The Rhodesian Ridgeback is also known as the African Lion Hound, because he was known for keeping a lion at bay while hunting – till his master could get there. He has a ridge of hair on his back that grows forward, in the opposite direction to the rest of his hair, and he is strong, muscular, and fast. They need good training, since they can become domineering or aggressive if not socialized and brought up properly. However they are affectionate, loyal and protective and make good companions.
Male adults reach a height of 25 to 27 inches, and females a height of 24 to 26 inches. Males weigh 80 to 90 pounds at maturity, and females 65 to 75 pounds.
The need for a breed like the Rhodesian Ridgeback came from the wildlife and climate of Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. Farmers and ranchers of Dutch and German origin spread out from South Africa and were called Boers. They brought large dogs with them for hunting and protection, but they needed a stronger, more courageous dog to deal with lions and wildlife in Africa. So they crossed a semi-wild ridge-backed dog that was native to the Hottentot population of Africa with some of their European dogs, such as the Great Dane, mastiffs and hounds. This resulted in the strong and fearless dog that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is today.
They were used for many different purposes in the farms and ranches of Africa. They would guard property, hunt big game, herd livestock, and serve as a family pet. The breed was recognized in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1950s.
Nowadays this breed is often a family companion, as it is gentle, affectionate and loyal. However they were originally bred for dealing with wild lions and leopards so they have a high prey drive. They are also courageous and fearless, and can become domineering and aggressive if they are not socialized and trained well. They are generally quiet and dignified and will only bark if they feel there’s a need for it.
The most unique characteristic of this breed is the ridge along their backs. It has been called ‘the dog with a snake on its back’ because of how it looks. They usually have a coat that is between a light wheaten and red wheaten color. They are large and muscular, with short hair, and a black or liver colored nose.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s short hair makes it adapt well to hot climates, as would be expected having been bred in Africa. They need a lot of exercise, otherwise they can become frustrated. So apartments are not ideal places for them. Ideally they would be a hunter’s companion, with a family that is active outdoors, or enrolled in activities such as agility or lure coursing. Novice owners should not invest in one of these, because they are not easy to train and need firm, consistent leadership. They test the boundaries a lot, so if they get away with something once, they will often take that as a signal to get away with more. If they get bored they will often resort to chewing – so that is a good sign that they need more to do.
The true temperament of a Rhodesian Ridgeback shows in their ignoring strangers rather than being aggressive or friendly. However they will become protective if they feel there is a threat to their family. They can become aggressive if not trained or socialized well. This breed gets on quite well with children, but can knock a toddler over because of its size. Children should always be supervised rather than left alone with them, and taught how to treat them properly. If they are raised alongside other pets they can get on well with them, but they have a strong prey drive so will often chase and even attack small animals that they don’t know.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks shed lightly all year round and should be brushed once a week. If they are rubbed down once a week after brushing, then they often only need a bath a couple of times a year. Their ears should be checked and cleaned regularly, and their teeth brushed once a week. They may wear their nails down naturally outdoors, but if not then nails should be trimmed once a month. However many of them don’t like having their nails clipped, and a nail grinder might work better.
This breed is not the easiest to train, as they can be strong willed and domineering. They need firm leadership and patience, and should be enrolled in socialization and obedience classes at a young age. Strong discipline is not good for them, and can result in them just ignoring you. Because of their strong prey drive they should always be kept on a leash and in a fenced yard, so that they don’t chase smaller animals. They are discriminating barkers, so they won’t bark at anything and everything, but just if they think they need to.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks have moderate exercise needs, so long walks and times to play are good for them. Running is also important, and they do well if enrolled in activities such as agility and tracking. If they get bored or aren’t exercised enough they can get frustrated and start chewing everything or digging holes. Hiking and camping trips are great activities for them, and they can guard your camp while you’re sleeping.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are known for their counter surfing habits, where they stand on their two hind legs to reach whatever delicious snacks are out on the counter. So be careful what you leave out! Look for food that has some kind of meat as the first ingredient, so that your dog gets a good source of protein. Fresh water should be available all day.
When you bring your puppy home you should feed him three times a day till about 3 to 6 months old. Then he can be fed twice a day. Don’t give him too much protein as it can lead to growth development that is too rapid. For this reason, feeding a large breed food appropriate to their age is important.
Many breeders and owners recommend feeding them a grain free diet, because grain is a filler and can lead to food allergies. On the other hand, some say that carbohydrates are important to help fill their stomachs. Raw food is often recommended, as it uses fresh and natural ingredients. However if you go this route you will want to make sure that your dog is getting all the nutrition he needs, such as vitamins and minerals. A mix of dry and canned dog food can also be good, as it can help them feel full.
Recommended daily feeding amount: 2 ¾ to 4 3/8 cups of high quality dry food every day, divided into two meals.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks typically wolf down their food and then look up at you like they’re still hungry. So you will need to learn to gauge whether you’re feeding them the right amount by looking at them and checking that you can feel their ribs. The more exercise they are getting, the more calories they will need.
Common Health Concerns
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia can be concerns with this breed, as with many others. However if you get your puppy from a reputable breeder then you can make sure they have screened the parents for this condition before breeding. Elbow Dysplasia is thought to be caused by the elbow bones growing at different rates and can cause lameness. The pain can be controlled with medication, or it may be helped by surgery. Hip Dysplasia is caused by the thigh bone not fitting properly into the hip joint. Again this can cause lameness, and also arthritis. There is a large genetic component to this condition, but it can also be made worse by a high calorie diet causing rapid growth when they are puppies, or by injuries from falling or jumping.
Dermoid Sinus also occurs in Rhodesian Ridgebacks. This is a tube-like opening along the spine which can penetrate the skin and may become infected. Often breeders can feel this defect at birth, and some puppies may be euthanized, while others are operated on. However surgery is costly, so dogs with this defect shouldn’t be bred.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Rhodesian Ridgebacks in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Rhodesian Ridgeback rescue.