Breed Information

This information is intended to provide anyone considering purchasing a Rhodesian Ridgeback a clear picture of what they are letting themselves in for!  We aim to give you enough information to decide whether a Ridgeback is the dog for you, to get you thinking about some activities you may do together and to give you an idea of what the breed officially looks l

History of the Breed

The Rhodesian Ridgeback originated in Southern Africa where the early European settlers mated their imported sporting breeds with the small fierce hunting dogs owned by the Hottentots in order to produce a guard/hunting dog ideally suited to the local conditions.

The Hottentot hunting dog had a ridge of hair along its spine running in a reverse direction to the rest of the coat.  The historian George McCall Theal was the first to describe this characteristic ridge when writing on conditions in Southern Africa before 1505. The ridge of the Hottentot hunting dog became a feature of the cross matings between the European breeds and the indigenous dogs.  These “Ridgebacks” were used as functional all purpose guard and hunting dogs and it was found that they surpassed any other breed when hunting lions.  Ridgebacks were not expected to kill lions – no dog could do that as a lion is an extremely powerful and heavy big cat standing about 95cm at the shoulder. The Ridgeback would track the lion and bail it up enabling the hunter to come in and shoot it. This required intelligence, cunning, tremendous athleticism and agility on the part of the dogs. Ridgebacks were expected to chase, catch and pull down lesser game, and would kill a lion cub without hesitation.

The first recorded pair of ridged dogs to go from to Central Africa (then Rhodesian now ) were taken by the Rev. Charles Helm in 1879 to Hoe Fountain Mission (near what is now Bulawayo ) probably from the Swellendam, Cape Colony .

During the late 19th century the reputation of the Ridgeback in the hunting field became established by the exploits of the famous big game hunter in Rhodesian named Cornelius Van Rooyen who had a pack of these dogs. Van Rooyen’s dogs were very similar to today’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks. By the late 1920’s when the days of big game hunting on a grand scale were drawing to a close it became apparent that Ridgebacks might disappear if the breed was not standardised and breeders encouraged to strive to conform.

The standard of the breed borrowed much from the Dalmatian standard and was drawn up by Mr F R Barnes after he called a meeting of “Ridgeback” owners in Bulawayo in 1922. This standard was accepted by the South African Kennel Union (now the Kennel Union of South Africa {KUSA}) in 1924. 

Choosing Your Ridgeback

Before you finally decide on a particular puppy, remember that you are choosing a friend and companion for the next 10-12 years so the decision you are about to make should be based on temperament as much as conformation.  If you are inexperienced, the best way to gain knowledge is to make the time and effort to inspect as many litters as possible.

The most important questions to ask yourself are:
*  Can you afford to feed a puppy that will grow into a large dog?
*  Can you afford veterinary costs for immunization, worming and unexpected illnesses or accidents?
*  Do you have the time to devote to training a new puppy and later exercising a large dog?
*  Is your property securely fenced?
*  Can you afford suitable housing and care for your dog when you go on holidays?
*  Will the breeder you purchase from be available for advice on raising your puppy?
*  Is your whole family happy with the characteristics of this breed?
*  If you do not intend to show can you afford to spay or neuter your dog or conversely are you happy to have an early neutered puppy on purchase?
*  Have the puppies been raised in a clean, social environment and are they happy and inquisitive.

The whole litter should have been wormed every 2 weeks since birth and should have been vaccinated at 6-8 weeks of age for distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus.  This vaccination takes between 10 and 14 days to give the puppy immunity.

When you inspect a prospective litter, take a good look at both sire and dam (if available).  Do they have any noticeable faults such as undershot or overshot jaws, flat or splayed feet, timid or aggressive temperaments?  Are they both physically active and agile with good muscle tone and free flowing movement? More importantly are they loving, confident, outgoing dogs who appeal to you in look and temperament?

Have the sire and dam been x-rayed and scored for hip and elbow dysplasia.  If both sire and dam appear to be basically sound in conformation and temperament look at the litter overall. Are the puppies even in size or do they range from tiny puppies to very large puppies?  An average litter numbers 8-10 pups; if there are 3 or 4 in the litter did the breeder have to cull any?  If so, what were the problems?  Was there a large percentage of dermoid sinus (explained later on this page), ridgeless and/or misshaped ridges?  Some puppies are born with a lot of black shading apparent through their coat, but if you are looking at them between 6-8 weeks, there should be little or no black shading on the bodies of the puppies. The main coat colour must be wheaten, e.g. honey coloured or reddish gold or shades thereof but not black, cream, brindle, grey/blue or black/ tan/white - while these colours are not admissible into the show ring and must be desexed they can make perfectly acceptable pets.

It is recommended that the puppy you decide to purchase is registered with the Canine Control Council of Queensland (T/as DogsQueensland) by the breeder. There is a big difference between a puppy having 'papers' and being DogsQueensland registered similarly an even larger difference between a breeder being 'registered' (e.g. with the local government under State Government legislation) and being 'registered' with a prefix (breeder identifier) with DogsQueensland who are the State body of the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC).  Without the DogsQueensland registration of breeder and puppy there is no guarantee that the puppy you purchase is indeed purebred. Even though the parents may have registration papers unless the breeder is a registered breeder with DogsQueensland your puppy will never have DogsQueensland registration papers with no guarantee of parentage or health testing. If in doubt contact DogsQueensland ( and check if the breeder is a DogsQueensland registered breeder. All breeders listed in the RRCQ Breeders Directory have agreed to abide by the Club’s Code of Ethics and as member of the DogsQueensland their Code of Ethics as well.

All puppies in Queensland that are registered with the DogsQueensland must be sold with their papers registered in the new owner's name. If you have not received your puppy’s papers from DogsQueensland within 4 weeks of receiving your puppy then do not waste any time and contact DogsQueensland immediately.

Ridgeback Activities

The functions of the Rhodesian Ridgeback in are primarily those of a family companion and protector, with the greatest density of the breed being in major metropolitan areas.  The temperament of the breed is ideally suited with the dogs being gentle with children on one hand, fearless watch dogs on the other.  The character of the Rhodesian Ridgeback can best be described as eccentric, with a wicked sense of humour.  In reality a hound of great presence, intelligent and loyal, not disguising his affection, yet demonstrating a devotion to duty to the point of protecting its owner to the death if required.

Family Pet
This large, sleepy and apparently slow moving animal with its characteristic love of lazing, preferably leaning against you or sitting on your feet, can be transformed into a graceful streak of rhythmic motion or at times display an air of outright stupidity and clumsiness. This apparent stupidity and clumsiness disguises a high degree of intelligence. Children are treated to varying degrees of tolerance, from indifference to affection of embarrassing proportions. The great danger arises from the sheer size and strength, and boisterous enthusiasm for human play and affection. In common with other breeds, a Ridgeback should be respected and not treated as a rag doll to be dragged around or jumped on, particularly when a puppy.

Conformation Showing
Ridgebacks have been shown in Queensland since the early 1970’s as part of the Hound Group. Varying levels of success have been achieved up to and including Best in Show winners. The best of the best is usually on display at the Toowoomba Royal (March/April); Brisbane Royal “Ekka” (August) and the Club’s Championship show in June and Open show in September.

The young and adolescent Ridgeback does have a tendency toward exuberance and naughtiness. It is important for new owners to gently but firmly assert their dominance. A Ridgeback will respond readily to flattery, praise and firm handling. With an inherent strong will and self determination it cannot be “beaten into submission” but should be jollied along to obtain the best results. A gruff voice will usually suffice to install discipline. In the obedience sphere a number of Ridgebacks have gained the basic obedience title of CD with some owners taking their dogs on to the top levels of Obedience Champion. The intelligence of the breed can be constructively channelled – despite that stubborn streak.

Ridgebacks often earn the epithet “Houdini Hound” for their surprisingly athletic feats of agility.  Ridgebacks excel at Agility trialling where the dogs are put over jumps, through tunnels, up A-Frames and over dog walks, etc, in a timed competition.  A number of dogs have successfully gained AD, ADX and ADM titles. They also excel at a newer form of Agility called Jumping Dog. It comprises of only jumps, tunnels and weave poles, with no contact obstacles as in Agility. A number of dogs have successfully gained JD, JDX, and JDM titles.

Lure Coursing
The Ridgeback is capable of achieving very fast racing speeds.  Their strength combined with their tenacity and cunning more than make up for any lack of acceleration. The Ridgeback’s forefathers were probably interbred with Greyhounds in order to enhance their speed in the hunt and so the breed is capable of recording fast times. This sport is one that perhaps best utilises the Ridgeback’s inherent abilities and is certainly one that most Ridgebacks thoroughly enjoy.

Endurance Trial
The 20km endurance test can be done by either bike of jogging with your dog under a time constraint, with the dog neither  lagging nor pulling ahead. Ridgebacks have no problem attaining this title (ET).

Hunting Dogs
The Ridgeback has plenty of stamina. Their endurance is such that he can run several miles at a fast lope and can go a good 24 hours or more without water.  A number of the breed are still worked in rural areas, primarily in the control of vermin such as rabbits and wild pigs. Ridgebacks have also been used in to track and kill foxes, pull down feral goats and point and retrieve birds such as ducks and quail. The distinctive combination of cunning and senses of sight and smell, coupled with amazing speed and agility for such a large hound, are often ably demonstrated. Yet with such apparent dynamism, great self control is the forte of a mature Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Guard Dog
The Boer settler used the Ridgeback to guard the farm from marauding animals and prowlers at night.  In addition he needed a companion that would stay by him while he slept in the bush and that would be devoted to his wife and children.  Henceforth the Ridgeback has taken the role of guard dog in the army and the diamond mines and is used by the Canadian Police Force for guard duty.  The Ridgeback demonstrates uncanny loyalty and devotion to his owner and family, often singling out one individual as their special possession, on which to unlash their affection.  It is often said that you do not own a Ridgeback, but rather they own you.  Ridgebacks do not give voice unnecessarily but only of sufficient proportion to warn of danger. This characteristic, coupled with a basically casual and lazy attitude to life can be deceptive, but rest assured, the ridged hulk that sleeps for long periods, often stretched out in front of doorways or on sofas, is rapidly stirred into an alert deterrent to trespassers.

Potential Problems

If any problems arise regarding the health and well being of your Ridgeback it is essential that you contact your Veterinarian.  Whilst your breeder may give you advice, they are not necessarily qualified to analyse or interpret many problems that may arise.

Ridgebacks as a breed are generally free from problems, however everyone who owns a Rhodesian Ridgeback should be aware of the Dermoid Sinus and also Hip and Elbow Dysplasia.

Dermoid Sinus
This condition was first described in 1932.  The Dermoid Sinus is peculiar to the Rhodesian Ridgeback, however, it has also been reported in other breeds of dogs and cross-breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  It’s mode of inheritance is considered at this point to be polygenetic.

The Dermoid Sinus is a thin tube like funnel of skin which can anchor the outside skin to the vertebrae or dura matter and commonly occurs in the midline of the back from the top of the head to the end of the tail.  Although not common the Dermoid Sinus has also been found under the throat, next to the ear, within the definition of the ridge and along the side of the dog.  There have also been cases of incomplete Dermoid Sinuses where the sinus does not anchor itself to the tissue surrounding the vertebrae.  The Dermoid Sinus is present at birth and does not develop later.  As the Dermoid Sinus is a tube of skin and as such contains small hairs, glands and sheds skin cells, it will inevitably become infected leading to an abscess.  The thickness of the Dermoid Sinus varies from the size of a piece of sewing cotton to string (1-5mm).

Without surgical intervention the Dermoid Sinus will continue to become inflamed, abscess and erupt.  Surgical intervention is a delicate and extremely difficult procedure to undertake.  Until the Dermoid Sinus is sectioned away from surrounding tissue it’s complete penetrance cannot be accurately determined.  At that point surgical intervention to remove the entire sinus completely may be impossible.  All sinus tissue must be removed to avoid the sinus reforming.

It is recommended that when newborn puppies are detected with a dermoid sinus, that they be assesed by a veterinarian to determine whether the dermoid sinus can be surgically rectified or should in the vets opinion be humanely euthanized on the grounds that, the condition if not treated will cause the dog extreme pain and suffering.   As some are not detected until later, this will mean that surgical intervention will be necessary to alleviate any pain or suffering that will occur.

Detection of the Dermoid Sinus can be done by firstly taking a fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger and running down the length of the dog “feeling” for a thin tube which is slightly thicker than the surrounding tissue.  Any area which is suspicious should then be clipped of the outer hair exposing a darker tufty patch of hair about the size of a pinhead which is the opening of the sinus.  Following this if a very sharp razor is used to remove the remaining hair and the skin surrounding the “tufty” patch is lifted a dimpling of the skin at the opening of the sinus will be seen.  It is advisable to avoid vaccinating Rhodesian Ridgebacks anywhere in the neck region so as not to confuse a vaccine or microchip site reaction with a suspicious lump which could be a Dermoid Sinus.  It is also advisable to microchip Rhodesian Ridgebacks away from the midline for the same reason.

Hip & Elbow Dysplasia
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia by their nature have been described as biochemical in that it is basically controlled by those chemical transmitters of inheritance called genes, and biomechanical in that it is influenced strongly by physical stresses.  Hip Dysplasia as the name suggests occurs when there is a degree of dysplasia (looseness) in the hip region.  The femur (head of the thigh bone) does not fit correctly into the socket, which it is meant to fit snugly into.  You should insist, when purchasing a puppy, that both parents have been x-rayed and scored either by the AVA (Australian Veterinary Association) or one of it’s assessors private consultancy firms (Dr G. Allen, Dr R. Wyburn or Dr R. Lavelle); and ideally as many generations as possible behind the sire and dam as you can find.  The AVA system of scoring is based on that used by the British Veterinary Association.  Ideally the same can be said for Elbow Dysplasia although this is a relatively new area for Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  The RRCQ Code of Ethics requires all breeding stock born after 1 January 1998 to have been assessed for Elbow Dysplasia.  The following are recommendations for suitability of breeding stock supplied by Dr R. Lavelle (Convenor, AVA Hip & Elbow Dysplasia Scheme):

Hip Assessment
The advice of the panel of readers is to only use dogs where the individual hip score is less than half the breed average score.  This advice has the support of Dr Malcolm Willis who provides the genetic information and keeps the data base.  It is a slight variance to the BVA advice which is to only use dogs for breeding if their total hip score is well below the breed average.  The grade result is being phased out as the grade assessment is made against all dogs and is not breed related as is the case with average scores.

Elbow Assessment
The advice of the International Elbow Working Group, supported by the panel of readers, is that only dogs with elbow grades of 0 or 1 should be used for breeding.  In addition if there is progeny data available for the sire, and more rarely the dam, this should be considered when deciding about the suitability of dogs in any breeding program.  Remember hip and elbow dysplasia have reasonably high heritability and careful breeding should lessen the incidence of the problem.”

Contrary to what you might think an adult Ridgeback does not require very much to eat.  Most Ridgebacks are born garbage bins and will eat virtually anything and as much as they can con out of you.  They are adept at sucking in their cheeks and hollowing their flanks to suggest to each member of the family that they have not yet been fed in the hope of procuring an extra meal or two.  A Ridgeback may be considered too thin if his ribs are easily seen.  Normal if they are easily felt and barely seen (except when moving at a trot or faster when they should be visible) and too fat if they cannot be seen and an appreciable layer of fat is felt.  You may look at his appealing eyes and think to give him any less to eat would be cruel, but in reality it is crueller to allow your dog to become obese.


As this is a breed that can require breeders to “cull” {humanely euthanase} the first question that should be asked is “can I humanely euthanase newborn puppies?”  If the answer is no then perhaps you have answered your own question as to breeding or not!  Before you choose yes consider the following:

*  Can you cancel your much planned family holiday because your Ridgeback is due to have puppies?
*  Do you have the facilities to raise a litter of healthy puppies?
*  Can you take time off work if the bitch is ill and unable to feed puppies so that they can be bottle or tube fed?
*  Do you have the finances if your Ridgeback requires a C-Section after hours (can be between $2000 and $3000)?
*  If your Ridgeback requires a C-Section what happens if she unfortunately becomes deceased and all the puppies deceased and you are left with a huge veterinary bill? How will you deal with this?.
*  If the dam dies through infection, C-Section or is so affected by mastitis that she cannot feed her puppies; how will you care for the puppies who need to be hand reared and fed every 4 hours for the first weeks of their life? How will you deal with this?
*  What if at 6 weeks of age the puppies all come down with Parvovirus and subsequently die and you are left with a veterinary bill of several thousand dollars?

 If you answer “no” or “I am unable to” for any of these questions then you should not breed at all.
*Fact – Female dogs do not need to have a litter. 
*Fact – The children do not need to see or experience puppies being born - especially when things can go horribly wrong!
*Fact – Entire female dogs are more prone to mammary tumours and closed pyometra requiring emergency neutering. 
*Fact – When your entire female comes into season you will have a significant number of entire males collecting at the front gate all vying for her attention! 
*Fact – Entire male dogs are more prone to prostatitis; prostrate cancer and testicular cancer. 
*Fact – Male dogs do not “miss” their testicles once neutering! 
*Fact – Neutering male dogs does tend to curb their wandering. 
*Fact – Neutering your male dog will have no affect on the masculinity of him or any other male member of the family!


There is a practise by some breeders to place puppies on “contracts” of various types. Whether they are to be for breeding or for showing, is something we cannot advise you about. Simply having a good ridge does not always qualify a dog as being a good showing prospect. So, it is up to you, as the buyer to decide whether a contract is what you want to enter in to. You can always contact DogsQueensland if you are unsure of where you stand as regards to a contract.

Rescue & Rehoming Service

For many reasons, some people are unable to continue to care for their Ridgebacks.  The club has an active Rescue & Rehoming service.  Sometimes we need to rehouse dogs, sometimes due to neglect.  A mature dog will generally successfully integrate with your family.  Also if you do not have the time or patience to contend with a new puppy this may be ideal for you.  If you are interested in providing a home to a mature Ridgeback, please contact Ricki Smith, Club Rescue Coordinator on (07) 5529 9903.