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Dog Breed Guide: The Rhodesian Ridgeback

A Rhodesian Ridgeback runs on the snow near a forest

Claudia Bensimoun author of The Rhodesian Ridgeback

The “Lion Dog” 

“The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an all-purpose “Renaissance hound” whose hallmark is the ridge, or stripe of backward-growing hair, on his back. Though the breed was made famous in its native Africa for its skill at tracking and baying – but never, ever killing – lions, today Ridgebacks are cherished family dogs whose owners must be prepared to deal with their independence and strong prey drive,” AKC.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as the Lion Dog or African Lion Hound, is another South Africa dog breed and was bred in South Africa by European settlers. When the European Boer settlers arrived in S.A during the 16th and 17th centuries, powerful dog breeds accompanied them. These included the Mastiff, Great Dane, Bloodhound, as well as smaller dog breeds like the Greyhound, Staghound, Pointer, and other dog breeds.

Settlers felt that they needed a dog breed that would flourish in all weather conditions be it hot or cold temperatures, could trek through the rough bush (veld), and even dogs that enjoyed the water. These dogs had to be able to continue their duties as guard and hunting dogs. The settlers then bred their European dog breeds with the nativeHottentot tribal hunting dogs (these dogs had a ridge of hair growing in the opposite direction on the upper part of their backs), and they came up with the perfect “lion dog”- dogs that could hunt with both sight and scent!


TheRhodesian Ridgeback comes from South Africa, and Zimbabwe and was bred from native African dogs that the Khoikhoi tribe owned. This breed was an all-round farm dog whose purpose was to herd, guard, and hunt African lion. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an outstanding family dog that was first imported into the U.S after World War 2.

During the 1870s, the Ridgeback ended up in Rhodesia where they were used to hunt lions, track them, and keep them away from humans. The distinctive ridge of hair on their backs became a trademark of this popular dog breed.

By 1920, there were numerous types of the “Lion Dog” in Rhodesia which resulted in a meeting to decide which of the most desirable characteristics would be the basis for this breed. In turn, dogs that met the standard criteria became known as the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

By the 1930s, this breed had been introduced to the U.K, and later on in the U.S. By the 1950s, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognized, and in the 1980s, this breed was accepted as a sighthound and could compete in sighthound trials. The proud and brave Rhodesian Ridgeback is one of the most popular dog breeds today and has all the superb abilities of a hunter, guard dog, and companion. Lure coursing is a favorite pastime! This strong-willed, and sometimes, boisterous, yet affectionate dog breed, belongs to the Hound Group.

Physical Description

The Ridgeback is slightly longer than tall and is a large, compact, and muscular dog breed. This breed has a powerful back and loins, with a long tapering tail that has a slight curve. It has a deep chest and broadhead that has wrinkling on the forehead when this breed is focused on something. The feet are compact. The build is athletic and allows for speed, power, and endurance.

Ears are high-set and medium-sized, and eyes are round, intelligent and large. The muzzle is long and the nose is black. The coat is short, glossy, and comes in many shades of wheaten red. The coat allows for living in hot temperatures. Some Ridgebacks have small white markings on the chest or toes. The Ridgeback has a ridge along its back made from two tufts of hair grow in different directions. The ridge extends from just behind the shoulders and tapers to the hip bones, and has two symmetrical swirls at the to 


Males: 25-27 inches

Females: 24-26


Dogs: 85 pounds

Females: 70 pounds

Life Expectancy

10-12 years


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is even-tempered, yet protective, perfect for the Hound Dog Group.  This is an exceptionally keen and boisterous dog breed, that is also a loyal and trustworthy guardian. Not only is the Rhodesian Ridgeback fantastic with children and family, but this breed also offers 24/7 protection.

Although it may be strong-willed and powerful, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, with positive dog training can become a well-balanced dog at home. This breed is wary of strangers, but great with other dogs and enjoys plenty of socialization via the dog beach, parks, camping trips, and dog sports. Male Ridgebacks may be more difficult with other male dog breeds.

Activity Level


Special Needs

The Rhodesian Ridgeback does well with positive dog training, and socialization starting during puppyhood. Because this breed can be domineering and independent, mental and physical exercise are important. This breed enjoys off-leash runs, traversing through the countryside, and plenty of dog sports.

This breed is relatively easy to train, but like all breeds needs a set training program that starts early. Adolescence may prove difficult due to the Ridgeback’s high-energy level, but with training and exercise, the Ridgeback will calm down. As with all dog breeds, you’ll need to avoid behavioral issues by keeping your dog busy withdog toys, exercise, and off-leash runs.

Possible Health Concerns

The Ridgeback is an active dog breed that may be susceptible to the following health conditions:

  • Elbow and Hip Dysplasia:These are common developmental disorders of the hip and elbow joints. The Ridgeback has an increased risk of both hip and elbow dysplasia. It is an inherited disorder.
  • Hypothyroidism: This occurs when there are decreased levels of thyroid hormones. Symptoms include hair loss, a dull coat, flaky skin with weight gain and muscle loss. Consult with your veterinarian for advice if your Ridgeback shows any of these symptoms.
  • Dermoid Sinus:This is a tube-like opening of the skin that is present at birth, and can be felt by the breeder or handler.
  • Eye Anomalies:Entropion is an inherited condition that can be found in Ridgebacks. This is when the eyelid is in-growing.
  • Bloat: This breed is deep- chested, and thus more prone to bloat. Bloat is a life threatening emergency. It is caused by the twisting of the stomach, together with the accumulation of gas, with or without fluid. It is best to never elevate your Ridgeback’s water and food bowls. Stress is also a major factor in causing bloat. Never feed your Ridgeback a large meal, followed by exercise. At the first signs of dry vomiting, restlessness and discomfort, contact your emergency veterinarian. This is a true emergency that is life-threatening!
  • Hypothyroidism:This occurs when there are decreased levels of thyroid hormones. Symptoms include hair loss, a dull coat, flaky skin with weight gain and muscle loss. Consult with your veterinarian for advice if your Ridgeback shows any of these symptoms.

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The Ridgeback needs regular exercise, and also needs to participate in dog sports like lure coursing, agility, tracking, and obedience work. This breed needs plenty of exercises to build, and maintain strong back muscles. The Ridgeback does well with farm life or in smallholdings with horses and other animals, but can also be fine living in apartments provided there is once again plenty of off-leash exercises, otherwise, you’ll end up withbehavioral issues.

There are several forms of exercise that this breed enjoys like catch and retrieve, freestyle, lure coursing, agility, swimming, and long off-leash hikes. Look up dog sporting activities, and try each one out. See which one your dog enjoys the most, and commit to that! You can even encourage children to tag along so that they in turn learn about the importance of dog sports for all dogs.


With so many dog food brands to choose from today, it’s important to understand that all dogs are different and that although one dog food may work for a certain dog, it may not be the best for yours. That said, you’ll need to feed your dog a dog food formula that is specifically geared for your dog’s life stage. Read up on your dog food ingredients, consult with your veterinarian, and also remember to add in fresh dog-safe veggies, dog-safe fruits like blueberries, and of course, supplements

Some dog food options besides wet and dry food include dehydrated dog foods. Here’s why dehydrated dog foods are also a good option:

  • Fresh produce is dehydrated below 104 degrees and is considered raw.
  • Meat and fish are steamed at approximately 140 and 165 degrees to kill foodborne pathogens.
  • Meat and fish are then dehydrated at 125 degrees
  • Grains and potatoes are flashes heated at temperatures higher than 210 degrees to make them more digestible. This also breaks down the cellulose.


Routine daily grooming will keep your Ridgeback’s coat in tip-top condition. The Ridgeback is one of the easiest breeds to groom because this breed has a short and smooth coat. A short-bristled brush or mitt should be used to maintain a shiny and healthy coat, and get rid of loose hairs and bits of dirt.

This dog breed enjoys bathing and having his teeth done daily. Twice yearly visits to the veterinarian for dental hygiene maintenance is a must. Ears need to be regularly wiped out, and nails trimmed regularly. If your Ridgeback does not enjoy having his nails trimmed, try out a nail grinder or visit your vet tech for help.

Adopting a Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a popular dog breed that is also a loyal guardian. When rescuing an adult dog, you’ll need to take into consideration that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is an independent dog breed that is very intelligent, and that has a high prey drive. If you’re adopting a pup, this puppy will not remain a small cuddly pup, but will grow into an adult dog with lots of exercise and training needs.

If you don’t have the time to exercise and train your Ridgeback, you’ll end up with a frustrated dog that may develop serious behavioral issues like excessive barking, digging, chewing, and so forth. The Ridgeback needs to be busy and does well when he has a job and plenty of space at home.

Rescue dogs will still have their genetic instincts, and if you raise your pup the wrong way, you’ll have plenty of issues. Understand the qualities and characteristics of this very special dog breed, so you can avoid behavioral problems after you’ve gone through the adoption process. As usual, make sure that you have the financial resources and time. Dogs that have just been rescued may be insecure, shy, and prone to anxiety. Give your new companion a few weeks to adjust to his new surroundings!

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Meet The Author 

Claudia Bensimoun author of The Rhodesian Ridgeback

Claudia Bensimoun

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance journalist and author, and specializes in veterinary content, and eBooks. She's a long-time feature writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. In addition, Bensimoun has written for numerous pet websites, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/humanitarian relief, veterinary research, and veganism.

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