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Breed Spotlight: The Rhodesian Ridgeback

In the early 1800s European colonists had imported a variety of mainly European dog breeds to South Africa, including such dedicated hunting dogs as Greyhounds, Mastiffs, Great Danes and Bloodhounds. The Dogo Cubano (Cuban Bloodhound), an extinct breed used for dogfighting and guarding, was highly emphasized in the composition of the earlier Rhodesian Ridgeback, while genetic analysis implies the Great Dane's major contribution to what we now know today as the Ridgeback. These breeds were bred with the indigenous African dogs, including the dog of the Khoikhoi people, which resulted in the Boer hunting dogs, generically called names such as boerhond (Boer hound) in Dutch; then its descendant language of Afrikaans, which are the chief forerunners to the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback. The sequencing of ancient dog genomes indicates that the southern African Rhodesian Ridgeback retains 4% pre-colonial ancestry. All of this culminated in a fearless dog that was used across Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to take down lions.

The first breed standard was drafted in 1922. In 1927, this standard was approved by the South African Kennel Union. In 1950 six carefully selected Rhodesian Ridgebacks were brought to the US from South Africa. This began the process of getting the breed accepted by the American Kennel Club. Just 5 years later, in 1955, the American Kennel Club recognized the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed as a member of the hound group (note: though admitted into the Hound Group, Ridgebacks are not actually hounds themselves. This categorical choice was made for several reasons, one of the main ones being confusion regarding into which group these dogs would best fit.)

Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a reputation of being very loyal to their families and are exceptionally intelligent. They are typically somewhat aloof with strangers - not to be confused with aggression, a Rhodesian Ridgeback with a good temperament will not attack a stranger for no reason. They require consistent training and correct socialization. Therefore, they are often not the best choice for inexperienced dog owners or families with younger children.

Despite Rhodesian Ridgebacks being extremely athletic and sometimes imposing, they do have a sensitive side. 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." The Rhodesian Ridgeback accepts correction as long as it is fair and justified, and as long as it comes from someone the dog knows and trusts. Be cautious to give correction from positive or constructive means, and not from obvious anger.

Two of the main health concerns in Rhodesian Ridgebacks are hip dysplasia and thyroid problems. Despite this, they are considered relatively healthy dogs and have an average life expectancy of 12 years, with some individuals living on into their late teens. The biggest physical risk to them is often considered Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, otherwise known as bloat. This ailment effects numerous breeds and is most common in deep-chested breeds, which includes the Ridgeback.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks thrive in an environment where they can expend energy by running. If not afforded this opportunity, they tend to become bored, very high-strung, and destructive to property. A phenomenal way to exercise both mind and body for most breeds, including the Rhodesian, is to do obedience and rally training. This has the added benefit of strengthening the bond between dog and owner and helping the dog learn basic obedience commands. They are also prime candidates for Lure Coursing and FastCAT! They are also sure to love a routine game of fetch, and can be avid swimmers!

If you opt to add a Rhodesian Ridgeback to your home, proceed with caution. Be warry of unethical breeders. Be sure to only buy from a breeder who can show you OFA health testing on both parents (breeders often falsely claim to do health testing, but any breeder who does it will be proud of that fact and want to show you the proof). For more tips on puppy preparedness, check out this article.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:

  • Thyroid Evaluation documented by OFA

  • Hips: X-rays evaluated by OFA or PennHip

  • Elbows: X-rays evaluated by OFA

  • CAER Eye Examination

Not to be confused with the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Thai Ridgeback is a dog similar in appearance but very different in some key ways. They are extremely strong willed and reportedly more complicated when it comes to training because of that, but brilliant. They tend to be more defensive with strangers and dogs they don't know. Their coat is very short, in some individuals almost giving the appearance of being hairless. The shortness of coat heavily accentuates the ridge of reverse-growing hair along the spine. Unlike the Rhodesian, the Thai possesses upright ears in maturity.



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