The history of this breed begins with drawings on the walls of ancient caves in southern Africa. These are renderings of a jackal-type dog believed to have lived with Bushmen who are the oldest human inhabitants of the region. Those who have written about the breed believe that the Bushmen, known as the San, acquired their dogs from the Hottentots or Khoi people. These were considerably smaller dogs than the Rhodesian of today, but they too were hunters, herders, and protectors of those with whom they lived. What they have in common with the modern Rhodesian is the “zipper,” or narrow ridge of hair running down the length of the spine, and their reddish-brown color. As settlers came to the south of Africa in the mid-seventeenth century, particularly the Dutch, they obtained a number of these highly valued dogs and cross-bred them with larger breeds they brought with them from Europe, thus creating the breed of today. Eventually they were taken northward by their Dutch owners (known as Boers) to escape British rule, and settled as far as Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). The breed was introduced into England in the 1930s and shortly after in the United States, where the American Kennel Club eventually recognized it in 1955.
Although this dog is quite adaptive to various life-styles and functions, he is well-suited for guard work, as he gives an immediate impression of having a serious, territorial nature that, accompanied by a formidable bark, will make a potential wrong-doer reconsider his actions. On the other hand, the Ridgeback can be playful with members of the family while enjoying hard exercise in either the country or the city. Ridgebacks are intelligent dogs and have an aggressive nature, but not in a vicious sense. They like to roam and chase animals, automobiles, even bicycles, thus necessitating a well-constructed fence or dog run to prevent escape and injury. They enjoy digging and chewing, and can be quite stubborn about indulging these whims. Rhodesians have dominant personalities and can be aggressive unless you socialize them as puppies and give early obedience training.
This is a difficult breed to classify because some countries regard it as a hound, others as a working breed, and still others as a gun dog. Large, muscular dogs, males stand 25 to 27 inches from the shoulder, with females from 24 to 26 inches. Males weigh approximately 85 pounds and females, 70 pounds. The coat is short, dense, and glossy. According to the AKC Standard, the color should be light wheaten to red wheaten with a dab of white on the chest and toes. Of course, the dog's most unique feature – what gives it the name Ridgeback – is a ridge of fur that grows along his back in the opposite direction of the rest of the coat. This ridge of opposite hair, or “zipper,” begins behind the shoulders and continues to the hipbones. It is not supposed to extend further than one-third of the body. A Rhodesian without a ridge would have little or no chance in the show ring.
The essentials for training Rhodesian Ridgebacks are early socialization and vigorous daily exercise. It is necessary to gain control of this breed at an early age. They are quite independent, even as pets, and many obedience trainers consider them to be “one-person dogs” until their owners have gained their respect. They are strong-willed and require determined, demanding handling. They need a strong person to command them, one who does not tolerate poor responses to each command. At the start of training, firm corrections are necessary. When taking them for a walk they must be made to walk by your side, rather than pull ahead. A complete basic obedience course will prevent many behavior problems from arising.
Grooming & Care
Rhodesians shed like short-coated dogs. A ten-minute brushing session, twice a week with a natural bristle brush, rubber curry brush, or modern shedding tool helps enormously; so does a well-balanced diet with a bit of oil and a consistent exercise regimen. Have a veterinarian or a professional groomer teach you how to trim your dog's nails and then do it once a month, or as needed.
Like any breed, Ridgebacks can be susceptible to inherited health issues. These include elbow or hip dysplasia, dermoid cysts, cataracts, hypothyroidism, and congenital deafness.
Famous Rhodesian Ridgeback
Errol Flynn kept Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
|Challenges||This breed's strong prey drive makes it a bad choice for homes with small animals.|
|Height||24 to 27 inches|
|Weight||65 to 90 pounds|
|Life||10 to 12 years|
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