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Rhodesian Ridgeback

 Photo of Rhodesian Ridgeback
Photo: courtesy of Carol Ann Carlton

Rhodesian Ridgeback Books

Group: Hound - Breed Standard


When the first Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape in 1652, they found the native Hottentots hunted with dogs of peculiar type: medium-sized, reddish-brown in colour, with a short mane of hair on their backs which ran from hips to shoulder. They were weary of strangers & quite vicious, but displayed unmatched hunting skills. The settlers were impressed with their qualities, but the Hottentots would not part with any of their dogs.

The sporting European-bred dogs fell prey to the dangers & diseases of the African bush.

Therefore the settlers crossed their stock with the indigenous African dogs and useful, hardy frontier were developed. The ridge manifested itself in many of the offspring of these matings: as a dominant gene it recurred for generations. These dogs with their masters explored and expanded northwards: hunting, farming, etc.

Towards the 19th century a majority of British settlers colonised land north of the Limpopo river, defeated local tribes and created Rhodesia. This was "lion country" and a type of "lion hound" was needed desperately. The ancestry of the early Ridgeback made him perfect for that title & purpose: he possessed a good nose, speed, stamina, courage, dash & spirit, hunting skills, immunity against disease and his identity - the ridge. These lionhounds would hunt with uncanny similarity to lions: approaching slowly & with care, heads low, dropping ocassionally to study their objective. Working in packs, they would spread out, approaching from all sides to confuse and then instinctively rush in and overwhelm heir prey. Only then would they "bay" - a sound between a deep bark and a howl, good news to the hunters' ear. The quarry's lethal defenses would have to be avoided, while confining him until the hunter could get a good clean shot. One swing from a mighty paw could kill a hound easily, so they needed reflexes of lightning speed. Many dogs didn't survive, some suffered serious injuries; only the fittest & most skillful lived to reproduce their qualities.

Mr Francis Barnes acquired his first ridged dog in 1915 while in Bulawayo. "Dingo" was descended from one of Cornelis van Rooyen's hunting dogs, who was impressed with 2 hounds owned by Rev. Charles Helm and had bred from them. When the Barnes' moved and began farming at Figtree, the famous Eksdale Ridgebacks began and Eksdale Jock, Leo and Connie were foundations of the breed, soon producing hounds that were practical & beautiful. It became obvious that a breed standard was needed; in 1922 Mr Barnes called a meeting of ridged dog owners at the venue of the Bulawayo KC Show. From those present at the meeting, great variety in colour, coat and size were found, but following much discusion, Mr Barnes drew up a Standard from those qualities most desired. It resulted in a Standard of conformation similar to the Dalmation (only bigger) and remains unchanged to date apart from the brindle colour now being unacceptable and white allowed only on chest & feet. Modern dogs are somewhat heavier than their ancestors. The Parent Club of the new breed was formed and 2 years later, the Rhodesian Ridgeback "Lion Hound" was recognised by the SA Kennel Union. The first dogs were registered in September 1925, the first champions made up 3 years later. They were excellent hunters & reliable protectors of homesteads, then became popular as companions in urban areas. As the finest examples of the breed were exported, the Rhodesian Ridgeback gained fame across the world.


Desirable maximum height at withers: dogs 63 cms (25 ins) to 69 cms (27 ins); bitches 61 cms (24 ins) to 66 cms (26 ins).

Handsome, strong, muscular and active dog, symmetrical in outline, capable of great endurance with a fair amount of speed. Mature dog is handsome and upstanding. The peculiarity is the ridge on back formed by hair growing in opposite direction to the remainder of coat, ridge must be regarded as the escutcheon of breed. Ridge clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical, starting immediately behind shoulders and continuing to haunch; containing 2 identical crowns only, opposite each other. Coat is short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance: light wheaten to red wheaten in colour.


Rhodesian Ridgebacks are dignified, intelligent, aloof with strangers but showing no aggression or shyness.

Breed Health

The Rhodesian Ridgeback suffers from a genetically inherited condition called the DERMOID SINUS. The defect arises when there is incomplete separation between the spinal cord and skin during foetal development of the central nervous system, thus it occurs along the dorsal mid line, although rarely within the ridge itself. A dermoid sinus is a progressive condition and is not self limiting: servere cases suffer spinal pain and paralysis. All puppies should be checked as soon as possible after birth and any affected should be euthanased without delay.

Breed Care

Ridgebacks need regular grooming as they shed coat throughout the year. However, a simple routine of removing old hair with rubber curry-comb, brushing the coat through with body brush and "polishing" with grooming mit encourage a healthy skin, coat and glossy shine. Bathing strips the coat of natural oils and is not necesary.


Ridgebacks need at least 2 walks every day. One with steady roadwork to keep nails short & pads tough, and another with the opportunity to run free and play (with other dogs, if known to you) which keeps muscles toned and heart and lungs healthy. Miles matter more than minutes, as a fit Ridgeback can go all day! Under-exercised dogs are fat and unhappy, and may become a nuisance to their owners and even neighbours.


This is an intelligent breed, using both sight and scent when out on the "hunt", so good training is important and basic obedience classes should be attended from 16 weeks old. Before letting any dog off the lead, it is vital to know that he/she will return when called. Kind, Firm, Consistant (KFC) treatment will achieve better results than brute force and ignorance. See our books on training

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