much more friendly and well-rounded later on.

If you have children, teach them to approach and interact with the dog safely and appropriately. This means, never treating it as a toy or mistreating it, and never attempt to take away its food, or wake it up when it is sleeping or resting.

Ridgies are great with the children in their families but can be too rumbustious with toddlers especially when they are still young boisterous puppies.

These dogs can learn to share a home with other dogs and pets, but only when raised together.

Remember that they have strong prey drives, and are aggressive to same-sex dogs, so handle any such interactions with the utmost care and attention.

Health

These elegant, strong and athletic African dogs are quite healthy in general. But then again, like all other dog breeds, they are more prone to certain genetic conditions and health problems than others.

Since some of these problems do not appear until the dog reaches the age of 2 years, you should look for breeders who breed only dogs which are 2 or more years old and have all the health clearances for the common health issues which plague the breed.

It is essential for owners of this dog breed to know what type of illnesses and potential health issues to look out for.

Here are the most common health problems which can affect the Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition which commonly affects larger dogs. it is caused by the different growth rate and misalignment of the three bones which make up the elbow. This laxity of the elbow can lead to pain and lameness.

It can be diagnosed via X-rays, and in some cases may be treated with joint support supplements, pain medication, weight control diets, but in others, if the bones cannot be aligned manually, may require corrective surgery.

Left untreated, this condition will worsen as the dog ages and develops degenerative arthritis. It can also worsen if the dog becomes overweight or obese, or when a puppy’s rapid growth remains uncontrolled, or it injures itself from jumping on hard surfaces.

Since this condition is hereditary, dogs diagnosed with it should not be bred, and reputable breeders should be able to provide health clearance for both parents of the puppy for this condition issued by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, as well as for the other genetic problems which can plague the breed.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is another heritable condition which can affect Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and which the breeders should test their breeding stock for.

Hip dysplasia causes the thigh bone to not fit properly into the hip bone, causing an uncomfortable and painful luxation.

This type of dysplasia can affect one or both rear legs and can lead to lameness.

Left without treatment, it can worsen over time, especially if the dog becomes overweight, or as it starts aging. It can also worsen by jumping and injuries. Rapid growth during puppyhood too can worsen the effects of hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed by X-ray screening. In some milder cases, it can be managed via a weight management diets, or with pain medication and joint health supplements, but in others – surgery, including complete hip replacement may be required.

Dogs with this condition should never be bred, and all breeding stock should be tested for it.

Dermoid Sinus

Dermoid Sinus is also known as Pilonidal sinus and is a tube-like skin defect which some Ridgebacks can be born with and can usually be palpated at birth.

The condition is caused by the incomplete separation of the dog’s skin from the nervous system and can be found at any part of the spine, but most commonly affects the upper spine or on the neck.

It is heritable and congenital and affects mainly Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

The Dermoid sinus may penetrate the dog’s skin in various degrees, from just reaching the tissue beneath it to actually extending deeper to the membrane covering the spinal cord, or may be connected to a blind-ended sac underneath the skin.

In some milder cases, a dog can live with this condition without problems, but I more sever ones, the Dermoid Sinus can become infected and can cause further problems and neurological abnormalities as well as cause pain for the dog.

Severe cases are treated with surgery. In some cases, puppies with such a defect are euthanized.

Since this is a genetic condition, dogs with Dermoid Sinus should never be bred, and all breeding stock should be tested for it before mating.

Gastric Dilation – Volvulus

Gastric Dilation Volvulus is also known as bloat and is a very dangerous and life-threatening condition which requires immediate surgery.

It affects dogs with deep chests and causes air to get stuck in the stomach, and for some reason the stomach distends and twists around itself.

This torsion of the stomach causes a blockage of the digestive function and also stops the circulation of the blood to most organs of the body.

The symptoms of bloat are excessive salivation, retching, and attempts for vomiting or belching without a result, a rapid heart rate, lowered blood pressure, lethargy, weakness, pain in the abdomen, a distended belly, and collapse.

A dog with bloat should be rushed to a veterinary surgery immediately.

Unfortunately, bloat cannot be 100% prevented, but you can minimize the risk of bloat by avoiding feeding the dog with large quantities of food at once, as well as feeding it immediately before or after vigorous exercise. You should also limit the volume of water you give the dog after playtime or running.

Bloat is the reason why you should divide the dog’s food into two smaller meals.

History

There are no actual records of the breeding history of the Rhodesian Ridgeback, but one of the most common theories is that the local population of the East African coast which used to trade extensively with the Asian sea traders who sometimes traveled to the Phu Quoc island which is now in Vietnam imported the now extinct dogs with ridges on their backs from there.

The East African people also imported livestock including cattle, sheep, and goats from these traders from Asia.

The dogs with ridges on their backs from the island were crossed with the local African breeds, and the ridge gene was passed on to the resulting dogs.

Centuries later, when European settlers came to Africa, they brought their own hunting dog breeds with them. Over time, they interbred with the local African dogs with ridges on their backs, and the dominant ridge gene was once again passed on to the offspring.

Soon the settlers found that apart from being exceptional guard dogs, these dogs were excellent hunters as well.

They began breeding them selectively for better hunting abilities and temperament, as well as for the trademark ridge, and as a result – the Rhodesian Ridgeback was born.

Other fanciers of the breed believe that the ancestors of the Rhodesians were the Thai Ridgebacks which are the only other dog breed which has ridges and also carries the Dermoid sinus genes.

When it was first developed, the breed was called the African Lion Hound, by the Dutch farmers who bred it in South Africa.

They needed dogs which could endure the extremely hot temperatures and the harsh terrains of the African bush, and that could survive with minimal quantities of water, be reliable guard dogs and family companions.

They were also resilient to tsetse fly bites and other local pests and had hereditary instincts to protect themselves from the dangerous local predators such as baboons, and leopards.

They crossed the local Khoihoi ridged dogs with European breeds including Mastiffs, Great Danes, Bloodhounds, and Greyhounds.

The dogs produced had the ridges, and some of them showed superb hunting skills.

The Boers used them to flush and retrieve partridges and buck, but when big game hunting became popular, they started using them to hunting lions on horseback.

These dogs were able to track and hunt the lions and keep them at bay until the hunters arrived. Rhodesians had the endurance to run along with the horses at very long distances all day long.

One hunter named Cornelius von Rooyen began breeding dogs which were known as Rhodesia (which is now Zimbabwe). It was around that time, that big game hunting started losing its popularity, and the breed nearly went extinct.

The breed standard for these dogs was set in 1922 and has remained almost unchanged since then.

In 1924, the Rhodesian Ridgeback became accepted by the South African Kennel Union.

While some of these dogs may have been imported to the USA back in 1911, a more massive import of Rhodesians to Britain, the US, and Canada occurred after World War II.

Tchaika of Redhouse was the first Rhodesian Ridgeback registered by the American Kennel Club in 1955. The same year, the AKC recognized the breed.

Some famous fanciers and owners of Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the past include Grace Kelly, Patrick Swayze, Errol Flynn, and Blake Griffin.

Today, the breed is the 41st most popular breed in the USA, according to the AKC registry.

They are preferred as loyal and loving family dogs, tolerant with children and protective of their humans and their property, as well as intelligent and fun companion dogs.

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