Rhodesian Ridgeback

This handsome dog breed was created in Africa to be a versatile hunter and home guardian. He’s smart but sometimes stubborn, with a moderate energy level and an easy-care coat. These days, he’s less likely to hunt lions and more likely to hunt a soft spot on the sofa after going jogging with you.

See below for complete list of Rhodesian Ridgeback characteristics!

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Breed Characteristics:

Adaptability
Adapts Well to Apartment Living4More info +

Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make — plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.

See Dogs Not Well Suited to Apartment Living

Good For Novice Owners2More info +

Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.

See Dogs That Are Good For Experienced Owners

Sensitivity Level4More info +

Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.

See Dogs That Have Low Sensitivity Levels

Tolerates Being Alone2More info +

Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.

See Dogs Poorly Suited To Be Alone

Tolerates Cold Weather3More info +

Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.

See Dogs Poorly Suited For Cold Weather

Tolerates Hot Weather3More info +

Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.

See Dogs Poorly Suited For Hot Weather

All Around Friendliness
Affectionate with Family5More info +

Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.

See Dogs Less Affectionate with Family

Incredibly Kid Friendly Dogs4More info +

Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.

**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.

See Dogs Not Kid Friendly

Dog Friendly4More info +

Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.

See Dogs That Are Not Dog Friendly

Friendly Toward Strangers3More info +

Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.

See Dogs That Are More Shy

Health Grooming
Amount Of Shedding1More info +

If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.

See Dogs That Shed Very Little

Drooling Potential1More info +

Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog who rates low in the drool department.

See Dogs That Are Not Big Droolers

Easy To Groom5More info +

Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.

See Dogs That Require More Grooming

General Health4More info +

Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.

See Dogs More Prone To Health Problems

Potential For Weight Gain3More info +

Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.

Size4More info +

Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space. Large dog breeds might seem overpowering and intimidating but some of them are incredibly sweet! Take a look and find the right large dog for you!

See Medium Dogs

See Small Dogs

Trainability
Easy To Train2More info +

Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.

See Dogs That Are Challenging To Train

Intelligence4More info +

Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.

See Dogs That Have Low Intelligence

Potential For Mouthiness3More info +

Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.

Prey Drive5More info +

Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by — cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars — can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.

See Dogs That Have Low Prey Drive

Tendency To Bark Or Howl1More info +

Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?

See Dogs That Are Mostly Quiet

Wanderlust Potential5More info +

Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.

See Dogs Less Prone To Wander

Exercise Needs
Energy Level4More info +

High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.

See Dogs That Have Low Energy

Intensity4More info +

A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.

See Dogs With Low Intensity

Exercise Needs5More info +

Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.

See Dogs That Don't Need Tons of Exercise

Potential For Playfulness5More info +

Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

See Dogs That Are Less Playfull

Vital Stats:

Dog Breed Group: Hound Dogs
Height: 2 feet to 2 feet, 3 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 70 to 85 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 12 years
  • The first thing people notice about the Rhodesian Ridgeback is usually the characteristic ridge that runs down his spine and gives him his name. The ridge reveals part of his heritage, which is a mix of European hunting dogs and African dogs who had the distinctive ridge.

    They also notice his strong athleticism, noble carriage, and the intelligence in his eyes. The history of the breed only adds to his allure; owners are often asked, "Did they really hunt lions?"

    The answer is yes, the Ridgeback was developed in Africa to corner and hold big game prey, such as lions, bears, and boar. Today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is still used for hunting, and some members of the breed have even adapted to pointing and retrieving. The Rhodesian Ridgeback can also be found competing in various dog sports, including agility, lure coursing, obedience, and tracking, and he's a good hiking or jogging companion.

    As a pup, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is active and exuberant, but he matures into a dog with moderate exercise needs. Give him a vigorous walk or game of fetch a couple of times a day, plus a chance to run in a safely fenced area a couple of times a week, and he'll be satisfied — at least in terms of physical exercise. This intelligent breed also needs mental stimulation: a bored Rhodesian Ridgeback is a destructive Rhodesian Ridgeback.

    The Rhodesian Ridgeback is dignified and reserved toward strangers. With his family, he's a quiet, gentle companion, one who's able and willing to defend his home and people if the need arises.

    Because of his size, intelligence, and power, he's not the breed for everyone. First-time or timid dog owners may find him to be much more than a handful. People who want an outgoing dog who will love everyone should keep looking. But if you are looking for a strong, confident dog, a dog who encompasses gentleness, hardheadedness, and a sense of humor in a shorthaired, easy-care package, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may be the perfect match.

  • Highlights

    • The Rhodesian Ridgeback is tolerant of kids, but can be too rambunctious for toddlers.
    • Because of their size, intelligence, and power, Rhodesian Ridgebacks aren't recommended for first-time or timid owners.
    • If a Rhodesian Ridgeback is raised with other pets, he'll be accepting of them. However, he can still be aggressive toward strange animals outside the family, even if he's well socialized and trained. Males can be aggressive toward other males, especially if they're not neutered.
    • If bored, the Rhodesian Ridgeback can become very destructive.
    • The Rhodesian Ridgeback needs a high fence to keep him from escaping and roaming. An underground electronic fence won't contain him.
    • Rhodesian Ridgebacks shed little, and you can keep them clean with a weekly brushing and a wipedown with a damp cloth. They also need regular nail trims and tooth brushing.
    • Training can be difficult if you don't start at a very young age. Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be stubborn and strong willed, but if you're consistent, firm, and fair, you can train your Ridgeback to a high level.
    • The young Rhodesian Ridgeback is energetic and active, but with maturity and training, he generally becomes a calm and quiet dog. He needs at least a half hour of daily exercise.
    • Rhodesian Ridgebacks can adapt to a number of living situations, including apartments, if they're properly exercised. The ideal is a home with a large fenced yard.
    • Ridgebacks generally don't bark a lot. Many will bark to alert you to something unusual, and some will bark when they are bored, but for the most part, this isn't a yappy breed.
    • Rhodesian Ridgebacks aren't serious diggers, but they'll dig a large hole if they're bored or to escape the heat.
    • To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from a puppy mill, a pet store, or a breeder who doesn't provide health clearances or guarantees. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies and who breeds for sound temperaments.
  • History

    The Rhodesian Ridgeback, once known as the African Lion Hound, was developed in South Africa by Boer farmers. The farmers needed a versatile hunting dog who could withstand the extreme temperatures and terrain of the bush, survive when water rations were low, protect property, and be a companion to the entire family.

    They started by crossing dogs they'd brought from Europe — such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, and Bloodhounds — with a half-wild native dog kept by the Khoikhoi, a pastoral people. This dog had a distinctive ridge of hair along its back, and breeders noticed that crosses who had this ridge tended to be excellent hunters.

    At first, the Boers primarily used the dogs to flush partridge or bring down a wounded buck. When big-game hunting became popular, they found that the dogs were well suited for accompanying them when they hunted lions from horseback. The dogs would hold the lion at bay until the hunters arrived.

    A hunter named Cornelius von Rooyen began a breeding program in what was then known as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A breed standard — a written description of what the breed should look and act like — was set down in 1922, and it's changed little since then. In 1924, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was officially accepted by the South African Kennel Union.

    Some Rhodesian Ridgebacks may have made it to the United States as early as 1911, but it wasn't until after World War II that large numbers were imported to the U.S., Britain, and Canada. The first Rhodesian Ridgeback registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) was Tchaika of Redhouse, in 1955. The AKC recognized the breed that same year.

    Today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback ranks 54th in popularity among the 155 breeds and varieties recognized by the AKC. The Ridgeback is quite popular in South Africa, where he first began his journey as a breed.

  • Size

    A Rhodesian Ridgeback male stands 25 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs about 85 pounds; females are 24 to 26 inches tall and weigh around 70 pounds.

  • Personality

    The Rhodesian Ridgeback is independent and intelligent, a combination that can be entertaining, frustrating, and rewarding, all in one. It's important to begin training early and to be firm — but not harsh — and consistent.

    Because of his hunting roots, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has a high prey drive. That means stray cats and other small furry animals aren't safe in your yard, and it also means your yard should be securely fenced, to prevent him from going hunting on his own.

    Exuberant and active in puppyhood, he matures into a quiet dog with moderate exercise needs. The Ridgeback is protective of his home and a discriminating barker who can be counted on to alert you to trouble. He's reserved with strangers but gentle and affectionate with family members.

    Like every dog, Rhodesian Ridgebacks need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Ridgeback puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.

  • Health

    Rhodesian Ridgebacks are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they can get certain health conditions. Not all Ridgebacks will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.

    If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog's been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.

    In Rhodesian Ridgebacks, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hips, elbows, and thyroid and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that the eyes are normal.

    Because some health problems don't appear until a dog reaches full maturity, health clearances aren't issued to dogs younger than 2 years old. Look for a breeder who doesn't breed her dogs until they're two or three years old. The following problems are not common in the breed, but they may occur:

    • Elbow Dysplasia is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It's thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog's elbow, causing joint laxity. This can lead to painful lameness. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem, or medication and weight loss to control the pain.
    • Hip Dysplasia is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
    • Dermoid Sinus is a congenital skin defect in which a cyst or narrow tubelike structure occurs along the spinal area. It can penetrate the skin to varying degrees, and some reach into the muscle tissue and can be attached to the spinal cord. If the dermoid sinus becomes infected it can cause other problems. Some puppies with this defect are euthanized, but others are treated with surgery.
  • Care

    Rhodesian Ridgebacks can adapt to a variety of homes, including apartments, as long as they get daily exercise. They should live in the house with their people, not outdoors in a run or kennel.

    Access to a securely fenced yard is ideal. They'll try to escape if bored, so in addition to ensuring that your fence can't be jumped or climbed over or dug under, keep your Ridgeback busy with training, play, or dog sports. Sending him out into the yard by himself for hours on end is an invitation to destruction. Even if he's not especially bored, a Ridgeback is often inclined to dig large holes so he can rest in the cool and comfortable dirt. Be prepared to give him part of the yard or resign yourself to having a cratered yard that resembles the surface of the moon.

    Give your Rhodesian Ridgeback a couple of 15- to 20-minute walks or playtimes daily, plus opportunities to run in a safely fenced area a couple of times a week. Because of the breed's strong prey drive, keeping him on leash in unfenced areas is a must. Your Ridgeback will take off after a cat, rabbit, or bicyclist, no matter how well you think he's trained.

    Ridgebacks are generally discriminating barkers, meaning they only bark at things that are important, but any dog can become a nuisance barker if he doesn't have anything else to do.

    Begin training early, first with puppy kindergarten, followed by a basic obedience class. The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a mind of his own and can be stubborn. To train him successfully, you must be firm and consistent but not harsh. Use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards.

  • Feeding

    Recommended daily amount: 2 3/4 to 4 3/8 cups of a high-quality dog food daily, divided into two meals.

    How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.

    Ridgebacks enjoy their food and are known countersurfers. Keep food well out of reach and consider dog-proofing your cabinets to keep your dog from getting his own snacks.

    Keep your Ridgeback in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.

    For more on feeding your Ridgeback, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.

  • Coat Color And Grooming

    The Ridgeback coat is short and shiny and tends to be odor-free. Ridgebacks who live indoors shed a little year-round, while those who live outdoors have heavier seasonal shedding.

    The color of the coat ranges from light wheaten to red wheaten; in other words, buff to gold to reddish gold. Some Ridgebacks have black on the muzzle, ears, or around the eyes.

    The distinct, tapering ridge of hair on his back grows in the opposite direction of the rest of the coat, and starts just behind the shoulder and runs to a point between the rise of the hips. The ridge usually has two whorls — hair growing in a circular pattern — directly opposite each other. These whorls are known as crowns, and a Ridgeback with only one crown or with more than two crowns stands little chance in the show ring.

    When it comes to grooming, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is pretty low-maintenance. Give him a good going over with a rubber curry brush weekly to remove loose or dead hair, then wipe him down with a damp cloth. Voila! A clean Ridgeback.

    Other grooming needs include dental hygiene and nail care. Brush your Ridgeback's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and bacteria. Daily is better. Trim his nails once or twice a month, as needed. If you can hear the nail clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short nails keep the feet in good condition and don't get caught in the carpet and tear.

    Start grooming your Ridgeback when he's a puppy to get him used to it. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.

  • Children And Other Pets

    The Rhodesian Ridgeback is tolerant with children of all ages, but he's large and can be too rambunctious for a toddler.

    As with any dog, always teach children how to approach and touch your Rhodesian Ridgeback, and supervise all interactions between dogs and young kids to prevent any biting or tail pulling from either party.

    The Rhodesian Ridgeback does well with other pets if he's raised with them. Males tend to be aggressive to other males, especially if they're not neutered. It's important to properly socialize a Rhodesian Ridgeback to other dogs and animals — expose him to lots of other creatures beginning in puppyhood — because the tolerance he shows animals in his home is often not extended to animals outside his family.

  • Rescue Groups

    Rhodesian Ridgebacks are sometimes bought without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one, and these dogs often end up in the care of rescue groups, in need of adoption or fostering. Other Ridgebacks end up in rescue because their owners have divorced or died. If you're interested in adopting an adult Rhodesian Ridgeback who's already gone through the destructive puppy stage and may already be trained, a rescue group is a good place to start.