Letter: Regarding Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Hi Jim,

Well, as requested, I’ll give a bit of a review of the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog breed – since it’s the one breed I’ve settled on.

I’ve had two Ridgebacks so far, both females, and both were spayed. The first one was a first generation working Ridgeback – Red Mahogany color, 128# – exceptionally muscular dog. Muscular to the point of having a veterinarian that I took her to insist that she must have “undescended testicles” – otherwise there was no other explanation for the build. Well, she didn’t have those, but her sire and dam were big, tough dogs, 150# and 120#, respectively. Both from Bophuthatswana area, and both were originally from the South African area, all the way back in their lineage. The second one I have now is a pound rescue – approximately 90#, Brindle in color. (Standard colors for Rhodesian Ridgebacks are the Mahogany colorations – both red and “champagne”, but historically, Ridgebacks are known to have been brindle, black and tan, black, red mahogany, brown, etc. At times, even to the present day, you’ll see these colors.) With regard to their coat, they’re a short coated, low shedding rate dog. Ideal for grassy areas, or areas that have brambles. [JWR adds: And of course they have the distinctive “ridge” of fur on their spines that has the hair running with the grain in the opposite direction as the rest of their fur. Hence the name Ridgeback.]

As to demeanour – they’re an independent dog, not given to slavish obeying of commands. Somewhat of a primitive dog (they’ll dig hides under rocks, logs, etc., and lay up in them), they have a very attuned notion of “pack”. At least more so than some other breeds I’ve been around, like Yellow Labradors. If a pack member is missing, the Ridgeback gets more worried than many other breeds – I’d put it as being more loyal than some other breeds. They’re friendly to people that aren’t from their “pack” – as long as they’ve been brought up that way. If they’re brought up more or less isolated, they will defend their territory quite vociferously. One interesting thing though – the ones I’ve been around have been more or less “heelers” – they approach from the back, baying, and nip at the heels of intruders. They’re not prone to making frontal attacks. Just from the history of the breed, I’d hazard a guess that this has been bred into them. Dogs that performed frontal attacks on lions probably didn’t make it much further into the deep end of the gene pool. They’re not great at obeying commands – this is not a breed that will pay much attention to more than the basic commands –anything past “sit, stay, heel, down, halt, come” will probably take a while to sink in – and plenty of reinforcement. Even though the first female I had actually did figure out many more commands than those few listed above. A classic Ridgeback behaviour is related to fetching the balls that are thrown for them – first time, ok, second time, ok, third time, ball is ignored. The attitude seems to be that they get disgusted with bringing back a perfectly good ball that the dimwit human keeps throwing away.

If brought up with children, they make outstanding protectors. Good ranch dogs, and a great breed to have in an isolated area. They’re classed as “gaze” or sight hounds too – so be prepared to have them chase various varmints. Terrifically fast sprinters, but not good long distance runners (nor are any dog breeds for that matter) but they’re also cat-like in the amount of sleep they demand – more like some hounds in that way. In relations with other pets, the Ridgebacks I’ve seen and had, have figured out that everything within X boundary, is a pack member. Even if it’s a really strange looking animal…birds, cats, reptiles, all are considered okay after a while. But as for anything not known or recognized — “Katie bar the door!”

The Ridgeback is a breed that needs a firm hand – you can’t let them think they’re the alpha. Being pack oriented, they really need a clear understanding of who is boss.

The last thing I’d mention is that they’re a relatively silent dog – not given to pointless barking. If they’re barking, best go check it out – something’s up.

Well, in any case, I’m sold on the breed, and I’ll have them ’till the day I check out. – G.T.

JWR’s Reply:

The only other thing that I’d like to add to G.T.’s well-informed observations is that Ridgebacks have an amazing propensity toward climbing. I think that they are the most tree-climbing prone breed on the planet. If you build your Ridgeback a dog house it will probably spend as much time on top of the house as it will inside it.