Rhodesian Ridgeback: South African Prince of Hounds


Let’s Back Track
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are true Renaissance hounds. They are good at a variety of things and have an exciting history. Dutch colonists in southern Africa used the native hunting dogs of tribes and combined them with the more popular European breeds: Greyhounds and Terriers. Thus creating an athletic, regal-looking dog that could hunt in packs and track down lions. They were able to successfully find and confront these predators and keep them trapped by howling at them or baying from a safe distance. Imagine a pack of dogs surrounding the king of beasts like the hyenas did in Disney’s “The Lion King.” Ridgebacks were effective companions for South African-born Cornelius van Rooyen—big game hunter and dog breeder—in the late 19th century. Never killing the lions, the Ridgebacks would howl (bay) at them so the hunter had adequate time to pull out and dispatch his rifle. Ridgies are the national dog of South Africa.

Fun Fact: In the 1930s, movie star Errol Flynn (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”) was the first breeder in the United States. He bred them on his Hollywood ranch, however the bloodline is now extinct.

It’s All in the ‘Tude
Most importantly, today they are devoted family dogs that are good with children—two-legged children of the human variety, that is. Ridgebacks have an extremely strong prey drive stemming from their days of trotting alongside hunters on horses and chasing down prides. Cover dog owner Dan Broege says his dog Reggie may have high energy, but he is still his couch potato at heart. “Reggie is super friendly, loves people and other dogs, but is very protective of the house.” Reggie will guard the house all day yet sleeps under the covers in the bed at night. Ridgebacks are typically very strong-willed dogs that are independent, loyal and domineering.

Keeping One
Because they are the stereotypical strong-willed four-legged children, Ridgies need a firm trainer from youth on. The ideal candidate is someone who can positively steer them in the right direction, keeping them on a tight leash but with lots of exercise. They need training classes and early socialization in order to become well-mannered and well-adjusted companions, according to the American Kennel Club. Though this dog is extremely loyal to his or her family, this is a dog that lives indoors and needs to be fenced-in when outside and off leash due to a heavy prey drive. Broege says his Ridgeback is a freak of an athlete yet possesses some unique quirks. Reggie is a whiner and a kisser but only kisses strangers! Weird. Not the typical behavior for a Ridgie. Usually, Rhodesians are quite affectionate with their owners and more reserved with strangers. Broege also mentions that Reggie loves to watch TV and will only chew on bones that Broege holds for him. Talk about your atypical royal Ridgie.

As for appearance, this beautiful breed should look muscular, symmetrical and balanced in outline, according to the AKC. They have a signature ridge of hair down their back and range in size. Their grooming needs are small as they only require the basics: nail trimming, brushing and bathing as upkeep.

Caring For One
Having a canine companion and truly caring for one, based on a dog’s breed and individuality, are two separate things. Ridgebacks are strong, athletic dogs and need moderate amounts of daily exercise. They make great tracking and agility partners for the canine sports enthusiast. They are also highly intelligent and require mental stimulation alongside their physical needs.

Question: It takes brains and brawn to track down a lion…right?

As far as training goes, force-free dog trainer Holly Lewis of Cold Nose Canine says all breeds learn the same. She trains dogs using food, touch, toys, praise and life rewards. Lewis may not need to adjust her methods for breed; she, however, does make accommodations based on the needs, motivations and instincts of each individual dog.

“So we focus on the good the dogs are doing,” says Lewis. “We also focus on setting up the environment for the greatest success.” Lewis is currently training two Ridgies and notes they are a strong, active and durable breed that she finds to be somewhat mischievous yet very loving.

“Rhodesians are bred to hunt lions, so hunting instincts are deep,” Lewis confirms. “So caution should be taken around rabbits and other small animals.”

Note: For anyone looking to care for this breed, she says be sure to have adequate space and time. “Any breed, especially larger dogs, will need to be well-trained to represent the breed well.”

AKC Stat Box
Temperament: Affectionate, dignified, even-tempered.
Appearance: Muscular, symmetrical & balanced in outline.
Height: 25-27 inches (male), 24-26 inches (female).
Weight: 85 pounds (male), 70 pounds (female).
Breed Quirk: Ridge of hair on the back.
Coat: Short, dense, sleek and glossy.
Color: Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes.
Life Expectancy: ~10 years.