- AKC recognized in 1955
- Lifespan: 10-12 years
- Size: Medium
- Energy: Medium
- Recommended Crate Size: 42” dog crate*
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Table of Contents
The Rhodesian Ridgeback originates in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Its breeding history can be traced back to the mid-17th century. Early pioneers of Cape Colony in South Africa crossed their dogs with the ridged hunting dogs belonging to the Khoikhoi people.
By the 1860s, European settlers came with several hunting dog breeds like the Great Dane, Mastiff, Greyhound, etc. They bred those breeds with the indigenous African dogs, including the one from the Khoikhoi people. The result is the predecessor of the modern Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
This dog is bred for working and hunting. People keep them to guard their livestock against predators like lions. That’s how it got its other name: African lion dog. They are able to engage lions while waiting for the owner to come and kill them. Due to this ability, they used to hunt lions until this act became illegal.
Handsome! That’s what this guy is. Even the females are...handsome, good kind of way. And this handsome dog can hunt, that’s for sure!
They are known for the distinctive ridge of hair that runs in the opposite direction, down the spine of their back.
This ridge of whorls of hair forms a fan of sorts that stands straight up at times like when he experiences fear, excitement, arousal, nervousness, surprise, and sometimes for no reason at all.
Brave enough to tackle a lion yet gentle enough to snuggle with you (or your baby), this handsome hunting dog is the ultimate hunter, guardian, and all-around companion and family dog.
If you are considering bringing a Rhodesian into your family, there are a few things you should know.
The American Kennel Club formally recognized the Rhodesian Ridgeback in 1955.
These medium energy dogs are known as affectionate, dignified, and even-tempered. They are very loyal to their families. They are quite protective without being aggressive.
Barking or growling is not the method they will use first. Instead, they will put their muscular body between the owner and the potential threat.
The Ridgeback has high tolerance toward children, but not with other dogs, strangers, and smaller animals (except for family pets they have grown with). Hence, they will require early training with strict supervision.
They are only for assertive pet owners. Well-trained Rhodesians can be a great companion with useful skills. In contrast, the untrained one will be dominant and pushy. That makes them unable to become everyone’s pet.
This breed is a big eater. The owners must provide food with proper portions to prevent obesity.
The rich history of the Ridgebacks dates back to the mid-17th century. Also known as “The African Lion Hound”, this fine breed originated in South Africa as a result of Cape Colony pioneers crossing their own Boer dogs with the local Khoikhoi’s ridged hunting dogs who were boar hunters. The Khoikhoi dogs were said to be ugly in appearance but fierce and loyal.
In the 1860s, settlers from Europe came along and brought with them dedicated hunting dogs such as Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, Terriers, and Great Danes. These breeds mated with the local dogs, including the Khoikhoi’s ridge dogs and other indigenous dogs in the area.
Genetic testing indicates that it was the Great Dane and Ridgeback union that is the prime mix that led the way for the birth of the beloved Rhodesian.
It was in 1922 when a preacher man named Reverend F.R. Barnes in Southern Rhodesia actually created the first true blue Rhodesian Ridgeback and named it after the geographical location as well as for its ridged back. The dogs were also called “Van Rooyen’s Lion Dog”.
Rhodesians had a very important job to do. Since lions were one of the biggest problems the settlers faced, this dog immediately became a watchdog. While the villagers were busy hunting, this dog stood guard over the livestock.
When lions or other predators came to call, the brave dogs kept them at bay, engaging them until the owner got home and “took care” of the threat.
They were also talented hunters, especially when it comes to lions. Hence, they earned the title of “The Lion Dog”. Eventually, it became illegal for Ridgebacks to hunt lions though.
The South African Kennel Union approved the breed in 1927. The first Rhodesian Ridgebacks were shown in Britain in 1928.
It wasn’t until 1950 when a carefully selected group of six of the breed were brought to the United States that the process began for them to become recognized by the American Kennel Club.
In 1952, the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain was founded and finally, in 1954, American efforts finally paid off and the Rhodesian became a proud member of the AKC. He was formally officiated as part of the hound group.
There are some interesting facts about this breed. Rhodesians either carry a single copy of the ridged coat gene or a double copy of it.
Those who have a double copy gene will never have pups that don’t have the raised ridgeback even if the other parent doesn’t have the gene.
When two parents with only one gene mate, their puppies stand a chance to be un-ridged. Although the ridge is this dog’s defining trait, it can also be a weak point on his as well, medically speaking.
The only way to truly be for sure how many genes a Rhodesian has is to have a marker test performed.
In modern times, you will doubtfully find a Rhodesian Ridgeback holding off a lion until his pet parent returns home. Instead, you will probably find him hiking with his owner or maybe even hanging on the sofa with his family.
This dog breed is a good looking specimen and is generally described as being handsome.
They are lean and muscular, generally measuring about an average of 25-27 inches for males and around 24-26 inches for females. They typically weigh in at 85 pounds when male and around 70 pounds when female.
The coat of this dog is soft, smooth, and nothing short of intriguing. It is short and easy to care for although he does have a double layer and sheds more than you might think.
His coat has a ridge that goes against the grain, meaning it runs the opposite way the rest of the hair does. It runs all the way down his spine and stands up at times. Even when it is not standing up, there is a distinct marking where it lays.
His hallmark raised ridge is so important, those that do not have a well-defined one are automatically disqualified from being in the AKC show ring.
It is just too much a part of his character to discard it. In addition, his ridge should include two whorls, or crowns, that are directly opposite of one another.
The coloring of the Ridgeback is typically red wheaten or light wheaten. There are some who have white markings on their toes and/or chests. Too much of the white markings are considered undesirable, however.
The Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a strong and muscular body. They have great endurance and fair speed.
This dog is well-known for the unique feature of ridge hair on its back. It runs the opposite way from the rest of the coat along its spine.
Their coat is very short and smooth. They are generally available in colors like light wheaten and red wheaten. Some of them have white markings on the chest and toes.
It is recommended to provide food that is formulated to large-sized breeds or, if possible, for Rhodesian Ridgebacks in particular. It is highly recommended to discuss the frequency and quantity of his feeding with your veterinarian and/or breeder in order to ensure that he is healthy and that he has the best chance for a long life.
This breed eats quite a bit and has a tendency to overeat as well. You will want to pay close attention to prevent obesity. Obesity in dogs, just as in humans, can lead to a myriad of health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Making sure his dog food is optimal for his size and breed is one way to help him stay fit and also limiting his snacks and treats is a good thing. Taking care to oversee that his calorie intake and his burning of the calories are balanced is helpful too.
It is also imperative to ensure that clean, fresh water is always available. In the olden days, this breed of dog used to drink his fill all at one time, such as in the mornings and evenings and go long periods of time without any because oftentimes water wasn’t always available.
So, don’t be surprised if your Rhodie still has this habit instilled in him. You will still want to keep the water available and encourage him to drink it at all times during the day.
There’s not a lot to a Rhodesian Ridgeback's grooming needs. His coat is short and dense. It does shed some as a rule and even more so in the spring and fall months. You will want to brush him a few times a week to keep his shedding minimal and for the health of his coat and his skin.
Bathing is recommended at least once a month. This will keep him clean and smelling fresh. Do be sure to use a hypoallergenic shampoo as his skin can be quite sensitive and the breed sometimes suffers from skin allergies.
If your dog has a definite dislike for baths as some Rhodies do, you can take advantage of his swimming time and lather him up then let him go back in to rinse him off. He doesn’t tend to smell much at all so as long as he gets clean, it’s all good and it’s also a prime example about how pet parents of this breed can meet them halfway.
Make it a point to keep his ears clean and dry. If you think they are giving him a problem, have them checked. Pawing at the ear area is a sign they may be bothering him. Untreated ear issues can lead to infections which can require surgery or can even result in deafness.
Keep his toenails trimmed. Usually, a Ridgeback spends a good amount of time outdoors so he may wear them down naturally. Even so, watch for chipping, cracking, and ripping.
This breed often has an issue with having his nails clipped. If your Rhodie does, you may consider taking him to the vet or a groomer to have them done. It is imperative that the job gets done, no matter what route you have to take.
Dental care with the Ridgeback is imperative. To help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, brush his teeth once a week, at least. You can use a doggie toothbrush and flavored toothpaste or you can use your fingers if he’s more receptive to that.
These medium energy dogs require between 30-60 minutes of daily activity. Once you bring Rhodesian Ridgeback to your home, it is recommended that you train them immediately.
As mentioned, this breed has a medium energy level but when it surfaces, he has the need to let it out in full force. Then, he’s done for a while. It’s all in his bloodline, passed down through genetics from what his day to day life used to require of him, energy-wise.
That boils down to the fact that at times, your Rhodesian will require vigorous exercise. After that is complete, he’ll probably take a nap with you.
This dog needs no less than 30 minutes of formal exercise, like walking, per day. Sixty minutes is even better. You can break it up into two intervals but he is fine with having it all at once, if you are.
When walking your Rhodesian, you will probably notice he is a hound and loves to sniff everything. He is also easily distracted by sight. If he sees a squirrel, cat, a kid on a trike, or practically anything that moves, he will lose his focus.
It’s up to you to get him back on track and not to allow him to be side-tracked. Walks should be disciplined, especially for an independent guy like this dog.
Also, be sure to lead his walk and always have him walk beside or behind you, never in front. He is sure to get the wrong impression if he gets to be in front or even if he goes out the door in front of you rather than you going first.
There should be ample active time between his walks. This pup loves to play. Games like Frisbee, Fetch, and Hide-and-Seek are perfect. Game time is excellent for bonding too. It is recommended that he get a good run or strenuous walk or hike 2-3 times per week.
It is important to wait until your Rhodie reaches 15-18 months of age or so to encourage vigorous exercise, however. Doing otherwise could instigate problems in the development of his bones.
Rhodesians are relatively fast but are mostly known for their endurance. If you want to hike up a mountain, he’s all in to accompany you.
This dog loves to swim. He’s good at it too. Swimming releases some of his pent up energy and also is a great exercise for him so he’ll be as healthy as he can be.
He’s always up for a trip to the lake, a dip in the pond, or even a day at the beach. Do be certain to keep a good eye on him though because he is apt to swim right off, he adores it so much.
Lure coursing is a fabulous exercise for the Rhodie. Lure coursing is a circuit activity that was specifically developed for sighthounds like this dog.
It embraces their inherited talent for hunting. On the course, there are pulleys that resemble live prey and mechanical lures.
They are evaluated for their stamina, speed, and agility while on the circuit. There are both competitive and non-competitive courses. If you are creative, you can make your own course to use in the backyard.
Hurdles is another thing this breed excels in. You can make your own hurdle course by tying blankets to trees or posts.
Or, you can make an obstacle course for him from things such as pillows, rubber tires, or any other safe objects you can come up with.
Walk through the course with him, be it a hurdle run or an obstacle course, then let him at it. He will most likely master it in no time.
Be sure to keep an active schedule for your Rhodie when possible. One thing you don’t want is your Ridgeback getting bored. He is likely to dig up the back yard or climb the wall (or the fence) just out of boredom.
Although he’s not one to be mischievous because he lives to please his people if he has too much time on his paws or too much energy unreleased, he is liable to come up with something destructive to do. Be sure to not only include physical exercise but mental stimulation too.
This breed thrives on problem-solving, being encouraged to push themselves, and other activities that require the use of his brain. Think “lion hunter” and you’ll have no problem coming up with plenty of things to keep this guy engaged, entertained, and exercised too.
Pet Crates Direct recommends a 42” dog crate* for most adult Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
This medium energy hound dog is very dignified, even-tempered, affectionate, and loyal. He is able to protect without being overly aggressive, a skill he brings with him from his rich heritage when he kept lions at bay.
The Rhodesian can definitely be stubborn and can teeter on the independent side. They have a tendency to stand between the person or persons they are protecting and the potential threat. If need be, they will bark or growl to reinforce their presence.
They are great family members and usually are excellent with children but not so much with other dogs or cats unless they grow up with them. They can definitely be taught to get along with most any pet though and certainly warm up to them in time.
It is important with this breed to calmly assert your leadership and therefore may not be the best choice for first-time pet parents. They are fabulous companions though when properly trained.
Although he is a leader and is a good one at that, he is happiest when his pet parent is the alpha. His pack mentality is quite strong and you’ll be doing him (and yourself) a big favor.
Still, this dog is gentle and calm for the most part, although he is notorious for being a big game hunter and a protector too. His laid back nature even fools some into thinking he is lazy but, he’s far from that.
It’s more like he’s conserving his energy for more important things and in the past, that’s exactly how he operated. He can go from neutral to peeling out in full blast in a heartbeat and that too is part of his heritage.
An athlete through and through, the Ridgeback is used to having some freedom and don't like being fenced in all day or, heaven forbid, being left in the house. He does well with some space.
He can be a climber but rarely digs except perhaps to make himself a burrow to lay in, especially in the hot summertime.
Curious by nature, the Lion Dog has a tendency to go after cats or anything else or anyone else that captures his attention. He may become a flight risk at this time so high fences are advised and it’s something to watch for when walking him too.
Being a hound, when something gets to his nose or, even more, his sight, he is off and running. He is classified as a sighthound in some organizations so it is more him going after something or someone that catches his eye that will get his attention. Anticipating that he may do so at any moment is advised. Always have a plan in mind in case he does.
Something else to watch for is that while this breed rarely actually picks a fight, he’s not likely to back down from one, even with a larger dog...or, a lion.
He very well may win the match too. It is preferred that this scenario never takes place so be cautious when he’s around other dogs or animals.
The Rhodesian is such a mix of a fierce protector and a lover, it takes a special pet parent to bring out the best in this breed. For those who do, he is a treasure indeed.
It bears repeating that Ridgeback puppies can be stubborn. This is particularly evident when training them. They are also quite intelligent so getting the object of the game across to him won’t be the problem. Having him follow through with it might be though.
A look back at the history of this mighty dog is imperative when dealing with him in training. Keep in mind, he is not like any other breed so his lessons must be unique to him.
He was a lion hunter, a protector of his people, and...he’s a sighthound. This dashingly handsome guy is conditioned to think for himself. That’s how he won many battles and how he kept his human family safe from harm.
But, an important part of training is to for the teacher to be the leader. It will take time and patience but you, as the pet parent, must establish yourself as such.
Potty training may not be such a big deal. He is likely to think he came up with the idea of “going” outside. He’s a clean dog, not one that wants to have to walk around a puddle or pile. Use this to your advantage and you’ll probably have him housetrained in no time.
Socialization is a must and it should be done as early as possible. Exposing him to a good variety of people, places, and other animals will help him immensely later on.
This breed can be a bit on the suspicious side although he can also be quite tolerant. The more you can be him used to people of all ages and temperaments, noisy places, busy places, animals of all types, and all other scenarios, the better.
Manners are important too. Teach him not to jump up on people and not to play rough with small children and other dogs. Show him the ropes and he’ll catch on.
Obedience training is where you may run into a few snags. It is vital that he learns to obey. For one thing, he is likely to take off after anything moving and he must listen and follow through when you tell him to “stay”, “stop”, or “halt”.
You can come up with your own words but the commands remain the same. If you are telling him not to run off, it is imperative for his safety and the safety of others that he mind you.
With this breed, you not only need to establish your authority in a kind, yet assertive, way, but you’ll also need to set boundaries for him. That means making sure he knows in no uncertain terms what is alright and what is not.
You cannot allow him to get by with something at times and not at other times. Consistency is everything with the Rhodie.
Positive training is the ONLY training for this dog. Scolding will get you nowhere. It will hurt his feelings and he will buck up. Plenty of praise and an occasional treat will help produce an excellent student.
Once he has obedience down, you can try some trick training out on him. If you keep it fun and within his scope of things he likes, he should come out a champ.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is fairly fortunate when it comes to health issues. There are few major illnesses the breed is prone to. There are, however, minor issues that may trouble him that you should keep a watchful eye out for.
Probably the most serious issues your Rhodie is apt to encounter are Thyroid Disease and Cataracts. They affect 21% of all Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Thyroid Disease is a malfunction of the thyroid and is marked by such signs as lethargy, unexplained weight gain or loss, and loss of hair. If you suspect your dog may be showing any of the symptoms.
Cataracts are common in the breed. They occur when there is a cloudiness in the eye. It may be just a tiny spot the size of a pin top, or the entire eye lens may be covered with a layer of film.
This condition diminishes eyesight and can lead to blindness. If you think your Rhodesian is having trouble seeing such as if he is bumping into things abnormally, his vet can administer a test.
In the event that he has the issue, there are several options for treatment including drops, oral medication, and surgery.
Dermoid Sinus is a problem with a good number of Rhodies. It is a complete separation of the skin and the nervous system that can take place anywhere on the body and can be noticed because it is tubular in formation. The issue is also known as Pilonidal Sinus. It’s a hereditary condition that actually occurs during the embryonic stage of development.
The congenital defect leaves the breed more prone to infection than those without it. If you notice such a raised section on your dog, be sure to have his vet take a good look at him.
Deafness is another condition that Ridgebacks aren’t strangers to. It can be hard to discover your dog can’t hear, initially. If he stops coming when called or looking in the direction of a loud noise, his hearing needs to be checked, especially if such a thing is uncharacteristic of him.
Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia are among the top antagonists of bone and joint problems to this dog’s health. They occur when the socket that the hip or elbow fit into are deformed.
This can be present at birth or can take place over time as the parts deteriorate due to environmental factors. This condition is painful and may warrant surgery. If your dog is limping or has gone lame, be sure to have him formally checked by his veterinarian.
Just because a Rhodesian is susceptible to the conditions above certainly doesn’t mean he’ll suffer from any of them. They are, however, things you should keep an eye out for.
If you get your dog from a breeder, making sure it’s a reputable one with good references will help reduce your risk of bringing a dog home that is loaded with medical woes. You want a dog that can enjoy a happy, healthy life with you.
Is a Rhodesian Ridgeback a Good Match for Me?
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not for everyone. If you are a first-time dog owner, you may not be up for this breed.
He requires a firm but loving hand and someone who will step up to the plate as a leader. If this doesn’t describe you, it is best for him and for yourself not to take him in.
The Ridgeback is an intelligent dog who was bred to perform a very important service. Although he doesn’t protect his owner from lions any longer, he will need to feel needed.
He’s certainly not one you should just stick in the backyard by himself all day. He’d rather jog, hike, or bike with you can curl up on the sofa with you at the end of the day.
If you live in a small apartment or condo, this breed is probably not a good fit. He is not all that active but he is large. He will do better in a house with a yard or even more ideally, somewhere where he has some romping room.
In the event that you have gone through all the information about the Rhodesian Ridgeback and still feel his a good fit for you and that you are a good fit for him, congratulations. This handsome Lion Dog might just be your new Mane Man!
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