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The History of the Rhodesian Ridgeback

The following article is reproduced from the booklet of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Breed Council of the UK, comprising of the four UK clubs, in conjunction with the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Ireland.

This booklet is intended as food for thought for anyone considering owning a Rhodesian Ridgeback for the first time. It does not presume to give all the pros and cons but, if after reading this, you are still interested in Rhodesian Ridgebacks then the Officials and Committees of the breed clubs will give you all the help they can.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback can claim its origins in South Africa although little is known of the very early history. It appears likely the forerunner of the Ridgeback we know today evolved from the Hunting Dogs of South West Africa, ridged dogs highly prized by the native Hottentots, and the European Settlers sporting breeds. Cornelius Van Rooyen, a big game hunter, developed the breed and found they possessed excellent instinctive hunting abilities, and an abundance of courage, ideal for use as lion hunting dogs. The dogs worked by harassing the lion, using constant and cleverly made feint attacks that held the lion at bay giving the hunter exactly what he was looking for, a deliberate shot at close range. To do this effectively needed a dog of courage, agility, endurance and instinctive skills.

The Parent Club was formed after a meeting, which resulted in a standard being drawn up, at the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show in 1922 and the Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognised by the South African Kennel Union two years later.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks were first seen in this Country in the 1920's, when a member of the Player Family, of cigarette fame, imported a pair. They attracted a lot of attention when exhibited at the Kennel Club show at Crystal Palace and started to gain a popularity which has not diminished to this day.

Ridgebacks Today

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, so called because of the ridge on the back formed by hair growing in the opposite direction to the remainder of the coat, is a handsome, strong, muscular and active dog. A magnificent sight to see in the show ring or running free, but please do not be tempted just because of this. If you are thinking of owning a Ridgeback (most people will say being owned by a Ridgeback) then you should give consideration to the fact that it is very likely to change your way of life, whether you are prepared to change and whether a dog of this type will fit in with you. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a unique hound but is not a suitable dog for everyone.

If, in the early weeks of its life, care is taken to acquaint it with people, other animals, traffic, strange noises, wearing a collar and lead; in a secure and loving environment, you will be rewarded with a loyal companion for many years. It is important to start from day one with firm, but fair and consistent discipline; they are a powerful dog, but can be quite sensitive, harsh treatment is most definitely not the way to train them. They need a varied training program to keep them interested, little and often works wonders! They are intelligent, responsive and trainable, but like all hounds are independent thinkers. Some early basic obedience training and socialisation is highly recommended to keep such a large dog under proper control, there are many ringcraft and obedience training classes giving valuable guidance and advice.

They make devoted family companions and guards, but should never be classed as a guard dog. They are good watchdogs, usually not barking without good reason and although Rhodesian Ridgebacks tend to be "sofa dogs" enjoying lazing around, they do need to be properly exercised. A quick trot around the block is not good enough, about one hour a day is the requirement to keep them in good condition, so be prepared to give up this amount of time. When exercising them it is advisable to be mindful that on a lead they can easily pull you off balance and when free running have a surprising turn of speed; also that like all hounds they enjoy chasing leaves, papers, other animals and joggers!! You need to invest in training which is ongoing throughout puppyhood, adolescence and into maturity. 

They are athletic so it is important to have a properly high fenced garden or yard, preferably large and you should remember that like all breeds of dog if left alone for long periods of time they will, if bored, become destructive. Therefore if you are away from the house for long periods of time then quite definitely the Ridgeback is not for you.

With this said they are a pleasure to have around the house, although be warned they will choose the sofa in preference to their own bed. Their coats are easily kept in tip top condition, although they have short hair they do need grooming regularly. This is a good way of keeping in touch with his health and welfare, it also helps to keep hairs off your clothes and the furniture.

They are clean of habit, dignified, intelligent, affectionate and faithful; they are not unfriendly but are aloof with strangers, preferring to be introduced. Ridgebacks as a rule are very good with children, they love well-behaved children but as with any dog, children must be taught not to tease and pester them, both children and dogs must be taught to respect one another. It is important to provide the dog with his own bed in a quiet place. As they love human company, travelling is rarely a problem, they are happy just to be in your company.


Rhodesian Ridgebacks love any activity, free running being a favourite. A number of Hound Societies organise Lure Coursing and a group of Rhodesian Ridgeback enthusiasts organise occasional race meetings, where some Ridgebacks soon realise they can catch the hare much quicker if they go the wrong way round or across the middle of the track. Some discover the "hare" is not real and it is beneath their dignity to chase a plastic bag.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks usually prefer running to showing but they do this reluctantly to please the human pack members. All General Championship Shows and many Canine Society Open Shows have classes for Rhodesian Ridgebacks. The breed clubs organise a total of 8 shows per year just for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, match meetings, educational seminars and fundays, all of which serve as social occasions for owners. Many long-standing friendships have been developed due to their common interest in this charismatic breed.

What to do if a Ridgeback is for you

If you have decided that you would like to share your life with a Rhodesian Ridgeback make the appropriate preparations before buying. Read all you can about the breed; there have been a number of books written about the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the most well known being "The Rhodesian Ridgeback, The Origin, History and Standard" by T. C. Hawley. This is available from all Rhodesian Ridgeback Clubs who will give advice on available literature. Visit some of the many shows, talk at length to Exhibitors; arrange to visit Ridgebacks in their home environment, most owners will be happy to have you visit their homes and be only too happy to talk "Ridgeback".

Find a breeder whose dogs you like and find out as much as you can about how to feed and raise your puppy into a well behaved and liked member of society. Some questions to ask breeders are:- Have the parents had their hips x-rayed? Have the puppies been checked by someone knowledgeable for the hereditary condition, Dermoid Sinus? Also enquire if the puppies have been bred within the Kennel Club and the Breed Clubs Code of Ethics.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Welfare

The Rhodesian Ridgeback Welfare Trust Charity and Ridgeback Rescue exist to look after Ridgebacks found abandoned or whose owners are unable to keep them and need to find them new homes. This is why you will find that great care is taken by reputable Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders when selling their puppies. You may be subjected to "the third degree". If you feel you could offer a new start to one of these Rhodesian Ridgebacks the Rescue Officers from all clubs would be happy to hear from you.

If not put off after all this perhaps you should have a Rhodesian Ridgeback!

For further information and advice please contact us - 

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