The Khoikhoi people occupied the Cape Peninsula during the mid
17th century when the Dutch began trading with the area and set
up a trading station. These people had a dog which was used for
hunting; described as ugly, but noted for its ferocity when acting
as a guard dog. This dog measured 18 inches (46 cm) at the withers,
with a lean but muscular frame. The ears have been described both
as erect and hanging, but the most distinctive feature was the length
of hair growing in the reverse direction along its back. Within
53 years of the Dutch settlement, the Europeans were using these
local dogs themselves.
By the 1860s, European settlers had brought a variety of dog breeds
to this area of Africa, including Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, terriers,
and Foxhounds. These breeds were bred with the indigenous African
dogs, including the dog of the Khoikhoi people, which resulted in
the Boer hunting dogs, a forerunner to the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Reverend Charles Helm traveled to the Hope Fountain Mission in
Southern Rhodesia in the 1870s, taking two ridged dogs with him.
It was there that Cornelius van Rooyen, a big–game hunter,
saw them and decided to breed his own dogs with them to incorporate
their guarding abilities. The offspring were dogs with red coats
They became the foundation stock of a kennel which developed dogs
over the next thirty five years with the ability to bay lions, that
is, to hold them at bay while the hunter makes the kill. The dogs
were used to hunt not only lions but also other game, including
wild pigs and baboons. (They have the ability to kill a baboon independent
of a human hunter.) The first breed standard was written by Mr F.R.
Barnes in Bulawayo, Rhodesia in 1922. Based on that of the Dalmatian,
it was approved in 1926 by the South African Kennel Union.
The first Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Britain were shown by Mrs. Edward
Foljambe in 1928. The breed was admitted into the American Kennel
Club in 1955 as a member of the Hound Group.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback's distinguishing feature is the ridge of
hair along its back, running in the opposite direction to the rest
of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls
of hair (called "crowns") and tapers from immediately
behind the shoulders down to the level of the hips. The ridge is
usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in width at its widest point. It is
believed to originate from the dog used by the original African
dog population, which had a similar ridge. The first depiction of
a Ridgeback is a wall painting describing the life of the Boers,
housed in South Africa in the Voortrekker Monument.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are loyal and intelligent and somewhat aloof
to strangers. This is not to be confused with aggression; a Ridgeback
of proper temperament will be more inclined to ignore, rather than
challenge, a stranger. This breed requires positive, reward-based
training, good socialization and consistency; it is often not the
best choice for inexperienced dog owners. Ridgebacks are strong-willed,
intelligent, and many seem to have a penchant for mischief, though
loving. They are protective of their owners and families. If trained
well, they can be excellent guard dogs.
Despite their athletic, sometimes imposing, exterior, the Ridgeback
has a sensitive side. Excessively harsh training methods, that might
be tolerated by a sporting or working dog, will likely backfire
on a Ridgeback. The Ridgeback accepts correction as long as it is
fair and justified, and as long as it comes from someone he knows
and trusts. Francis R. Barnes, who wrote the first standard in 1922,
acknowledged that "rough treatment ... should never be administered
to these dogs, especially when they are young. They go to pieces
with handling of that kind
Health conditions known to affect this breed are hip dysplasia
and dermoid sinus. The Ridgeback ranks number six in terms of most
affected breeds for thyroid problems recorded by the Orthopedic
Foundation for Animals. UK breed survey puts the average lifespan
at 10.25 years