Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

Rhodesian Ridgebacks, also known as the African Lion Hound, are very intelligent and energetic dogs. They were bred to be hunters, but now they are used as pets.

Most of them get adopted into homes because people want a dog that is trained and ready to go out. This breed needs lots of exercise and attention.

People who adopt this breed should be patient and consistent when it comes to training.

The breed originates from Africa as a hunting and guard dog.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

While the need for hunting and perhaps even guarding our homes may not be a top priority these days, a Rhodesian Ridgeback is a wonderful breed to have as a pet.

They are handsome, stubborn, but loyal and playful companion dogs that require a lot of attention and exercise.

By meeting the breed’s needs, you will have a long-term friend and companion in fur form.

However, before committing to adopting a large dog breed such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, it is best to do some research to see if their characteristics and personality are what you are looking for in a fur baby. 

That is why this guide, Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything you need to know, has been put together for you to make your decision of adopting a Rhodesian Ridgeback a no-brainer.

So keep on reading! 

History

Back in the 1860s, the European settlers, namely the British Colonists and the Dutch, began mixing dog breeds from Europe with a half-wild dog kept by the Khoikhoi people in the Cape Peninsula of South Africa.

The half-wild dogs were mixed with the likes of Great Danes, Greyhounds, Bull Mastiffs, and Bloodhounds.

The result was a dog that had a distinctive ridge on its back and performed excellently in hunting expeditions.

Initially, Ridgebacks were used to bring down wounded animals or help flush out wild birds to hunt.

Over time, it became apparent that this particular type of breed of dog was useful in hunting wild game such as lions when trophy hunting was still the sport of choice. Thus, the name Lion Hound. 

Uniquely, this mixed breed, that we know today as the Rhodesian Ridgeback, can withstand high temperatures and can go a long while without food.

These factors made it an ideal breed to go with on hunting expeditions in the wild, where resources of where to find food and water were relatively unknown at the time.

Despite their hardiness, they also had a sweet-natured temperament to their owners and are still known today as being one of the best dogs for families.

They are protective and loyal companions—what more could you ask for of a dog?

Sometime in the 1870s, a hunter and farmer or boer, Cornelius van Rooyen, decided to start a breeding program that included guarding characteristics of his dogs with a pair of dogs from a Reverend Helm.

This breeding program aimed to create the characteristics that are associated with a Rhodesian Ridgeback, today. 

In the 1920s, a breed standard of what the dog should look like and behave like was set for a Rhodesian Ridgeback and accepted by the South African Kennel Union in 1924 and little has changed since then. 

Rhodesian Ridgebacks made their way to the United States and Canada from the 1910s but only after the second world war did Ridgebacks get accepted into the American Kennel Club as a registered breed.

This was because of the mass import of the dogs after the war. 

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are one of the most popular dog breeds out of the 155 dog breeds that are recognized by the American Kennel Club.

In South Africa, they are still widely used by farmers and on hunting expeditions. 

Physical Characteristics

Genetically, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are most similar to Great Danes. This means that Great Danes were a large contributor to the genetic diversity found in Ridgebacks.

Although Great Danes were originally bred as apartment dogs, Ridgebacks prefer more open spaces to roam in. This may be because of their size and energy needs. 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a medium to large breed of dog which can get up to weights between 50 and 90 pounds when reaching adulthood.

Their height ranges from 20 to 28 inches, depending on the sex of the dog. Generally, females can be a bit taller and males will weigh slightly more. 

Male Rhodesian Ridgebacks vary in size depending on their genetics. Smaller males are a bit shorter than the average and typically measure between 18 and 22 inches tall.

The larger Ridgeback males can stand up to 28 inches tall. In terms of weight, males can become really heavy as adults, reaching weights of between 90 and 100 pounds.

However, the average for male dogs is generally 65-85 pounds. 

In contrast, the females are not much larger than the males, just ever so slightly in terms of height. The smaller female Ridgebacks have heights between 19 and 23 inches, and a larger female can stand between 25 and 29 inches tall.

In terms of weight, the female Rhodesian Ridgebacks can weigh between 85 and 95 pounds at their largest but in general, weigh between 60 and 80 pounds. 

As puppies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks shoot up and grow very rapidly from the age of 6 months and by 8 months old, should almost be fully grown. Although they may appear to be quite gangly.

Initially, they may grow to between 15 and 25 inches tall and will weigh between 30 and 40 pounds – regardless of sex. 

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

They have floppy ears and have short coats that are characteristically flat, apart from the distinct ridge on their backs.

The famous ridge of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is formed by the hair of the back growing in opposite directions to that of the rest of the coat.

The ridge begins at the shoulders and continues until the start of the hips.

The coats are usually wheaten to red in color, with some of the dogs having a white patch on the chest area. Their coats are prone to shedding 

They are strong, muscular, and athletic dogs and can manage great speeds and have endurance across a lot of terrain.

Their posture is well-defined and upright and they have webbed feet which allow them to move quietly while on the hunt and allow for easy movement on sandy or slippery terrain. 

They generally have a lifespan of between 10 and 13 years and have a low tendency to bark and snore or drool. 

Temperament And Personality

The Rhodesian Ridgeback while ruthless hunters and guard dogs are considered to be very friendly and social dogs that like to feel as though they are a part of a pack.

This is especially true with their owners and family members, where they are known to be extremely affectionate and loving towards all members of their family, including kids and other dogs or pets in the family. 

When it comes to strangers, these dogs are quite reserved and can be wary of strangers or any people they are not familiar with or totally comfortable with.

It is best not to leave them alone with people they are not comfortable with, as they may perceive them as a threat and try to protect their family. 

They are a sensitive breed and are best suited for more experienced dog owners, as a novice owner may not know how to properly train or treat a sensitive dog.

Be aware that they do not like loud noises, sudden movements, or bright lights.

They are also prone to get bored easily if they are cooped up inside all day. This is because they are working dogs and require mental stimulus and enough exercise to simulate farm life. 

They are very energetic and playful dogs and so will thrive in an environment where they are taken for regular and long walks and perhaps are allowed to play on an open field. 

While Rhodesian Ridgebacks are free-spirited and will be comfortable going on treks by themselves and even leaving you behind, they are not well-adapted to being by themselves for a long period of time.

So they are most comfortable with the balance of being on their own, hunting and investigating, and then coming for cuddles when they want to. 

They will be more prone or seek out affection from those they bond the most strongly with if they feel happy and when they have tired themselves out from their adventuring.

However, it is best to gauge your dog’s reaction to you in terms of cuddling and affection before going overboard with the affection. 

Although they are not overly aggressive, they can become irritated easily.

Puppies, although super cute, also are more assertive than other breeds of dogs and so before engaging in affection time or cuddle time with them, make sure they are relaxed and calm. 

If you are unsure about how to cuddle your Rhodesian Ridgeback, be sure to check out our guide on doing so here.

As a guard dog, you won’t find much better than a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Because they do not bark. So, if they do, you know they are raising an alarm and something is wrong that needs to be sorted out. 

They are territorial and very possessive and protective over their humans, and so it is up to you as their owner or family to let them know if strangers or people outside the household are okay to be friendly with. 

If you have other pets and introduce the Rhodesian Ridgeback as a puppy, this should be fine. However, when introducing other pets, especially other male dogs, this may invite a dominance struggle into the home.

It is therefore advised that these dogs are introduced to homes where there are other pets present already, as to avoid this.

Because they are such a playful breed, they are great fun to have around kids. They will spend hours playing together and can be quite boisterous.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are great companions for children. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an excellent breed because they have a friendly tendency towards kids. 

However, due to their size, they may accidentally knock down a smaller child, so it is best to train them well and keep an eye on the kids and the dog while they are playing. 

An important aspect of a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s personality is their high energy levels and boisterous nature.

They are not always like this, but when they are excited or are in need of exercise, they will act out. 

The main thing to make sure when you own a Rhodesian Ridgeback is to exercise them enough. When they have enough exercise, they will tire out and become more relaxed and languid through the rest of the day. 

You will not get away with keeping them at home for a full day though as they will get bored and might mess up your house or your things.

They have been known to destroy throw pillows and shoes when left inside for too long-talk about serious cabin fever!

A simple walk that suffices for other dogs will not do for this dog breed.

A good exercise routine is needed for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, not unlike that of humans. There will be more on this in a later section.

Training And Obedience

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are highly intelligent dogs. This is because they were bred to make decisions, concentrate and use their heads during hunting. 

However, because of their natural instinct to go on walks about on their own, plus their high energy and tendency to not sit still, training them can be a challenge. This is especially true for older pups. 

If you start training the puppy early enough, it will prove to be easier and because they want to please you, they will try very hard to meet your demands.

This guarantees high levels of obedience-especially when it is their master human giving out the commands. 

They are quick learners when trained properly and benefit from a lot of positive reinforcement to counteract their autonomy as they may resist your training attempts initially.

Positive reinforcement can be achieved through the use of toys, praise, treats, and affection as a reward when they behave the way you want them to or when they listen to your commands.

Training may be best done on the spot, and it is also important to set aside time every day or, at the very least, once a week to do a proper training session with your puppy.

Generally, if you train them properly, they will be eager to obey you without having to be forced.

Exercise

As mentioned, these dogs have extremely high energy levels and have a high prey drive, which means that they have an inborn desire to hunt and chase things.

A simple walk will not be enough stimulation for the dog, and so they require a routine exercise program. 

It would be a good idea to incorporate a variety of exercises and running into your walks with the dog.

Getting enough exercise is essential for the dog’s wellbeing and will prevent them from boredom and engaging in destructive behavior in the home when they are not outside. 

How Much Exercise Does A Rhodesian Ridgeback Need?

These dogs need a lot of exercise every day. So before adopting one into your home, you need to assess if you are able to meet their energy requirements. 

Ridgebacks have a lot of energy and a playful nature and should be exercised on a daily basis. They will enjoy the mental stimulation from games such as fetch or tug of war.

Adult dogs need to be exercised, for a minimum of 30 minutes twice per day, but at best 60 minutes twice a day. 

Puppies have lower requirements, but still take up about 40 minutes of your day to get them the exercise and mental stimulation they require.

These are big chunks of time, so it is best to create a routine for yourself and the dog. 

How To Exercise A Rhodesian Ridgeback

These high-energy dogs need a lot of exercise and would be better suited to engage in activities where copious amounts of energy is burned.

If this is not achieved on a daily basis, their pent-up energy will result in behavioral issues, and they will become extremely destructive inside and outside the home. 

To ensure their needs are met, they will need daily exercises such as long walks or trips to fields or parks where they are allowed to be off-leash to run about.

Due to their playful nature, it is important that you include games into your everyday routine with them so that they do not get bored. 

If these needs are met, you will have a healthy Ridgeback. As they get older, however, you will notice that they will have lower energy levels.

Even so, it is still important to keep them active. This allows their muscles and joints to stay mobile, and to keep them in good shape.

Going For Walks

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

When going for walks, it is a good idea to take them to safe parks that have off-leash access for them to run around and have a good time looking for things to ‘hunt’.

They will of course come into contact with other dogs and people during these walks. 

They will enjoy interacting with the other dogs but should always be minded, even though they are not aggressive as a first instinct, they are enthusiastic and boisterous.

This may cause them to want to jump on other people and their dogs and potentially injure a small dog or child. 

That is why it is essential for your Ridgeback to be properly trained on and off a leash. They should be trained to come when called and to behave politely on a leash.

This means training them to not go after small animals and small children. 

The Ridgebacks will benefit from wearing a weighted vest pack on these walks, which gives you more control of them when they are on the leash and will strengthen their muscles appropriately.

Be sure when using this piece of kit to not add more than 10% of their body weight to the vest pack, as this may cause an injury. 

Other Activities

Whilst a long walk may be enough on some days, this breed of dog needs other activities to keep them mentally stimulated and at their best mental and physical health.

Incorporation of other activities is also important for muscle development, improves their cardiovascular health, and will also add enrichment into their lives. 

They want to have had their pent-up energy removed by being active, not completely worn out that they cannot move anymore.

Fortunately, there are plenty of toys and exercises you can do to tire your Rhodesian Ridgeback out.

These include a tug of war rope-which can be attached to a tree or pole and used autonomously by the dog in the yard.

Another idea is to create an obstacle course for them in your yard, digging, using a ball to play fetch, or taking them to a lake or if you have a swimming pool, allow them to swim. 

All of these activities will burn their pent-up energy and allow them to stay healthy over time.

Other mentally stimulating activities include using a chew toy or a squeaky toy to keep them occupied and entertained for hours on end. 

There are fantastic puzzle toys available on the market to help them problem-solve and keep their minds engaged.

Which, although it may not burn as much energy as running around or swimming would, is a great way to exercise the mind to ensure that they are mentally well at the same time as being physically well. 

There are also scent games like hide-and-seek which you can train them to play which makes them follow their nose to find an item.

This engages that hunting instinct that is so abundant in Ridgebacks and will too keep them exercised and engaged. 

Additionally, these dogs will love being trained and taught how to perform tricks and obey commands.

Something that is commonly done amongst dog owners is teaching the dog how to identify the names of their toys and also the people in their household. 

Creating A Routine

The dog will benefit from the routine as well as yourself because then they are aware that they will be exercised and will be less likely to tear the house apart in the middle of the day when you are at work. 

A routine of taking them for two walks at the same time every day for a similar length of time.

A good time is a 45-minute walk in the morning and a 45-minute walk in the afternoon or evening. This is especially helpful to do during the week.

On the weekends, if conducive, it may be best to go on hikes in the hills or mountainous regions nearby. This can be a longer day trip adventure for you and your dog which will tire them (and yourself) out for the day.

However, remember that their energy levels start at a hundred the next day, so you will need to exercise them again anyway. 

How To Exercise A Rhodesian Ridgeback Puppy

Because puppies are much smaller than their adult counterparts and their bodies are still in the developmental stages, their exercise requirements differ as well.

Excessive exercising of puppies can actually harm them in the long term as their joints and muscles are still developing and growing.

For puppies, it is best to keep the walks short and let them play freely with their toys.

Initially, toy play is the only form of exercise you should engage in, then when they are a bit older, shorter walks can be introduced. 

A rule of thumb for when walking a puppy is 5 minutes for every month of their age. A quick example is a 4-month-old who will only require around 15 to 20 minutes.

Do keep in mind that an unvaccinated puppy should never be walked in public. 

Care And Grooming

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

Although these dogs were initially bred to handle rough and less ideal conditions presented by the wildland that is Africa, grooming is still a big part of a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s life.

Because of their short hair, they shed quite a bit and so need to be brushed or combed on a regular basis. 

Their coats are thick and so after bathing them, you will need to brush them thoroughly as the hair takes a long time to dry and so proper aftercare to bathing is essential. 

If you are not up for it, it is recommended that you send them to a grooming parlor at least four times a year. The more they are groomed, the less likely they are to shed. 

Grooming overall ensures that the coat is healthy and it is also a great way to check in on your Ridgeback’s physical health.

You can perform checks on their skin, ears, teeth, and eyes for any disease or other ailments, such as an allergy. 

Bath Time

If you decide to groom your Rhodesian Ridgeback in the house, be sure to follow the same procedures as you would with any dog breed when it comes to bathing.  

It is recommended that you use products that are free from harmful chemicals or any of those not suited to be used on dogs.

Their skin can be quite sensitive so if you can find more natural soaps and shampoos, your dog’s skin will thank you. 

Additionally, be thorough when washing away the soap and give them a good rinse or hose down to ensure that there is no residue left on their skin.

If soap residue is left on their skin, it can result in dermatological issues such as eczema or hair loss. Once the dog has been thoroughly rinsed, make sure to pat them dry, or if they allow it, use a hairdryer.

Ear Care

The characteristically floppy ears of a Rhodesian Ridgeback are made up of an outer set called the pinnae and an inner set called the tragus.

Both of these parts of your dog’s body are very sensitive and should therefore be treated with care when cleaning and checking them. 

The ears can be cleaned by wiping them down with cotton wool or bamboo pads. If you notice dirt and debris in the ear, and it looks hard enough to grab a hold of, try using a tweezer to pry it out. 

However, do this with caution. If you are having difficulty with it or if there is any discoloration, swelling, or smell around the ear, you should take the dog to the vet for a check-up.

These may be signs of infection or excessive earwax, which may need to be medically treated. 

Eye Care

Although not the most common ailment amongst Rhodesian Ridgebacks, eye infections can happen to them. Eye infections occur from allergies, dust or dirt entering the eye, and a variety of other reasons. 

When you are bathing your dog, it is good practice to wash or rinse out their eyes using clean water or eyewashes made for this specifically.

If you notice excessive sleep or strange colored mucus coming from the eye, consult the vet immediately. 

An eye infection can be treated quickly but the longer it is left, the harder it is to treat. Eye infections can be treated with drops or tablets and in worst-case scenarios, laser eye surgery.  

Paw Care

Keeping paws groomed is essential for the well-being of the dog. Paws can be kept in tip-top shape by regularly trimming their nails and the hair between paw pads.

It is also important to do regular paw checks for rocks or debris stuck in between the pads. You can also moisturize their pads so that they do not crack and will then be less prone to injury. 

If you live in harsh climates-places where it can become extremely hot or cold-be sure to protect your dog’s feet.

In cold climates, this can be assured by using boots specially designed for keeping dogs’ feet dry and warm. 

If you live in hot climates, try to limit time spent on the hot pavements or hot beach sand, perhaps drive to the park and spend more time there than you normally would to get in their exercise. 

It may be important to know how to practice first aid on your dog’s paws in case of emergency but also for regular maintenance.

If your dog’s paws are cracked, perhaps treat it with an antimicrobial hydrogel.  

Teeth Care

Rhodesian Ridgebacks 101: Everything You Need To Know

Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs need to chew a lot – from puppy to adult – and should be given appropriate chew toys for them.

In terms of oral hygiene, it is recommended that you brush your dog’s teeth every day with a soft toothbrush and some dog-friendly toothpaste to prevent tartar and plaque buildup. 

Other Grooming Tips

Other general grooming tips that are useful when grooming your dog include brushing your dog at least twice a week, with a natural bristle brush (not nylon).

If you notice anything out of the ordinary in terms of their skin, teeth, ears, eyes, and paws, take them to the vet immediately. 

Bathing should happen in tubs of clean water. It is not recommended to bathe them in swimming pools or hot tubs because of the chlorine and other chemicals that may be harmful to the dog. 

Dietary Needs

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to chewing and using their teeth a lot. As a result, they will require a diet high in protein to help to strengthen their jaw muscles and maintain their large statures. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of good-quality dog food brands out there that have been made specifically with large dog breeds in mind. 

Because the Rhodesian Ridgeback is so large and can weigh quite a bit, you will need to feed them enough but not too much. 

Getting the right balance of amount of food to feed the dog is imperative, as maintaining and controlling their weight is extremely difficult.

Overfeeding can result in a series of health issues and will affect their overall well-being. That is why finding out the correct meal and eating plan for your Rhodesian Ridgeback is essential. 

This information should be available to you at the vet, and they can help you with purchasing the correct type of food, and tell you how much to feed your dog, according to their size and age.

Additionally, if your dog has any health conditions, it is beneficial for them to go on specialized diets as recommended by the vet. 

Generally speaking, about 2 ¾ to 4 ⅜ cups of food over two meals should suffice for adult dogs.

Of course, this will be different depending on the size, age, build, health, activity level, and the overall metabolism of the dog. 

General Care

In general, larger breeds of dogs need a bit of space inside and outside the house.

Because Rhodesian Ridgebacks require so much exercise, having a large yard will be beneficial to keep them busy during the day or times when you cannot be as attentive towards their exercise needs. 

Like any dog, they need a comfortable bed for them to sleep on which is roomy enough for them to stretch out on.

There are many types of beds that are made with larger breeds in mind, alternatively, a single mattress is usually big enough for them. 

General Health Tips

The health of your Rhodesian Ridgeback is paramount, and so it is important that you notice how they are doing from a health perspective.

If you notice any drastic changes in their behavioral patterns, eating habits, or if they exhibit extreme symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, take them to the vet. 

Try to stick to a balanced and measured out diet plan for your dog which is appropriate for their specific needs.

Also, make sure there is a water bowl that is easily accessible and is always full for your dog to remain hydrated, and make sure there is a space for them to cool down in the hot summer months.

Because the Rhodesian Ridgeback is autonomous when out and about, they may come across something and eat it.

Therefore, it is important to deworm them on a regular basis to ensure that they do not spread the worms amongst your family. You can do this by giving them a worming treatment from the vet.

Clean beds regularly and check the bedding, and other furniture in the house for any fleas. Check your dogs for fleas and ticks and give them regular treatment. 

Also be sure to get your dog tagged so if they do go missing, someone will be able to find them easily enough. 

FAQ

What Are Common Health Issues Amongst Rhodesian Ridgebacks?

As with many purebred dogs, there are several issues that can occur in the dogs.

It is important to find a good breeder which has a clearance from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for dogs over 2 years old.

Thus, look out for a breeder that breeds dogs when they are over two years old.  
Some common diseases or health issues a Rhodesian Ridgeback may experience include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis of the joints.

Large dog breeds are also susceptible to elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia which are both heritable conditions that can result in painful lameness in the dog. 

Another condition that you need to be aware of is Dermoid Sinus, a congenital skin condition that is a cyst that occurs on the spine.

If this cyst becomes infected, the dog may have to undergo surgery or be euthanized in extreme cases.

Final Thoughts

There you have it—a full guide to Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Hopefully, this information has equipped you with the power of making a sound decision on whether, or not, you feel like this breed of dog is for you and your lifestyle. 

Even though they are high-energy dogs, they are loyal and even-tempered and if you have the capacity to exercise and care for them properly, you will not be sorry for adopting them into your family.