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Rhodesian Ridgeback


The Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as the African Lion Hound, the African Lion Dog, the Rhodesian Lion Dog, the African Bull-Dog, the Van Rooyan Lion Dog and the Ridgeback, and less formally as "the dog with a snake on its back," is instantly recognizable by the unique ridge of hair that grows forward (in the opposite direction of the rest of its coat) along the top of its back. As a hallmark of this breed, the ridge must be clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical, starting behind the shoulders and continuing to a point between the hips. There should be two identical crowns of hair, called "whorls," directly opposite each other. Long thought to be the only breed with a ridge, several lesser-known breeds share this trait, including the Thai Ridgeback and the Phu Quok Dog. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a powerful, intelligent and formidable breed that can be domineering and aggressive if not properly socialized and has a strong prey drive. It is not a particularly good choice for novice owners. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of its Hound Group in 1955.

The mature male Rhodesian Ridgeback should 25 to 27 inches at the withers, with adult females standing 24 to 26 inches in height. The desired weight for males is 85 pounds and for females is 70 pounds. Their short copper coat is very easy to care for, with only an occasional brushing being necessary to keep shedding under control.

History & Health


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an ancient breed developed in South Africa thousands of years ago. The nomadic Khoi people (also known as the Hottentots) and the South African Bushmen had medium-sized, reddish brown dogs with a distinctive ridge of hair running down the center of their backs, which they used for hunting, herding and guarding their livestock from wild predators. The Ridgeback became especially adept at fighting off lions and leopards, especially if their owners were threatened.

In 1652, a Dutch merchant named Jan van Riebeck settled in South Africa and began trading cattle for the native dogs. Other immigrants from Holland, Germany and France followed, becoming Boers (farmers) with their own Africaan language. They crossed the Khoi dogs with their Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, Great Danes, Pointers, Staghounds, Irish Wolfhounds and Greyhounds, among others, to create a breed better adapted than the European breeds to life in Africa and especially well-suited to track wild game. According to an American Kennel Club publication: "The Boers (Africaans for farmers) needed a dog that was resistant to local diseases; able to thrive in spite of extreme temperatures, limited water, rough bush, and relentless ticks; and an extraordinarily brave and cunning hunter, all while being a loyal family dog. Mating European breeds to native ridged Khoi hunting stock, the Boers produced unique dogs that hunted by both sight and scent and were devoted family guardians."

These various crosses developed into the Steekbaard ("prickly beard") and Vuilbaard ("dirty beard" or "wooly beard") Africaan working farm dogs, which later became known as Boerhounds, or "farmer's dogs," with their distinctive ridge of hair along their backs. In the 1830s, many farmers in southern Africa moved north to avoid British rule, and they took their dogs with them. In 1873, the Reverend Charles Helm journeyed north up the African continent and found a dense population of ridge-hounds in a remote population of native people. He acquired two slightly built females in 1875 and continued north. Thereafter, a big game hunter named Cornelius Van Rooyen, who farmed in southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), selectively bred his dogs to the Helm dogs to develop a courageous, determined and fearless hunter willing to and capable of tracking and holding lions and leopards at bay. He crossed the ridge-backed females with his Greyhounds, Great Danes, Irish Terriers, English Pointers, Bulldogs and Rough Collies, and his dogs soon became known as the Van Rooyen Lion Dogs.

In 1922, after Van Rooyen's death, a group of breed fanciers under the leadership of Francis Richard Barnes developed a standard for the breed, which remains virtually unchanged today. These dogs became known as Rhodesian Ridgebacks and are the national dog of South Africa. The breed came to England in the 1930s and to the United States shortly thereafter. It rapidly gained popularity. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Ridgeback in 1955 as a member of the Hound group. The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States became a member of the AKC in 1971, and the breed was recognized as a sighthound for competition in AKC lure coursing trials in 1992.

Health Characteristics

The average life expectancy for the Rhodesian Ridgeback is between 10 and 12 years. Breed health concerns may include the following:

Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
Cerebellar Degeneration
Deafness: Defined as the lack or loss, complete or partial, of the sense of hearing
Dermoid Sinus
Entropion: The inversion, or the turning inward, of all or part of the edge of an eyelid

Temperament & Personality


Rhodesian Ridgebacks are dignified, athletic dogs whose expressive eyes always look deep in thought. Developed in Africa, this breed was used by lion hunting parties to track, corner, and hold lions. The breed is still used for hunting in some circles, but has come to be more of a family companion than anything else. As puppies they have energy to spare, but with proper exercise and training grow into quiet, dignified housemates. They are not for novice dog owners, as it takes a lot of time and energy to properly train this breed, but for those who are experienced and who are already committed to an active lifestyle, the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be an ideal family dog.

Activity Requirements

This breed needs a lot of vigorous exercise to maintain health, happiness and an even temperament. Rhodesian Ridgebacks have their roots in Africa, so they can withstand a lot of activity in very high temperatures without slowing down. They require several walks a day and plenty of time to run outdoors. They are athletic enough to jog or accompany bikers. The older they get, the less running they require, but they will always need daily activity. Without proper exercise, this breed can become anxious and destructive.

Hunters can use Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the field to track and point for small game, or to track and corner large game. Non-hunting families should enroll their Ridgebacks in organized activities like agility or lure coursing. They make excellent hiking and camping companions, happy to engage in outdoor fun and will guard you faithfully while you picnic or sleep.


Training a Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a challenge. They are independent thinkers who also have a tendency to exhibit dominance. They need to be trained with firmness to establish leadership, but never harshness. Strong discipline will cause a Ridgeback to shut down and ignore you completely. 100% consistency is also crucial when training because Ridgebacks will constantly test boundaries, especially in adolescence, and if you bend the rules just once, he'll take that as an invitation to rule the house.

Behavioral Traits

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are calm and easy going with their own family members, but are naturally wary of strangers. It is important to properly socialize your dog so that this natural wariness doesn't develop into aggression. Teaching your Ridgeback early on that guests are welcome will help him to be more welcoming later in life.

This breed is often aggressive toward other dogs and non-family pets. He may get along great with your cat, but should a neighbor's cat wander into his yard, he will chase it. Taking your Ridgeback to puppy school and the dog park to socialize him when he is young, can help stave off dog aggression.

Ridgebacks are prone to destructive chewing. This is almost always an indication that he is bored and not getting enough exercise. If your Ridgeback takes to chewing shoes or furniture, you will want to step up his daily routine, and when you leave the house, make sure he has plenty of his own toys and bones to chew on.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
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.

Size, Proportion, Substance
A mature Ridgeback should be symmetrical in outline, slightly longer than tall but well balanced. Dogs--25 to 27 inches in height; Bitches--24 to 26 inches in height. Desirable weight: Dogs--85 pounds; Bitches--70 pounds.

Should be of fair length, the skull flat and rather broad between the ears and should be free from wrinkles when in repose. The stop should be reasonably well defined. Eyes--should be moderately well apart and should be round, bright and sparkling with intelligent expression, their color harmonizing with the color of the dog. Ears--should be set rather high, of medium size, rather wide at the base and tapering to a rounded point. They should be carried close to the head. Muzzle--should be long, deep and powerful. The lips clean, closely fitting the jaws. Clear faced or masked dogs are equally correct and neither is preferred. A clear face with black or brown/liver pigmentation only on nose, lips, and around the eyes, or a masked face with black or brown/liver pigmentation is correct as long as the color is not continuing with a solid mask over the eyes. A darker ear often accompanies the darker masked dog.
Nose--should be black, brown or liver, in keeping with the color of the dog. No other colored nose is permissible. A black nose should be accompanied by dark eyes, a brown or liver nose with amber eyes. Bite--jaws level and strong with well-developed teeth, especially the canines or holders. Scissors bite preferred

Neck, Topline, Body
The neck should be fairly long. It should be strong, free from throatiness and in balance with the dog. The chest should not be too wide, but very deep and capacious, ribs moderately well sprung, never rounded like barrel hoops (which would indicate want of speed). The back is powerful and firm with strong loins which are muscular and slightly arched. The tail should be strong at the insertion and generally tapering towards the end, free from coarseness. It should not be inserted too high or too low and should be carried with a slight curve upwards, never curled or gay.

The shoulders should be sloping, clean and muscular, denoting speed. Elbows close to the body. The forelegs should be perfectly straight, strong and heavy in bone. The feet should be compact with well-arched toes, round, tough, elastic pads, protected by hair between the toes and pads. Dewclaws may be removed.

In the hindlegs the muscles should be clean, well defined and hocks well down. Feet as in front.

Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance but neither woolly nor silky.

Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes permissible but excessive white there, on the belly or above the toes is undesirable. (see muzzle)

The hallmark of this breed is the ridge on the back which is formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. The ridge must be regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed. The ridge should be clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical. It should start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point between the prominence of the hips and should contain two identical crowns (whorls) directly opposite each other. The lower edge of the crowns (whorls) should not extend further down the ridge than one third of the ridge. Disqualification: Ridgelessness. Serious Fault: One crown (whorl) or more than two crowns (whorls).

At the trot, the back is held level and the stride is efficient, long, free and unrestricted. Reach and drive expressing a perfect balance between power and elegance. At the chase, the Ridgeback demonstrates great coursing ability and endurance.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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