The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a tale of two different personalities. Behind closed doors, he is a super sweet and affectionate dog. But in public, he is protective and hard as nails. This breed is notorious for not tolerating any threats to its owners. In fact, he will protect his family with his life. In Africa where he’s from, he is known as the Lion Dog. Because yes, he literally fights lions if his family is in danger. Impressive!
But this breed is only impressive if you can handle it! Because with a personality like his, you need to be experienced and comfortable around independent dogs. Training a Ridgeback is not for the faint of heart, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Ridgebacks make fantastic family dogs, but, you need to be the right family fit. Here in this Rhodesian Ridgeback breed guide, we will run you through all of the Ridgeback facts, traits, and much more. Let’s jump straight in to see if you and the Lion Dog could be a match made in canine heaven!
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a canine creation of Africa, namely the Zimbabwe territory. Previously known as Rhodesia, hence his name. In the late 19th century, a big-game hunter named Cornelius van Rooyen chose two ridged Greyhounds to join his pack of lion dogs. He realized that the ridged offspring were fantastic at confronting and warding off the big game to protect his master and land. As well as distracting them while on the hunt, allowing his master to successfully take a shot.
It is believed that in addition to his Greyhound relatives, he is also made up of the native ridged Khoikhoi dog, terriers, and the Great Dane. It is the native Khoikhoi blood that gave them the know-how in handling big predators of Africa. And not just lions, baboons and leopards too. It also gave this breed resiliency against pests and local diseases. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was also capable of hunting smaller game to provide a meal for his master and pack. Antelope is a favorite of his!
The Rhodesian Ridgeback made his way to America in 1911. But it wasn’t until after the World Wars that large numbers of the breed were imported. He was accepted into the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1955. He now finds himself in the top 50 dog breeds in America. Celebrities such as Patrick Swayze and Blake Griffin have fallen under his African charm. The Ridgeback makes a great colleague of choice for cowboys and families with young children alike.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a naturally protective dog. He is very aloof with anyone outside of his family unit. So don’t expect him to welcome strangers and visitors in with open arms. He will stand by his master with suspicious eyes. Don’t be fooled by over-friendly Ridgeback pups because they start off overly friendly and curious. But when maturity hits, expect him to become all serious and protective.
His protective nature and ability to take down a lion and go off to hunt for his master (not with) means that he is an independent thinker. He also has a dominant personality that requires an even more dominant master. Meek and mild owners, or those looking for a first-time dog, should stick well clear of this dog. He needs leadership, otherwise, he becomes unruly, obnoxious, and unmanageable.
But if you can tame the beast in him, he makes an incredible companion. And there isn’t anything in the world that he wouldn’t do for you. He is loyal and craves his master’s companionship. Under his tough exterior is a sweet and gentle soul who doesn’t like to be left alone. It’s not because he’s scared, it’s because he doesn’t know whether you are safe or not. In this sense, he is needy, and this isn’t everyone’s canine cup of tea.
His need to be around people and protective nature makes him the best canine sibling for small children that you could ask for. When he’s not patrolling the gate, you’ll probably find him chilling next to the kids. Like all dogs, you need to supervise them around kids, but he is very gentle and kind with them. And when it comes to playtime, he will match their strength and play fair. He loves everyone in the family, but he has a soft spot for the young ones.
Size & Appearance
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a large-sized dog. Female Ridgebacks will typically weigh around 70 pounds, and males will weigh approximately 85 pounds. They measure between 24 and 27 inches tall, from paw to the withers, also known as the shoulder. He is substantially built, powerful, and athletic looking. But leggy and streamlined for speed and agility. These traits combined make him the ultimate big-game hunting machine.
His breed standard states that he is an almost perfectly symmetrical canine that looks similar to the Vizsla breed. He has large ears set high on his head and hang down to his jawline with rounded tips. His neck is relatively long, and he carries his head with pride. His eyes are round, and they sparkle with expression and intelligence. He has webbed feet, which helped him to walk along the sand dunes in his native lands.
Coat & Colors
No Ridgeback breed guide is complete without talking about his unique physical trait. And that is his ridge that runs along his spine, which is why he is known as the Ridgeback. This ridge is a strip of hair that runs in the opposite direction to the rest of his coat, which gives it a different shade and texture.
Some Ridgebacks have long ridges running from their shoulders to hips. Some only have a partial ridge, and some have none at all. Those Ridgebacks that want to compete in the conformation show must have the full-length ridge, completed by two identical whorls (crowns). Their coats are red, or some variation that looks similar to it.
He has a thick and dense coat that looks glossy, but it is slightly rough to the touch. The Ridgeback sheds little to moderately throughout the year and just a bit heavier during the shedding seasons. But not anywhere near as much as many other dogs. His simple grooming routine is something that we’ll cover further on. When it comes to his colors, he ranges from light wheaten to red wheaten. Some Ridgebacks have a little white on their chest and toes.
Surprisingly, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has lower energy needs than you might think. He needs between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise every day. Thankfully, unlike other hunting breeds, his activity doesn’t need to be particularly intense. A couple of brisk walks around the neighborhood or the local park will be ideal for him. Just be sure to keep him on a leash because this pup can run away fast!
He is an intelligent pup, so be sure to mix up his activities throughout the week. Think beach visits, mountain adventures, or visiting the local doggy park if he likes making new friends (we say if – you need to read the next paragraph!) To prevent him from becoming bored in between exercise sessions, be sure to invest in a bunch of doggy toys to keep his brain stimulated.
When it comes to other dogs, many Ridgebacks are wary of animals outside of their family unit. This means, if he is a puppy and you welcome him into your multi-pet home, he will thrive. But if you already have a resident Ridgeback and you invite another dog into the fold, there might be trouble. Male Ridgebacks are known to be particularly unwelcoming of new animals. If becoming a multi-pet household is important for you, you might want to rethink your breed choice.
If your Ridgeback is lucky enough to have access to a yard, it needs to be secure. High fences dug well into the ground are required. His high prey drive will force him to chase everything. All we’re saying is that if he can take on lions, your neighbors cat best be quick on his toes! Some Ridgebacks are known to chase cars, and when they are focused on getting something, electric fences do not work!
This breed is suited to both apartment or large home living just as long as their basic exercise needs are met. He is a big dog, though, so you need to think about how much room you can offer him. But generally speaking, he is an adaptable pup. As you already know, he loves kids of all ages and is suited to a family household.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an independent dog with a dominant character. Dominant dogs will test their master’s leadership and try to take on the role of pack leader. This is why you need to be experienced with dominant dogs and be confident enough to establish pack hierarchy. The whole family needs to be on board because he will need to see every family member as his master.
Do not allow him to get away with unruly behaviors. Because once he has gotten away with it once, he’ll keep trying his luck. Making dominant dogs work for things such as their food, or waiting to be told to join you on the sofa, is crucial. Remember, you’re the boss, not him! And this is an easy way to remind him daily.
When it comes to headstrong dogs, you need to start the training process early. A good quality breeder will begin the training process early by mixing him with his littermates and other humans. They will introduce him to the world around him, and it is your job to continue the hard work. This is why it is so important to work with a top-quality Ridgeback breeder.
Socialization is the process of mixing him with other dogs, and this will determine whether he grows into a polite dog or not. Some Ridgebacks, no matter how much and well you socialize them, will not be friendly towards dogs outside of the family unit. But it’s still important to socialize your pup as much as you can. An unruly 85 pound Ridgeback is a lot of dog to handle.
Positive reinforcement training is crucial with independent dogs like the Ridgeback. If you are too harsh with his training, he could easily take offense to it. Instead, reward good behavior. The Ridgeback is known to be a gluttonous pup, so use tasty treats to motivate his interest in training sessions. Training this pup is a lifelong commitment. But those who are consistent with their training usually have well-behaved Ridgebacks.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a reasonably healthy dog breed. Although he is a tough canine, he is susceptible to various health concerns. The below list isn’t conclusive, and some Ridges might suffer from them, and others might not. And many will experience other health concerns. But, it is a good place to start as they are the most common in the breed.
The best way to keep your Ridgeback healthy is to regularly attend his veterinary checkups, as early detection for health problems is key. As well as feeding him the best quality nutrition and keeping him fit with regular exercise. On average, Ridgebacks enjoy a lifespan of 10 years.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
This is common in larger dog breeds because it is largely affected by rapid bone growth as a pup. It occurs when his skeleton develops too quickly, resulting in uneven growth. This uneven growth causes additional wear and tear of the joint and eventually results in painful joints and arthritis. Top-quality breeders will only breed Ridgebacks with good hip and elbow scores.
The Ridgeback is prone to a variety of eye concerns. The most common is glaucoma. This is a painful condition that can rapidly cause total blindness. Symptoms such as red eyes, squinting, and watery eyes are the most common. Cataracts are another common eye condition that occurs in older age.
This is a relatively common skin condition found in the breed. It is a congenital skin defect where tube-like cysts are located in the spinal area on his skin. In some pups, the cysts are so deep that they penetrate the muscle tissue and are attached to the spinal cord. These pups are often euthanized. But those with less severe cysts are treated by way of surgery.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback will consume around three cups of kibble every day, divided into two meals. This will be depending on his age, size, energy levels, and the kibble you feed him. Feeding your dog the best nutrition you can afford can make a huge difference to his health. So, it’s best to feed him the best that you can afford. Good quality kibbles provide a well-balanced diet for all of his nutritional needs, top quality meat protein, and lots of taste too.
He is a large dog, so the kibble you feed him must be specifically designed for large breed dogs. This is particularly important during puppyhood because it contains the crucial nutrients that control rapid bone growth. And this will help to decrease the chances of joint dysplasia. And because it is full of extra healthy fatty acids that he needs for development, it will ensure he has the best start to life.
The Ridgeback can be a greedy dog breed, so it’s important that you do not overfeed him. Because he will eat everything that you put in front of him. Overweight dogs are much more likely to suffer from health concerns, so it’s essential to keep him fit and in the best shape. If you notice that he is putting on too much weight, either decrease the amount you feed him or switch him to a weight management kibble.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s grooming schedule is pretty simple, thanks to his short and straight coat. The majority of Ridgebacks do not have an undercoat, which means they shed much less than double-coated breeds. Run a curry brush, or a rubber mitt, across his coat once a week to remove dead hair and dirt. As well a massage his skin for better blood circulation and to spread his natural coat oils around.
He sheds minimally throughout the year and only a little more during the shedding seasons. Some owners choose to brush their Ridgeback twice a week during the shedding seasons to keep on top of the extra shedding. Unlike many large dogs, he doesn’t drool too much either. Overall he is a clean dog, and this is a big appeal of his.
You should expect that you’ll only need to bathe him once every 8 to 12 weeks or so. Do not wash him more than this because you risk irritating his skin and damaging his natural skin oils. A shampoo specifically designed for dogs is needed, and we advise looking for one made with natural ingredients only. Many Ridgebacks resist bathtime, so be sure to get them used to their grooming schedule from a young age.
The same goes for his teeth. Get him used to you brushing his teeth once a week at the very least. And a toothpaste specifically designed for doggies is needed here because human toothpaste is toxic to dogs. Trim his nails when you can hear them tapping on the floor. Most of his nails will be black in color, so be sure not to cut through his blood vessels. Many Ridgebacks feel more comfortable with a nail grinder as opposed to nail clippers.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The Rhodesian Ridgeback finds himself in the top 50 dog breeds in America, so you shouldn’t have to travel too far to find a good quality breeder. But no matter how much you have to travel, working with a responsible breeder is very important. Expect to be put on a waiting list, and keep in contact with your breeder during pregnancy.
A top quality breeder will do everything that they can to produce healthy Ridgeback litters. By breeding healthy dogs and providing them with all the necessary treatment, the pup you choose will be healthy and happy. They will also socialize them with their littermates, other dogs, and humans in a warm and clean family environment. The average cost of a puppy from a reputable breeder will cost around $1,500. And a great place to start is with the AKC’s Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder list.
Irresponsible breeders will not breed healthy dogs and cut costs in every corner to maximize their profits. Even at the expense of their puppy’s health. Signs of a poor quality breeder include lower puppy prices, pressured sales, little contact, not providing health certificates, and not allowing you to meet them at home. Do not work with any breeder if you get a bad feeling about them.
Aside from the initial puppy cost, you also need to consider all of the other expenses related to owning a dog. You’ll need to ensure that he has everything he needs, from beds to crates to harnesses and toys. And he’ll need everything in large sizes that are of durable quality. Meaning it’ll cost you more to look after this pup than it would a Pomeranian! You also need to factor in his ongoing costs such as food, medical expenses, insurance, etc.
Rescues & Shelters
Buying a puppy from a breeder isn’t the only option when it comes to owning a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Rescuing a dog who is waiting for their furever home is another fantastic option. All of us here at LoveYourDog HQ are dog rescuers, and being a rescue dog mom or dad is the best thing in the world. Unfortunately, because Ridgebacks are more intense and demanding than most people think, many of them end up in rescue shelters.
You can either head out to your local rescue shelters. When you get there, speak to the staff, who will talk you through the adoption process. As well as point you in the right Ridgeback direction. Or you can look for Rhodesian Ridgeback dedicated rescue organizations that only rehome Ridgebacks and their mixes.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue website maps out adoptable Ridgebacks state by state and lists contact details too. If you are open to adopting a Ridgeback mix like the Rhodesian Lab, you’ll increase your chances of getting a pup.
As Family Pets
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an independent dog.
- Once in the home, they can be pretty laid back.
- He is a dominant dog, who can be a challenge to train.
- This breed is best suited for first-time dog owners.
- In the family home, he is very affectionate with family members.
- But outside, he is extremely protective and will bark at strangers.
- His exercise needs are average, which is about 45 to 60 minutes daily.
- His training will be a lifelong commitment, and not for the faint of heart.
- Owning a Ridgeback is a lot of responsibility due to their size and demeanor.
- The Ridgeback is gentle with children and makes a great family addition.
- He isn’t always that friendly with other animals.
- This breed may not do well in a multi-pet household.
- Ridgebacks have a high prey drive.
- They have been known to run through electric fences.
- He is adaptable to his home space, but he ideally needs a yard to roam in.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an independent and dominant dog breed that is a lot of dog to handle. He is tricky to train, intense and often doesn’t get on well with other dogs. For this reason, he isn’t suited to the average family home. But, if you can meet his needs and offer him a fair but firm hand, you might just be a match made in guard dog heaven.
Hopefully, now that you’ve read this breed guide, we’ve answered all your questions and cleared up some truths. Thankfully, his exercise needs are average, and his grooming schedule is easy. He might be a tricky pup to handle, but you can be sure that you’ll never have to worry about the lions, the tigers, and the bears ever again! If you can crack the African canine enigma that is the Ridgeback, you’ll find a best friend for life.