By CRISSY BALUYUT-HERNANDEZ
Photos by JEFFREY C. LIM 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a formidable reputation and a history that is as intriguing and amazing as the wild beauty from where they come from: South Africa.

Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) is known as Lion country. The persistent myth goes that the Ridgeback’s ancestors were capable of attacking and taking down Lions. However, these Dogs do neither. Rather, with their scent prowess, speed, and agility to stop and spin on a dime, they were perfect hunting companions to chase and corner wild game, and in this case, Lions. Thus, the title “Lion Dog.” 

HISTORY

The Dog’s history dates back to early on in the 18th century when the first European settlers in South Africa found Dogs that had been domesticated by local Khoikhoi tribes. Crosses were made with these local Dogs and those brought in by the European colonists, among them Mastiffs and Hounds.

In the late 19th century, Cornelius van Rooyen from Rhodesia bred two Ridged Greyhound-like females with a pack of big game hunting Dogs. The puppies from this mating excelled at being perfect hunting companions to their big game hunting masters. They fit in seamlessly and were highly resilient in extreme temperatures in the rough and dangerous land they lived in with their humans. 

APPEARANCE AND TEMPERAMENT 

They are called “Ridgebacks” because they have a line on their spine with the fur growing in opposite directions. And at the very top there should be two “crowns” that look like swirls, directly opposite each other. A very distinct trait.

Eugene Tan is the proud human of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Hunk (in the photo) is four years old and Cookie, a female, is three years old. “I have loved them for seven to eight years now. [I saw them] when I was traveling… in Europe; I noticed that most people had this kind of Dog.”

When talking about the temperament of the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Tan is all praises. “They are… very sociable Dogs, even for big Dogs like them. Very sturdy sila and not aggressive… [The Rhodesian Ridgeback] is keen on smell rather than eyesight. Mas magaling maka-detect ang sense of smell nila. Kaya mas gising din sila ‘pag gabi and usually sleeping through the day.”

They are sociable and are very capable of mingling with other canines. Tan also shares, “They’re not clingy; they’re pack Dogs. They stick together.”

HEALTH 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a generally healthy breed, with an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. But because of their size, like any medium-to-large dogs, there may still be minor issues, such as elbow dysplasia, canine hip dysplasia, and hypothyroidism.

A common genetic problem is dermoid sinus, a tubular skin defect that can be recognized in young puppies as an opening in the middle of the back with protruding hair, often in a swirl. This condition is treatable but may require surgery, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

PROVIDING SPACE

As highly active and athletic dogs, the Rhodesian Ridgeback needs a lot of space for daily exercise and mental stimulation. Their roots are from South Africa where their ancestors would hunt and guard their humans over vast terrains of land.

Because of this great endurance that is built into their DNA, they are used to roaming over huge areas and need heavy regular physical exercise to keep themselves healthy.

Take it from Tan himself: “Remember that they need a big space to roam around. Next, you need time to devote to them because having them is a lifestyle and you need to give your commitment and emotion as well. Third, you really have to do your research and know the breed.” 

CARING FOR A RHODESIAN RIDGEBACK

As steady in temperament as they are, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not for the inexperienced. Even if they are generally sweet dogs, they can be headstrong and powerful – they will not hesitate to impose their will on the household.

While excellent at maintaining safety against intruders, they are also very good companions. They love to do activities together with their humans. They want to be part of their human’s lives, not just tied up guarding the house.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are powerful dogs who bring pride to their South African roots with their dignified demeanor and sheer powerful presence. They are also quite beautiful creatures. Tan proudly exclaims, “Champion ito sa beauty contest!”

Indeed, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are brains, brawn, and beauty! 

DID YOU KNOW? 

AFRICAN LION HOUND
The breed is known as the African Lion Hound because of their history in helping hunt and track lions in the savannah. 

FAST RUNNER
A proven excellent hunter, the Rhodesian Ridgeback can also run fast enough to keep up with some of the fastest dog breeds too. 

ONE COLOR
Rhodesian Ridgeback Dogs only come in one color: wheaten. Their coats that appear as varied colors are actually just shades of this one color. 

STAR POWER
The famous movie star and Hollywood matinee idol Errol Flynn was one of the first to care for Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the United States in the 1930s. 

REGISTERED SIGHTHOUND
The breed was first registered by the South African Kennel Club (SAKU) on February 4, 1926 and was admitted into the American Kennel Club in 1955 as a member of the Hound Group. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was officially recognized as a sighthound in the 1980s. 

OFFICIAL STANDARD OF THE RHODESIAN RIDGEBACK
(from the American Kennel Club)

GENERAL APPEARANCE:
The Ridgeback is a strong, muscular and active hound, symmetrical and balanced in outline. The peculiarity of this breed is the ridge on the back which is regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed.

SIZE, PROPORTION, SUBSTANCE:
A mature Ridgeback should be symmetrical in outline, slightly longer than tall but well-balanced dogs.

HEIGHT:
Males are 25 to 27 inches in height. Females are 24 to 26 inches in height.

WEIGHT:
Males – 85 lbs. Females – 70 lbs.

HEAD:
Should be of fair length, the skull flat and broad between the ears.

MUZZLE:
Should be long, deep and powerful. The lips clean, closely fitting the jaws.

NOSE:
Should be black, brown or liver, in keeping with the color of the dog. COAT

AND COLOR:
Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance. Light wheaten to Red Wheaten.