11 Things You Should Know about the Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is also known as the African lion dog. As the name predicts, this dog is so tough and athletic it was originally used to hunt lions in the rough climate and landscape of Africa.

Now, it is more commonly used as a family dog, so if you are looking for a dog that is fiercely loving, active and protective of its family and friends, then this just might be the breed for you.

If you want to bring a “Ridgie” into your home and your curious about the personality and characteristics of the breed, then here are 11 things you should know about this elegant creature.

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Ulla is a two year old Rhodesian Ridgeback. She is an family dog with a lot of personality and a great hiking partner.


1.       Origin of the African Lion Dog

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has its origin from southern Africa, more specifically Rhodesia, which is now called Zimbabwe. When the Europeans were colonizing Africa they brought along their different dog breeds such as pointers, greyhounds, bulldogs and collies. The colonist soon began to realize that the conditions and climate was too rough for their dogs. They needed a dog that could tolerate the landscape and temperature. The dog would also need to have hunting skills and work as a guard dog to protect the farms from dangerous animals.

To develop this breed the colonist decided to breed their dogs with a local Hottentot hunting dog. The Hottentot dogs could be recognized by the ridge on their back, which is that the hairs of the back go in the opposite direction of the other parts of the fur.

The breed was further developed by a famous hunter named Van Rooyen. He wanted a dog that had the endurance and toughness to chase down the lions and keep the lion at bay. He began to include the Ridgeback into his pack and started to breed the dog specifically as a hunting dog. The dogs from his pack was later gathered and the standard of the breed was written based on the qualities of these dogs. It became an official breed in 1922 and is also considered the national dog of South Africa.

2.   They are characterized with a ridge on their back

Now, let’s get into the typical aesthetic traits of this dog .

The Ridgeback is considered a medium large dog with the height of 24 to 28 inches and the weight ranging from 70 to 85 pounds according to AKC. Ridgies comes in only one color, which is brown or formally known as wheaten. Their color can be in all ranges of wheaten. Their noses are usually either brown or black and their eyes are brown.

These elegant and beautiful dogs have a shape of their body that extremely athletic and muscular. After all, they are designed for running long distances and have an large endurance.

The most characteristic feature of this breed is the ridge covering their back. This is a dominant mutation that they’ve inherited from their Hottentot ancestors. If only one of the parents have this mutation it will pass on to the offspring, which is why it is rare that a Ridgeback is born without this trait.

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This is Hleka and Ulla, and as you can see they have both got their famous ridge along their back.

3.   Athletic lifestyle

Although the Ridgeback was primarily used for hunting purposes and specifically for lions, it is now considered a family dog. They love to run and chase and they have an body that is perfect for that. In fact, it is said that this dog can be able to keep up the hunters on horse for about 30 miles. Because of this you need to fulfill their need for exercise and mental stimulation. It is a perfect hiking or running partner and can be an excellent choice for an active dog-owner or family.

They can adapt to any living situation, as long as they get their exercise and playtime. This would require a walk of around one hour each day. It could be good to keep in mind that because they love chasing prey it could be a good idea to ensure that you have the dog in a secure area before taking off-leash.

If they get bored, you might find your Ridgeback chewing on just about anything to the extent of becoming destructive. They can tend to get bored if they have to be home alone a lot, and generally they do not like to be outside alone either. They will find it a lot more interesting being around their family.

Ulla loves to go skiing and hiking. Here you can see her in winter having a blast on a ski trip. 

4.   Protective of their loved ones and shy towards strangers

In my first experience with the Ridgie, I noticed that she was quite shy or uninterested in making contact. At the same time I noticed she was extremely loyal and loving to her owners. It took a couple of times meeting her before she accepted us as a part of her group of friends. This is when I realized how incredibly sweet this dog really is.

Turns out, this is a typical trait of this breed. They are extremely loyal and affectionate to their families, and loves to spend time with them. This also includes kids. The Ridgie, loves to play with kids, however the size and power of the dog can be challenging for the toddler to handle.

They have a natural guard instinct and can be quite shy towards strangers. This means that the dog requires a lot of socialization from the puppy stage to be comfortable with different dog and human encounters.

Another experience that I have with this dog is how quiet she is. In fact, the only times I’ve heard her bark is if there is a stranger coming near. They are extremely assertive, which makes them excellent watchdogs. If you hear your dog barking it is most likely due to that they’ve noticed someone unknown.

5.   They have an excellent sense of smell

The Ridgeback can be considered being in the hound group, and has all of the qualities with regards to chasing prey, tracking and endurance. These skills requires the breed to be quite intelligent and independent. These traits can also make the Ridgie somewhat stubborn and this dog has a mind of her own.

Activities such as nose work or tracking can be excellent activities for this breed when it comes to mental stimulation. This breed loves to use their nose. Other activities that could be great for this breed is agility, which is great way to exercise your dog and also make this intelligent dog do some problem solving. You can read more about beginning with agility training here.

6.   They require minimal grooming

Due to their short fur, the Ridgebacks does not need much grooming. The bred does shed, but that can  be minimized by regularly brushing. Brushing the fur once a week would be enough grooming for this dog. Also, an occasional bath will keep their fur nice, if you can get them into water. In general I would describe them as very clean dogs and that is due to their short glossy coat makes them resist dirt.

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Ridgebacks are generally clean, and does not easily bring in a lot of dirt to your home. They might not be the biggest fans of taking a bath. Ulla rarely goes into water if not necessary. 

In addition, they also have a very small odor. If you are not into dogs that smell, then this might be the dog for you.

The Ridgebacks has long ears, which means that they are subject to infection in their ears. Regular cleaning of their ears could reduce the risk.

Nail trimming could be a challenge for this breed, and this grooming should be done regularly. They have black nails, which could make you trim the nails to the extent that it is uncomfortable. There are however several tools that could be used to make this process easier

7.   The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a healthy breed

The Ridgeback is a healthy breed with an average life expectancy in between 10 and 12 years. They are even said to be immune or resistant to insect bites. Although they are not prone to some serious diseases there are some conditions to look out for.

Elbow and hip dysplasia are conditions that can occur. Breeders are required to check this condition before breeding to ensure that it’s not genetically transferred. There have also been cases with hypothyroidism. Another genetically disposed disease is Dermoid Sinus and deafness.

8.   They love to eat

These dogs are majestic and athletic, and what caught me by surprise is how much they love to eat. In fact, they have no limit and can easily become obese if not regulated. Their height is also practical when it comes to getting a hold of food from counters. Because they love food, treats is effective with regards to getting them interested in being trained.

9.   They are a typical one-person dog

The Ridgies are loyal to the core. They have also dominant and guard traits, which makes them want to protect everyone they love. Even though they can show affection for all family members, they tend to bond more to one person that have gained their respect. They can be obedient to their leader and somewhat aloof to the other members of the family.

The Ridgeback is stubborn and she can have her own way of doing things. This requires an owner that has experience with training dogs and that can be consequent in doing so. They will surely test your boundaries. This can either be by jumping on your bed or scouting for food on the kitchen counter.

They are also extremely sensitive and would not cope well with harsh training. Training with treats and positive feedback is necessary to try to get your dog interested in obeying your commands. If you want to read more about why punishment should be avoided while training your dog, you can find an article about that here.

10.   Tolerable towards other pets if raised with them.

Ridgebacks are generally good with all animals they are raised with. Due to their dominant personality they would most likely be the pack leader in a group of dogs. They can also go well together with cats and get a close relationship with them.

To dogs they don’t know they can be reserved and sometimes aggressive if they feel threatened. They tend to react more dominantly to dogs with the same gender as themselves. This trait is exactly why socialization is so important for this breed. They are protective of nature so meeting a lot of other pets from a young age will take you a long way to make them keep their guard down.

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In this picture you can see Ulla with her fellow dog friends. She has been very well socialized and goes along great with other dogs.

11.   They are misconceived as being dangerous

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an extremely confident and dominant dog that has had the role of protecting families on the farm from predators. They should not be trained to guard, as this is a natural instinct of theirs and they can easily become overly protective to the extent that they could be aggressive towards strangers.

This is why they require a firm and calm owner that knows how handle that strong personality, and making them meet lots of people and pets. In Ireland they even have restrictive ownership of people who wants to own a Ridgeback. This restriction includes having them on-leash in public areas and you have to be over 16 years old to owning a Ridgie.

It is important for me to remark that these dogs are not at all dangerous. They are in fact very sweet and quiet dogs, which is why you should get one!

If you want to buy a Ridgeback puppy you could estimate a cost around 300$ to 2000$ depending on the breeder.

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