Ushamwari Rhodesian Ridgebacks, New York
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Rhodesian Ridgeback Breed Information

Should you choose a Ridgeback?  |  Is the Ridgeback right for me?   |  In Quest of the Sabre

Should you choose a Ridgeback?

The 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.

Rhodesian Ridgeback - Nori

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.

This resume or work profile indicates many of the traits that make the Rhodesian ridgeback a wonderful breed to own—but maybe not for all!!

  • 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 it’s 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.

These athletic, attractive, sensitive, intelligent dogs may present some challenges for some but for others it’s what a ridgeback is all about!!!

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Is the Ridgeback Right for Me?

By Denise Flaim, Revodana Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

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.

Axle & his brother

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 humor!

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.

Many 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

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In Quest of the Sabre

By Sian Hall.

Avalon moving

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