Rhodesian Ridgeback: The Ultimate Guide


Before you get a dog, it’s important to decide which breed you are after and whether that breed is right for you and your lifestyle. There are many different types of dogs, some easier to take care of, some harder. They are all suited to different conditions and will have different needs. So you have to figure out which one you are able to have! (As well as which one is your favorite to hopefully have). 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, sometimes referred to as the African Lion Hound, is a large type of dog that originates from the South African region. It was originally bred as a ridged hunting and guarding dog, and the breed standard was drafted in Southern Rhodesia, hence the name. 

Rhodesian Ridgeback.

They’re beautiful and large hounds, with plenty of multi-purpose traits that made them highly sought after in the past. And nowadays, they make for amazing and beloved pets and house companions, although they can be quite a handful! 

In this ultimate guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about the Rhodesian Ridgeback and more. And once you have all the deets, you can decide whether this is the right dog for you or not. Let’s get right into it! 

Key facts about a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, which most like to call the African Lion or the African Lion Hound, is pretty much an all-purpose Renaissance hound, good for pretty much everything. It is easily identifiable by the ridge or stripe of backward-growing hair that they have on the back, and it is famous for its tracking and baying skills. 

These dogs are very large and strong, and highly capable. They are independent and strong-willed and confident in their own skills. However, they are also full of love and can make for excellent companions. They are faithful and loyal, and highly protective. They’re also super popular, with a lot of people wanting to have one of their own. The problem is that these dogs can be quite the handful, and are definitely not recommended to first-time dog owners! 

But let’s take a look at some key facts, so you can get an idea of what this dog breed is like: 

  • Average lifespan: around 13 years 
  • Size: very large 
  • Coat length: short and sleek 
  • Minimum exercise (per day): two hours or so 
  • Minimum cost (per month): an average of around $100 

The appearance of a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are large and muscular.  On average, male dogs will be between 25 to 31 inches in height and 88 to 110 lbs in weight. Meanwhile, their female counterparts will be between 24 to 30 inches in height, and 88 to 110 lbs in weight. So very similar size, but males will tend to be slightly taller.  

They have a broad head, which is completely flat between the ears, and a long and deep muzzle. Their nose tends to be either black, brown, or liver, usually depending on the coloring of the rest of the coat. They have round brown eyes, and sometimes they have a black tongue, which is quite curious. 

They have medium-sized ears which flop forward, and a deep chest. They have a long tail, long legs, and are overall well-defined with muscles. Basically, they’re a powerhouse of a dog. 

As for the coat, it is short and sleek, with dense fur. They have a clearly defined symmetrical ridge of hair that grows in the opposite direction, and that goes down the middle of their back, and this is one of the most defining traits, which also gives them their name “ridgeback”. 

As for the colors, they can be light wheaten to shades of red, and can sometimes have a little bit of white on the chest. Sometimes you can also get purebred black Rhodesian Ridgebacks, but these are very very rare. 

The temperament of a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Looking into the temperament of the breed you’re hoping to get is super important, as temperament can be a big factor when it comes to taking care of your dog and deciding whether it’s a right fit within your home and family. 

A lot of personality traits that the dog has will be unique, and will mostly depend on the upbringing, and on the lineage and parents themselves. 

However, each breed of dog will have different temperament tendencies, mostly to do with the way in which the breed was originally bred, according to the purpose and job. 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a calm, gentle, and obedient dog. They are very good-natured and can therefore make for excellent companions. They are also incredibly intelligent, capable, and loyal. 

However, as they are so loyal, they can often get protective. This means that they will often be distant and standoffish towards strangers and other animals, and will instead remain alert and on watch in case any of them turn out to be a threat. Of course, with proper socialization from the early stages, you can teach your Rhodesian Ridgeback to be friendly towards everyone, with no problems whatsoever. 

As they were originally used for many different purposes, the Rhodesian Ridgebacks are very independent, able to solve problems by themselves. This also means that they are very confident and straightforward, and can easily become dominant.

This is why it is very important to establish who is in charge so that a chain of command is set in place and your dog knows to obey you. This is also a reason why they aren’t recommended to first-owners, as they need someone with a firm hand and plenty of dog experience. 

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are great with families and are very affectionate and playful dogs. However, they aren’t very good with smaller children, mainly due to their large size, and the fact that they can accidentally hurt the children when playing rough, as they don’t know to be gentler. 

Overall, they are intelligent and capable, loyal and loving, and are better suited to an outdoor lifestyle full of activity. 

Health and Grooming of a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Different dog breeds have different grooming needs, and they are also prone to different types of health problems. As you will be in charge of caring for the dog, it is important that you are aware of all of these beforehand, so you know how much effort, time, and money you are likely to have to invest. 

Let’s take a look at the details: 

Grooming:

Hi Rhodesian Ridgebacks have short and sleek hair, which is really good news because it makes them super low-maintenance and easy to groom. Basically, you can brush them once a week, and that will be more than enough.

That’s all their hair needs. No matting, no tangling, and barely any dirt! However, despite their fur being short, it might still shed a bit during shedding season, but it won’t be anywhere near as bad as some other dog breeds. 

As for bathing, it should only ever be necessary when they get especially dirty, and you should then use a special shampoo for dogs in order to avoid drying out their skin. 

Other grooming habits to incorporate into the care of your dog, is keeping their nails trimmed. The downside is that Rhodesian Ridgebacks really don’t like having their nails clipped. The upside is that if they lead an outdoorsy active lifestyle, the nails will likely be naturally trimmed, meaning you don’t have to worry about them. 

And that’s pretty much it! As we said, they’re very low-maintenance and easy to take care of, plus they are very tough and can withstand temperatures with ease. 

Health:

The health of your dog can depend on many factors, such as lifestyle and diet. Rhodesian Ridgebacks, as a general rule, are incredibly healthy dogs. They’re tough and sturdy, and not much affects them, meaning you will likely go through life without having to go to the vet too often.

However, there are some health issues that are hereditary, or simply common to the breed. It is important to be aware of these so that you know what to look out for when things are a bit off. 

The main things to look out for in a Rhodesian Ridgeback are hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. These are hereditary conditions that affect the hip and elbow joints, as the bones don’t fit well due to a rapid or uneven growth rate. This can cause pain, lameness, atrophy, and similar. Plus, these conditions will get worse with time. 

As we said, they are hereditary, so the best way to avoid them is to talk with the breeder in question, and ensure that the parents have been tested for it. Ideally, dogs with dysplasia shouldn’t be breeding in the first place, in order to avoid this problem. 

The trainability of a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are very intelligent and were originally bred as multi-purpose working dogs. As such, they are highly capable in many ways and have plenty of skills. If trained properly, they can do almost anything!

They are also very loyal and obedient, so they can be very easy to train if done right. As soon as you establish yourself as the pack leader, they will be eager to follow your lead and to please. 

However, there are a few things to watch out for in Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and that need to be taken into account within the training: 

  • They have a very strong prey drive:

As one of their original purposes was to work as hunting dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks were developed to have a very strong prey drive. This means that they will have a very strong urge to chase after other animals, especially cats and similar. This also means that they should always be in an enclosed space, or supervised, or else they are likely to run off after whatever it is they see. 

With training, this prey drive can be lessened, so that they don’t chase other animals as much. 

  • They are strong-willed and independent:

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are very capable and were bred to know exactly what to do in any given situation. As such, they are very independent and very strong-willed. Their stubbornness can be great in some situations, but not during training.

A strong and firm hand is required to train and teach these dogs, and it is best to have someone with experience. They are not recommended for first-time dog owners, but if you really want one, then at the very least it is recommended that you sign up for a training course or similar, to get some professional help during the process. 

  • They are fiercely loyal and protective:

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are amazing family dogs, loyal and affectionate. However, their loyalty can turn to protectiveness when faced with strangers or unfamiliar animals. This is why socialization is such an important part of their training. 

It is vital to introduce them to other people and animals from a young age so that they are more open and friendly to meeting new individuals, and so that they don’t become as defensive or aggressive. 

History of the Rhodesian Ridgeback:

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Understanding the origin of a breed can help you understand why the breed is the way that it is, with its temperament and physical attributes. So let’s take a look at the origin of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

It first originated in the Kingdom of the Matabele, which then became known as Rhodesia (hence the name of the breed), and which is now known as Zimbabwe, in Africa. This dog was originally bred for different working purposes, two of the main ones being hunting and guarding. 

The breed descends from crosses between different ridge-backed dogs, which were imported by Boer settlers during the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of these will have been the Mastiff, the Deerhound, the Khoikhoi dog, and the Great Dane. So all of these are closely related to the Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

This dog very quickly became popular, due to the different skills and capabilities, paired with his obedient and loyal nature. It also became popular in hunting parties that went after lions, on horseback. This is where the nickname “African Lion Hound”, which the Rhodesian Ridgeback is sometimes referred to as comes from. 

The breed wasn’t imported to the United States until 1950, and it was then recognized by the AKC (the American Kennel Club) until 1955. It is now registered there as an official breed of dog, and it continues to be popular both for working purposes and as a loving family companion. 

Costs of having a Rhodesian Ridgeback:

As amazing as dogs are, they don’t come free, or even cheap. So, unfortunately, before getting a dog you need to consider the amount of money it is going to cost. Different breeds have different costs, especially as they differ in their diets and general needs. 

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a big dog, and as such, it eats a lot of food. This means that it is slightly more expensive to maintain than other smaller dogs, and on average, you can expect to spend around $100 a month, give or take. 

 But let’s take a closer look at the primary costs of this dog: 

  • Purchase costs:

If you’re looking to buy a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy from a reliable breeder, you can expect to spend between $1700 to $2500, so they’re not the most expensive dog out there…but they ain’t exactly cheap. 

Alternatively, you could adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue center, in which case you will only have to pay for the adoption fees, making the whole thing a lot cheaper. They aren’t the most common breed to find in shelters, but there are websites that can help you search for the nearest pet adoption center that has a Rhodesian Ridgeback available if your heart is set on having one. 

  • Initial costs:

The initial costs include everything from vaccines, microchips, neutering procedures, registration or passport fees, and all of the initial items that you have to buy such as bowls, a collar, a dog bed, and similar. 

  • Ongoing costs:

The ongoing cost of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is slightly higher than other dog breeds, due to the large size and the need for larger quantities of food. Other ongoing costs will include dog toys, treats, and similar. 

  • Other costs:

Other costs you might have to consider are pet insurance, vet bills, emergencies, dog training, and others. 

Fun Facts about Rhodesian Ridgebacks:

  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks were used to hunt down lions in the past, hence their nickname: the African Lion Hound! 
  • They only come in one color: wheat. However, some rare Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be black! 
  • They are very large in size and closely related to the great Dane, which is the largest dog breed in the world! 
  • They are a uniquely South African breed from Rhodesia, which is currently known as Zimbabwe 

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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