When the Dutch immigrants in Africa needed a hunting dog more suited to the extreme climates of the area, they interbred their imported European dogs with a local tribal dog. What they produced was a reddish-brown dog with a ridge of fur that ran along the spine who was adept at hunting large game and protecting the family and home. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was used for lion hunting, but its loyal and affectionate characteristics soon made it an attractive family dog, allowing its popularity to spread to other countries. Today, while still prized for its keen sight and scent hunting abilities, the Rhodesian is also known as an easy to maintain, even tempered, and active dog who can excel at shows, protection, and playtimes with its favorite people.
When the Dutch Boers settled in South Africa throughout the 16th to 18th centuries, they brought with them European dog breeds, such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, Pointers, Greyhounds, Terriers, and other breeds. By the 18th century, the Boers realized that their hunting and guarding dogs were ill suited for the two temperature extremes found in this new climate. They needed a dog who could perform well in these conditions, and so they bred their imported dogs with a breed of dog used by the nearby Hottentots or Khoikhoi tribes. This reddish-brown dog had a characteristic ridge of fur along the spine. It is believed that this breed had been used for a long time in that area, and may even have had its jackal-like ancestors painted onto the walls of ancient caves, perhaps by the San peoples. The new breed was short-haired and displayed the characteristic ridge of the tribal dog. They were good at sight and scent hunting, and were then used as protectors and hunters. In the 1800s, the Dutch moved north to escape British rule, taking this new breed with them. They settled in Zimbabwe, then known as Rhodesia, and used the dogs to hunt lions. They were then known as African lion hounds, or just lion dogs. Many types of the breed had emerged by this point, and a meeting of owners in Rhodesia in the 1920s put together a breed standard, and named the breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks. These dogs were imported to England in the 1930s, and then to America shortly after. By the 1950s, the breed had gained in popularity in both countries, and the American Kennel Club admitted it into the registry in 1955. One of the most popular breeds today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a courageous hunter, a family protector, and a friend.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a powerful dog whose body is elegantly symmetrical and balanced. The breed’s most distinguishing feature is a ridge of hair that grows along the spine from the shoulders to the hipbones in the reverse direction from the rest of the coat. The back is firm and is supported by clean and muscular legs that lead to compact paws with well-arched toes. The neck is long, and the head is of fair length, with a flat skull. Expressive round eyes in brown or amber sparkle, while the medium sized ears are wide at the base and taper at the point, and are set high on the head. The muzzle is long and encloses level jaws that have a scissors bite. The tail is carried slightly curved up. The coat is made for hot climates, and consists of short, dense hair that is smooth and glossy in appearance. Colors range from a red to tan wheaten, with white markings sometimes appearing on the chest and toes.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback requires little in the way of grooming. Brushing once to twice weekly for ten minutes with a firm bristle brush will keep this dog looking great. Using a shedding tool can cut down on the hair around the house during those times of the year when this dog sheds. An occasional bath should be given when needed. This breed does have fast growing nails which should be regularly trimmed to prevent splitting and cracking. Teeth should be routinely cleaned. Keep the hanging ears of this dog clean and dry to prevent infections. This is a high energy breed that needs daily mental and physical exercise, or else it can become frustrated and may engage in destructive behaviors. The Ridgeback’s limitless energy can be worked out through daily runs, hikes, or swims, and he can excel at dog sports such as lure coursing. Keep this dog leashed on walks and fenced in at home, as the prey drive is high in the breed. The Rhodesian does best in warmer climates whether indoors or out, and in the country where there’s plenty of space to roam. Though they make wonderful family dogs, the exercise requirements may be too much for first time dog owners.