Breed Type: Hound
Country of Origin: Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe)
Popular Names: African Lion Hound, African Lion Dog, African Bull-Dog, Rhodesian Lion Dog, the Ridgeback
Height: (At the withers) Males 63 – 69 cm, Females 61 – 66 cm
Weight: Males 36.5 kg, Females 32 kg
Best suited as: Companion, guard dog, watch dog, or hunting dog
Lifespan: 9 – 15 years
The most notable feature of the national dog of South Africa is the ridged strip of fur running down its back.
This is a beautiful dog with smooth, glossy, sleek fur over all of its body except for a section of fur from the shoulders to the hips that grows opposite to the rest of the coat. They come in light wheaten to red wheaten and may have white on their chest and toes. Some have brown (liver) noses while others have black. Black-nosed dogs have dark eyes, while brown-nosed dogs have amber eyes. Their fur is resistant to ticks and their tough and thick foot pads are made for walking on rough terrain. They can adapt to cold or hot conditions. These large dogs are very strong and muscular. Some males have grown to weigh up to 72 kg, although most grow to be around 36 kg.
When Dutch settlers first came to Cape Town, they noticed that the nomadic Khoi people of South Africa used a medium-sized, semi-domesticated dog for hunting, herding, and guarding. These dogs had a ridge of hair growing backwards down the length of the spine. They were very hardy and very fierce dogs, accustomed to hunting in the African bush. The settlers started to use these dogs themselves.
In the 1860s, the settlers started to import their own dogs from Europe to breed with the African dogs. Those dogs became what was known as the Boerhounds.
In 1873, a Reverend Charles Helm bought two bitches from the Khoi people and travelled north where he met Cornelius Van Rooyen, a big game hunter in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Van Rooyen and Helm bred the ridged dogs to Van Rooyen’s imported English Pointers, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Irish Terriers, Rough Collies, and Bulldogs in order to create a breed that could track and hold leopards and lions at bay. The resulting dogs became known as the Van Rooyen Lion Dogs. Van Rooyen died and in 1922, a breed standard was developed and the name was changed to the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Ridgebacks were exported to Western countries in the 1930s and their popularity grew.
These dogs are fierce and still capable of tracking and hunting lions, but are used more now for companion animals. A well-trained, secure dog should never be aggressive or shy towards people. They are strong-willed, intelligent, loyal, and can be reserved towards strangers. They are very protective of their family and make great watch and guard dogs.
They make devoted, affectionate pets and get along well with children and other household pets as long as they have been raised with them. They can be aggressive with other dogs and so socialization should be early and often. This this dog’s instincts tell it to chase and take down small and large game, so be very cautious when you let your dog off-leash in an unfenced area.
Ridgebacks need lots of training by an experienced, dedicated dog owner. Training must be consistent, firm, and fair. Care should be taken to ensure that the dog’s protective instincts do not get out of control, because an overly fierce, aggressive dog with poor training is a dangerous beast. Young dogs do not take harsh correction very well and adult dogs will not tolerate harsh training methods.
Care and Grooming
They have minimal grooming needs – just a quick run-through with a rubber brush, and a wipe down with a damp cloth once a week will keep this dog looking beautiful and glossy. Unless the dog rolls in something nasty or particularly sticky, it should only need a bath once or twice a year.
Even though their coat is tick-resistant, you should check your dog for ticks when you come in from walking in the brush.
Check its ears for irritation, wax build-up, and infection regularly. You may clean them with a cotton ball and safe cleanser to remove excess wax.
When your dog is a pup, get it used to ear inspections, nail clipping, and teeth brushing sessions to make your life easier. If your dog doesn’t wear its nails down naturally you will have to trim the nails once a month. Brush its teeth once a week to keep its gums healthy and to prevent tartar and tooth decay.
These athletic dogs need plenty of exercise. They are full of energy and possess great endurance. They need at least a couple of hours of exercise each day, and a bored, under-exercised dog of this breed will become aggressive, destructive, and noisy. Ridgebacks make good rollerblading, cycling, or jogging companions. They also enjoy obedience and agility trials, flyball, tracking trials, conformation shows, lure coursing, draft trials, and scent hurdles. They also make great search and rescue dogs.
Most Ridgebacks live to between 10 and 12 years. They have a few serious health concerns, particularly dermoid sinus, thyroid problems, and hip dysplasia. Dermoid sinus, also called dermoid cyst is a congenital neural tube defect that causes dermoids beneath the skin. When these become abscessed, they swell and can threaten the dog’s life. Dogs with dermoid sinus should never be used as breeding stock.
Other health concerns for this breed are deafness, degenerative myelopathy, bloat, elbow dysplasia, and eye disorders like cataracts and entropion.
Always obtain your dog from a reputable and conscientious breeder to avoid health issues in your pet.
Suitability As A Pet
These dogs are not suitable for uncertain or inexperienced dog owners unless they are willing to learn how to train properly, and have the time and money to spend a lot of time in obedience classes.
Children who live with a Ridgeback need to establish leadership roles so that the dog will follow their directions. Very small children might be unintentionally knocked down in play or hit in the face with the dog’s strong and hard tail, so parents should consider this before purchasing a dog of this size and enthusiasm.
Rhodesian Ridgeback Organisations in Australia
National Rhodesian Ridgeback Council
Rhodesian Ridgeback Organisations in the UK
Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain
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