Rhodesian Ridgeback

Table of Contents

rhodesian ridgeback portrait
Get ready to unleash your wild side with the magnificent Rhodesian Ridgeback! With their regal presence, sleek physique, and that iconic ridge of hair along their backs, these pups are a true force to be reckoned with. But don't let their fierce appearance fool you – underneath that athletic exterior lies a heart of gold.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is best suited for experienced dog owners who appreciate a strong, intelligent, and devoted companion. Their high energy levels and need for physical activity make them ideal for active households, where they can enjoy regular exercise and outdoor adventures.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMERhodesian Ridgeback
OTHER NAMESAfrican Lionhound, African Lion Dog
ORIGINRhodesia
BREED GROUPHound Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT24-27 inches
WEIGHT70-90 lbs
LIFESPAN10-12 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERLow
GROOMING NEEDSLow
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYLow
BITING TENDENCYModerate
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK41st
rhodesian ridgeback sitting on the grass
Photo: imch/Pixabay

Appearance

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a large and muscular breed that showcases an impressive combination of power, speed, and agility. Their well-proportioned body reflects their hunting heritage, allowing them to move with grace and efficiency.

Males typically stand between 25 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder, while females range from 24 to 26 inches. In terms of weight, males generally weigh between 85 and 90 pounds, whereas females are slightly lighter, weighing between 70 and 75 pounds.

The body of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is characterized by a deep chest, which allows for ample lung capacity, and a level topline that flows smoothly into a slightly arched loin. Their tail is strong at the base and tapers towards the end, carried with a gentle upward curve when the dog is active or alert.

One of the most distinctive features of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the eponymous ridge running along their spine. This ridge is formed by a strip of hair that grows in the opposite direction of the rest of their coat, creating a unique pattern that sets them apart from other breeds. The ridge usually starts at the base of the neck and extends to the hips, with two identical crowns marking its beginning.

The head of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is broad and flat, with a moderate stop and a well-defined muzzle. Their eyes are round and moderately sized, with a color that ranges from dark brown to amber, harmonizing with their coat color. The expression in their eyes exudes intelligence, curiosity, and a hint of mischievousness.

The ears of the Rhodesian Ridgeback are medium-sized, set high, and wide apart, lying close to the head and tapering to a rounded point.

The coat of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is short, dense, and sleek, providing them with protection from the harsh African climate. Their coat color varies from light wheaten to red wheaten, with some dogs exhibiting a small white patch on their chest and toes. The breed standard does not allow for excessive black hairs or a black mask.

Overall, the appearance of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is a harmonious blend of strength, elegance, and functionality. Their distinctive ridge, expressive eyes, and beautiful coat color make them a truly eye-catching breed, while their physical characteristics speak to their historical role as versatile hunters and protectors.

rhodesian ridgeback's characteristic ridge
Photo: Sly28/Pixabay

Temperament

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a breed with a unique and captivating temperament that reflects their rich history as hunters, protectors, and companions. They possess a combination of intelligence, independence, loyalty, and sensitivity, which endears them to those who understand and appreciate their complex nature.

One of the most notable aspects of the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s temperament is their intelligence. These dogs are known for their ability to think and problem-solve, often displaying an innate curiosity and resourcefulness.

This intelligence also contributes to their independent nature, as they are capable of making decisions and working without constant guidance. However, this independence should not be mistaken for stubbornness or disobedience; rather, it highlights their ability to assess situations and adapt accordingly.

Loyalty is another hallmark of the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s personality. These dogs form strong bonds with their human families and are fiercely devoted to those they love. As a result, they can be protective of their family members, ensuring their safety and well-being.

Their protective instinct is balanced by a natural discernment, as Ridgebacks are typically reserved and discerning with strangers. They are not known to be aggressive, but they will stand their ground and act as a deterrent if they perceive a threat to their loved ones.

Despite their formidable appearance and protective nature, Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a sensitive side that may come as a surprise to some. They are in tune with the emotions of their human family members and respond to their moods and feelings.

This sensitivity means that they appreciate a calm and consistent environment, where they can feel secure and understood. Harsh treatment or excessive noise can upset them, so it’s essential to provide a nurturing and stable home life.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are also known for their affectionate nature, particularly with their human family members. They enjoy spending time with their loved ones, whether it’s cuddling on the couch or engaging in playtime.

They are not overly demanding of attention, but they do appreciate regular interaction and companionship. Their gentle disposition makes them good with children, although their size and strength should be taken into consideration when interacting with younger kids.

The breed’s sociable nature extends to other animals as well, especially when properly socialized from a young age. Rhodesian Ridgebacks can coexist peacefully with other dogs and even cats, though their strong prey drive may be triggered by smaller pets such as rodents or birds.

Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for a Rhodesian Ridgeback is one that caters to their physical, mental, and emotional needs. These dogs thrive in active households where they can receive regular exercise and mental stimulation, which helps keep them happy and well-adjusted.

Ideal Owner

The breed is best suited for experienced dog owners who understand the importance of consistent training, socialization, and providing a nurturing environment. A strong, confident handler can help the Ridgeback develop into a well-behaved and balanced canine companion.

Other Pets

When it comes to cohabitating with other pets, Rhodesian Ridgebacks can get along well with other dogs and even cats if properly socialized from a young age. Their sociable nature allows them to form bonds with fellow furry family members. However, pet parents should be cautious when introducing smaller pets like rodents or birds, as the Ridgeback’s prey drive may be triggered in such situations.

Physical Environment

Rhodesian Ridgebacks can adapt to various living situations, including both city and countryside settings. However, they do require ample space to move around and explore, making a house with a securely fenced yard preferable to an apartment or a small home.

It’s essential to provide a safe and enclosed area for them to roam freely without the risk of escaping, as their innate curiosity and strong prey drive might lead them to wander off.

Climate Adaptability

Regarding climate adaptability, the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s short, dense coat provides them with protection against harsh weather conditions. They can tolerate moderately cold temperatures but are not suited for extreme cold weather. In colder climates, pet parents should consider providing their Ridgeback with a warm and cozy shelter, and possibly a dog coat or sweater during winter walks.

On the other hand, the breed’s African heritage makes them well-adapted to hot climates. Nevertheless, pet parents should always ensure that their Ridgeback has access to shade and fresh water to prevent overheating during hot summer months.

rhodesian ridgeback in the nature
Photo: boumapetrovice/Pixabay

Grooming

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a low-maintenance breed when it comes to grooming, thanks to their short and dense coat. However, regular grooming is still essential to keep them looking and feeling their best.

Coat Care

The coat of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is easy to care for due to its short length and minimal shedding. A weekly brushing session with a soft-bristle brush or a grooming mitt is usually sufficient to remove loose hair and distribute the natural oils evenly across their coat. This helps maintain a healthy shine and reduces the likelihood of skin irritation.

During periods of increased shedding, which typically occurs seasonally, you may need to increase the brushing frequency to keep the shedding under control.

Bathing a Rhodesian Ridgeback is only necessary when they become dirty or start to emit an odor. Generally, baths can be given every few months or as needed. Overbathing can strip the natural oils from their coat and lead to dry skin. When bathing, always use a gentle dog-specific shampoo that is free of harsh chemicals to prevent skin irritation.

Dental Care

Dental hygiene is an essential aspect of grooming for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, as it is for all dog breeds. Regular dental care helps prevent bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay.

Ideally, you should brush your Ridgeback’s teeth at least two to three times a week using a soft-bristled toothbrush and canine toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste, as it contains ingredients that are harmful to dogs if swallowed.

In addition to brushing, you can provide dental chews or toys designed to help clean your dog’s teeth and stimulate their gums. Regular vet check-ups will also help monitor your Ridgeback’s oral health and address any potential dental issues early on.

Nail Maintenance

A Rhodesian Ridgeback’s nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, or as needed, to prevent overgrowth and discomfort. Long nails can cause pain, affect the dog’s gait, and potentially lead to joint problems.

Using a dog-specific nail clipper or grinder, carefully trim your dog’s nails while avoiding the quick, which is the blood vessel inside the nail. If you are unsure or uncomfortable trimming your dog’s nails, a professional groomer or veterinarian can help with this task.

Ear Care

Regular ear checks and cleaning are important for maintaining your Rhodesian Ridgeback’s overall health. Check their ears at least once a week for signs of redness, inflammation, or unpleasant odor, which may indicate an infection.

To clean your dog’s ears, use a gentle dog-specific ear-cleaning solution and a soft cotton ball or cloth. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can push debris further into the ear canal and cause damage.

Eye Care

Keep an eye on your Rhodesian Ridgeback’s eyes for signs of irritation, excessive tearing, or discharge. Gently clean the area around their eyes with a soft, damp cloth to remove any debris or build-up. If you notice any persistent issues or changes in their eyes, consult your veterinarian for further guidance.

rhodesian ridgeback sitting outdoor during sunset
Photo: Tobias Huber/Getty Image

Exercise

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an energetic and athletic breed, requiring regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. As descendants of African lion hunters, these dogs possess great stamina and strength, which need to be channeled through engaging and stimulating activities.

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, a Rhodesian Ridgeback requires at least one hour of daily exercise, which can be divided into multiple sessions. This should include a combination of physical activities such as brisk walks, jogging, hiking, and off-leash playtime in a securely fenced area. Allowing them to run and explore freely helps satisfy their natural instincts and keeps them mentally stimulated.

In addition to physical exercise, Ridgebacks benefit from mental stimulation through activities such as obedience training, agility courses, and scent tracking games. These activities challenge their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, preventing boredom and potential destructive behaviors.

Dog Sports

Rhodesian Ridgebacks can excel in various dog sports and competitions, thanks to their speed, agility, and keen senses. Activities such as lure coursing, where dogs chase a mechanically operated lure, can tap into their hunting heritage and provide an outlet for their strong prey drive.

They can also participate in events like agility trials, rally obedience, and even dock diving, which showcase their versatility and athleticism.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Rhodesian Ridgeback, it’s crucial to consider the weather conditions, as they are sensitive to extreme heat and cold.

During hot weather, schedule exercise sessions for early morning or evening hours to avoid overheating, and always provide access to fresh water and shade. In colder climates, a dog coat or sweater may be necessary to keep your Ridgeback warm during outdoor activities.

Puppyhood is a crucial stage for establishing good exercise habits, but it’s important not to over-exercise a growing Rhodesian Ridgeback. Puppies have developing bones and joints that can be easily damaged by excessive physical activity. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise as your puppy grows and matures.

Training

Training a Rhodesian Ridgeback can be both rewarding and challenging, as these intelligent and independent dogs require a consistent and patient approach.

Their keen intellect means they are capable of learning quickly, but their independent nature may sometimes make them appear stubborn or strong-willed. As such, it’s essential to establish yourself as the leader from the beginning, using positive reinforcement methods to build a strong bond and encourage desired behaviors.

Consistency is key when training a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Establish a regular training schedule and maintain clear expectations for your dog’s behavior.

Using praise, treats, and affection as rewards will help reinforce good habits and keep your Ridgeback engaged during training sessions. Avoid harsh training methods or punishment, as these can damage the bond between you and your dog, leading to fear or aggression.

Early socialization is critical for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, as it helps them develop into well-adjusted and confident adult dogs. Exposing your Ridgeback to a variety of people, animals, and environments from a young age will teach them how to interact appropriately and reduce the likelihood of fear or aggression later in life.

Puppy socialization classes, obedience training, and regular outings can provide valuable opportunities for your dog to learn proper social skills.

When training a Rhodesian Ridgeback, it’s essential to be patient and persistent. Progress may be slow at times, but with dedication and a positive approach, you can achieve success. Keep training sessions short, fun, and engaging to maintain your dog’s interest and motivation.

Remember that every dog is unique, and it’s important to tailor your training methods to suit your Ridgeback’s individual needs and personality.

rhodesian ridgeback showing its ridge
Photo: Katerina_Brusnika/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining the overall health and well-being of your Rhodesian Ridgeback. As a large and active breed, their dietary needs may differ from those of smaller or less active dogs.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting suitable dog food for your Rhodesian Ridgeback, it’s essential to choose high-quality products that follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines. These guidelines ensure that the food contains the appropriate balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals required for the breed’s specific needs.

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw diets. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s crucial to consult your veterinarian about the best option for your individual dog.

The amount of food you should feed your Rhodesian Ridgeback depends on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and overall health. Generally, puppies require more frequent meals to support their rapid growth and development, while adult dogs can be fed fewer meals per day.

A typical feeding schedule for a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy would include three to four small meals per day, gradually reducing to two meals per day as they reach adulthood. Always refer to the feeding guidelines provided by the dog food manufacturer and adjust the portions according to your dog’s specific needs.

Treats

Treats can be a useful tool for training and rewarding your Ridgeback but should be given in moderation. Overfeeding treats can lead to obesity and other health issues, so it’s essential to monitor your dog’s treat intake and ensure it doesn’t exceed 10% of their daily caloric intake. Opt for healthy and low-calorie treats, such as lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, to keep your dog satisfied without compromising their diet.

Water

Proper hydration is crucial for your Rhodesian Ridgeback’s overall health. Ensure that your dog always has access to clean, fresh water, especially during hot weather or after exercise. Monitor your dog’s water intake and consult your veterinarian if you notice any significant changes, as this could be an indicator of a health issue.

Health

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is generally a healthy and robust breed, with a life expectancy of 10-12 years. However, like all dog breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues.

Here are some common health concerns associated with the breed:

Hip Dysplasia: This genetic condition occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and mobility issues. Screening for hip dysplasia through x-rays and selecting breeding dogs with healthy hips can help reduce the risk.

Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a developmental abnormality in the elbow joint that can cause pain, lameness, and arthritis. Regular check-ups and early intervention can help manage this condition.

Hypothyroidism: This hormonal disorder results from an underactive thyroid gland, causing symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be managed with medication and regular monitoring of thyroid hormone levels.

Dermoid Sinus: A congenital defect specific to the breed, dermoid sinus is a tube-like formation in the skin that can become infected and cause severe complications. Early detection and surgical removal are necessary to prevent further issues.

Degenerative Myelopathy: This progressive neurological disorder affects the spinal cord, leading to weakness and paralysis of the hind limbs. There is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, but supportive care and physical therapy can help manage the condition.

To maintain the overall health of your Rhodesian Ridgeback, a balanced and nutritious diet tailored to their specific needs is crucial. High-quality dog food that meets AAFCO guidelines will provide the necessary nutrients and energy for their active lifestyle.

Regular veterinary check-ups, typically at least once a year, are essential for early detection and management of any health issues. These visits will also allow your veterinarian to monitor your Ridgeback’s growth, weight, and general well-being.

Vaccinations against common canine diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and rabies are vital to protect your dog’s health and prevent the spread of these illnesses.

rhodesian ridgeback playing in water
Photo: studioraffi/Getty Images

History

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a rich and fascinating history that traces back to the African continent. This unique breed was developed in the 19th century in Southern Africa, primarily in what is now Zimbabwe, which was once known as Rhodesia.

The breed’s origins can be linked to the indigenous Khoikhoi people’s semi-domesticated hunting dogs, who were known for their distinctive ridge of hair along their backs.

European settlers, particularly the Dutch Boers, arrived in Southern Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing with them various dog breeds such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, and Bloodhounds. These dogs were interbred with the native Khoikhoi dogs, resulting in a versatile and hardy breed that could withstand the harsh African climate and terrain.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks were primarily bred for hunting purposes, most notably for tracking and cornering lions. Reverend Charles Helm, a missionary, played a significant role in the breed’s development when he brought two ridgeback dogs to his mission in Rhodesia in 1877.

Cornelius van Rooyen, a big-game hunter, recognized the potential of these dogs and started breeding them with his own pack of hunting dogs. The resulting offspring displayed the traits that the breed is known for today – strength, agility, courage, and the iconic ridge of hair along their spine.

The breed’s prowess as a lion hunter earned them the nickname “African Lion Hound,” though it’s important to note that they were not used to kill lions but rather track, corner, and hold them at bay until the hunters arrived. Their exceptional scenting abilities and endurance also made them adept at hunting other game, such as antelope and wild pigs.

The first breed standard for the Rhodesian Ridgeback was written by F.R. Barnes in 1922, and the breed was officially recognized by the South African Kennel Union in 1926. The Ridgeback’s popularity began to spread beyond Southern Africa, with the first Rhodesian Ridgebacks imported to the United States in the early 20th century.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Rhodesian Ridgeback in 1955, and the breed was assigned to the Hound Group. Since then, the Ridgeback has gained popularity not only as a hunting companion but also as a loyal family pet and versatile working dog. They have had notable success in various canine sports, such as obedience, agility, and lure coursing.

In popular culture, Rhodesian Ridgebacks have made appearances in movies, television shows, and literature. One of the most famous Ridgebacks in literature is Tigger, a character in Alexandra Fuller’s memoir “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” which recounts her childhood experiences growing up in Rhodesia during the 1970s.

Today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback remains a unique and captivating breed, celebrated for its distinctive appearance, remarkable history, and versatile abilities. While they may no longer be needed to hunt lions, their exceptional qualities as loyal companions, protectors, and athletes continue to make them a beloved choice for many dog enthusiasts worldwide.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Rhodesian Ridgeback in the United States is the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS). Founded in 1950, the club is dedicated to preserving and promoting the breed through responsible breeding practices, education, and various events.

The RRCUS serves as a valuable resource for Rhodesian Ridgeback owners, breeders, and enthusiasts. You can visit their webpage here to learn more about the breed, club activities, and membership opportunities.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

rhodesian ridgeback puppies playing in the backyard
Photo: animalinfo/Getty Images

Acquiring

When considering acquiring a Rhodesian Ridgeback, it’s essential to prepare for the responsibility of owning this active and intelligent breed. Research their unique traits, exercise needs, and training requirements to ensure you can provide a suitable home.

Instead of purchasing a puppy, consider rescuing a Ridgeback in need of a loving home. Many Ridgebacks end up in shelters or rescue organizations due to a lack of understanding of their specific needs.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) can help connect you with rescue organizations and available Ridgebacks in your area.

FAQs

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks good family dogs?

Yes, Rhodesian Ridgebacks can make excellent family dogs, given their loyal, affectionate, and gentle nature. They typically bond well with children and can be protective of their family members. However, due to their size and strength, early socialization and consistent training are crucial to ensure a well-behaved and compatible family pet.

Did Rhodesian Ridgebacks actually hunt lions?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks were primarily used for tracking and cornering lions, rather than killing them. Their exceptional scenting abilities, courage, and endurance made them adept lion hunters. They would hold the lion at bay until the hunters arrived, earning them the nickname “African Lion Hound.”

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks expensive?

The cost of a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy can vary depending on factors such as the breeder’s reputation, location, and the quality of the lineage. Prices typically range from $1,000 to $3,000. It’s essential to research reputable breeders and prioritize health and temperament over price.

Will a Rhodesian Ridgeback protect you?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are naturally protective of their families and can be effective guard dogs. Their loyalty, courage, and wariness around strangers contribute to their protective instincts. However, it’s important to remember that every dog is an individual, and not all Ridgebacks will exhibit the same level of protectiveness.

Do Rhodesian Ridgebacks require a lot of exercise?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are an active and energetic breed that requires at least an hour of daily exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Activities such as walks, runs, hikes, or off-leash play in a secure area can help meet their exercise needs. Engaging in canine sports like agility or lure coursing can also provide additional stimulation.

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks hypoallergenic?

No, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not considered hypoallergenic. They have a short, dense coat that sheds moderately throughout the year. Regular grooming can help minimize shedding, but they may still cause allergic reactions in individuals with dog allergies.

How easy is it to train a Rhodesian Ridgeback?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are intelligent and capable of learning quickly, but their independent nature can sometimes make them appear stubborn or strong-willed. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement methods are essential when training a Ridgeback.

Fun Facts

  • Don’t be fooled by their laid-back demeanor; Rhodesian Ridgebacks are athletic and agile. They’re known for their impressive jumping abilities, with some Ridgebacks able to clear a 5-foot fence without a running start!
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not known to bark excessively. They prefer to save their vocal skills for when it’s necessary, making them great pets for those who prefer a quieter home environment. But don’t worry, they’ll still alert you if something unusual is going on!

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