The Rhodesian ridgeback or the African lion hound is a medium to large-sized dog breed. This all-purpose dog is the epitome of strength, agility, and courage.
Their hallmark is the distinctive ridge of hair on their backs formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction from the rest of their coat. It starts at the base of the neck and ends at the top of the hip bone.
Rhodesian ridgebacks were initially bred for tracking and baying big game for hunters. They effectively traced the location of boars, bears, and lions.
Although there is a misconception that they were used to kill the lions, it is untrue. A relatively large Rhodesian ridgeback could never stand a chance against a powerful lion.
Rhodesian ridgebacks are guardian hounds. They make excellent family dogs. They have the instinct to guard and protect family members. These all-rounders strike a perfect balance between power and elegance.
The Rhodesian ridgeback puppies have won their owners’ hearts with their gentle temperament. They are great family companions with a mind of their own.
If you want to buy or adopt a Rhodesian ridgeback, here are a few points to consider.
- Family life: Highly affectionate with family members and good with children.
- Energy level: Moderate to high
- Social: Reserved yet calm with strangers, aloof
- Playfulness: Moderate
- Protective nature: High
- Trainability: Moderately high if started early, difficult when started late
- Mental stimulation requirement: High
- Barking level: Low
- Shedding: Low
- Drooling: Low
- Coat: Short and smooth
- Color: Light wheaten to red wheaten
- Dog type: Hound group
Rhodesian ridgeback history
The Rhodesian ridgeback dates back to the late 18th century. The name originates from its native, Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
The European settlers in Africa needed a hunting dog to help them track big game, protect them at night, and be an excellent family companion.
The hunters often sent dogs of different breeds to track lions. They noticed that the dogs that almost always managed to make it back had a ridge on their backs.
So, they bred the African native ridged Khoikhoi dog with several European dogs, including Great Danes, Mastiffs, greyhounds, and bloodhounds. The resulting Rhodesian ridgeback dog featured excellent speed, strong power, and remarkable endurance.
They were also named lion dogs because of their ability to track down lions. This led people to assume that the dogs were killers, but that is not the case.
The Rhodesian ridgeback uses its sight and sound capabilities combined with incredible speed to harass a lion with faint attacks.
The dogs work in groups of two to three to corner the lion, which gives the hunter a fair chance for a close-range shot.
The breed may have entered America in 1911, but the healthiest Rhodesian ridgeback stocks made it to the country in 1955. The American Kennel Club accepted the breed the same year and followed the original Rhodesian breed standard.
Basic breed details
The Rhodesian ridgeback dogs are large breed dogs with a heavy bone structure. Their bodies are slightly longer than tall in proportion.
Rhodesian ridgebacks have a muscular and athletic build. Their ears hang down, and their coat is dense but short. They have black or brown noses.
The males are 25-27 inches tall, and the females are 24-26 inches tall. They seem big but not overly large.
Males weigh up to 85 pounds, while females weigh approximately 70 pounds. They are heavy due to dense bones.
Rhodesian ridgebacks have short and dense coats. They have only one coat color, i.e., wheaten. It can range from light wheaten to red wheaten. A white marking on the chest and toes is acceptable, whereas a prominent white patch on the chest or above the ankle is undesirable.
The average life expectancy of Rhodesian ridgebacks is 10-12 years. Some people have reported that their dogs lived up to 16 years.
But that is with great care and ideal circumstances. The environment and quality of food have a significant impact on a dog’s life span.
The Rhodesian ridgeback dogs have a gentle, dignified temperament. They are often mistaken as aggressive as they are hunting dog breeds, but they are quite compassionate.
They are calm and quiet inside the house. Rhodesian ridgebacks are extremely tolerant dogs, always willing to protect their families. They take the protection of the entire family as a responsibility and may get defensive in front of strangers.
The dogs are discriminative barkers that bark only to alert their owners of an invader or suspicious activity. So, they work great as watchdogs.
They are great with children and very protective of them.
However, they may knock over smaller children due to their large size and heavy weight. It is always important not to leave the dog with a child alone.
They can be aloof and reserved with strangers if not socialized as a puppy. The dogs do well with dogs of the same breed as they did well with packs for hunting.
But, they need early socialization to get along with other dogs, especially with males, as that can cause dominance issues.
Due to their strong prey drive, they are unsuitable for homes with small pets. They may chase and sniff on walks, so keeping them on a leash or in a securely fenced yard is essential.
Rhodesian ridgebacks are athletic dogs. They need lots of physical exercise.
Pet parents must give them both physical and mental stimulation. Brisk walking, running, or fetch games a couple of times a day are great. They love running in fenced yards or woods- if they are well-trained.
Rhodesian ridgeback puppies should not be taken on long walks until they mature. Their bones are still developing, and overexertion may result in joint problems.
As a puppy, they are active and exuberant. As adult dogs, they mellow down but are still very much able to hunt lions.
Because of their athletic capabilities, they can be great participants in canine sports such as lure coursing, obedience, agility, and tracking.
They are great climbers. The dogs can jump over a 6-foot fence from a sitting position. They love digging, so keeping an eye on them while in the yard is essential.
However, a good option like the Fi smart dog collar could help keep you updated about your dog’s whereabouts.
A Rhodesian ridgeback puppy must be trained early on. This breed is highly intelligent with a mind of its own. It makes sense for a hunter to think independently. Hence, training can be challenging.
A Rhodesian ridgeback puppy is not recommended for a first-time dog parent. But, if you are committed and do thorough research beforehand, it may work out.
Start with puppy kindergarten, then proceed to obedience training. Lots of positive reinforcement is needed for them to learn.
They don’t like being bossed around, so making your way with lots of treats is essential. They work best if you make it look like it was all their idea.
Recall training works great if started very early. They can be trained to a high level by offering praise, rewards, food, etc.
Early socialization is essential for them too. They must be exposed to company, scents, sights, and sounds. It ensures that your puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
Rhodesian ridgeback health issues
Rhodesian ridgebacks are generally healthy dogs. They are susceptible to a few conditions, but responsible breeders screen their stock for hip and elbow dysplasia, thyroid function, and eye problems.
A few health risks for Rhodesian ridgeback dogs are as follows.
A dermoid sinus is a skin defect in which a cyst or tube-like narrow hole is formed along the spinal area. It can penetrate deep into the tissue and even reach muscle or the spine. The defect is present at birth, but treatment is necessary to avoid further complications.
Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy
The dogs may start showing epilepsy at about six months of age. The seizure may happen as twitches in the front half of the body that appear almost daily. Epilepsy may also be associated with ADHD in dogs.
This disease causes low levels of thyroid in the dog. The effects on the body include weight gain, heart issues, lethargy, or seizures. Yearly thyroid level tests are recommended for Rhodesian ridgeback.
Rhodesian ridgeback dogs need minimal grooming. They have short hair and little to no body odor.
Rhodesian ridgebacks shed very little. You can use a rubber curry brush to remove dead hair and clean the loose hair with a damp cloth to keep the coat glossy.
Their regular grooming needs include dental and nail hygiene. Brush their teeth at least 2-3 times weekly to remove tartar.
Trim dog nails once or twice a month or as needed. Wipe them clean with a cloth after being in the mud.
If you plan to buy from a responsible breeder, check out the AKC website for registered breeders.
Rescue groups that help place these dogs
Rhodesian ridgeback hounds may end up in shelters when they are bought by novice owners who fail to understand the dog’s needs—complete thorough research before choosing an African lion hound.
They are also left homeless or in shelters when the owners die or move countries. You must prefer adoption over buying any day. Here are a few dedicated rescue groups that may help you place the Rhodesian ridgeback.
Ridgeback Rescue of the US (RRUS) is a non-profit organization that helps rescue and rehabilitate lost or surrendered Rhodesian ridgeback dogs in the US.
Ridgeback rescue organization manages adoptions in the US and Canada.
Final thoughts on adopting a Rhodesian ridgeback
The Rhodesian ridgeback dog breed is formidable, sturdy, powerful, yet compassionate. Known for the ridge of backward-growing hair, this dog is as strong as it appears.
The majestic lion dog is excellent with families- always eager to protect and guard. It was used for big game hunting due to its agility, speed, and intelligence.
The dog retains all the qualities of the hound dog group and does a great job as a watchdog. It may exhibit problem behaviors and become stubborn if not trained early. The breed’s puppies are full of energy and eager to learn. Early socialization and positive reinforcement go a long way.
If you plan to adopt this unique breed, prepare yourself and your house for it. Fenced yards, leashes, and lots lots of activities planned. Even with all the arrangements, this pup can be too much of a hound for novice owners.
Cody Mitchell is a pet lover and a passionate pet writer. He has worked as a professional writer for over 6 years, focusing on creating compelling content for pet-related brands. His work has been featured in major publications. When he’s not writing, Cody can be found playing with his two dogs (a labradoodle and a cocker spaniel) or cuddling his cat.