Rhodesian Ridgeback

Breed At A Glance


Calm and obedient in the home, but ferocious in the hunt

Life Expectancy
10-12 years

Average Height
Males 25-27 inches; Females 24-26 inches

Average Weight
Males 80-90 lbs; Females 65-75 lbs

Coat Color
Light or red wheaten, wheaten yellow, fox-red, often with white on the chest

Coat Length/Texture
Short and sleek, with no undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Light year round

Also known as Ridgeback, Lion Dog, African Lion Hound, African Lion Hound

General Temperament

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, with it’s unending loyalty and straightforward persona, makes it a loving and watchful companion. They are obedient, good-natured, generally happy dogs who will consistent greet you with enthusiasm. On the hunt, they possess tremendous stamina and could even be described as ferocious. But in the home, they are calm and affectionate, yet very protective of their territory and human family. They are not prone to attack humans but will appear dangerous to any unwanted visitors. With it’s athleticism and endurance, this breed loves a chance to run and can make an excellent jogging companion. The athletic Ridgeback often excels in lure coursing and agility.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are generally good with children, although supervision should be maintained during puppyhood. Ridgeback puppies can be quite gregarious and may accidentally knock down smaller children. Pups also have surprisingly powerful jaws and sharp teeth, and though they are not generally aggressive towards other people, unintentional biting during play could be dangerous. Adults often do not enjoy being teased or roughhoused.

Early socialization and training are absolutely essential with this breed. Adult Ridgebacks are quite strong, so it’s best to be consistent with training from the very beginning to keep the dog controllable as an adult. Although they enjoy being a part of a pack, unsocialized individuals can be dog-aggressive, particularly males with other males. If they are raised with smaller household pets such as cats, they will live harmoniously with them. Be sure to provide plenty of owner-sanctioned chew toys and rawhides, particularly during puppyhood, to avoid the extensive damage that this breed can inflict upon your belongings should it be bored or teething. Rhodesian Ridgebacks will function best with ae strong and experienced owner/handler who can maintain equable dominance throughout the dog’s life.

The adaptable Rhodesian Ridgeback can live in almost any climate, but keep in mind that this resourceful breed may dig large pits to escape extreme heat if left outdoors. They enjoy a good swim and may be difficult to keep out of the backyard pool. Many are capable of leaping over fences, so be sure to build your fence high enough to prevent this. They can be happy living in an apartment if given enough exercise, but be warned that without sufficient activity or allow to get bored, they can become extremely destructive.

Breed History

As European settlers moved into Southern Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries, they brought with them several different dog breeds, including large breeds such as the Mastiff, Great Dane, Bloodhound and Greyhounds, as well as many others. Then, at the beginning of the 18th century, European immigration was closed for 100 years, leaving the European dogs already established there to interbreed with local African breeds. One of these breeds was a semi-feral hunting dog distinguished by a ridge of fur on it’s back. The crossing of this native breed with those introduced by the Europeans gave rise to the foundation stock of the Ridgebacks we know today. This breed was tremendously resilient in order to withstand extreme temperatures and fend off various dangerous animals such as crocodiles and snakes, as well as resistant to diseases and ticks. Additionally, this dog needed to be strong and fearless enough to corner large game such as lions.

The breed was introduced into Rhodesian (modern-day Zimbabwe) by the Reverend Charles Helm in 1879. Local hunters were impressed by the dog’s hunting ability and eventually started a selective breeding program for the Ridgeback.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback was accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1955.

Body Structure and Composition

The most defining characteristic of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the line of hair along the spine that lays in the opposite direction from the rest of the coat, forming a well-defined ridge along the dog’s back. The skull is flat and somewhat long, with an equally long muzzle. The floppy ears are quite wide at the base and are set rather high on the head. A Ridgeback’s strong neck leads down to a back that slopes from the shoulders to the hindquarters. The chest is deep but not wide. The tail is extremely strong at the base and tapers to the tip, carried slightly curved but never curled. Forelegs and hind legs in this breed are well-boned and muscular. Ridgebacks have a free and unrestricted gait.

Medical Information

The most prevalent medical problem facing the Rhodesian Ridgeback is Hypothyroidism, which causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland, resulting in decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy. Some Ridgeback lines can also suffer from various skeletal maladies, although with less frequency than many other large breeds. These include Hip or Elbow Dysplasia (which occurs when the head of the bone no longer fits into the cup provided by the socket, resulting in lameness and arthritis-like symptoms) and Patellar Luxation (also known as “slipped stifle” or “trick knee,” when the kneelike joint above the hock slips out of place and may require surgery to correct). The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides certification of breeding stock to help prevent the spread of these diseases, among others.

A fairly unique problem facing the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a condition called Dermoid Sinus. It does not involve the sinuses in the nose, as one would infer; instead, it generally occurs somewhere along the line of the spine between the base of the skull and the start of the tail. A “dermoid” is best described as a noodle-like growth beneath the skin, which is hollow and drains, hence the use of the word “sinus.” Dermoid Sinus presents when a puppy is born and can be detected by a veterinarian by feeling along the midline of the dog’s back. If this growth is not removed, it will eventually abscess and cause extreme pain for the dog, or even be fatal. Dogs who have had a Dermoid Sinus removed should not be bred; if surgical removal is not an option, the puppy is usually euthanized.

Other medical issues that are often problems for the Rhodesian Ridgeback include cataracts, dermatitis, and cancer.

Rhodesian Ridgeback have unending appetites; this, coupled with their propensity for laziness later in life, can lead to obesity. Be sure to closely monitor their dietary intake and keep their food in a well-secured location.

Anecdotal Information

Due to it’s versatility as a hunter, there is some question as to whether the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a scent hound or a sight hound. In the United States, it is generally considered to be a sight hound, whereas Europeans and Africans tend to consider it more of a scent hound. And still others suggest that this breed is a silent tracking “Cur” dog that uses all of it’s senses simultaneously to track and locate prey.

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