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Rhodesian Ridgeback

Oliver Jones

Rhodesian-Ridgeback-dog on grass

The Rhodesian Ridgeback gets its name from the large ridge it has running down its spine and from where it originates from. It is a large purebred developed to be a hunting and guard dog. Its other names the African Lion Dog or African Lion Hound refers to its ability to engage a lion until its human hunting companion arrives. While it has a fierce background today it is more likely to be a companion dog.

Here is the Rhodesian Ridgeback at a Glance
Name Rhodesian Ridgeback
Other Names African Lion Dog, African Lion Hound
Nicknames Ridgeback, Lion Dog
Origin Zimbabwe
Average size Large
Average weight 65 to 90 pounds
Average height 24 to 27 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Short, dense, silky
Hypoallergenic No
Color Golden, grey, wheat, white, red
Popularity Quite popular – ranked 40th by the AKC
Intelligence Fairly intelligent
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle moderately hot climates but nothing too high
Tolerance to cold Good – can handle moderately cold climates
Shedding Low to moderate
Drooling Low – should not be a lot of drool
Obesity Average – may have issues with weight but is not prone to it
Grooming/brushing Moderate – brush every other day
Barking Rare
Exercise needs Very active – will need active owners happy to be out and about
Trainability Moderately easy for experienced owners
Friendliness Very good – a social and friendly dog with those it knows
Good first dog Moderate – not really best suited for new owners, experienced are much better
Good family pet Excellent – with the right raising this is a great family dog
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Moderate to good – needs socialization as does have a high prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate to good – socialization will be needed
Good apartment dog Good – can adapt to an apartment as it is not that active indoors but it ideally needs a yard and is best somewhere with room
Handles alone time well Moderate – does not like being left alone and can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Generally healthy but some issues include dysplasia and skin problems
Medical expenses $485 a year covering pet insurance and basic health care
Food expenses $270 a year including treats as well as dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $235 a year for toys, training, license and miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $990 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1050
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 3 Maimings: 2 Child Victims: 2 Deaths: 1

The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s Beginnings

The Rhodesian Ridgeback was bred by Boer farmers in South Africa in the 1800s to be a working dog, one that could hunt a provide for the family, guard to keep them safe while also being a companion. The idea was to breed a dog who could also handle the extreme temperatures of the area and survive on low amounts of food and water. Originally they were bred to hunt small game or to help bring down wounded animals.

The farmers used imports of larger dogs like the Great Dane, Mastiff and Bloodhound along with a local half wild dog called the Khoikhoi. It is from the Khoikhoi that the distinctive ridge comes from. In 1877 Reverend Helm came to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and brought with him two Ridgebacks. Hunters of big game realized if used in a pack they were very good at hunting lion too. 4 to 6 Ridgebacks could hold a lion until the hunter arrived on horseback to kill it. They were also used to hunt other larger game.

In 1922 the first Ridgeback Club was formed and the original breed standard was drafted. In 1927 it was recognized by the South African Kennel Union. In 1928 the first Rhodesian Ridgebacks were shown in Britain by Mrs Edward Foljambe. In 1952 the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain was formed and it was recognized by the Kennel Club in 1954.

New Lease on Life

It is thought that the dog came to the US unofficially in 1911 but as with many large dog breeds the two world wars had a negative impact on their breeding. After the second world war it officially came to the US with Mr and Mrs William H O’Brien in 1950 when they brought 6 Ridgebacks from South Africa for the purpose of breeding and having them recognized by the American Kennel Club. The AKC gave that recognition in 1955 and it is ranked 40th in popularity.

The Dog You See Today

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a large dog weighing 65 to 90 pounds and stands 24 to 27 inches tall. It is a strong, muscular dog with a broad head that is flat on top and a long muzzle. It has a liver, brown or black nose and can also sometimes have a black tongue. It has brown, round eyes and medium length ears that hang down, wider at the base and then tapering to a tip.

Its chest is deep and it has a long tail that curves up a little. Its coat is dense and short and comes in colors such as different shades of red, wheat, white, grey and golden. It of course has its ridge that runs along its spine. On top of that the hair runs in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat.

The Inner Rhodesian Ridgeback


This is a fairly intelligent dog, it is reserved around strangers but is very loyal to its owners and family, can be mischievous and will be affectionate and good natured. It is very alert and makes a great watchdog and guard dog as it is very protective. It is brave and will act to defend you if needed.

This is not a dog for new owners, it needs experienced people to deal with it and give it the right training and handling. It is a confident dog and can be independent and even territorial. It is an obedient dog with the right owners but is energetic and can be destructive if it does not get enough exercise.

In general a well raised Ridgeback should not be aggressive and is not likely to challenge others. One who is not socialized and trained though can be. It is a sensitive dog so harsh treatment is not recommended. It also does not like to be left alone for long periods of time and can suffer from separation anxiety.

Living with a Rhodesian Ridgeback

What will training look like?

For owners with experience who use a positive approach the Rhodesian Ridgeback is moderately easy to train. This means things will be gradual but not too painful. It does have an independent side though so key to your success is making it clear that you are the boss, and that you are consistent with every thing. Do not let it get its own way sometimes. Offer treats, praise and encouragement but be firm.

As well as having it trained well you should also pay close attention to making sure it is socialized as early as possible. Making sure it is exposed to different people, ages, animals, dogs and places is key to having a confident and trustworthy dog.

How active is the Rhodesian Ridgeback ?

This is a fairly active dog and will need regular exercise and mental stimulation each day to be happy and healthy. It is not best suited to apartment living as it needs room to move around and it should have access to land or a large yard to play and run in. You could take it to a dog park as this is a chance to be off leash safely and to socialize. The yard needs to be fenced in well so that it does not find a way out.

It should be taken out for at least good long walks a day, but it can also join you for your activities like hiking, jogging, cycling and the like. It has a lot of stamina and with training could be a great exercise partner. Make sure it is leashed when out walking as its high prey drive means it will go off hunting anything that moves otherwise. If it is not getting enough stimulation each day it can become destructive from being bored and can be very hard to manage.

Caring for the Rhodesian Ridgeback

Grooming needs

This breed is a low to average shedding dog and will need a moderate amount of grooming and upkeep. The coat is short and smooth so it is easy to brush using a firm bristled brush. It should be good with a brush every other day. You can expect some hair around the home. Bathing should be done as it needs one using just a dog shampoo. In between baths you could use a damp cloth to give it a wipe down.

It should also have its teeth brushed two or three times a week at a minimum for good oral health and to prevent tooth decay and bad breath. If it does not wear down its nails naturally with its activity have them clipped. You can do it yourself but take care and make sure you know how far it is okay to cut. Otherwise have a groomer or vet do it. Ear should be checked for infection signs once a week. You can get dog ear cleansers and use a cotton ball with it to wipe the ears clean once a week too.

Feeding Time

The Rhodesian Ridgeback should be fed around 3 to 4 1/2 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into at least two meals. Each dog can vary on the exact amount it needs though depending on its size, metabolism, activity level, age and build. Make sure it does not overeat as they do tend to like their food and they will find interesting ways to get to it.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks with children and other animals

This is a dog who can be very good with children with socialization and training. It can be affectionate and playful with them and is especially good with children it has been raised with and feels protective over. Small ones can get knocked over by accident sometimes though so supervision is a good idea.

With other animals it can vary as it does have a high prey drive, with socialization it can be fine with pets in the home but with strange cats or small animals in the yard they are not safe. It can also have dominant issues with dogs of the same sex especially males with other non-neutered males.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a life span of 10 to 12 years which is a little shorter than the average life span for dogs of its size. It is quite a hardy dog though but there are some health issues it can be prone to such as joint dysplasia, cysts, DM, Hypothyroidism, Bloat, mast cell tumors and dermoid sinus.

Biting Statistics

Looking at reports of dog attacks against people over 30 years in Canada and the US there have been 3 attacks reported that did bodily harm. 2 of those were maimings, meaning permanent scarring, loss of limb or disfigurement. 2 victims were children and 1 of the three resulted in death. In all that is just 1 attack every 10 years so while the Ridgeback has the potential for aggression it is rare. Key to controlling your dog and being able to trust it is making sure it is well trained and socialized, and properly raised and exercised.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Ridgeback puppy can cost about $1050 for pet quality dog from a good breeder. You can get them for less. There are less reputable places that sell them for $300 to $800 but in those cases you are funding places like puppy mills and you are not getting a well bred dog from a good line. You can also opt to adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter and that will cost $50 to $300. In most cases though you are more likely to find adult dogs that need re-homing rather than puppies. If you want a Ridgeback of show quality that is going to cost somewhere around $2000 or more.

Initial costs of having a puppy like this will cover certain tests and procedures at a vets as well as getting some basic things like collar and leash, crate and so on. Those tests will include blood tests, a physical examination, deworming, shots, micro chipping and spaying or neutering depending on if it is male or female. Altogether these costs will start at about $500.

There will also be ongoing costs. Food each each year for a good quality dry dog food and treats will start at $270. Miscellaneous costs for things like license, basic training and toys come to $235 a year. Medical basics for pet insurance, vet visits, flea prevention and vaccinations come to another $485 a year. This gives a yearly cost of $990 as a starting figure.


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The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a strong-willed dog who needs assertive owners to handle it. It can be a stable, loyal and great companion when it is properly raised but it does need training and socialization, and it will need committed owners able to do that and be active with it. It will need watching around strange animals and same sex dogs and without the right care it can be aggressive and destructive.

Image credit: imch, Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.