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rec.pets.dogs: Rhodesian Ridgebacks Breed-FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/breeds/ridgebacks
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Last-modified: 27 Feb 1997

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This article is Copyright 1996 by the Author(s) listed below. 
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
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                             Rhodesian Ridgebacks
   Note: This is an unofficial document about Ridgebacks. The official
   Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS) Information
   packet can be found on line at
Table of Contents

     * Characteristics and Temperament
     * Frequently Asked Questions
     * Description (Official Standard)
     * Recognized
     * History
     * Special Medical Problems
     * References
          + Books
          + Publications
          + Email list for owners
          + Breed Rescue Organizations
          + Breeders
          + Breed Clubs
     * Selected Other WWW Links of Interest
     * Sources and Authors of This Document
Characteristics and Temperament

   The Rhodesian Ridgeback, sometimes referred to as the African Lion
   Hound, is a native of South Africa. Ridgebacks are sturdy,
   low-maintenance, short-haired dogs, bred by Boer farmers for two
   purposes: hunting lions and staying home with the family while other
   members of the household were out hunting or farming. The breed is a
   very good people dog, bonding well to a family if introduced into the
   family in the first 4-5 years of the dog's life. Ridgebacks are
   usually quite gentle with their family and with people their masters
   introduce to them but are great watchdogs if people they don't know
   appear or sounds they don't understand occur around their home.
   Ridgebacks are very smart, responsive, and trainable. They can easily
   master the basics of good canine citizenship: down, stay, come, no
   jump, quiet. They are, like many hounds, independent thinkers. This
   means that they are not traditionally seen competing for advanced
   obedience titles (though some Ridgebacks each year DO get their UD
   titles). Because they are large and intelligent, some obedience
   training is necessary to keep them under control and avoid their
   becoming a nuisance.
Frequently Asked Questions

   _How is the Ridgeback around children? Other pets? As a watchdog?_
     The Ridgeback is an extremely tolerant, excellent companion for
     children, able to amiably withstand a great deal of abuse from even
     the smallest of toddlers. However, no child should be left
     unsupervised around any dog, as either may hurt the other, even
     unintentionally. And due to its large size, younger and more
     excitable Ridgebacks may knock smaller children over by accident.
     The Ridgeback is a gregarious animal, enjoying the company of other
     dogs. Beware of having several male dogs -- this can lead to
     dominance struggles (as is true with several males of many breeds).
     They can be good with cats if brought up with them, but fiercely
     effective in defending their territory from stray dogs and cats.
     The Ridgeback is an excellent natural watchdog and family
     protector, requiring only that the owner has control over it.
   _Are they noisy? Do they have any bad habits?_
     Ridgebacks tend to bark only when there is something worthwhile to
     bark at (unless one has fallen into bad habits out of boredom).
     They are very athletic, easily able to clear high fences unless the
     owner has taken proper precautions to see that this does not occur.
     Proficient swimmers, they can be an annoyance if the owner does not
     want them in the pool! They are not usually nuisance diggers, but
     can create large pits to escape summer heat if left out of doors. A
     Ridgeback can become a roamer out of boredom, often falling victim
     to automobiles, so it is important to have a properly fenced yard.
   _Is the Ridgeback a good house-dog?_
     The Ridgeback is an extremely clean dog with little odor, and
     minimal shedding due to the short coat. In general, a Ridgeback
     kept indoors sheds a little all year round, whereas an outside one
     will experience seasonal shedding. They do not drool, except in
     anticipation of food. They are generally easy to housetrain. They
     will take over the furniture unless their owners discourage this
     habit from puppyhood. A happily wagging tail will easily clear off
     low coffee tables.
   _Are there any special feeding problems?_
     Most Ridgebacks would have to be dead before refusing to eat! They
     can drool quite a bit when their food is being prepared. They will
     inhale their food enthusiastically. Consequently, Ridgeback owners
     need to monitor their dogs' weight and cut back to prevent obesity.
     Sometimes a good cupboard lock is needed to keep a clever dog from
     helping itself.
   _How much exercise does a Ridgeback need?_
     Like any medium-large dog, Ridgebacks need exercise--a daily romp
     in the back yard or park and a couple of longer trips to the park
     per week should be sufficient. More would be better, but Ridgebacks
     do adapt to their people.
   _Are they energetic or hyper?_
     A young Ridgeback is a very energetic fellow. But as Ridgebacks
     mature, most of them become much more laid back. One author calls
     them the "kings of dozing." Some say that a mature Ridgeback is
     happiest when either running flat out across a field or flat out
     asleep at your feet. In general, they mature into lovely calm dogs
     that do well when raised with children and other pets.
   _Where does that ridge on their back come from?_
     The Rhodesian Ridgeback's ancestry includes a dog native to
     Southern Africa--a tribal dog, a companion and a hunter, with a
     ridge of hair growing backwards down its back. European settlers
     admired the hunting ability and temperament of the native dogs and
     bred them with the dogs they had imported from Europe and North
     African colonies. They found that the "cross-breeds" that had the
     ridge had the most desirable hunting ability and temperaments and
     began to breed specifically for the ridge. And thus the breed was
   _Were they really used to hunt lions?_
     Yes, when the breed was imported to Rhodesia, the big game hunters
     of the time found them to be excellent hunters and used them to
     hunt lions. They were found to be the only breed of dog that could,
     in a pack, keep a lion at bay for the hunter, and live.
   _Are they good for general hunting?_
     Yes. The Ridgeback has been used successfully in hunting bobcat,
     mountain lion, bear, coyote, deer, wild boar and raccoon in the US,
     Canada, and Mexico. There have also been reports of Ridgebacks
     having been train to point upland game and retrieve game and fowl,
     but their true talent lies in cornering the prey for the hunter to
     finish off.


   The Ridgeback represents a strong, muscular and active dog,
   symmetrical and balanced in outline. A mature Ridgeback is a handsome,
   upstanding and athletic dog, capable of great endurance with a fair
   (good) amount of speed. Of even, dignified temperament, the Ridgeback
   is devoted and affectionate to his master, reserved with strangers.
   The peculiarity of this breed is the ridge on the back. The ridge must
   be regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed.
          A mature Ridgeback should be symmetrical in outline, slightly
          longer than tall but well balanced. Dogs - 25 to 27 inches in
          height; Bitches - 24 to 26 inches in height. Desirable weight:
          Dogs - 85 pounds; Bitches - 70 pounds.
          Should be of fair length, the skull flat and rather broad
          between the ears and should be free from wrinkles when in
          repose. The stop should be reasonable well defined.
          Should be moderately well apart and should be round, bright and
          sparkling with intelligent expression, their color harmonizing
          with the color of the dog.
          Should be long, deep and powerful. The lips clean, closely
          fitting the jaws.
          Should be black, brown or liver, in keeping with the color of
          the dog. No other colored nose is permissible. A black nose
          should be accompanied by dark eyes, a brown or liver nose with
          amber eyes.
          Jaws level and strong with well-developed teeth, especially the
          canines or holders. Scissors bite preferred.
          The neck should be fairly strong and free from throatiness. The
          chest should not be too wide, but very deep and capacious, ribs
          moderately well sprung, never rounded like barrel hoops (which
          would indicate want of speed). The back is powerful and firm
          with strong loins which are muscular and slightly arched. The
          tail should be strong at the insertion and generally tapering
          towards the end, free from coarseness. It should not be
          inserted too high or too low and should be carried with a
          slight curve upwards, never curled or gay.
          The shoulders should be sloping, clean and muscular, denoting
          speed. Elbows close to the body. The forelegs should be
          perfectly straight, strong, and heavy in bone. The feet should
          be compact with well-arched toes, round, tough, elastic pads,
          protected by hair between the toes and pads. Dewclaws may be
          In the hind legs, the muscles should be clean, well defined and
          hocks well down. Feet as in front.
          Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance but
          neither wooly nor silky.
          Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and
          toes permissible but excessive white there, on the belly or
          above the toes is undesirable.
          The hallmark of this breed is the ridge on the back which is
          formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the
          rest of the coat. The ridge must be regarded as the
          characteristic feature of the breed. The ridge should be
          clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical. It should start
          immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point
          between the prominence of the hips and should contain two
          identical crowns (whorls) directly opposite each other. The
          lower edge of the crowns (whorls) should not extend further
          down the ridge than one third of the ridge.
          At the trot, the back is held level and the stride is
          efficient, long, free and unrestricted. Reach and drive
          expressing a perfect balance between power and elegance.
          At the chase, the Ridgeback demonstrates great coursing ability
          and endurance.
          Dignified and even tempered. Reserved with strangers.
       General appearance, size, symmetry and balance    20
       Ridge                                             20
       Head                                              15
       Legs and Feet                                     15
       Neck and Shoulders                                10
       Body, Back, Chest, and Loin                       10
       Coat and Color                                     5
       Tail                                               5

       TOTAL                                            100

   Disqualification: Ridgelessness
   Approved by The American Kennel Club and effective September 30, 1992
Recognized by

   American Kennel Club
   Canadian Kennel Club
   Kennel Club of Great Britain
   Kennel Union of Southern Africa

   The Dutch, German, and Hugenout people who emigrated to South Africa
   in the 16th and 17th centuries brought with them Danes, Mastiffs,
   Greyhounds, Bloodhounds, Terriers, and other breeds. Then, in 1707,
   European immigration to South Africa was closed for a hundred years.
   The native Hottentots had a hunting dog that was half wild with a
   ridge on the back formed by the hair growing forward. The only other
   known dog which has such a ridge is found on the island of Phu Quoc in
   the Gulf of Siam. It is unclear whether ridged dogs appeared
   spontaneously in two parts of the world or if they first appeared in
   Africa and then, through commerce, moved with humans to Asia.
   Interbreeding between these dogs and those of the settlers eventually
   established the foundation stock for the present day Ridgeback.
   The abilities the farmers were looking for in their dogs included:
   flushing a few partridge, pulling down a wounded buck, and guarding
   the farm from maurading animals and prowlers at night. They needed to
   be shorthaired to withstand ticks, able to go 24 hours without water,
   and hold up under the dramatic day-night temperatures on the veldt.
   In 1877, Reverend Charles Helm introduced two Ridgebacks into Rhodesia
   where the big game hunters found them outstanding in the sport of
   hunting lions on horseback. They raised and bred these dogs with an
   appreciation of their exceptional hunting qualities. In 1922, a group
   of Rhodesian breeders set up a standard for the Ridgebacks that has
   remained virtually unchanged since.
   No one knows when the Ridgeback was first brought into the United
   States. A few were imported prior to 1940, possibly as early as 1912.
   However, after World War II, quite a large number were imported, not
   only into the US, but also into England and Canada. The Ridgeback was
   admitted into AKC registry in 1955.
Special Medical Problems

  Hip dysplasia
   Ridgebacks can come down with hip dysplasia. As in many breeds,
   serious efforts are under way to eliminate the problem. The most
   common tool is by rigorously certifying breeding stock by OFA,
   Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Good statistics are hard to find,
   but according to some, there are fewer cases than Saint Bernards and
   many giant breeds as well as medium sized breeds such as Golden
   Retrievers and German Shepards. This is partly because of the relative
   rarity of the breed. You should make sure that both dam and sire of
   your prospective puppy have their OFA certification.
  Dermoid Sinus
   This condition occurs when the skin is not completely closed along the
   dog's spine. While hard to detect at puppyhood, it can be done by
   those experienced in the breed. If dormant, this condition causes no
   problems and the dog can lead a normal life. Unfortunately these
   sinuses or cysts don't often remain dormant. They become inflammed and
   infected. The surgery to correct the sinus is expensive, painful and
   frequently not successful. Most breeders euthanize puppies with
   demoids as soon as they are detected. This condition is fairly rare.
   Ridgelessness is not a "medical problem" per se, but a genetic fault.
   That is, some Rhodesian Ridgebacks are born without ridges. Again,
   many breeders euthanize these puppies, a subject of some controversy.
   A puppy's ridge is very visible when he or she is whelped, but may
   sometimes become harder to judge for estimating "show potential" for
   the puppy's first several weeks of life (i.e., the ridge remains
   clearly visible but the "crowns" or "whorls" may become indistinct for
   a few weeks). However, the ridge does _not_ disappear and reappear.
   Further, a Ridgeback's ridge will _not_ develop later in life, so do
   not believe the breeder that tells you the ridge will "come in later."
   If you buy a ridgeless puppy or one with a short or imperfect ridge,
   you should expect a lower price and a spay/neuter contract.

   _Guide to the Rhodesian Ridgeback_. Published by the RRC of Great
   Britain. Write to RRC of Great Britain, Miss P. Barber, 22 Queensway,
   Old Dalby, Melthon Mowbray, Leicestershire LE14 3QH, England.
   Hawley, T.C. _The Rhodesian Ridgeback, The Origin, History &
   Standard_. Hardback. $25 plus postage. Check or money order payable to
   Natalie D. Carlton, 5630 N. Abington Road, Tucson, AZ 85743.
   Helgesen, David H. _The Definitive Rhodesian Ridgeback_. 2nd edition,
   paperback. DH Helgesen, Box 141, Pitts Meadows, Brisish Columbia
   V341AO, Canada.
   Murray, J.N. _The Rhodesian Ridgeback 1924 to 1974_. Hardback.
   Available from the author, 5 Melbourne Road, YEA, Victoria 3717,
   Australia. Write for cost and postage.
   Nicholson, Peter and Janet Parker. _The Complete Rhodesian Ridgeback_.
   Howell Book House. ISBN 0-87605-295-2. 1991.
   Woodrow, Ann. _Rhodesian Ridgeback_. Paperback. Write Mrs. J.G.
   Woodgrow, Crookswood Std Farm, Horsleys Green, High Wycombe,
   Buckinghamshire HP14 3XB, England.
   _The RRCUS Annual of Champions_ (a club sanctioned publication). Years
   1965 to 1988 available from Joe Berger, 12564 Huston St., North
   Hollywood, CA 91607. Write for availability and prices.
   _The Ridgeback_: Bi-monthly official publication of the RRCUS.
   Available only with membership.
   Pamphlets and RRCUS membership applications are available from RRCUS
   (25198 E. 19th Street, San Bernardino, CA, 92404) Send $2.00 to
   receive the following:
     * Breeder Directory including Code of Ethics
     * 10 page information packet including
          + History of the Breed
          + Dermoid Sinus
          + Frequently Asked Questions
          + Puppy buying tips
          + Hip Dysplasia
   _Rhodesian Ridgeback Quarterly_ (an independent publication). Four
   issues per year. RRQ, 4401 Zephyr St. Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-3299.
  Email list for owners
   There is an email list for owners, future owners, former owners, and
   other fanciers of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. This list is maintained by
   Richard Gordon, and has been in existence, in one form or another for
   about 4 years. On Februaru 13, 1997, it moved to
   To join, send email to with
        subscribe rr-folk

   as the first two lines in the body of the message. As of February
   1997, there are over 580 subscribers to this mailing list.
  Breed Rescue Organizations
   Your best bet is to contact the regional Rescue coordinator for your
  RRCUS Rescue Regional Coordinators
   New England (NERRC) (Maine, Mass., Vermont, N.H., Conn. R.I.)
          Kathy Milby (401) 397-5919
   Mid-Atlantic (GVFRRC) (N.J., DE, Eastern PA & Southern N.Y.)
          Edna Gilbert (609) 384-2903
   Capital (MD, VA., West Va, & DC)
          Melody Himel (804) 678-7378
   Southeast (N.C., S.C., Georgia & Fla.)
          Barbara Busch (704) 754-5961
   Erie (RRAWNY) (Western & Northern N.Y., Western PA.)
          Kelly Byers (716) 434-5372
   Mideast (Raisin River) (Michigan, Ind., Ohio & Kentucky)
          Lina Gonterman (517) 522-3308
   Midwest (MWRRC) (Minn., Wis., Iowa, Ill., Missouri)
          Barbara Sawyer-Brown (773) 281-5569
   Great Plains (N.D., S.D., Neb., Kansas)
          Karyn Finn (605) 692-7244

   Southwest (RRCOT, TVRRCOT, Dallas) (Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana)
          Tami Satterfield (817) 485-9465
   South Central (Tenn. Ala., Miss., Ark.)
          Sandra Fikes (205) 639-0969
   Northern Rockies (Colorado Ridgebacks) (Northern Col., Montana,
          Jeanne Nixon (303) 665-0642

   Southern Rockies (Rocky Mt.) (Southern Col, New Mex., Utah)
          Patty Olney (719) 593-0777

   Northwest (NWRRC) (Wash., Oregon, Idaho)
          Erin Walker (206) 925-2296
   Far West (OCRRC & SDRRC) (Cal, Nev., Arizona)
          Elizabeth Akers (510) 825-9258

   National Chair (and for outside of continental U.S.)
          Dana Jefferson (302) 454-7598

   Additional Ridgeback Rescue volunteers are listed in the RRCUS
   Breeders' Directory.
   The RRCUS Rescue Packet of Sample Forms and Information Sheets is on
   line at
   For further information about Ridgeback Rescue, contact Dana
   Jefferson, Ph. D., National Rescue Chair (302) 454-7598 or
     * _RRCUS Breeders_: Write to RRCUS, 25198 E. 19th Street, San
       Bernardino, CA, 92404, and request a copy of the most recent RRCUS
       Breeder Directory. All breeders listed in this directory have
       sworn to uphold the RRCUS code of ethics. For $2.00 (to cover the
       cost of postage and printing), you will receive the breeder's
       directory and a packet of information about the breed. This packet
       and breeder's directory are updated every Spring.
     * It is up to the buyer to ascertain whether or not a particular
       breeder meets the buyer's standards and needs.
     * You should feel free to ask a breeder for references. Further, you
       should expect a responsible breeder, whether a member of RRCUS or
       not, to exhibit evidence of careful and prudent breeding.
          + A responsible breeder X-rays the hips of all breeding stock.
          + A responsible breeder will only use dogs free of hip
            dysplasia and free of other major health problems as breeding
          + A responsible breeder will have obtained an OFA certification
            of clear hips, or an OFA preliminary X-Ray for all breeding
            stock. (OFA=Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)
          + A responsible breeder will have you register your puppy with
            AKC at the time of your purchase.
          + A responsible breeder will supply you with
               o your puppy's medical record
               o a pedigree
               o an instruction sheet
               o a small supply of your puppy's current food and water
                 (or instructions where to purchase the puppy's current
               o information about the breed
               o a guarantee that the dog will be free of hip dysplasia
                 and dermoid sinus and free of vicious propensities if
                 the dog is properly trained and treated.
     * And be forewarned: A responsible breeder will probably want to
       determine whether or not you meet his or her standards as a home
       for a puppy. Just as you may ask a breeder for references, don't
       be surprised if a breeder asks _you_ for references.
  Breed Clubs
   Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States
   Office of the Corresponding Secretary
   P.O. Box 121817
   Ft. Worth, TX 76121-1817
   (817) 732-3092
   Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States
   Public Information Coordinator
   25198 East 19th Street
   San Bernardino, CA 92404
   (909) 381-3064
Selected Other WWW Links of Interest

     * Tom Baker's The Visual Ridgeback:
       Tom is recruiting pictures from RR owners for this page. Access
       the page for details. Also includes links to other RR and canine
     * Cindy Tittle Moore's rec.pets.dogs FAQ Homepage: The Usenet FAQs include a
       list of Canine WWW sites, Breed FAQs, Activity FAQs, Kennel Club
       FAQs, General Canine FAQs, Canine Mailing Lists, and much more.
     * Terri Watson's Canine Web:
       An excellent collection of canine material, including the Canine-L
       mailing list archive, Service Dog Info, Iditarod Info, Vet Info,
       Lost Dogs, and more.
     * The RRCUS home page: Includes links to other RR
       and canine sites.
  Authors and Sources for This Document
     * Richard Gordon, January 29, 1993, (
     * Cindy Tittle Moore, February 15, 1993, (
     * David Prager, March 15, 1993, (
     * Handouts from the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the U.S.
    Rhodesian Ridgebacks FAQ currently maintained by
    Richard Gordon, (
    Cindy Tittle Moore, (
    Last Update: Jan. 16, 1997

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