Rhodesian Ridgeback

Lauren Jones, VMD
Written by:
Published: September 26, 2022
Rhodesian Ridgeback

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The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an intelligent, gentle, and courageous dog that can make a terrific family pet for the right household. The breed is named after the ridge of hair that grows down the center of the breed’s back.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a large-breed dog, weighing 65-90 pounds and standing over 25 inches high at the shoulder. They are muscular, powerful, and athletic dogs originally bred for guarding and protection.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks, also known as African Lion Hounds, were bred as hunting dogs that could flush out and track but not kill wild game and large predators, including lions. The breed’s standard has not changed in 100 years, and the dogs’ looks and temperament are similar to those originally developed in Africa.

Caring for Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are classified within the hound group by the American Kennel Club. They are great athletes, with stamina and endurance. They are known for their strong affection toward people they know, and if properly trained they are even good with children. They are typically standoffish toward strangers and protective of their family, although the breed is not typically aggressive.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are generally easy to train and they enjoy the company of humans and other dogs. They can be independent and stubborn, which is why they require firm training with positive reinforcement. They also require exercise—at least 45 minutes a day. With their physical and mental fortitude, Ridgebacks require daily enrichment to keep from getting bored.

Ridgebacks have short hair of only one color: wheaten. However, they can have varying shades of this color, from light brown to reddish. This breed has a strong, square head with a black or brown nose and floppy ears. The hallmark is the ridge of backward-growing hair down the midline of the back. At the shoulders, two identical whorls, or cowlicks, form opposite each other.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is usually a healthy breed, with few medical issues and minimal grooming requirements. When given proper care, they can live 10-13 years.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Health Issues

In general, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are healthy and tough dogs. However, responsible breeders should screen and monitor their dogs for certain health issues commonly seen. It is important to inquire about breed testing when looking to purchase a dog from a breeder.

Dysplasia

Hip and elbow dysplasia is common in many large-breed dogs and is caused by an abnormal bone and surrounding connective tissues, typically of the hip or elbow joints. Dysplasia causes rubbing and degenerative changes within the joint, leading to lameness, pain, and weakness.

Severe cases can show signs early in life, but dysplasia most often affects older dogs as the disease progresses. In young dogs with severe cases, surgery may be necessary. In most older dogs, the condition is managed with a combination of weight management, pain relievers, joint supplements, and alternative therapies such as laser treatment, physical therapy, and acupuncture.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Autoimmune thyroiditis is a disease of the thyroid gland resulting in low thyroid values. These can lead to weight gain, lethargy, skin conditions, and more serious heart issues or seizures. Veterinarians typically test Ridgebacks’ thyroid levels once a year.

Dermoid Sinuses

Dermoids are defects of the skin and nervous system during development that result in tubelike openings under the skin, which can be readily felt shortly after birth. Severe sinuses may reach as deep as the spinal canal. These sinuses can become infected and painful, causing secondary issues.

Surgical removal is the treatment of choice. Reputable breeders typically have puppies tested and treated before they ever reach a new home, but dermoids may return if not completely removed.

Other Diseases

While dysplasia, thyroiditis, deafness, and dermoids are the most common health issues in Rhodesian Ridgebacks, there are others they are at higher risk for, including:

  • Eye abnormalities, such as cataracts, entropion, persistent pupillary membranes, and distichiasis

  • Degenerative myelopathy

  • Cervical vertebral instability (wobbler syndrome)

  • Cerebellar abiotrophy (ataxia)

  • Congenital deafness

What to Feed a Rhodesian Ridgeback

Providing proper nutrition is one of the most important things you can do to keep your Rhodesian Ridgeback happy and healthy. Most veterinarians recommend feeding Ridgebacks large-breed dry-food formulations from pet-food companies that employ full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionists, such as Hill’s, Purina Pro Plan, and Royal Canin.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides detailed information and recommendations regarding the safety and nutritional content of dog foods. Always make sure your Ridgeback’s food has the AAFCO seal of approval.

Depending on lifestyle and caloric needs, your Rhodesian Ridgeback may require a slightly more specific and tailored diet to maintain lean muscle mass. This strong, athletic breed may require higher protein levels, with nutrition optimized to fuel strength and stamina. Rhodesian Ridgebacks with working jobs (field and hunters, agility and show dogs) may require this level of nutrition, as well as other active pets who enjoy frequent running, hiking, swimming, and play.

How to Feed a Rhodesian Ridgeback

Most veterinarians recommend feeding adult dogs, including Rhodesian Ridgebacks, twice a day—typically in the morning, once they wake up, and again around dinnertime. Ridgebacks are smart and capable animals who can “counter surf” to steal human food off tables. Human food can lead to gastrointestinal upset, pancreatitis, toxicities, and obesity, so try to keep your Ridgeback from obtaining human food.

Always feed dogs a diet that is appropriate for their life stage. Puppies have very different nutritional requirements than senior dogs. Discuss with your veterinarian any diets that claim to be suitable for all life stages before feeding them to your Ridgeback.

If your pet tends to swallow food without chewing, you may want to consider slow-feed bowls or other options that deliver a small portion at a time. Eating too fast can cause gastrointestinal upset, as well as other serious medical issues such as bloat.

How Much Should You Feed a Rhodesian Ridgeback?

Refer to the side of the bag and talk to your veterinarian to determine the proper amount to feed your Ridgeback, based on weight and body condition. Your veterinarian will also consider your Ridgeback’s activity level, age, and pre-existing conditions when making a recommendation on caloric intake.

Review the bag’s guidelines and nutritional value (how many calories or kcals are in each cup) so that you and your veterinarian can make an informed decision. For example, a 75-pound dog typically needs 1,200-1,500 calories a day, but this may vary dramatically when you factor in energy levels. Field-trial hunting dogs may require over 2,000 calories a day, while an older family pet may only require 1,000 or so. Some dogs are prone to obesity and may need a calorie-restricted diet. Always check with your veterinarian to determine the proper amount of food for your Ridgeback.

Nutritional Tips for Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Omega-3 fatty acids are a great supplement that can help keep your dog’s skin and coat soft, shiny, and healthy. These supplements also promote a strong heart, immune system, brain, and vision.

Supplements containing glucosamine, like Cosequin or Dasuquin, can help keep the joints of large-breed dogs healthy, which is vital to an active Rhodesian Ridgeback. Talk to your veterinarian before starting any supplements to make sure they are appropriate for your pet.

Since Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a breed predisposed to dysplasia, it’s important to keep yours from becoming obese. The heavier an animal is, the more strain is placed on the joints, resulting in pain and difficulty with mobility.

Behavior and Training Tips for Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Rhodesian Ridgeback Personality and Temperament

While the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a watch dog, they also make fantastic family companions, forming strong bonds with their humans. As a guardian dog they can be somewhat standoffish to strangers; their trust must be earned. They are gentle and quiet dogs who rarely bark, chew, or dig if they are given appropriate physical and mental stimulation.

Ridgebacks can do well with other dogs, especially if they are properly socialized when younger. Many will enjoy being part of a pack and form close bonds with the other dogs in their family. They have a moderate amount of energy, requiring at least an hour of daily exercise. Mental enrichment is also important; Ridgebacks may get bored if left alone in a cage all day, leading to unwanted negative and potentially destructive behaviors.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks can have an independent and stubborn side to their personality, so training is crucial for this breed.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Behavior

Bred for hunting and protection, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are highly protective of their family but rarely aggressive. Well-trained Ridgebacks will alert a family of a perceived threat and may even position their bodies between their family and danger. They rarely bark, so when a Ridgeback does bark, be sure to promptly investigate the cause.

These are highly athletic and curious dogs, known to steal human foods and other items. Puppies are more prone to these behaviors, so training must start from day one. They may also get into trouble with chewing, digging, or other destructive behaviors if they aren’t mentally and physically stimulated enough and left alone too much.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Training

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is easy to train and takes quickly to jobs like hunting or tracking. They are endurance athletes and can perform in anything from field trial events to agility competitions to the show ring. While the Ridgeback excels in these types of situations, these dogs adapt easily to many living situations. They don’t need a specific  job to be happy and healthy.

Because of the Ridgeback’s innate instinct to protect, additional guardian and protection training is not recommended, as it may intensify their natural instincts to a dangerous level and make them overly aggressive. Instead, Ridgebacks should be trained to listen to commands given by their family that indicate no further action is needed from them. Ridgebacks can be stubborn and independent, so obedience training throughout their entire life is critical.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback was originally a hunting dog in Africa, and they have retained a high prey drive. They can be independent and stubborn, so consistent positive-reinforcement training techniques are ideal for this breed. Training should start early with puppy socialization and obedience training and continue throughout their life.

Fun Activities for Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are excellent family pets, well-suited to physical activities that pet parents can share. They are athletic, smart, and powerful dogs who excel at:

  • Tracking

  • Field trial

  • Hunting events

  • Obedience competitions

  • Agility

  • Lure coursing

  • Hiking

  • Swimming

  • Jogging

For training, your Ridgeback may enjoy:

  • Tug-of-war

  • Fetch

  • Homemade puzzles

  • “Busy” treats

  • "Touch” or clicker training

Rhodesian Ridgeback Grooming Guide

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is generally easy to care for. They don’t have much odor, and their grooming requirements are minimal. Their short coat does shed a moderate amount, however. Weekly brushing and monthly bathing sessions can help decrease the shedding.

Ridgebacks can be resistant to nail trims, so training them early on to calmly allow their feet to be touched and nails to be trimmed or filed can be helpful to alleviate stress during nail-trim time.

Occasionally, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are born without the gene for the backward-growing hair and are referred to as Ridgeless Ridgebacks. These dogs still have the other traits innate to the breed, just without the defining ridge. The Ridgeless are not show dogs, and they are not normally bred

Skin Care

The Rhodesian Ridgeback doesn’t require any special bathing products, unless suggested by your veterinarian. Over-the-counter shampoos for dogs are acceptable, and veterinarians typically recommend oatmeal-based sensitive-skin formulations. Ridgebacks should be bathed approximately once a month, with more frequent (every 2 weeks or so) nail trimmings.

Coat Care

The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s coat requires the same maintenance and care with or without the ridge. Since these dogs shed frequently, weekly brushing can help keep the coat free of excess hair. Baths, at least once a month, will keep the hair glossy and healthy.

Eye Care

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is predisposed to a few eye conditions, so work with your vet to identify and treat any potential issues.

Otherwise, the Ridgeback doesn’t require any routine eye care. Dogs who are working sporting events may have a higher exposure to allergens that cause eye itching, redness, and watering. Hunting and tracking dogs may be at higher risk of eye trauma from branches, grass, or insects.

Ear Care

Ridgebacks are not at higher risk of any ear diseases. Their ears do require routine cleaning, however, usually at the same time as baths. Some dogs may produce more wax, requiring additional cleanings. Always look in your dog’s ear canals during routine brushing and bathing to ensure there is no evidence of infection, foreign material, or insects—especially if your Ridgeback spends a lot of time outside.

Contact your veterinarian if your Ridgeback’s ears have excessive discharge, a bad smell, redness, or itching, as there may be an ear infection.

Considerations for Pet Parents

The Rhodesian Ridgeback can be the ideal dog for many families. Ridgebacks are loyal, affectionate, and protective. When properly trained and socialized, they can be a terrific addition to the family and coexist peacefully with other dogs, children, and even cats.

As with any breed, it is important to do your homework before bringing a pet home. Researching, visiting, and interviewing breeders is a great way to get to know the breed. Likewise, attending agility trials, hunting, or obedience events can give you a firsthand view of how the breed works and interacts with humans.

The ideal home for a Rhodesian Ridgeback provides the pup with lots of space to run and offers plenty of time for mental and physical stimulation. Pet parents who can engage their dog in obedience, agility, hunting, and other sporting events can satisfy this requirement, but the breed can also do well with a daily walk or jog followed by a game of fetch. Ridgebacks are versatile but do require a significant amount of time, energy, and commitment.

While gentle and generally easy to train, the Ridgeback can be stubborn and independent. If Ridgebacks are not properly trained and socialized as puppies, they can be more wary of strangers and, like all dogs in that situation, can develop unwanted behaviors.

These dogs are fierce guardians, with a very large presence. They require a pet parent who is knowledgeable about the breed and about training strong-willed dogs. For these reasons, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is typically not recommended for first-time or novice dog owners.

Potential pet parents should also be prepared for a moderate amount of shedding from Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They have minimal grooming needs but they require routine veterinary care, such as vaccines and preventative medications. As they get older, they may require professional dental cleanings performed by veterinarians to keep their teeth and gums healthy.

Owning any dog is a privilege and a responsibility, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback is no exception. In return for proper care, training, and commitment, this breed can provide lifelong love, affection, and faithfulness.

Rhodesian Ridgeback FAQs

Is a Rhodesian Ridgeback a good family dog?

If properly trained and socialized, the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a wonderful family companion.

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks smart dogs?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are very smart dogs and require daily mental stimulation to keep them from becoming bored.

How much does a Rhodesian Ridgeback cost?

The price of a well-bred Rhodesian Ridgeback varies by location and breeder. The best way to determine the general cost for a Ridgeback is to start talking to breeders and owners at shows or events. Rescue Ridgebacks and Ridgeless Ridgebacks may be an alternative that costs less, but they may come with health or behavioral issues due to previously neglectful pet parents. Keep in mind that Rhodesian Ridgebacks are placed for adoption through no fault of their own and can lead wonderful, normal lives once they find a forever home.

What is the Rhodesian Ridgeback known for?

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is known as an all-purpose hound, with a ridge of fur growing backward down the center of the back.

References

  1. Hill’s Pet. Rhodesian Ridgeback Dog Breed Information and Personality Traits.

  2. Canine Inherited Disorders Database. Rhodesian Ridgeback.

  3. The Canine Health Information Center. Rhodesian Ridgeback.

  4. American Kennel Club. Rhodesian Ridgeback.

 

Featured Image: iStock.com/tkatsai


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