The devoted Rhodesian Ridgeback is a loving companion who thrives on time spent with family. They're descended from African hunting dogs and still have the stamina and energy of their ancestors. They've got energy to burn and are happiest in a home with an active lifestyle. While some Rhodesian Ridgebacks may be born without the namesake ridge, it is part of the breed standard. Ridgeless Ridgebacks may lack the dog mohawk, but they're every bit as wonderful a dog as their ridged counterparts. They can be couch potatoes if they don't get enough exercise. They are a loving breed, but may be stubborn or dominant—which may make them challenging for first-time dog owners. They need a person who can give them positive direction and offer consistent training. The Rhodesian Ridgeback bonds closely with family members and is a stalwart protector.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is also called the African Lion Dog, and has been known as Rhodesian Lion Dog and Van Rooyen's Lion Dog. The breed's most common nicknames are Ridgeback, Lion Dog, and Ridgies.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a short, dense, low-shedding coat in shades of light to red wheaton. The muzzle and ears may be darker in color. The hallmark of the breed is the ridge of hair that runs along the spine. Non-wheaton coats are not within the breed standard.
Average Height: 24-27 inches
Male: up to 85 pounds
Female: up to 70 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The Rhodesian Ridgeback should appear strong, muscular, and symmetrical. The Ridgeback is slightly longer than it is tall, with an athletic build. The head is long, with a flat, broad skull. Round eyes offer an intelligent expression. The ears are high-set and rounded at the tip. The long muzzle has close-fitting lips, and a darker mask may be present. The Ridgeback has a long neck and deep chest, with muscular fore and hindquarters. The tail should be long and tapered with a slight upward lift, but not curled. A clearly defined, symmetrical ridge must be present along the spine. Two whorls are set on either side of the ridge. The lack of a ridge is a disqualification. The gait is efficient and powerful, yet graceful. The temperament is dignified, yet reserved with strangers. – AKC Breed Standards
The Rhodesian Ridgeback was developed in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. The semi-domesticated dog kept by the Khoikhoi people of South Africa impressed Dutch traders with its abilities as a protector, and as a fearless lion hunter. A group of Rhodesian Ridgebacks could catch and hold a lion until hunters arrived to dispatch the animal. A solo hunting dog could flush birds and bring down a wounded deer.
Examples of the Khoikhoi's hunting dog accompanied missionaries back from their time in South Africa. Cornelis van Rooyen, a big game hunter, was intrigued by the dog's hunting abilities. He acquired his own and began to breed the dogs for their skill at hunting as well as their guarding ability. The most likely breeds that went into the development of the Rhodesian Ridgeback were the African lion dog, Great Dane, Mastiff, Greyhound, and Bloodhound. The characteristic ridge along the back is attributed to the native hunting dog. The resulting breed was referred to as Van Rooyen's Lion Dog.
The original breed standard was written for the Rhodesian Lion Dog in 1922, and the name was changed to Rhodesian Ridgeback upon acceptance to the South African Kennel Union in 1927. Though it is rumored that the breed may have existed in America as early as 1911, there is no record of it. Six Rhodesian Ridgebacks were brought from South America to the United States in 1950 for breeding purposes, and the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1955.
AKC Breed Category
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a loyal and protective companion who is aloof, and occasionally shy toward strangers. The breed is even-tempered, intelligent, and strong-willed. A Ridgeback will often show affection with family members, but is wary of new people. This protective breed should be socialized from puppyhood to prevent aggression with new people and animals. Positive reinforcement is the best approach as the breed is sensitive to harsh correction. As an active breed, they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation or they may become destructive.
Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks Good with Kids? The loyal Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a wonderful choice for a household with children if they are supervised and both dog and child are taught proper interaction. Rough handling will not be accepted by the Rhodesian Ridgeback. The breed can be bouncy and exuberant during play so small children may not be a good fit, as the Ridgeback can knock them down.
Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks Good with Other Pets? If raised with other animals, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may do well with dogs and cats. They have a high prey drive and may chase small animals such as cats and rabbits. Dominant behavior may occur in households with multiple male dogs. Early socialization with other dogs is important to prevent aggression or dominant behaviors with other dogs in public or in the home.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is naturally protective, alert, and watchful. The intuitive breed will often bark only to alert the owner of danger. Guard dog behaviors should not be encouraged in the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Alternatively, early, continued socialization with many people and other animals is ideal and will work to your advantage—they will learn what behaviors are expected from people and can better distinguish suspicious behaviors to alert their owners. Without proper socialization, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may be suspicious or fearful of new people and situations, which creates the potential for bites.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a high energy level and need plenty of exercise every day to prevent destructive behaviors.
- May be destructive if bored
- Can be challenging for first-time dog owners
- May dig to lay in cool dirt holes in hot weather
- Aloofness with strangers may turn to fear if not properly socialized
- High energy level
- High prey drive
- Bouncy and energetic—may knock over small children or those with diminished mobility
If given plenty of exercise, the Rhodesian Ridgeback makes an admirable indoor companion. Without enough physical and mental stimulation, they may become destructive. Though they are not often barkers, Ridgies without enough exercise or attention may bark when left alone. They may be a suitable apartment-dwelling dog if given plenty of time to run and play outdoors, but socialization with both people and other dogs is a high priority for the protective Rhodesian Ridgeback.
A high-fenced outdoor area is ideal to prevent Rhodesian Ridgebacks from roaming or chasing animals. Leashes are important for outings with Rhodesian Ridgebacks in training as they may be dominant or aggressive with other animals. They have a short, single coat and desire closeness with family, so they are not ideal as outdoor-only dogs. Though they're active and always thrilled to play outdoors, when it comes to downtime they prefer a cozy couch to being outside. Outdoor play should be supervised as the Rhodesian Ridgeback is fast, has a high prey drive, and may be difficult to catch if they're on the run.
More than 30 minutes of brisk exercise per day is necessary for the Rhodesian Ridgeback, but 60 minutes is ideal. Enough physical activity is important to prevent destructive behaviors due to boredom. Without enough exercise they may be bouncy and rambunctious indoors.
The incredible endurance of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a wonderful match for those with an active lifestyle. Though they're thrilled to curl up and nap after strenuous activity, they have the stamina to participate in a number of vigorous activities. The more exercise a Rhodesian Ridgeback gets, the happier they are.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: The Rhodesian Ridgeback's ability to tolerate the heat, and their incredible athleticism makes them a runner's best friend. They have been said to be able to keep pace with a running horse—so running for six to eight miles may be no big deal for a healthy, well-conditioned Rhodesian Ridgeback.
- Hiking Miles: If properly socialized, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a wonderful hiking partner. Even after hiking 10 miles, a healthy, physically fit Rhodesian Ridgeback may just be getting started. The strong, alert guardian will fearlessly protect its owners from dangers on the trail.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be prone to overeating. The general recommendation for how much high-quality dry dog food (based on average weight and activity level) to feed is two to four cups per day. This amount should be split between at least two meals to prevent bloat.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback may be prone to food guarding behaviors. Children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.
Counter surfing is a common behavior for Ridgies, so care should be taken to prevent this behavior.
Though not fond of being left alone, with enough exercise, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may be left for four to eight hours during the day—but boredom may give way to destructive behaviors. They prefer the company of their family. Crate training is recommended from an early age.
Health and Grooming
The short coat of the Rhodesian Ridgeback does not shed heavily and requires only weekly brushing and occasional baths. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Common Health Issues
While generally considered a healthy breed, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may be prone to breed-specific health concerns, such as:
- Hip dysplasia
- Autoimmune disease
- Eye disease
- Dermoid sinus
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat)
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Rhodesian Ridgeback by purchasing her from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
While intelligent, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a strong-willed, independent breed. They learn basic obedience with consistent positive training methods. Socialization and good manners should be prioritized from puppyhood. Harsh training methods will be counterproductive with this sensitive breed. Boredom may come from long training sessions or too much repetition, short and fun is this dog's favorite method.
The energetic Ridgeback is always excited to get to work. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are admirable competitors in agility, advanced tricks, tracking, and lure coursing.
Sporting Dog Training
A history as a fearless lion-hunter gives the Rhodesian Ridgeback an advantage in the field. They're ready to work and happy to accompany their owners on the hunt. They have the stamina necessary for the hunt and may be trained for pointing and retrieving. They are quiet hunters, so bells or a tracking collar may be advantageous during training and in the field.
The ridge of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is a dominant gene passed from the hunting dogs bred in Africa. It is said that hunters looked for the ridge in their potential hunting dogs as ridged dogs would have more hunting prowess. While there is no evidence that this is the case, the well-known ridge eventually became the hallmark of the breed. Because the gene is dominant, only one copy of the gene needs be present in a breeding pair for a ridge to be passed to the puppies.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks may be born without ridges, but this is outside of the breed standard and it is recommended that ridgeless dogs are not bred. Ridges are present at birth and do not 'grow in.' While Rhodesian Ridgebacks with ridges may be prone to dermoid sinus—a genetic neural tube defect that is present at birth and can be corrected with surgery—the ridge does not appear to be the cause of this defect. This debate is ongoing between Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders, and genetic research continues.
A Rhodesian Ridgeback may be able to reach a speed of 30 miles per hour.