What Is A Rhodesian Ridgeback?
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love dogs. All dogs. But especially big dogs. And puppies.
I have experience with most breeds of big dogs and fancy myself as a dog breed expert in many ways. As a young child my nightly reading consisted of the bible of all dog breed reference books (yes, I am aware of how nerdy that is). So many breeds top my Big Dog Mom Favorites list: Mastiffs (of course), Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Great Danes, and Bloodhounds. However, there is one breed that I had never given much thought to: the Rhodesian ridgeback. Until now.
My friends know there is an open invitation for their dogs to come over to our house. Sulley and Junior LOVE other dogs and I am able to get my “new dog fix” while keeping my marriage intact. It’s a win-win for everyone.
This weekend, we had the pleasure of puppy-sitting for my friend’s five month old Rhodesian ridgeback named Blue. And when I say pleasure, I mean it. We had a blast with Blue. However, in three days I learned what no worn out dog breed bible could teach me about the Rhodesian ridgeback.
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5 Facts To Consider About The Rhodesian Ridgeback
Rhodesian Ridgebacks Are Energetic and Athletic
With the characteristic ridge along their back and stunning red coat, Rhodesian ridgebacks are a stand out in the hound group. Rhodesian ridgebacks were developed in Africa to corner and hold big game prey, such as lions, bears, and boar. In addition to being used for hunting, the Rhodesian ridgeback is an avid competitor in a variety of dog sports, including agility, lure coursing, obedience, and tracking.
At five months old, Blue is just getting started. From the moment he bounded into our house, Blue was like the Energizer Bunny; he kept going and going and going. He used any number of tactics to keep Sulley and Junior playing; biting their jowls, jumping on them, pawing their heads, and barking.
His energy didn’t stop there. I made mistake of bringing Blue with us to a friend’s apartment for dinner Saturday night. Big mistake. Rhodesian ridgeback puppies need their exercise. And while Blue had played all day with Junior and Sulley, being cooped up in that one bedroom apartment for more than 10 min was more than he could take. His sweet, happy demeaner only slightly masked the wide-eyed, maniacal look in his eyes from the lack of space. Showing all the classic symptoms of zoochosis; pacing, carpet digging, door scratching, and counter surfing. Blue needed to get out of there!
So, in 100 degree Arizona heat, I carried Blue up and down three flights of stairs and walked him around the apartment complex four separate times during the course of our 3 hour visit. And that was just to minimally maintain his sanity.
Let me summarize it this way. Unless you happen to be an ultra-marathoner, if you live in an apartment and are considering a Rhodesian ridgeback, think again. Without ample exercise, a Rhodesian ridgeback will behave like a claustrophobic in a closet.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks Are Intelligent and Determined
Blue was such a good boy, but one look into his eyes and you could feel the intensity. When I look into Sulley’s and Junior’s eyes, I see stuffed animals and cheese. When I looked into this Rhodesian ridgeback’s icy stare I could see the look of a predator. He was smart and he knew it. He took control of Sulley and Junior almost immediately. 370 pounds of wrinkle were no match for this 40 pound dyna-Rho!
Don’t get me wrong, Mastiffs can be intense and they are highly intelligent dogs. At home though, they are pretty content laying at my feet or on my bed. Blue was not so easily entertained.
After this weekend crash course, it is clear to me that Rhodesian ridgebacks are NOT for the sedentary, or the inexperienced dog owner. They need training; consistent, positive, and stimulating training. This is not a breed that I believe will thrive in a basic obedience class in which the most advanced skill taught is a “down stay.”
Rhodesian ridgebacks need physical and mental stimulation that rivals the thrill of the hunt for them. If you don’t recreate that thrill through agility, nose work, or lure coursing, they will recreate it for you in fun activities like counter surfing and base board chewing.
Training a Rhodesian ridgeback forces you to have your thinking cap on because he never takes his off.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks Are Independent
My daughter asked a few times if Blue knew his name. I said “well, of course he does, he just doesn’t care that we are calling him.” As I said, a Rhodesian ridgeback puppy needs training early and often with plenty of rewards and enthusiasm. I said this about Mastiffs in The 7 Most Common Mastiff Myths Debunked, and it is even truer for the Rhodesian ridgeback; your aim in training should be to be more exciting than whatever is catching his attention. For Blue, we knew Sulley and Junior had his attention, so as long as we had their attention, we had his.
I have heard that the best way to catch a dog is to run away rather than toward him. That might work for a Mastiff, but, after this weekend, I have serious doubts that it would work with a Rhodesian ridgeback. My guess is the discerning Rhodesian ridgeback might size up his options first and you would be lucky if he chose you.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks Can Be Vocal
Most hounds are vocal, so this should come as no surprise. As I stated earlier, one of Blue’s tactics to get Junior and Sulley’s attention was to bark at them. Sulley can be very bossy and vocal himself, so perhaps he finally met his match.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks Are Not Labrador Retrievers
If you are looking for an outgoing dog that excitedly greets strangers, a Rhodesian ridgeback is not the breed for you. The Rhodesian ridgeback is dignified and reserved by nature with strangers.
To be clear, the adjectives dignified and reserved are by definition words that describe being unreactive. A Rhodesian ridgeback that is either fearful or aggressive would not be consistent with the breed standard temperament. From the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States, the breed temperament should be
“Dignified and even tempered. Reserved with strangers.”
Our weekend with sweet baby Blue verified that even at the young age of five months, a well-bred Rhodesian ridgeback is not a Labrador retriever. With superior power and intellect, Rhodesian ridgebacks are deliberate about everything they do. From taking down 370 pounds of wrinkle to cuddling with my 11 year old daughter, this breed can be a versatile companion in the right home.
The Rhodesian ridgeback is a dream dog for the compulsively hygienic.
Bonus: Rhodesian Ridgebacks Are Clean
I know I said 5 facts, but I’m going to give you a bonus because I was just that impressed with Blue. I suppose it is because I have adapted to life with profuse hair and slobber, that when I meet a dog like Blue, I am immediately in awe. And a little bit jealous.
Everything Blue did was clean. From daintily eating tiny kibble and drinking water IN the bowl to pooping tiny poops and not slobbering, the Rhodesian ridgeback is a dream dog for the compulsively hygienic. His beautiful red coat was seemingly waterproof as well; as if it were created to repel the viscous drool from Sulley’s and Junior’s jowls.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks: Gentle Hound Or Fierce Hunter?
In my opinion, Rhodesian ridgebacks are a little bit of both. When exhausted from playing with Sulley and Junior, Blue was a calm, sweet puppy who was content to laze around or cuddle with my daughter.
In true Rhodesian ridgeback fashion however, these fleeting moments were overshadowed by Blue’s zest for action. Harnessing this athleticism and determination would be part of the challenge and fun of owning a Rhodesian ridgeback.
Great Rhodesian Ridgeback Resources For More Information
- Rhodesian Ridgeback Club Of The United States Complete with list of reputable breeders or rescue organizations, upcoming events, and information about health testing and breed standards.
- Rhodesian Ridgeback Club Of The United States Facebook Group
- American Kennel Club
- Top 7 Questions To Ask A Breeder When Buying A Big Puppy