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Rhodesian Ridgeback: Breed History, Temperament, and FAQs

MrMarmalade is an Australian admirer of the Rhodesian Ridgeback, a breed he's researched extensively.

Learn about this breed's history, physical characteristics, temperament, and more.

Learn about this breed's history, physical characteristics, temperament, and more.

What You Really Need to Know About the Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a dog breed indigenous to southern Africa. Its peculiar ridge of hair, running parallel to the spine and in reverse to the rest of the coat, distinguishes it from other dogs. In this article, you'll learn:

  1. History and origin of the breed
  2. Why it’s called the “Lion Dog” or “Lion Hunting Dog”
  3. Physical characteristics (including size, weight and lifespan)
  4. More about the distinguishing ridge on its back
  5. Temperament and personality
  6. Questions to ask yourself before you get a Rhodesian Ridgeback
  7. Training tips specific to the breed
  8. Other care requirements

What Is the Breed's History and Background?

This breed can be traced to the early pioneers of the Cape Colony of Africa, who crossed their dogs with the semi-domesticated, ridged hunting dogs of the Khoisan people.

During the 19th century, big game hunting flourished in South Africa, particularly in the area north of the Limpopo River, later to become known as Rhodesia (after its founder Cecil John Rhodes). When the first white people arrived in this area, they found that the Khosian people (known to the colonists as "Hottentots") at the Cape were using dogs of the Ridgeback type for hunting purposes. Hunters were quick to realize the value and importance of good hunting dogs. In choosing dogs to fill this role, it was natural that they turned to a native breed: the Ridgeback, a dog that had, for generations, proved such a boon to the African Hottentot.

Is the Rhodesian Ridgeback a mix of breeds?

The origin of the breed is not definitely known, but the most generally accepted view seems to be that it is the result of crossing the Cuban Bloodhound with the Hottentot hunting dog, the latter supplying the characteristic ridge. From such a breeding, one would expect just such characteristics as the Ridgeback so markedly shows: speed, power, courage, fidelity and a remarkable skill in tackling wild animals.

The original breed standard was drafted by F.R. Barnes in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe), in 1922. It was based on that of the Dalmatian and was approved by the South African Kennel Union in 1926.

A Rhodesian Ridgeback guarding his territory.

A Rhodesian Ridgeback guarding his territory.

Why is the Ridgeback called "Lion Dog" or "Lion Hunting Dog"?

In the earlier parts of its history, Rhodesian Ridgebacks have also been known as Van Rooyen's Lion Dogs, African Lion Hounds or African Lion Dogs—"Simba Inja" in Ndebele or "Shumba Imbwa" in Shona—because of their ability to harass a lion and keep it at bay while waiting for their master to make the kill.

Names like "Lion Dog" became popular only because several big game hunters found this breed to be by far the best for lion hunting. Unfortunately, these names led many to assume that the dogs were the actual killers of lions—although no dog would have stood a chance in a fight with a lion!

Ridgebacks would simply harass the lion by constant feint attacks until it was held in sheer bewilderment, giving the hunter a shot at close range. With the advent of long-range rifles, hunters dispensed with the use of dogs, so the Ridgeback has had to turn to its other vocation: guard dog.

A clear view of the ridge on this breed's back.

A clear view of the ridge on this breed's back.

What Are the Ridgeback's Physical Traits?

Ridgebacks are typically muscular and have a light wheaten to red wheaten coat, which should be short, dense, sleek and glossy in appearance and neither woolly nor silky. Ridgebacks have a strong, smooth tail, which is usually carried in a gentle curve backwards. The eyes should be round and should reflect the dog's color—skin pigment, not coat color—which means you'll see dark eyes with a black nose (regardless of coat color) and amber eyes with a liver nose.

Can a Rhodesian Ridgeback have a liver nose?

Yes. The liver nose is a recessive gene so therefore is not as common as a black nose; some breeders believe the inclusion of liver noses in a breeding program is necessary for maintaining the vibrancy of the coat.

What is the average size, weight and lifespan for a Ridgeback?

Male Ridgebacks should be 25–27 inches (63–69 cm) at the withers and weigh approximately 85 lb (36.5 kg FCI Standard). Females are 24–26 inches (61–66 cm) and approximately 70 lb (32 kg).

Rhodesian Ridgebacks live to be 10–12 years of age.

Why is this breed called a "Ridgeback"?

The Ridgeback's distinguishing feature is the ridge of hair along its back running in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called "crowns") and tapers from immediately behind the shoulders, down to the level of the hips. Some Ridgebacks are born without ridges, and until recently, most ridgeless puppies were culled at birth. Today, many breeders opt instead to spay and neuter these offspring to ensure they will not be bred.

Other breeds with a ridge of fur along the spine include:

  • Thai Ridgeback
  • Africanis of South Africa
  • Kombai of Tamilnadu, India
Learn more about this breed's temperament, care requirements, and preferred training methods.

Learn more about this breed's temperament, care requirements, and preferred training methods.

What Is the Temperament of the Rhodesian Ridgeback?

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a delightful nature, being a faithful one-man or family dog. It is very affectionate and likes to lean on you, lie at your feet or sit on your lap if permitted. It is extremely loyal to those it loves. Friendship, once given, is for life. It is highly intelligent and quick to learn, as well as placid and easygoing, putting up with endless torment from children.

Happy to participate fully in family activities, the Ridgeback is equally content to laze around all day if there is nothing better to do. Although they can withstand wide temperature variations due to their African heritage, they are sensitive and prefer to be with their human families inside. They were traditionally hunters, guardians and companions.

Are Ridgebacks aggressive?

Although not usually an aggressive dog, the Ridgeback is distinctly reserved and aloof with strangers and usually objects to people making the first advances to it. An excellent guard dog, it has a deep bark to warn intruders to keep away. This breed can become territorial and aggressive without proper handling.

Things to Think About Before You Get a Rhodesian Ridgeback

Are Ridgebacks hard to train?

The Ridgeback is independent and stubborn, and if you give it an order when it would prefer to be doing something else, you will probably not get instant results. Servility plays no part in the temperament of this breed, but if you want the rewarding companionship of a dog that has spirit and considers it your equal rather than your slave, you need look no further.

No single breed of dog ideally suits everyone and there are aspects of the Ridgeback character that may not appeal to some people. But if you have decided that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the dog for you, just remember that this dog can be stubborn and needs firm but fair discipline.

What is the best training method for this breed?

Despite their athletic, sometimes imposing exterior, the Ridgeback has a sensitive side. Excessively harsh training methods that might be tolerated by a sporting or working dog will likely backfire on a Ridgeback. The Ridgeback accepts correction as long as it is fair and justified, and as long as it comes from someone he knows and trusts. (This does sound like a lot of human beings I know!) Francis R. Barnes, who wrote the first standard for Ridgebacks 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."

Is the Ridgeback compatible with other pets, children, or the elderly?

This breed is compatible with other domestic animals but needs training regarding livestock. The Ridgeback is also extremely tolerant of children; however, it is not so well-suited to older folk, who may have trouble handling a boisterous puppy.

Other care requirements to consider:

  • This is a fast-growing dog that should not be overfed or overexercised as a puppy, as this puts too much stress on developing bones.
  • Remember that this breed is part of the hound fraternity and likes to chase. Secure fencing and gates are needed.

Comments

Mandarin Ridgebacks on January 23, 2019:

I saw my first pair of ridgebacks when I was in my twenties. So majestic and regal. The best dogs I have ever raised. My female had her first litter 2 weeks ago. The fun is just beginning! My male can't wait to play with his pup's!

Roman ridgeback on February 19, 2012:

Thanks for ur hub very interest ing i got my first dog a year ago he is a male ridgeback he is so loyal and amazing with my kids they are hard but if u put the work in and gain trust you have an amazing loyal companion

kevin on September 17, 2009:

BESS IS OUR SECOND RIDGEBACK,WITHOUT DOUBT THE BEST COMPANION YOU COULD WISH FOR.OUR ADVICE IS TO CRATE TRAIN.DONE PROPERLY THEY ADJUST REALLY QUICK.

kevin on September 17, 2009:

BESS IS OUR SECOND RIDGEBACK,WITHOUT DOUBT THE BEST COMPANION YOU COULD WISH FOR.OUR ADVICE IS TO CRATE TRAIN.DONE PROPERLY THEY ADJUST REALLY QUICK.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on April 29, 2009:

Seeing you love your Rhodeswian so much, I sincerely hope you will achieve many more years with Man's best friend

Sandra on April 27, 2009:

I have Violet, who we rescued nine years ago. She is not full rhodesian Ridgeback but you would not know it to look at her. She has been a joy in our lives as we are a moderately large family of five and she loves everyone of us. You are right about the stubbornness but I hope your wrong about the life span. If you want a dog who has a wonderful personality this is definitely the one.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on January 25, 2009:

I have some books on the above and for what I have read, I would have to agree with you.

I have never owned one.

We had a a great dog called Rex and he was our doberman. He always shook hands with the burglars and when i was away traveling Val never locked the back door. Rex use to sit inside against that door.

Now he is not going to shake your hand, if you come around when he is endeavouring to sleep.

He is asleep permanently now.

Thank you

 

KRC from Central Texas on January 24, 2009:

We've owned and raised two Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Our first lived for 15 years. Our second is now 7 years old. The temperament of the two is quite different. Our first one loved to run and my husband would ride the bike with the dog running with him. This second dog prefers to lazy around. Both have been excellent guard dogs. They are very loyal and territorial.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on June 25, 2008:

Annette,

After such a wonderful eulogy how can I not do what you have commanded,

I am doing a Hub on Passion. I hope you will have a time to read it.

I have to get it through the hierarchy yet.

Thank you

Ann Martin on June 25, 2008:

well researched and well written. Although i know you didn't choose the topic, i happen to love your topics, as i would never think to research them myself, however when i find myself reading what you wrote, im rather intrigued. Keep 'em coming!!

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on May 06, 2008:

Deirdre,

You are stretching my knowledge area considerably, I will endeavour to find out for you.

thank you for your question.

Deirdre on May 05, 2008:

Hello, thanks what a nice hub. I m searching for a good puppie - so hard to know whether you've got one that has a good family background: parents with nice behavior, and whether its breeders have treated and enriched the puppie well during the first 7 weeks. Also, another question is whether there are any inbreeading problems known with Ridgebacks? Thank you for any expert advise!

Deirdre on May 05, 2008:

Hello, thanks what a nice hub. I m searching for a good puppie - so hard to know whether you've got one that has a good family background: parents with nice behavior, and whether its breeders have treated and enriched the puppie well during the first 7 weeks. Also, another question is whether there are any inbreeading problems known with Ridgebacks? Thank you for any expert advise!

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on March 29, 2008:

I love these big dogs.

Although I was bitten by a dog once as a small boy, I have never been frightened of dogs.

I believe they smell fear and react agressively

Thanks for your comment

jboland from Chico, CA on March 29, 2008:

I grew up with a Rhodesian, she was the sweetest dog. She was stubborn, but with her family (us) she was loyal and a total sweetheart. Thanks for the great hub. Jesse

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on March 19, 2008:

Chris than you for visiting I hope to enterain you in 2008

Chris Miller on March 19, 2008:

Iam new to your blog.You have a great hub.Nice article.Good work.Thanks for this informative article.

Chris Miller on March 19, 2008:

Iam new to your blog.You have a great hub.Nice article.Good work.Thanks for this informative article.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on January 14, 2008:

Firstly thank you for your very comprehensive knowledge

on that beautiful yet willful dog. Your knowledge is obviously

more comprehensive, than my scamped little piece.

Secondly I thought I could serve my apprenticeship with some

hubs, before I had my 21st.

I guess seeing you asked, I will endeavour to do some time this week

Thanks for your support and request.

Margaret Hampton from Florida on January 14, 2008:

This intelligent, willful breed can be really adorable, playful, and loving. A doctor friend has one. But the dog needs to be run on a bike a minimum of twice daily (prefers 3-4 times)... for MILES each time... As with most working breeds, it MUST have a focused "job" and lots of exercise, or all that pent-up energy will cause problems. When you can't do it, get someone else to. My doctor friend gets Rena Murray (his neighbor) to run the dog, and to care for it when he's away.

Dogs aren't concerned with "servitude" and it's not that at all. Working breeds aren't happy unless they have a "job" (like running on a leash with you, pulling a cart, etc.) about which to be proud and which keeps them from getting bored out of their skulls. They were born to work, and they aren't happy if they can't do that for which they were bred. And their inborn nature seeks the dog pack structure and psychology, so they WANT a strong leader - which is what true "dog whispering" is all about - leadership and natural dog communication systems. Then they don't feel that they have to fill that leadership position themselves (feeling they need to is stressful for them actually, but they WILL fill the void - and you might not like how they choose to do it!)

You are so right - the Rhodesian Ridgeback is NOT a dog for an inexperienced dog owner! If someone gets one and wants another dog behaviorist's view, they might want to contact Rena, too, through her website - http://www.PawPersuasion.com . Thanks for teaching people about this dog breed. It's a great Hub, and a great sevice.

You write good Hubs. Why not let us know more about you on your profile?

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on December 27, 2007:

I hope you will teach her to look after this beautiful dog

Rhodesian Ridgeback?

87% of Rhodesian Ridgebacks die too early. Free report reveals why! This was an add featured by Google when I opened the above hub. Please check it out. so you do not create an issue for you latter on. Have a great new Year

gabriella05 from Oldham on December 27, 2007:

Thank you MrMarmalade I am defiantly getting one for my little girl

Great hub by the way

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on December 24, 2007:

Okay When I have nothing to say, I will do another dog.

How's that

Thank you

Abhinaya on December 24, 2007:

Last time you had so many breeds together.Now try explaining one by one.That is my way of learning.

Loved it.Thanks:)

Michele Engholm from Hutchinson on December 24, 2007:

Great Job here Mr. Marmalade! Once again you have hit it out of the park!

Manoharan from Bangalore - 560097, Karnataka, India on December 24, 2007:

I love pets.Thanks a lot for sharing with us.

Compu-Smart from London UK on December 24, 2007:

Very interesting hub..I am learning so much here at hubpages about so many things, so thanks for sharing:)

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on December 24, 2007:

Very good hub full of good information.  This dog is a little litlte bit too big for me.  Well done.  Merry Xmas

Ho! Ho! Ho!

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on December 24, 2007:

As I see this great more I like it more and more

Thank you

aman on December 24, 2007:

I like pets.Thanks a lot for sharing with us.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on December 23, 2007:

It was a pleasure to be able to deliver

Om Prakash Singh from New Delhi on December 23, 2007:

Again a good hub from your side. thanx for sharing.

MrMarmalade (author) from Sydney on December 23, 2007:

Here is the Dog yo wanted it as a PET