Other names: African Lion Hound, Lion dog
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The Rhodesian Ridgeback, also formerly known as the African Lion Dog, is a lively, jovial, and very brave dog, good-natured and faithful to his master and kin, children included. He was bred for the purpose of hunting lions: his main role consisted of signaling the wild animal’s appearance by barking, and getting it to approach his master’s firearm by way of deception and chasing.
Key facts about the Rhodesian Ridgeback
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Origins and history
His origins remain a real mystery, but it would seem that he is a descendant of dogs native to the Cape Colony, present-day South Africa, crossed with pariah dogs and other ridgeback hunting dogs. He was bred by the the local Khoikhoi people. There are only two places on earth that have dogs sporting the ‘ridgeback’ so typical of the Rhodesian Ridgeback: South Africa and the region of ancient Siam. It is highly likely that the breed had spread to those two regions at the same time as the slave trade. Legend has it that the characteristic ridgeback is a mark left by a lion’s claws, since it was originally used for hunting lions. The FCI officially recognised the breed in 1955.
FCI breed nomenclature
Group 6 - Scent hounds and related breeds
Section 3 : Related breeds
Physical characteristics of the Rhodesian Ridgeback
Female : Between 24 and 26 in
Male : Between 25 and 27 in
Female : Between 71 and 79 lb
Male : Between 71 and 79 lb
The coat can range from a light wheaten to red wheaten. Some subtle white patching on the chest and paws are tolerated. Excessive white patching or black hairs are not admissible.
Type of coat
The coat is short.
The coat is dense, smooth, shiny, and should never be wooly nor silky. Just behind the shoulders is where the characteristic ridge of hair starts, running along the back in the opposite direction from the rest of his coat ; it should be clearly distinguishable, tapered, and symmetrical: by starting right behind the shoulders, it should run through to the tip of the hips and consist of two identical whorls of hair (called "crowns") on each side. The ridgeback is the breed’s signature trait.
The eye colour usually matches the coat.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a strong, very muscular and lively dog- symmetrically built, resilient, and fast. The head is of a good length. It is flat, rather large between the ears, smooth (non-wrinkled), when the dog is at rest. The muzzle is long, deep, robust, and the stop is rather pronounced. The eyes are round and shiny. The ears are set rather high, of a medium shape, and folded over near the cheeks. The limbs are strong, of thick bone structure, very straight. The tail is worn slightly upwards, but should never curl over the back.
Good to know
This breed is not very well known in Europe, making it quite the task to track a pup down, and often resulting in long waiting lists. If you want a dog of this breed, you must be patient and be sure that you are making the right choice.
Gentle and relatively calm within the family, the Rhodesian Ridgeback possesses a balanced personality. He is openly affectionate towards his kin and needs affection in return to feel good, even if he can tolerate loneliness and give space when needed.
This dog has a playful streak, especially with children, if the latter are respectful of him. But, as in the case of most dogs, it is not advised to leave the children unattended with him.
Although he is very athletic and dynamic by nature, the Rhodesian Ridgeback also values his downtime at home- why not take a load off on the couch, if he can take advantage of the comforts his home provides?
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a perfect example of versatility, revealing his vast intelligence and endless capacity to adapt. He can be an excellent companion dog as well as the ideal hunter or watchdog.
More often in a group than alone, this dog was originally a feline hunter and more specifically lion hunter, which is where he gets his ‘Lion Hound’ alias from. Very brave and particularly determined, he had a very agile way of cornering the lion in anticipation of his master’s arrival.
Fearful / wary of strangers
Never one to be nervous or aggressive, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is, however, very weary of people he does not know. He needs a lot of time to start trusting, and to start seeing someone as a familiar face rather than a stranger.
Even if he is quite individual and can sometimes do as he pleases, this native of Rhodesia is, despite his appearances, very sensitive, and often absorbs and reflects his own social group’s state of mind.
His behaviour can thus considerably change depending on the general mood dominating at any given moment. This is why, sometimes you cannot consider this dog to be a particularly independant canine as he looks up towards his owners quite a bit.
Behaviour of the Rhodesian Ridgeback
His small capacity for independence does allow this hunting dog to accept his master’s absences, especially if he has been used to being left alone.
However, the Rhodesian Ridgeback will not tolerate being completely excluded from his adoptive family. And even if, physically speaking, he can sleep outside without a problem, he cannot stand being typecast as a watchdog only, or having to spend all of his days and nights outside in the garden.
If left alone for too long, the African Lion Hound, can quickly spin out of control and lose his peaceful equilibrium.
Easy to train / obedience
The African Lion Hound, as he is also commonly called, is not easy to educate, because his intelligence is both his biggest quality and vice. Nothing escapes him and he will sniff out his master’s slightest weakness or incoherence and use it against him.
What’s more- since he attains maturity relatively late (at around 2 years of age)- consistency, patience, diligence and perseverance are of utmost importance.
To obtain optimal results, training must be initiated very early on with the Rhodesian Ridgeback pup, and be continuous throughout his life: with a dog of this mould, nothing is ever completely mastered.
Foolproof complicity between master and dog is necessary to achieve a good cooperation, and violence or brutality will not be accepted in any shape or form by this sensitive dog.
Although an excellent watchdog, the Rhodesian Ridgeback remains a discrete dog that doesn’t start barking at any mere movement. He can, however, be a strong deterrent if he needs to be.
Tendency to run away
Being the good hunting dog that he is, and if his home grounds’ perimeter is not secured well enough by way of a foolproof fence, the African Lion Hound could easily take off as soon as an interesting trail beckons to him.
Loneliness could quickly affect him if it is persistent- in fact, whether he is inside or in the garden, this dog will quickly occupy himself with what would simply be considered as mischief by his owners.
Greedy / Gluttony
This dog will never refuse a meal, but be careful not to overfeed him, and to meet his nutritional needs efficiently.
Very good-willed towards his adoptive family, the Rhodesian Ridgeback takes it to heart to protect them and keep a watchful eye over them. Without ever necessarily resorting to aggressivity, he will be a deterrent by virtue of his appearance alone. Conceived as a lion hunter, he will not get scared easily by a mere ill-intentioned intruder.
This dog requires experienced dog-owners, as it is only with discipline and strict boundaries that he can become the ideal, well-rounded companion.
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Rhodesian Ridgeback in a flat
Even if he is not completely hostile to an urban environment and cosy flat, the African Lion Hound does, all things considered, prefer a rural setting- the countryside, in a house with a garden, for instance.
The most vital thing for this particularly intelligent dog is to have a daily routine that includes considerable outdoor time, and which would allow him to express his full, physical, mental and scenthound potential!
If he lives in the country, he should not simply be left outside for hours on end- to ensure his full happiness, he should be allowed to take advantage of all the comforts of indoor living, by his owners’ side.
Need for exercise / Sporty
With being a family dog, companion dog to children, excellent athlete, hunter and watchdog- the Rhodesian Ridgeback requires a lot of stimulation to feel fully content.
Quick runs to just ‘take care of business’ will not be enough for him, and whether he lives in the city or in the countryside, he will need several outings a day to keep his physical and mental balance in check.
Be mindful, however, not to burden his joints too much - as with all dogs of this size, it is not wise to have him perform too intensely either.
Travelling / easy to transport
A dog of this size is not easy to transport, especially since he needs to have been very well trained for travel to take place without any complications.
Rhodesian Ridgeback and cats
Even if this dog was not bred to hunt small animals, he could still confuse a cat for potential prey. It will therefore be necessary for him to grow up amidst cats to consider them as part of his social group.
Rhodesian Ridgeback and dogs
When on the hunt, the Lion Dog, as he has also come to be known, readily accepts the presence of fellow canines in order to better accomplish his mission. Outside of this setting however, he can tend to be uncompromising with his peers- this is why it is so important to socialise the Rhodesian Ridgeback pup from his first months.
Rhodesian Ridgeback and children
Extremely caring towards children, he very much enjoys playing with them, which is his way of keeping an eye on them too. Be careful about the very young ones, however, as they could inadvertently become too careless with him.
Rhodesian Ridgeback and the elderly
His enormous need for exercise is not compatible with a sedentary life. The Rhodesian Ridgeback requires a very active owner above all else, fit enough to meet his many physical, mental, and olfactory needs.
The price of a Rhodesian Ridgeback varies depending on its origins, age, and gender. You have to count an average of £1100 for dogs registered at the Kennel Club.
With regards to the monthly budget required to meet the needs of a dog of this size, you have to estimate an average of £45 per month.
This dog’s short and smooth coat does not require much maintenance: regular brushes (at least once a week) will be enough to maintain the quality and beauty of his coat.
Although he is quite robust and rather tolerant of bad weather, he doesn’t enjoy being wet- he must therefore be thoroughly dried after walks in the rain.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback experiences only very little hair loss, which facilitates daily maintenance- much to the relief of the most pedantic of owners!
Nutrition of the Rhodesian Ridgeback
A particularly athletic dog, the Rhodesian Ridgeback requires nutrition that is carefully adapted to his physical shape in order to keep his overall equilibrium intact. Supplementing his need for protein, lipids, carbohydrates, minerals and folic acid is key.
In order to ensure that all of the dog’s needs are met, it is recommended that you resort to premium-quality kibbles, or that you consult a vet who will help you determine the optimal diet for this dog, if homemade food is what you are opting for.
The adult Rhodesian Ridgeback should receive two meals a day (the pup will require three): a light one in the morning, and a more substantial one in the evening, barring self-service since it could lead to gastric torsion syndrome.
Health of the Rhodesian Ridgeback
Life expectancy is estimated at 11 years.
Strong / robust
A very rustic and robust dog, the Ridgeback almost never suffers any health issues.
As passionate as he is about the missions entrusted onto him, this work dog can sustain all climates with surprising endurance.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback can live both inside and outside, given how resilient he is to bad weather.
Tendency to put on weight
The athletic constitution of this dog should not be burdened by excess weight. A healthy diet must be followed in order to meet his daily needs, and maintain his intended weight.