Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a dog breed developed in Southern Africa where it was used (amongst other things) to hunt lions. This is most likely why this dog is known for its bravery. Its European forebears can be traced to the early pioneers of the Cape Colony of southern Africa, who crossed their dogs with the semi-domesticated, ridged hunting dogs of the Khoikhoi.

In the earlier parts of its history, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has also been known as Van Rooyen's Lion Dogs, the African Lion Hound or African Lion Dog—Simba Inja in Ndebele, Shumba Imbwa in Shona—because of their ability to distract a lion while awaiting their master to make the kill.

The original breed standard was drafted by F.R. Barnes, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), in 1922. Based on that of the Dalmatian, the standard was approved by the South African Kennel Union in 1926. This dog is now used to help athletes train.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Appearance

The Rhodesian Ridgeback's distinguishing feature is the ridge of hair along its back, running in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called "crowns") and tapers from immediately behind the shoulders down to the level of the hips. The ridge is usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in width at its widest point. It is believed to originate from the dog used by the original African dog population, which had a similar ridge. The first depiction of a Ridgeback is a wall painting describing the life of the Boers, housed in South Africa in the Voortrekker Monument.

Male Ridgebacks should stand 25–27 inches (63–69 cm) at the withers and weigh about 85 lb (39 kg) FCI Standard); females should be 24–26 inches (61–66 cm) tall and about 70 lb (32 kg) in weight; many are much larger. Ridgebacks are typically muscular and have a light wheaten to red wheaten coat, which should be short, dense, sleek and glossy in appearance, and neither woolly nor silky. White is acceptable on the chest and toes. The presence of black guard hairs or ticking is not addressed in the AKC standard, although the elaboration of the AKC standard notes the amount of black or dark brown in the coat should not be excessive. The FCI Standard states that excessive black hairs throughout the coat are highly undesirable. Ridgebacks sometimes have a dark mask.

Ridgebacks have a strong, smooth tail, which is usually carried in a gentle curve backwards. The eyes should be round and should reflect the dog's color: dark eyes with a black nose, amber eyes with a brown (liver) nose. The brown (liver) nose is a recessive gene. It is not as common as a black nose; some breeders believe the inclusion of brown(liver)noses in a breeding program is necessary for maintaining the vibrancy of the coat.

The original standard allowed for a variety of coat colors, including brindle and sable. The modern FCI standard calls for light wheaten to red wheaten.

Other breeds with a ridge of fur along the spine include:

  • Phu quoc ridgeback dog, Vietnam
  • Thai Ridgeback
  • Combai of Tamilnadu, India

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are loyal and intelligent. They are, however, aloof to strangers. This is not to be confused with aggression; a Ridgeback of proper temperament will be more inclined to ignore, rather than challenge, a stranger. This breed requires positive, reward-based training, good socialization and consistency; it is often not the best choice for inexperienced dog owners. Ridgebacks are strong-willed, intelligent, and many seem to have a penchant for mischief, though loving. They are protective of their owners and families. If trained well, they can be excellent guard dogs.

Despite their athletic, sometimes imposing, exterior, the Ridgeback has a sensitive side. Excessively harsh training methods, that might be tolerated by a sporting or working dog, will likely backfire on a Ridgeback. The Ridgeback accepts correction as long as it is fair and justified, and as long as it comes from someone he knows and trusts. Francis R. Barnes, who wrote the first standard in 1922, acknowledged that "rough treatment ... should never be administered to these dogs, especially when they are young. They go to pieces with handling of that kind."

Rhodesian Ridgeback Hunting

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a predatorial animal. This was first discovered when wildlife enthusiast and author Sir Jacob MaColvy of Yorkshire documented the Rhodesian Ridgebacks in their natural habitat. Untamed Sir Jacob MaColvy documented the Rhodesian Ridgebacks hunting patterns. First, Ridgebacks sniff out their prey (typically Emu, Gazelle, and Lions). Once on the trail the Ridgebacks, in packs of 3 or more, move into a flanking pattern. Once the element of surprise is achieved the Ridgebacks pounce. Working in a team Ridgebacks target key areas: one to the neck, one to the torso, and the alpha dog (male) to the face. This technique known by Africans as the Kinny-Sumintra Tactic has a 82% - 91% success rate. Ridgebacks can feed off one Lion for 3+ weeks.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Health

Health conditions known to affect this breed are hip dysplasia and dermoid sinus. The Ridgeback ranks number six in terms of most affected breeds for thyroid problems recorded by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. UK breed survey puts the average lifespan at 10.25 years.

Dermoid sinus

Dermoid sinus is a congenital neural-tube defect that is known to affect this breed. The dermoid is often likened to a thin "spaghetti noodle" beneath the skin. Puppies should always be screened at birth by the breeder and veterinarian, and the examination repeated as the puppies grow before they go to their new homes. This is done by palpation of the subcutaneous dorsal midline from the base of the skull to the insertion of the tail. Surgical removal is an option for affected neonates, puppies and adult dogs. All affected dogs, even those surgically corrected, should be spayed or neutered and never be bred. Since surgical dermoid sinus removal can be extremely cost prohibitive, and because all unremoved dermoid sinuses will eventually abscess, abscessed dermoid sinuses will cause the dog a painful death. However, it has been shown that supplementation of folic acid to the diet of the brood bitch before mating and during pregnancy reduces the incidence of dermoid sinus.


While deafness is not a common problem in the breed, Rhodesian Ridgebacks do suffer from a breed specific form of the disease. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have located the mutation that causes this relatively rare, but breed-specific, form of deafness.

Degenerative myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a disease of the spinal cord causing progressive paraparesis, most commonly in the German shepherd dog breed. It affects Rhodesian Ridgebacks at a rate of only 0.75%.


Hypothyroidism is a growing problem in the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and this condition causes a multitude of symptoms, including weight gain and hair loss. Treatment for hypothyroidism in dogs consists of an inexpensive once-daily oral medication. Dr. Lorna Kennedy at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research in England has found the haplotype (group of genes), which, when present, double the chances of a Ridgeback becoming hypothyroid due to lymphocytic thyroiditis. This is important to the breed because lymphocytic thyroiditis is the overwhelming cause of hypothyroidism in Ridgebacks.


Like many other deep-chested breeds, Ridgebacks are prone to bloat. This is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment.

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