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Rhodesian Ridgebacks gained their name from the South African country they originated from and also from a characteristic 'dagger' ridge of hair that runs along the back from the withers to just above the tail root. The hair formed by the ridge grows in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat.
In the 16th and 17th Centuries when the Dutch and Germans travelled from Europe to South African, they took with them a variety of dogs from their homeland including Great Danes, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, Salukis and Bloodhounds. Over time, these dogs bred with the native Hottentot 'ridged' dog, the offspring of which were the forefathers of the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback.
This dog turned out to be courageous and tough enough to hunt lions, provide companionship in this harsh bush land and guard settlements while being able to endure the intense heat of the day. The native Hottentot dog gave the Ridgeback his distinctive reverse-hair coat marking, a dominant characteristic that today makes this dog unique among all dog breeds.
It is alleged that in the late 1800's, a missionary loaned his two dogs to a big game hunter in Rhodesia, (Now modern day Zimbabwe), and the hunter was so pleased that he decided to breed a pack of Ridgebacks for himself. Other hunters agreed with his assessment of the breed, and the Ridgeback quickly became the dog of choice for lion hunts and its fame for its courage and bravery in the field spread from there. The first Ridgeback club was organised in Africa in 1922, and the breed standard written then, which remain to this day.
Average height to withers: Males and females between 24-27 inches, with males being on the larger size.
Average weight: Males and females vary between 30-35 kg.
The Ridgeback is a larger, well-muscled, strong dog with a short reddish coat and that specific characteristic ridge of reverse hair along his back. The Ridgebacks head has a well defined skull with ears set high that have rounded tips. They are folded over and lay close to the head. The ears are always round, dark and full of intelligence. This dog has a strong neck, a deep chest with a sturdy back and muscular, slightly-arched loins which tapers away into a smooth tail.
The Ridgeback coat is short and sleek and ranges from light tan to deep, burnished red. White markings are permitted on the chest and toes, but excessive white in these spots or on the belly is considered undesirable.
The ridge is a dominant feature of the breed and is required in show dogs. The ridge starts behind the shoulders and continues along the back to a point between the hips. The ridge hair runs in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat and usually features two whorls of hairs opposite each other.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is courageous, intelligent, active and loyal. Rhodesian Ridgebacks make determined dogs, which are protective of their family. They are good guard dogs and tend to be 'stand offish' with strangers.
Being generally good with children, they do make surprisingly good family pets, but children must be aware that they should not pester or rough house with them too much and so early socialisation with children and other household pets is an absolute must.
Ridgebacks respect a calm and confident leader and react accordingly to this during training. They are a clever and intelligent dog who has no trouble with regards to this. If their owner is weak and ineffectual, the Ridgeback can be stubborn as they do have a mind of their own. A highly flexible and adaptable dog, the Ridgeback enjoys all sorts of stimulation and needs a good couple of walks per day as a minimum. They can be real home birds though and appreciate a comfy bed, but will often choose to tightly squeeze and curl their large frames into a much smaller space such as a cat basket!
The average lifespan for this breed of dog is around 10.5 years old. There are a couple of health issues the owner needs to be concerned with. The first is an inherited condition called Dermoid sinus (D.S.). D.S occurs, for the main part, in the rump area and in this location then go on to sometimes be connected to the spinal cord covering. This is not the case in the more common neck area D.S. which connects the skin at the ligament which connects the top parts of the vertebrae. One or more D.S. may occur in the same dog. They are usually present at birth and can be felt by an experienced breeder or vet. They form a small external opening which can be readily seen once the hair has been shaved and surgery is usually required to remove them. If left untreated, they can cause pain in later life as well as abscesses.
They can also be prone to Hyperthyroidism, which causes weight gain and loss of the coat, however, this is easily treated with medicines taken under the vets direction, once diagnosed.
The Ridgeback is a surprisingly friendly dog with its family but it does require a substantial amount of exercise. It is not suited to people with an inactive life as it needs at least two good walks per day. The short coat is very low maintenance and requires minimal grooming.