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Rhodesian Ridgeback Information

Rhodesian Ridgeback History and Characteristics


In the 1600s, early Dutch settlers in South Africa spoke of a dog of the native people, called the Khoikhoi. This dog had a unique, backward-growing stripe of hair up its back. Described as an unattractive dog with pricked ears and jackal-like bearing, these ridged dogs were hardy and had a seemingly innate ability to survive encounters with African large predators. During the colonization of South Africa, colonists brought Continental breeds for different purposes. These continental breeds then crossbred with the the native dogs of the Khoikhoi people. Back then, there were no organized breeding programs; however, the ridged trait, being a dominant trait, persisted in the Farmers (Boers) dogs.

Around 200 years later, a famous hunter and explorer, Cornelius van Rooyen, was well known in arranging expeditions for the wealthy and influential, including English dukes and lords. For these dangerous endeavors, he required a pack of lion-hunting dogs. Whether or not van Rooyen selected the ridged dogs due to their ridge or not, but it was due to their ability to be more successful hunters.

Lion-hunting required a specific set of both physical and mental skills: The dogs had to be strong enough to withstand the physical rigors of the hunt but have ample agility to dart out of the way of slashing claws. (That is the biggest misconception about Ridgebacks and lions: The former never made contact with the latter, but rather teased and disoriented them, much as a matador taunts a bull.) The dogs had to be courageous enough to harry the king of beasts while the hunter positioned himself for the killing shot, but intelligent enough to know if their battle was a losing one, and so know when to retreat.

Not surprisingly, van Rooyen’s Lion Dogs, as they became known, developed quite a reputation, becoming so noteworthy that Selous mentioned them in his famous 1893 book, “Travel and Adventure in South East Africa,” including a dog that resembled a “mongrel deerhound” that van Rooyen “would not have parted with at any price.”

That particular dog died during the hunting trip Selous was recounting. Van Rooyen too died before his time, at age 55 of pneumonia. While never intending to create a breed, van Rooyen nonetheless did, taking a hallmark trait that was commonly found among the first dogs his Boer ancestors had encountered, and making it indelibly associated with the kind of fortitude and savvy needed to survive in their beautiful but dangerous new homeland.


American Kennel Club (AKC). Rhodesian Ridgeback History: Hunting Lions & Fending Off Baboons – American Kennel Club (

Characteristics and Traits/Temperament

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are fast and powerful athletes. They weigh around 70 to 85 lbs, but sometimes are seen weighing over 100 lbs. Ridgebacks often come in only one color, wheaten, which spans every shade seen in a wheat field, from pale flaxen to the burnished red of a maturing crop. Ridgebacks also have two nose colors: black and brown (liver-nose). The Ridgeback is very strong-willed, independent, and sometimes domineering. They are also faithful friends, protective of their loved ones, and very affectionate with those whom they trust. This is not a breed for an unexperienced dog owner.

Here are some Traits and Temperament to expect in a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

  • Aloof – Ridgebacks are known to be aloof, which means they will not approach strangers as other dogs will. Ridgebacks tend to keep it to themselves until they know they can trust the stranger. Even then, they will be watchful until they feel comfortable. Do not mistaken this for aggression. A Ridgeback is simply reserved and observant while they determine the nature of the situation.
  • Independent – Although they will want to be with you all the time, it does not mean they are clingy. They are protective and loyal, which can be mistaken for clinginess. Ridgebacks love to play outside for long periods of time, which accompany long periods of naps.
  • Highly intelligent – Ridgebacks will not listen to unless motivated properly. This is why they require a strong/stern leader that leads through positive reinforcement. Though they can be stubborn during training, Ridgebacks are capable of high levels of obedience if trained properly.
  • Quiet – Ridgebacks are not known for being barkers. They are typically very quiet until it is time to play!
  • Athletic and High Energy – Ridgebacks are incredibly athletic, agile and high energy. They require lots of exercise and mental stimulation. They are amazing companions for individuals with an active lifestyle. If you do not have time to exercise your Ridgeback, or have a fenced in yard, they will become bored and destructive. Ridgebacks require at least one hour exercise per day.
  • Protective – Ridgebacks are very protective! Protection comes naturally to them and does not require training. Due to their protective nature, it is highly recommended and encouraged to heavily socialize them throughout their puppyhood to adulthood.
  • High Prey Drive – They are natural hunters! They will chase after anything and everything. If you have cats, please introduce them early on and work on it as much as possible. Do not allow the cat to “stablish dominance” and scratch the Ridgeback. Ridgebacks can be gentle, but they did not become formidable lion hunters by allowing other animals to scare them. If you have children, do not let your children run away from your Ridgeback. They will see it as play but may accidently injure the child because their instinct is to chase.
  • They Play Hard/Rough – Some big dogs like to play rough, but you have not seen rough until you see a Ridgeback play fighting! Most will say it resembles real fighting, but in all reality, they are having a ball! Do not be alarmed! On the other hand, adding a new Ridgeback pup to your family when you already have an elderly dog is not recommended. The pup will want to play fight rough with the elderly dog, which can stress and injure the dog.
  • They are Big Pack Animals – Ridgebacks do better in a pack! If alone, they typically become bored easily if you do not keep that pup busy. Adding another Ridgeback (not from the same litter) or another large breed dog, will help keep the Ridgeback pup occupied and entertained.


Training can be very challenging for Ridgebacks. Strong leadership and positive reinforcement is highly recommended and encouraged when training Ridgebacks. DO NOT send the Ridgeback pup to a trainer without Ridgeback (or breed like it) experience. Many trainers want to train Ridgebacks the same as other dogs are trained. Training a Ridgeback requires trainers to learn different techniques that work for the Ridgeback pup due to their high intelligence. A Ridgeback will not be obedient unless motivated properly. A Ridgeback will do whatever you want them to do if motivated properly. It is highly recommended that you learn how to be a strong motivational leader for your Ridgeback.

Do not send them to boarding obedience training unless you check with your breeder first! Ridgebacks do not do well in boarding because of their aloof nature and loyalty attachment to their owners. Sending them to boarding training can be detrimental to the Ridgeback.