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Dog-ology: Rhodesian Ridgeback


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is known and named for the ridge of hair running along its back in the opposite direction from the rest of its coat. Male Ridgebacks weigh about 85 pounds and females about 70 pounds. Ridgebacks are typically muscular and have a light wheaten to red wheaten coat, which is short, dense, and glossy in appearance. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are loyal, intelligent, and somewhat aloof to strangers. Not to be confused with aggression, this aloofness tends to mean that a Ridgeback of good temperament is more inclined to ignore a stranger rather than approach him or her aggressively. Rhodesians often have a penchant for mischief. They are an energetic breed and need plenty of daily exercise and stimulus, or they may get into mischief out of boredom. They are also known to be protective of their owners and families.


The Khoikhoi people who occupied the Cape Peninsula, which is located at the southernmost tip of Africa, during the mid 17th century had a hunting dog which was described as ugly, but was known for its ferociousness when acting as a guard dog. The most distinctive feature of this hunting dog was the length of hair growing in the reverse direction along its back. During the mid 17th century, the Dutch began to settle this area of Africa and within 50 years the Europeans were using these local dogs themselves. European settlers began to bring many of their own various dog breeds to the area, including Great Danes, Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, and terriers. These breeds were bred with the African dogs, including the dog of the Khoikhoi people, which eventually resulted in the Boer hunting dogs, a predecessor to the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback.

While traveling in Southern Rhodesia in the 1870s, Reverend Charles Helm had two of these early ridged dogs with him. It was there that Cornelius van Rooyen, a big-game hunter, took notice of the breed and decided to breed his own dogs with them to incorporate their guarding abilities. The offspring were dogs with red coats and the signature ridges. Over the next 35 years they were further bred to have the ability to bay lions, that is, to hold them at bay while the hunter makes the kill. The dogs hunted not only lions but also other large game like pigs and baboons.

Fun Facts

  • It wasn’t until the 1950s that the breed first made its way to the United States.

  • While the Rhodesian Ridgeback was used to hunt lions, it never actually attacked a lion. Typically a pack of three Ridgebacks would track the lions, then distracted them for the huntsman on horseback.

  • Ridgebacks are considered the world’s hungriest dog, meaning if left enough food to eat they will happily eat themselves sick or obese. So be careful when considering free-feeding with this breed.

  • Ridgebacks generally don't bark a lot. Many will bark to alert you to something unusual, and some will bark when they are bored, but for the most part, this isn't a yappy breed.

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