Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meet The Breed: The Rhodesian Ridgeback... A Superbly Complex and Extraordinary Hunter

 During our 14 years of working with dogs, we have been humbled and educated by each and every breed we have worked with. However, we must admit, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has baffled us with their mysterious origins,  giving us a whole new level of respect for the breed.  How such an extraordinary primitive canine,  created to be the fiercest of hunters, has been domesticated to live among us humans, is a true wonder  We invite you to experience the amazing success and mystery of this breed along with us.

ORIGIN:  The Rhodesian Ridgeback was originally developed in South Africa in the mid-17th century in a region known as Rhodesia, which has become modern day Zimbabwe. At the time many hunters and new settlers found that they needed a new type of dog who could guard their homes from African predators and assist the hunter in putting food on the table.  If you were a native of Rhodesia, Lion was a popular meal  to serve your family.  This predator was large and muscular and could feed a large family for many days.... BUT hunters needed something strong and fearless enough to surround the Lion and contain it until you they could get to it safely. It is believed that a primitive "hunting canine" of the ancient Khoikhoi tribe called the AfriCanis Dog was crossed with other breeds whose genetically honed skills could address their needs. These were the powerful South African Boerboel, (a Mastiff breed used as a guard dog for the family but could track and hold down wounded game)  The Great Dane (renowned for its wild boar hunting and guarding skills), The Greyhound and/or Deerhound (extraordinary sighthounds able to sight prey from a far distance), Bloodhounds (for their amazing scent detection), and some type of Terriers (famous for their tenacity and fearless tracking).  Hence, the formidable Rhodesian Ridgeback was created,  bred to hunt in packs, be fearless enough to hold a Lion at bay, and yet, come home at the end of the day and guard the home.

The signature Ridgeback Ridge- the ridge of hair running along it's back in the opposite direction from the rest of the coat- can be traced solely from the AfriCanis dog.  This ancient breed dates back some 7,000 years and is the backbone of the Ridgeback stock.  We were stunned that the "Rohdie"a common nickname used by breed fanciers, could do so well living in modern human society, having been created by so many breeds renowned for their high prey drive. We discovered that the AfriCanis is truly the link to the full domestication of this beautiful animal.  The AfriCanis was semi-domesticated    thousands of years ago, giving them plenty of time to adapt to being around people, including children, and other domesticated animals. The  combination of the early domestication of the AfriCanis,  mixed with skilled hunting breeds, created the Rhodesian Ridgeback: a fierce, fearless hunter who could easily live in a highly domesticated environment. The AfriCanis still exists to this day as a tribal dog in Zimbabwe and professional breeders of the can be found in parts of Africa. 

USES:  Of course, the obvious use for this breed is a Lion hunter.  The Ridgebacks hunted (and still do hunt) in packs, surrounding the lion until the hunter arrives on the scene to kill the cornered prey.  Interestingly enough classes exist to train the Ridgeback to hunt Lions and other large game.  They breed is strong and tough enough to kill an adult baboon independent of human assistance.  Pretty impressive!

This breed is an active one.  They are easily able to accompany you on a 10 mile hike or jog.  In their younger years they especially need a lot  of physical and mental stimulation, or they can take matters into their own hands (paws!).  They are usually not recommended for an inexperienced dog owner.  They love children,  but because of their size and strength could easily knock down a small  child or  toddler trying to play with them.  They make excellent guard dogs.

HEALTH ISSUES:  Hip dysplasia, dermoid sinus, degenerative myelopathy and bloat. They rank six in terms of breeds most affected by thyroid issues.

PERSONAL OBSERVATION:  Every reference we found said how well they do in extreme weather conditions, and were bred specifically to tolerate extreme heat and able to go long bouts with very little water.  That being said, we have NEVER had a Ridgeback in our pack who tolerated either extreme heat or cold well.  

We hope you have enjoyed the exploration of The  Rhodesian Ridgeback with us.   We welcome your comments and personal observations/experiences about this wonderful dog!


  1. I found this great footage from 1935 about RRs.
    Great blog - very informative.
    Here are two videos I shot of our pack of Ridgebacks hiking.



  2. I have always hated that piece of information about the breed able to tolerate extreme cold or heat. I am so happy to hear you say that has not been your experience, as it has never been mine either.

    Now I had heard, don't know if it's true or not, that Van Rooyen had a pack of hunting dogs and one had a ridge, a mutation, but he liked it because he could differentiate his dogs from others so he continued to breed the dogs with the ridges and that's where the breed comes from.

    Great blog Ross and Kelly! But I think I'm biased. :)

  3. Oh yeah, and mine are total babies when it comes to extreme heat or cold, or rain.