starting point for ascertaining the answer
could have its roots back in Africa where the
ridgeback was originally bred at a time when
the English settlers arrived in Zimbabwe (now
Rhodesia). An extremely rural plain challenged
the farmers/hunters to use dogs as functional
extensions of themselves. They needed food
for their family and ranch-hands so they used
small packs of local dogs to help them. Of
course, they had their own dogs which they
genetically intermingled with the wild dogs.
The great dane was used to add height, mastiff
genes added a stronger jaw, terriers, boxers,
Irish setters all had a significant role in
making the Rhodesian ridgeback as it became
recognized as a breed by the American Kennel
Club in the 1950”s. To this end a pack
of fleet-footed dogs could bring down a source
of food for the family. The tools of these
dogs were their ability to scent to the air,
sight the game at a distance, and had the speed
to catch the prey. Today they are categorized
as scent hounds and sight hounds.
Then, too, the dogs were expected to peruse
the parameters of these large ranches which
required a true, natural sense of independent
thinking, a physically durable body, and a
protective sensibility for the ranch. These
ranches were many thousands of acres and packs
of dogs were used to keep out poachers and
other prey who could threaten the security
of the ranch.
In the evenings, the dogs were
expected to be protective of the homestead
and protective of the family as well as to
provide companionship to the family.
resume or work profile indicates many of
the traits that make the Rhodesian ridgeback
a wonderful breed to own—but maybe not
We’ve noticed a variable prey
drive in these dogs based on 30 plus
years of ownership. However, until a dog
is well trained to the leash and voice trained
best to walk on a leash.
They are independent thinkers which
could frustrate some as they can be selectively
hard of hearing. Through the lure of
a food treat (i.e. bribe) and well earned
praise these sensitive, smart dogs will capture
your heart and be very obedient.
Exercise is a good diffuser of their
adolescent energy but they soon dissolve
into the couch as they achieve maturity.
The temperament of the Rhodesian ridgeback
is one that enjoys close associations with
family members and somewhat distant with
strangers. For a dog to totally accept other
animals and people they have to be socialized.
Dog parks, children’s at-home sport’s
events, walks, puppy kindergarten, obedience
or conformation classes, all help to socialize.
attractive, sensitive, intelligent dogs may
present some challenges for some but for
others it’s what a ridgeback is all
The key to answering that question - for
any breed, not just the Ridgeback - is to research its origins
and history. There, you will find the essence
of the breed - the hard-wired traits that
may or may not work for your lifestyle.
While they may look like sporting dogs or
working dogs, Ridgebacks are hounds. They were
bred to pursue large, oftentimes dangerous
game, relying solely on their own judgment
and intelligence. Unlike a Golden or Lab, a
Ridgeback was not bred to care about your opinion.
Out in the field, checking in with their handler
was counterintuitive - a split second of distraction
could mean death. This great athleticism aod
intelligence is what attracts many of us to
the breed. But it also means that the Ridgeback
is an intensely prey driven dog. He is not
reliable off leash. If a squirrel or other
creature crosses your path, your Ridgeback
will be off like a shot. Your commands will
go unheeded. If there is a two-lane highway
between your Ridgeback and the squirrel, well
... you can finish the sentence.
Keep this prey drive into account with small
children. If a toddler runs across the room
shrieking, the average Ridgeback will chase
him, probably even knock him down. This isn't
aggression, it's simply instinct, and when
confronted with the sobbing child, the Ridgeback
will invariably lick his face and ask what
all the fuss is about. Ridgeback tails are
powerful and, when employed in the expression
of happiness, can leave welt marks.
Ridgebacks play the same way they hunt -
chasing, leaping, body-slamming. Factor in this physicality
if you have children under age 5 or if you
have another breed of dog - say, a dachshund who might be
too "crunchy" for this play style.
Also, Ridgebacks are often not a good mix with "serious" breeds,
such as Akitas and mastiffs, who demand deference.
The Ridgeback's in-your-face physical style
and jokester attitude (they think running headlong
at you at 35 mph is amusing) might push those
breeds to their limits.
Because he survived on the hunt using his
own wits, the Ridgeback is intensely independent.
A Ridgeback loves his humans, but he does not
need their endless approval. A Ridgeback is
not reflexively obedient.
TIlls doesn't mean he is untrainable, but
is does mean that he needs short, positive
training sessions. He will not sit 10 times
in a row simply because you asked him: He
will think, after the second or third request,
that you are just being stupid.
There are some people who require their dogs
to heed their every command - they want a very
hierarchical relationship. The Ridgeback will
not provide this. He will love you, and he
will command. If your ego cannot handle that,
do not get a Ridgeback. In the Obedience ring,
I have completed entire exercises by myself-
with my dog looking on from the middle of the
ring. You need a sense of
The Ridgeback requires a relationship of
trust with his handler. This is a breed that
makes decisions for itself: Compulsion is
doomed to failure. Instead, the Ridgeback must
be reasoned with. He will not do something
he thinks is life-threatening or dangerous "just
because" you said
so. This is also a breed that must be owner-trained.
You cannot hand your Ridgeback off to a trainer,
or send him off to "camp." He responds
to only those whom he trusts or likes.
Unlike a sporting or herding dog, a Ridgeback
is not "on" all the time. Provided
he gets enough exercise, he is content to slumber
the day away. He housebreaks easily and is
not a career chewer (though, like any dog,
he needs to be taught not to teeth on the Chippendale
highboy). If given lots of exercise and time
with his owner, he can make a suitable apartment
dog. He will not, however, tolerate being tied
up outside, away &from his home and family.
people see the Ridgeback's imposing presence
and physique and think he is an aggressive
guard dog. Not true. Like most of us, the
Ridgeback is reserved with strangers: He saves
his effusive displays for those whom he loves.
But he is never suspicious of guests. He accepts
them into his home with the same graciousness
that his owner does. He assumes that you are
decent and honorable unless proven otherwise.
Many Ridgeback owners are dismayed that their
dogs, especially their males, do not "act
protective." That is because they have
found no cause to be. The Ridgeback is a very
intelligent and discriminating companion. If
and when he needs to defend you, he will otherwise,
you can expect his good nature and pack mentality
to extend to all those he meets, provided he
has been properly and positively socialized.
Though he is powerful and stubborn, the Ridgeback
is at heart a sensitive soul. He does not tolerate
harsh treatment. He cannot handle the corporeal
punishment - such as constant collar jerks
or "alpha rolls" - that a sporting
dog would just shrug off. The Ridgeback, after
all, is a hound, just like a saluki or an Afghan:
He is sensitive. When confronted with abuse
or harsh handling, he either shuts down or
escalates his response in an effort to get
away. This is not bad temperament: It is mishandling
on the part of the owner.
This is arguably the biggest lap dog in the
universe. The Ridgeback loves his comforts,
and will snuggle with you, cheek to cheek,
on the sofa. Like canine canaries, they prefer
to sleep entirely covered. And they love -
repeat, love - food. Care must be taken that
they do not get obese or develop the Ridgeback
skill of counter surfing: An unattended loaf
of bread is fair game.
Is the Ridgeback right for you? Perhaps the
better question to ask is, Are you right for
the Ridgeback? This breed needs a unique hybrid
of an owner: Someone who is firm and consistent,
so that the Ridgeback learns his boundaries
and grows up to be a model canine citizen.
But also someone who respects this dog's intelligence
and independent nature, and is willing to work
**with** it, not against it.
(Denise Flaim, the author is an owner-breeder-handler
from New York. She services as the RRCl IS
Historian and cochairs the Health and
Genetics Committee. She is a professional journalist
and has authored several books. For more information
on Denise and her dogs visit www.revodana.com)