Rhodesian Ridgeback

Also known as the "African lion hound"

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Also known as the "African lion hound," the large, muscular, athletic Rhodesian Ridgeback has its roots in South Africa, where it was bred to be a hunting dog by Boer farmers. Its ancestors were probably mostly comprised of a particular kind of hunting dog prized by the Hottentots that was half wild, with a ridge of hair on its back like the modern-day Rhodesian Ridgeback. These dogs were naturally interbred with other dogs brought by immigrants to South Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries, including Terriers, Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, Danes, and Mastiffs, as well as other breeds. This calm, gentle, somewhat aloof dog makes an excellent family pet, given that it is extremely loyal once it has bonded to the family. Nonetheless, should you get one as a pet, be aware that a dog of this girth can easily topple a small child without realizing its own strength. Without meaning to, your pet could unwittingly knock a toddler over and hurt him without your close attention.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback probably has within its bloodline the original guard dog of the Khoikhoi people, which were inhabitants of Cape Peninsula during the mid-17th century. That lean, muscular dog had the characteristic ridge of hair along its back similar to that of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. By the 1860s, Terriers, Greyhounds, Bloodhounds, Foxhounds, and Great Danes had been brought into the area by emigrating Europeans, and these dogs were bred with the indigenous African dogs including those kept by the Khoikhoi people. The result was the Boer hunting dog, the ancestor to the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback.

The Rev. Charles Helm went to the Hope Fountain Mission in the South of Rhodesia during the 1870s, and took two of the Khoikhoi ancestor dogs with him. Cornelius van Rooyen hunted big game and decided to breed his dogs with the "Ridgeback" dogs, and the offspring of those dogs were the first of the modern Rhodesian Ridgebacks. The first breed standard was written in Rhodesia in 1922, by an F.R. Barnes, and was first approved in South Africa in 1926 by the South African Kennel Union. The first of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks were shown in 1928 in Britain, by Mrs. Edward Foljambe. The breed was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1955, classified as a hound.


The most notable feature of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is its "ridge" of hair along its spine, hair that runs counter to the rest of the coat. There's a fan-shaped area comprised of two "whorls" of hair, which start at the base of the shoulders and go to the hip area.

The dogs themselves are large, with males standing between 25 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing about 85 pounds; and females standing 24 to 20 inches at the shoulder, weighing between 65 and 75 pounds. Quite muscular and athletic, the dogs have short, dense, glossy coats that are light or red "wheaten" color, perhaps with some white on the chest and toes. AKC standards say that there may be a small presence of black or dark brown hairs in the coat, as well as the inclusion of a dark mask. Black or brown noses are part of the breed standard for the AKC, but no other color. Eyes are round and match the colors of the noses. Amber eyes match a brown nose, and dark eyes match a black nose. The tail is long and sleek.


Once Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies bond with you, they will be lovely, loyal and intelligent. However, your pet will be aloof toward strangers but never aggressive. Properly socialized, Ridgeback dogs tend to ignore strangers rather than challenge them. Although your pet is strong-willed, he or she will be pretty easy to train as long as you do so carefully. In spite of your pet's large and imposing appearance, he or she is also very sensitive and can easily be hurt with harsh methods. To develop a welladjusted dog, it is recommended that you use gentle but firm training from puppyhood, in addition to positive reinforcement and proper socialization. Fair, gentle and consistent discipline will be readily accepted by your pet as long as he or she trusts and knows you. In 1922, Francis Barnes wrote the first standard, stating, "Rough treatment… should never be administered to these dogs, especially when they are young. They go to pieces with handling of that kind."


Hip dysplasia, frequently found in many large dogs, is a common health problem for the Ridgeback dog. Bloat is also a grave concern and can be fatal if not taken care of quickly. Dermoid sinus, a neural tube defect, is a relatively rare but regular occurrence (about 5%) for these dogs, and surgery will remove the defect – although dermoid sinuses that are not removed abscess and will become chronic problems that may result in death if untreated, as they can cause meningitis. Dogs that have had dermoid sinuses should not be bred, even if the condition has been surgically corrected. Folic acid should be given to a female to be bred in order to prevent the condition. They may also be prone to mast cell tumors. General life expectancy for your Ridgeback is about 10 to 11 years.

Proper Environment

Your pet is very athletic and will need vigorous exercise, including daily walks. He or she will make a great jogging companion and family dog, although we must stress again, you must be one who is the “alpha dog,” since these high-energy dogs can be destructive if not properly (but gently) disciplined. Surprisingly, your large pet does well in an apartment as long as he or she is given plenty of exercise, although a large yard will be very welcome.

These are hardy dogs who don't tire easily, and your pet can also handle inclement or rapidly changing weather, including extreme fluctuations in hot and cold. No delicate flower this dog, your Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy will grow and remain healthy with careful care and attention. Just make sure you feed him or her small meals to avoid weight gain and the aforementioned very dangerous bloat.


Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies are very easy to take care of, and simple brushing with a firm brush should be enough. Bathe only rarely, if necessary.

Questions people often ask about Rhodesian Ridgebacks...

  • +Do Rhodesian Ridgebacks shed a lot?

  • +Is the Rhodesian Ridgeback easy to train?

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