The Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a relative latecomer to the pedigree dog ranks, with the Standard (the set of characteristics that determine the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed) recognised in 1922.

However, the breed’s history begins in the 16th and 17th centuries when Europeans migrated to South Africa, bringing with them their hunting dogs. The settlers found their traditional breeds had shortcomings on the veldts of Africa, though. They needed a dog that could not only flush birds or pull down a wounded stag, but could guard the farm from marauding animals, follow the horse all day and then hunt its own dinner. The dog needed to be able to withstand the conditions of the African bush, including drastic changes in temperature from hot days to freezing nights, and go for long periods without water. A short haired dog that could resist ticks, would stay close to hand in the bush, and be devoted to and protect the family.

This tall order was met by was met by crossing their European hounds with the native, barely domesticated, KhoiKhoi dog. The KhoiKhoi, or Hottentot as it was known at the time, had a ridge of hair down its back growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. As the European dogs were crossed and interbred with the KhoiKhoi, the presence of the ridge was the indicator that the resulting dogs carried the desired genes, resistance, and abilities, and thus the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed was born.

Like most hounds, the Ridgeback is essentially lazy and as an adult will happily spend a great deal of time sleeping, being most active at dawn and dusk. Puppies on the other hand are active, destructive, fast-growing and often clumsy. Their size and strong tail can be a danger to young children, and most certainly clears off coffee tables and low shelves very effectively. They almost seem to have an ‘on/off’ switch and can go from seemingly sound asleep to full awareness and action when a strange noise or stranger is heard. The Ridgeback was not ‘created’ to guard fence lines or possessions but rather to be devoted and protective of its human ‘pack’. Although if lonely or bored, a Ridgie may well invite burglars in for a cup of tea and company, they will also lay down their life in protection of their family. Their appearance and loud, deep bark (which thankfully is not often heard) does provide a deterrent, while their nature is to hold invaders in place rather than display aggression towards them.

The breed is extremely versatile having successfully been represented in every field of canine endeavour including search and rescue, service, obedience, tracking, agility, lurecoursing, endurance, and of course, the show ring. In many ways the Ridgeback is considered a ‘lifestyle’ dog – if you are active so too will your Ridgeback be; if you are a ‘couch potato’, your Ridgie will happily vegetate on the couch with you. Ridgebacks love to be near you – the worst punishment you can offer them is exclusion or isolation. Their need for company and their ‘pack’ often leads to a second dog joining the family. Their gentle affectionate nature, quirky personalities and sense of humour makes them a great family dog that is trustworthy with children. The Ridgeback has above-average tractability and is easily trained for social situations. Their size and agility and occasionally stubborn nature can be major drawbacks – a Rhodesian Ridgeback is not the breed for everyone.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Queensland (www.rrcq.org) provides breed information, contact with registered breeders adhering to a Code of Ethics, and runs a Rescue service for the breed. The reasons why this wonderful dog ends up in a rehoming or rescue situation are many and varied: divorces, down-sizing, renting, having a baby, and moving interstate are just a few. Unfortunately with our pound puppies, we will never know why they ended up where they did, but at least we are there to save them. Some of the best temperaments are in dogs that we have received from the pounds.

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