The Rhodesian Ridgeback History

The Rhodesian Ridgeback History 2017-06-07T21:15:48+00:00

(The text is copied from The Rhodesian Ridgeback International Foundation by S.H.Stewart)

The Reverend Charles Daniel Helm was born in 1844 and died in 1915. We don’t even know whether he was a dog-lover or not, but history records that he was the man who brought two dogs to his mission at Hope Fountain near what is now Bulawayo, which is in the far south-west corner of Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe), and these two bitches were to become the foundation of what we refer to today as the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

When one realises how recently all of this happened it is very disappointing that we are unable to be more definite about the origins of our national dog. So much of what is written on the matter is subject to questioning and my views are strongly shaped by the writings of David Helgesen.

The name of the breed is determined by the peculiarity of the ridge on the back of these dogs. In Europe these ridges are unknown but they are common in much of Africa. For example, many of the Sitkas in this country have ridges, and this feature is observed frequently in the indigenous dogs of Zaire, Angola, Tanzania, and Zambia. The Mesopotamian Hunting Dog was brought down the east coast of Africa in the course of tribal migration over several centuries and part of the movement was deflected towards the west. We must assume that these dogs carried the ridge gene and that eventually they reached the Cape and acquired the name of Hottentot Hunting Dog, serving a very useful purpose with the Khoisan in a semi-domesticated environment.

Evidence of the first domesticated dogs on our planet goes back to 4500 BC in Egyptian tombs, and in 1729 AD we have a written record of ridged dogs at the Cape. Apart from Africa the only other place where ridged dogs are found is Phu Quoc in the gulf of Thailand.

     

The Europeans arrive

In 1652 we have the arrival of the Europeans at the Cape, and the dogs they brought with them did not cope easily with the local diseases. Nonetheless interbreeding occurred with the indigenous hunting dogs and the foundation was laid for the contribution of South Africa to the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It should be stressed however that the Hottentot Hunting Dog was very similar to the Sitka, that is it had a small narrow head and a jackal sized body, in other words, very different from the Ridgeback of today. But it did have a ridge, and the settlers made much use of it in producing what they sought for hunting and security purposes. One of the best known early pictures of a ridged dog depicts the scene of a dead Hartebees surrounded by Khoisan hunters, with that particular dog, near Lake Ngami in Botswana. That dog belonged to a well-known hunter called Baldwin; he recorded it in a drawing in May 1858 and though it is no Ridgeback by today’s description it does have size and substance, and Baldwin acquired it in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Several well-known hunters of whom Hartley, Viljoen, Swartz, Jacobs and Selous were the best known, worked primarily in the Mashonaland area . However another, Cornelius van Rooyen, is the one of importance to our breed, and he operated mainly in Matabeleland.

Cornelius was born at Uitenhage on November 6, 1860 and the whole family moved to Zeerust in 1868. By 1874 they were at Shoshong and in 1875 they moved up to Tate. [Robert Moffat had established (a) a permanent mission in Matabeleland and (b) friendly relations with Mzilikaze. The Missionary Road from Cape Town passed through Beaufort West, Kuruman, Shoshong, Francistown and through Bulawayo onwards to Salisbury .] He was married to Maria Vermaak of Bloemhof, by Reverend Helm at the Hope Fountain Mission outside Bulawayo, in 1879. Meanwhile Reverend Helm brought two unridged (?) bitches from Kimberley (possibly as far South as Swellendam) also in 1879. They were both rough coated and grey-black in colour and Cornelius bred them to his pack immediately. The odd thing, please note is that no one is convinced that either of these two bitches was possessed of a ridge, and yet they are regarded as the origin of what was to become “the escutcheon of the breed”, that famous ridge.

     

Dermoid sinus

Broadly speaking, Cornelius van Rooyen used the following breeds of dogs in his breeding program, though it must be accepted that several of them would already have been cross breeds, in other words, we are really talking about a gene pool into which he adds a bit more of this and some more of that.

The principal breeds used were Khoikoi, Greyhound, Bulldog, Pointer, Irish Terrier, Airdale Terrier, Collie, and Deerhound. Interestingly enough no mention is made of Bull Mastiff and yet today we talk about our dogs being too “Mastiffy” in appearance. On the other hand we attribute the kinky tail problem in the modern Ridgeback to its Bulldog antecedents, and the brown nose (or liver nose) examples we relate to noses of the same colour in the Pointers that were used.

In the midst of all this no one seems to have determined the origins of the Dermoid Sinus, one of the real bugbears of the breed, and it just has not been attached to any specific source. You would think that, with the breed being so young, someone would have a handle on the origins of what is almost a uniquely Ridgeback problem. I have heard that it was not unusual even as recently as fifty years ago to put down a third of the puppies on account of this upsetting defect, and when recently doing tests on the effects of folates on this affliction Australian researchers used a frequency of 16% as being normal incidence for untreated dogs. Breeders there and here regard the normal incidence as 3 – 5%, but whatever figure one uses it is a problem which goes back into the history of our breed with no known source.

While searching for Nguni dogs (Sitkas) in Kwa-Zulu Natal last year, it was found that even though in places almost a third of them had ridges, no one knew of the existence of dermoid sinus. So perhaps the origins of the Ridgeback will not disclose the source of dermoid sinus and we might well have to accept that the genes contributed to the pool were mixed in a manner which gave rise to this weakness or, if you prefer, produced a dog which had a higher need for folates than its original components.

Use of the title Ridgeback to describe these dogs rather than “Van Rooyen Dogs” or “Lion Dogs” commenced shortly after 1910. The 1920’s saw the first Breed Standard proposed, the entry of Lion Dogs at Shows (exhibited at the first Bulawayo Kennel Club Show as the ‘Rhodesian Lion Dog’), the registration of the first dogs (‘Grootedam Gwen’ and ‘Grootedam Leo’) by the South African Kennel Union, (now KUSA), the name changed to Rhodesian Ridgeback officially, and they appeared in increasing numbers at shows in Rhodesia.

    

And a standard emerges

Broadly speaking the Ridgebacks from different parts of Africa vary in size. Those to the North of Zimbabwe are somewhat larger, as though Great Dane was bred into them whereas those in the erstwhile Rhodesia are smaller (and much closer to the desirable height and weight required by the Breed Standard) while in South Africa we have a slightly larger version (but not as big as to the North) which can tend to massiveness. Perhaps more Boerboel was bred into our local dogs. Whatever the regional variations we have all obtained a loyal and dutiful pet which is equally good at defending the lives and property of his family unit. Just as comfortable in the bush as hogging all the warmth in front of the suburban home fireplace, this recent breed traces his origins directly to the ancient hunting dogs recorded in stone by the Pharoahs.

Francis Richard Barnes is credited with being the principal creator of the Breed Standard in 1925. A very well known breeder of Ridgebacks under the Eskdale Kennel name, he arranged to have about twenty examples of the breed present at a breeders’ symposium after a Bulawayo dog show and the best points of each were determined and used to establish the Standard, which follows the Dalmatian Standard in many respects. This Breed Standard has remained unaltered, to all intents and purposes, ever since.

However one only has to look at the photographs provided in Hawley’s book to become aware of how the Ridgeback has changed to what we find in the show ring today. Major Tom Hawley is South Africa’s authority on our national dog and the picture of Eskdale Connie, taken in 1925, contrasts strongly with other photographs from the forties and fifties which in turn show differences from the dogs in today’s show ring: apart from variations in the general conformation of the dogs you can see that the majority had prominent forechests, a feature which has all but disappeared.

That which is written above represents merely a segment of the history of this dog. It overlooks the part played by the Steekbaardhonde and Vuilbaardhonde brought to the Transvaal by the Voortrekkers. It omits in fact all the developments which took place in South Africa. The breed sprang up in large numbers throughout this country and these dogs couldn’t possibly all have been obtained from Rhodesia. To achieve a better informed view of the origins and development of our national dog, I suggest one refers to the following books:

– The Definitive Rhodesian Ridgeback by David Helgesen.

– The Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Origin, History and Standard by T C Hawley.

– The Rhodesian Ridgeback Indaba by J N Murray.

    

Character/Temperament in the Original and Contemporary Bush Environments

 To obtain some understanding of these magnificent animals it is firstly necessary to appreciate their multi-faceted nature, their flexibility and adaptability, their excessively affectionate and sensitive nature, their highly developed intelligence, but, most importantly, their strong adherence to pack law. This last mentioned feature results in them bonding very strongly with the pack as a whole to insure mutual survival i.e. they are prepared to offer up their lives in defence of the pack. When placed in the company off us humans (when living with us) they will bond with us and, having done so, behave in accordance with their nature which entails defending the family/pack unit to the fullest extent of their abilities.

It is this bonding procedure which is fairly tricky because in their society pack -law is enforced in a manner which we could not possibly contemplate. They must, non-the-less, accept us as leaders in spite of our generally wimpish (in their terms) attitudes. Fortunately they are excessively affectionate and they find our equally affectionate response to them to be a powerful mitigating factor. They still expect strong (in fact harsh) leadership from us from time to time.

Having bonded with you (and one cannot over-emphasise the tremendous importance of this bonding experience in how they will evaluate the position) you have gained the friendship and affection of a truly loyal companion for the duration of his/her life. It is a relationship which is fully experienced by the human and it is probably this quality alone which places the Rhodesian Ridgeback in a position of awe and respect with all of us who have successfully bonded with these fine, brown coloured, ever lasting friends. 
However, there are good reasons for the behavioural patterns of these dogs. They were carefully and specifically bred in Rhodesia from several well-known (mainly hound) breeds of dogs to perform a specific function which was to bay lion. Now baying entails distracting the “objective” in such a way that it remains in that one location for as long as it takes to complete the exercise which, usually, entailed someone shooting the “objective” from extremely close-up, using the very ineffective rifles of those times. Hence the need for baying that “objective”.

The lion is probably the world’s most efficient predator (killer). He does not waste his skills; he kills to eat or to protect himself; there is nothing frivolous about his killing capabilities. And the Ridgeback knows this. Our little dogs have tremendous respect, bordering on fear, for the big cats. And quite rightly so .To a lion a Ridgeback, physically, represents no threat whatsoever: further, there is very little effort required of the lion to dispose of this dog. And the Ridgeback is fully aware of this reality. But the lion also knows that the Ridgeback can overcome his fear and proceed to goad and terrorise him (because that is what his activities amount to). In spite of his physical inferiority the Ridgeback represents a very real psychological threat to the lion. And so “the game is on” and one of nature’s potentially most unequal contests takes place successfully as a result of the intelligence/cunning and speed/power of the dog.

Fortunately the rifles of today preclude, by and large, the need for the baying capability of these extremely brave brown dogs. No longer is there any necessity for the hunter to close within 30 metres of the lion purely due to the inadequacy of his weaponry. However the dog is possessed of many other qualities which insure him a place in all bush activities on a daily basis. It is out there, running freely in the veld, that you can witness his specialist skills in dealing with every problem the bush can throw at him. That is where he was designed to operate and that is where he reigns supreme. 
Just a little tip here. A Ridgeback has much in common with the lion. They stalk in a similar fashion; if his colour is wheaten their coats look the same; they are fearless and highly intelligent etc, etc; so if you are in any doubt about any aspect of the dog just think of the big cat and see if it provides a solution.

   

Character/Temperament in the Domestic Environment

However, his capabilities are not limited to the bush experience alone. He is adaptable, very adaptable, and is equally effective in the urban environment. To understand this fully one must look at his ancestry. When the Rhodesian Ridgeback was being genetically assembled, use was made off a great selection of hunting dogs in order to obtain a very specific objective. German Short-haired Pointers, Bulldogs, Greyhounds, Great Danes, Deer-Hounds, Fox-Hounds, Bloodhounds, Sitkas, etc, etc, were used to produce a dog that would fit the bill and meet these unusual demands. In South Africa the position had two significant additional twists to it. Firstly the “hunting dog” of that time (the late 1800’s), and here we think of the Vuilbaard, Steekbaard etc, were associated with the migration from the Cape to the interior. These dogs were required to protect the goods, the chattels, the farm animals (primarily cattle and sheep), and most importantly the families, as the pioneers moved through uncharted areas across Africa. Secondly, we must remember that until the 1940s and 1950s the dog used predominantly by the hunters, and again this is only a South African condition, was the Boerboel. Before, and more importantly after, the Second World War those hunter’s changed over to the faster, more intelligent, breed originally called the “lion dog”, though by that stage the name of Rhodesian Ridgeback was well entrenched regardless of genetic history. The consequence is that the Rhodesian Ridgebacks bred in South Africa must inevitably carry a significant component of the genes of dogs actively used at the time. This is so whether these dogs were the property of hunters of those times or descendants of the dogs brought into the heart of the country by migration from the deep South.
So we end up with a dog which draws its roots from a broad selection of very well-known international (hound) breeds and also from a relatively small number of purpose-designed dogs which accompanied/worked for the Voortrekkers (pioneers) and the hunters. 
From this variety of forebears it is easy to concentrate on breeding for specific features regardless of whether they comprise character, conformation, or cosmetics. If the breeder fails to comply with the original formula it is obviously a very simple matter to emphasise this or that feature and to come up with his particular and personal “Ridgeback”. That is why it is so important for us to keep producing broadly based Ridgebacks which do not take any particular or specific direction. That is also why the word “moderate” appears so frequently in the Breed Standard.

   

Intelligence as a Characteristic

One aspect though, where we have not disrupted the basic RR, is his intelligence. Perhaps we’re losing the powerful resolve so necessary in a dog which must face the world’s most efficient and powerful predator. Whether we are or not is hardly critical as we definitely are not destroying the innate intelligence of the breed. This manifests itself clearly in the oft held misconception that the RR is stubborn; and so may it, hopefully, continue to be maligned for many years to come. The reasons are obvious. 

The Ridgeback is a highly intelligent animal. It is also emotionally very sensitive, and it is not prepared to suffer the injustice of being treated like a circus performer. Life to him is a survival exercise and wasting his efforts on fruitless entertainment performances is not his forte. If there is something valid to prove your RR will do his best, dying for that proof if required.

We give two examples to describe the modus operandi of our favourite breed. The first one is well known and it concerns the retrieval capabilities of these dogs. I observed my dog catching a Francolin (Partridge) in flight which had not even been shot at. Having personally been presented with the bird in a perfect airworthy condition (it flew away like a bat out of hell) I can vouch for the soft -mouthed performance of our brown haired retriever. That is how he handles a live object, his action suited to the demand.

When it comes to an inanimate object his behaviour is universally known. (It is almost included in the Breed Standard.) Let us say you throw a ball past him and without any effective communication he knows to run after it, catch it and bring it back to you. (Perhaps he is a little bit reluctant about surrendering it.) So you do it again and, lo and behold, you get it back even more swiftly. You are now really on top of the performance so you throw it for a third time. Ridgeback psychology is not your strong point, and even you can read his expression which says “go fetch it yourself”. He loves you dearly but didn’t he already fetch it twice, and what was the beneficial object of the whole exercise, nothing, absolutely nothing. You must not stretch his credulity beyond the limit. Because that is how he values the action. Is it credible? What does it prove? Does it help you and him to survive? 

The following example is perhaps easier to understand. There is this very well trained RR who bays lion brilliantly. He goads them into advancing towards and concentrating solely on himself to the total exclusion of the human, 30 metres away, with a very effective high-powered rifle in his hands. This presents that by-standing hunter with the perfect opportunity to remove the faintest tip from the lion’s nose or the blackest hairs in his tail. As is so often the case the hunter prefers to gaze upon the lion and enjoy the presence of the “gentleman of the Bush”, and lets him “play” with his Ridgeback in the full knowledge that the lion wont seriously go for him. (Who else gets the chance to enjoy such a spectacular view of a fully-grown male lion?) Here the Ridgeback will work on the lion again and again, because there is a reason. He was bred to bay lion: it is his life’s calling. There really is no “play” here, everything is deadly serious and all the participants know that. But if it goes according to plan they will all survive and that is why the Ridgie will participate fully, again and again, and yet again. The ball exercise proved nothing in comparison with the real thing. That game was a bore, and because the Ridgeback will not persist in performing tricks he can be typecast by some as being “stubborn” .

So what has this got to do with the average home-owner and the Ridgeback he maintains in a residential type of environment. Quite a lot in fact; let us look at the behaviour of that dog mentioned earlier which bayed lion. He is also responsible for security at a gate which opens on to the lane at the back of his home in Pretoria. He is sent out to report on its status; he must bark once if no one is there and twice if there is a visitor. All very well, but should you require that he re-check the gate within three minutes he won’t even move because he knows that no one could have walked there within that period of time who was not within eyesight when last he checked. So you say he is not so smart because someone could have run, (not walked) or arrived there on a bicycle. And this has in fact previously happened; he heard them, went to the gate without instruction, and barked twice: he automatically does so for anyone who arrives at the gate should he not be instructed in time to check them out.

    

Exercise Requirements

He needs regular exercise, say twice a week, off lead and in open country. Take note; he can cover half a kilometre in a frighteningly short matter of seconds. So you usually keep him on lead because, even if he has no evil intent whatsoever, the manner of his advance doesn’t look at all friendly to the average dog he might approach. No, your problems are much more likely to involve other dogs having a go at you Ridgie. Maybe I’m prejudiced but the only strange dogs my Ridgeback shows any interest in whatsoever are other Ridgebacks. On the other hand, just about every second strange dog wants to have a go at my little fellow; all too often they are off lead, or they break away. But I’m proud of his ability to shoulder them off repeatedly until his patience (mine?) runs out, the lead is released, and equilibrium is restored.

    

A Powerfull Dog Capable of Protection Duties

One must understand that the RR is powerful, even stronger than he looks. His muscles are clearly defined, but his ability to generate power far exceeds his appearance. Further he is possessed of very strong jaws which he can use, if ever the need arises, in a most effective manner. Consequently we strongly advise people against taking their Ridgeback to Attack Training. He will leap to your defence should the need arise. We can put you in touch with Ridgeback owners who have graphic experience of the Rhodesian Ridgeback in his protection role.

   

His Attitude Towards Children

The approach of the Rhodesian Ridgeback towards children is legendary. They, the children, are the weakest members of the pack and must be defended with increased vigour. The RR’s are very conscious of those “soft” targets and make a greater effort to protect them. But the Ridgeback is aloof with strangers, and his attitude is not age-related. So your dog will be as reserved when dealing with a strange child as with a strange adult. If he must take action he will be most gentle with the child (they have an emotional appreciation of the young and adjust their responses accordingly). If needs be he will retreat from the path of the child, usually after a gruff exclamation.

   

The Hunter

As with most Hounds, the RR can prove to be a most formidable hunter. He is equipped with enough “fire power” to cope with most bush-related situations. However one should never forget that he was bred to BAY Lion, not kill them, which is in any event a ludicrous concept at the best of times. He has been provided with great intelligence and physical power. Add to this his extreme sensitivity to the mental posture of others and he has the opportunity to assess the future intentions off his adversary well before the opposition has had a chance to move. When over-faced he must use his considerable physical attributes to make good his escape, but this of course hinges on his pack loyalties and responsibilities at the time. His success at baying, and escaping, depends upon his strength, his manoeuvrability, his feinting tactics, but more importantly upon his ability to make the correct survival decisions. He should be possessed of a strong fore-chest because that is his primary strike weapon. We have all observed their very robust tactics while at play and how the one can crash into the other with significant sound effects.

There are stories that he can hit a kudu (say 300kg) with sufficient force to cause it to stumble and provide him with an opportunity to obtain a good throat-hold. Perhaps, but these are stories from long ago and have little relevance in today’s world with its high-velocity long-range accuracy rifles. 

There is still much discussion about whether the RR is a sight- or a scent-hound. Suffice it to say that he is excellent in both regards, and for someone who takes a Ridgie with him in the bush the comment is justified, “who cares?” He will give you ample warning of any “nasties” in close proximity, and is unequalled when tracking down wounded animals. He is so efficient in the latter duty that several hunters believe he can “feel” where the injured animal is; he often tracks far from the original spoor.
But when all is said and done there is nothing more reassuring than the company of a Rhodesian Ridgeback when walking through the African bush, regardless of the purpose or pursuit.

     

Nutrition

This breed is basically healthy, strong, illness-free and operates extremely well on a low-cost diet. The original examples, whether in Matabeleland or what is now the Kruger National Park, were not raised on steak. They doubtless received their share of scraps from the kill. Like most dogs they really enjoy a large bone to chew over, but they work through them very quickly. The dog’s diet must bear a strong relationship to his lifestyle. There are plenty of feeding systems available today, most of which are more than adequate. However, a fat Ridgeback is a seriously sick Ridgeback and he should be maintained, if at all possible, in slightly “lean” trim. In the case of dogs taken into the bush regularly, and which are brought into “bush-trim” as it is called, there is a distinct loss of weight accompanied by a significant increase in performance; and all without any noticeable change in dietary requirements. That supposedly healthy, sleek dog off 43 kg comes down to 38 kg after a few months of hard work in the bush. Though this is probably how he should look it certainly doesn’t make him any more attractive. His coat is sparse, the skin is paper-thin, and his muscles and bones seem to stick out everywhere. 

Very few of our dogs will be brought into this condition. (It is just as wearing on the human as the dog). But for the average owner he must insure that the dog is given no more food than is absolutely necessary to maintain him in good condition, increasing the exercise level/reducing the intake when he gains a bit too much.

Avoid giving him bones which can splinter: concentrate rather on those bones which keep him busy for lots of hours on lots of days. Most brands of food are cereal based and if you feel that he needs a bit of “extra” you can sprinkle on some “sawdust” obtained from your butcher. Consisting of equal amounts of bone, fat, and meat, a level soupspoon full is more than adequate for your adult dog, and if mixed in well will encourage your four-legged friend to attack his meal with more gusto. Remember however that this material is very perishable and you must exercise great care while storing it.

Consult your vet about feeding requirements should you be in any doubt. He can assess the condition of your dog and his lifestyle and recommend the most suitable diet for you to follow.

     

Breed Standard

One of the most interesting aspects of the Breed Standard is its remarkably lengthy, unaltered, durability. In 1922 FR Barnes (of Eskdale fame) circularised several owners of Ridgebacks/Lion Dogs requesting their attendance at the second day of the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show with the intention of formulating a standard for the breed. More than 20 dogs were present and even their sizes were varied. However they were indeed fortunate to have had Mr BW Durham present. He was very experienced in the breed and it was he who selected and put forward examples from the assembled group to be used as the basis for given characteristics. He would use such and such a dog for colour, then so and so for conformation, or head, or neck, etc, etc. Within a few days thereafter Barnes had compiled the standard which relied heavily for phraseology on that covering the Dalmation.

What was there and then compiled in writing by Barnes still stands today bar minor cosmetic changes concerning colour, eg white and brindle (and where it is acceptable, if at all). There is no doubt that the dogs used as examples of the breed in 1922 were not in the well-fed condition of the dogs of today. These were working dogs which could not carry the luxury of unwanted weight. Speed of retreat would provide them with a far greater chance of survival than any factor other than intelligence (which had just told them to get out before it was too late.) So a dog of those days would have weighed approximately 20 per cent less than the dog in our contemporary situation. In other words a dog of 36 kg then equates to a 42kg dog of today for that one reason alone. In this regard the Breed Standard probably requires adjustment, but then one must not overlook the fact that the standard provides a desirable weight, not an obligatory/immutable one. 

The Breed Standard used almost universally, and certainly the only one supported by the country/area of origin, is that sanctioned by the FCI. It is FCI 10/12/96 #146.

    

Training

The most common question asked about training concerns the age at which you can commence. On the face of it this does seem a logical inquiry, particularly in view of the fact that many training schools don’t want to see a puppy until it is at least eight months old.

But a more practical attitude is required of the new dog owner right from the start. You are not in a position to wait for six months to pass you by before you start training your two-month-old puppy that his toilet is an outdoors experience. With a bit of luck he actually doesn’t need any instruction whatsoever, or he only makes one mistake anyway: this is so often the case. The important thing is that “potty-training” is easily understood by him as it obviously has a point, you are very interested in the outcome and show your emotions on the issue, and it is not something you repeat and repeat at the time. Chances are that you are teaching him nothing else simultaneously, and he is more than capable of learning one sensible thing at a time. 

He can also learn eating etiquette very easily at that age; in fact the alacrity with which they learn anything associated with food is quite astonishing. So do train your puppy, right from the start, after contacting the breeder for guidance, and just remember not to confuse him with varied commands, multi-tasking, and boring repetition.

It is not unusual for a dog owner to feel that his pet is really different from the rest and, naturally, a cut above them all. We are more than justified in feeling this way about our breed. The average training course was designed for GSD’s, and no one will dispute that an RR is definitely not a GSD. Whether you are embarking on obedience, agility, versatility, attack (hopefully not), or whatever discipline, there is no doubt whatsoever that our Breed requires a somewhat different basic approach. The main problem arises in his dislike for repetition (already described under ‘intelligence as a characteristic’ earlier on) and his need for a substantiated reason for the required behaviour.

I decided that I had reason to put a four year old bitch through attack training for farm use. (Please note, again, we repeat that attack training is not regarded as a good option for our RR’s; in fact we recommend strongly against it.) It was extremely difficult to get her to bite when we reached that part of the course, and for the first time she lagged behind the others. 

It is worth pointing out at this stage that the dogsparticipating together were a GSD, a Rottweiler, a Doberman, a Bull-terrier, a Staffie, and of course the Rhodesian Ridgeback . Probably this assortment represents trouble to a trainer spelt in capital block letters. The two terriers were a washout, the first three mentioned trundled along at very much the identical rate of progress, but the RR surged way ahead while we were tackling obedience as an essential prerequisite to the more aggressive discipline to follow. Most fortunately the trainer moved onto the next skill as soon as the previous one had been mastered by any one of them; and that one was always the RR. She left them all floundering behind her and obviously revelled in these novel experiences. So she and I omitted two sessions of the course to let some of the others catch up, did the final “revision” session, and went pell-mell into the attack phase. 

As already stated she just refused to bite. So her ears were given a couple of good jerks and, after the second “prompting”, she ran around behind me, launched into his proffered arm, and started removing all the padding. Stopping her was something she had yet to learn about, so she did another circuit behind me and launched into him for the second time. Fortunately his reactions were quick; he thumped his partly protected arm down on her head while she made for his ankle. She backed off, ran around behind me again, and launched herself at his throat. Once more his quick reactions saved the day, while he fended her off with his ripped up protected arm. I brought her under control, we mutually agreed that attack methods necessitated no further embellishment, and her attack-training days were over.

On reflection it all made sense. Why on earth did she have to bite that follow. Sure, he was pointing at her, staring, making stupid noises, acting very silly, but where was the threat. And then he jerked her ears. Certainly the first time was uncomfortable, but for heaven’s sake he did it again. Then he gets that clumsy arm in the way and she gets a mouthful of evil tasting canvas, hessian, and grass stuck between her teeth which she cannot spit out easily, so the obvious thing to do is to go for a softer, tastier target. 
It is amazing how much damage she wreaked in so short a time. He had lost the outer covering on his arm-shield and was down to the leather, and he didn’t fancy that overly much for protection in the circumstances. Also there was nothing for the other dogs to hang onto, so “taking a bite” was out for the day in any event. 

It all went to prove why attack work is not to be recommended. Ridgies have very powerful jaws. They lunge in, take a big bite, use their potent necks to twist that very strong head, and then jerk back violently, taking fresh bites whenever the current mouthful yields. 

Three other owners described almost identical experiences after participation in attack courses with their Ridgies. They are the only people I have contacted to date who have taken this step, and they all had very definite reasons for doing so; but it was fascinating to hear that our dogs all reacted in very much the same fashion. 

So if you wish to take your Rhodesian Ridgeback to training in any of the disciplines, preferably go to someone who has experience in the breed (or at least who professes interest in it) and who doesn’t think of them as being “stubborn”.

    

Dermoid Sinus

Fortunately the affliction referred to by us as Dermoid Sinus is almost a thing of the past with only one or two per cent of puppies now being afflicted. It is a birth defect brought about by circumstances in much the same manner as Spina Bifida in the case of the human. Similarly it can be avoided, as is the case with the human equivalent, by appropriate treatment of the bitch with Folic Acid.

In the old days a third of the pups could be afflicted and, though regarded as an inherited defect, no one seems to know why our dogs suffer almost exclusive rights to this problem; just where was it inherited from? After all, it is not so long since the breed started and we should be able to track down all the possible genetic sources. (On a field trip to check out the ridges on Sitkas/iSiqas in the Amphitheatre region of the Drakensberg in KwaZulu Natal, not one owner there expressed any knowledge of the Dermoid Sinus in any dog within his area.) Consisting of a tube/funnel attached to the outer skin of the whelp, it contains hair follicles within it which provide the perfect location for generating puss should infection penetrate. Placed somewhere along the centre line from almost as far forward as the stop to the end of the tail itself, it can become a large suppurating sore which is most offensive to the observer. If of the “blind’ type it seems to cause the dog no discomfort whatsoever, and a small number of owners successfully treat the condition by applying Mercurochrome twice a day to the orifice until the infection ceases and the tube closes up. Only a small (2mm) fleck of hair lying in a slightly different direction indicates where it had originally been located, and you really must be in the know to find it.

On the other hand, if the sinus is attached to the neural tube, intense pain will inevitably be suffered by the dog if and when festering within the restrictive confines of that sinus tube causes pressure to build up. 
Regardless of your views on the matter, you should contact your vet for professional assistance in dealing with the problem, and withdraw any affected dogs permanently from the gene pool, ie from breeding. As far as puppies are concerned the breeder must acquaint himself fully with the problem prior to his first litter being whelped so that he can identify any instance of this serious problem. It is no simple matter detecting a sinus and the new breeder is advised to seek guidance from an experienced old hand at the game. Failing this consult a vet who has more than theoretical knowledge of the subject. 

We cannot stress strongly enough just how upsetting this affliction can be, so make sure that you are well informed before the pups arrive; we can only be thankful that the incidence has dropped to such acceptably low levels. 

     

Hip Dysplasia

 The condition of Hip Dysplasia (HD) has generated tremendous attention over the last 20 to 30 years with elbows and shoulders now being drawn into a more all-inclusive approach. Fortunately Ridgebacks do not suffer extensively from this disease and there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce, and almost eliminate, your exposure to the consequences. Firstly, ensure that whatever puppies/dogs you buy come from HD free stock. All reputable breeders have their dogs X-rayed (the generally accepted method for assessing HD status) and can provide evidence of the resulting evaluations. 

But more importantly you must provide the growing puppy with the correct environment in which to reach maturity without falling victim to this disease. In recent years the nutritional experts have discovered just how important correct feeding is to, in particular, the larger breeds. So they have paid particular attention to fat, protein, and calcium levels, and the owner of a growing dog should never increase the calcium intake beyond that provided by recognised manufacturers without obtaining veterinary advice. Further he should restrict exercise to a very modest level until the pup is more than six months old. 

These are the two most important requirements to be adhered to by the owner. There are a few more which can be discussed in general terms with the breeder. Please remember that the principal fault to avoid is adding calcium to the diet of your growing pup. This is the most likely cause for creating HD. The nutritionists are now even recommending against providing calcium additives to lactating bitches, something breeders have not been vocally ‘anti’ to date. 

As said at the beginning, HD is not a particular problem for our breed which is placed in the least affected top quarter of all breeds of dogs checked extensively enough to provide statistically indicative results. The OFA (Orthopaedic Foundation of America) lists Ridgebacks in 16th position from the top end of a total sampling of 62 breeds. Also our breed is in the top ten (top 16%) as far as having excellent hips is concerned. 

So we do have a core of very good hips around; but on the other hand, in the Hound Group (and remember that our breed is based primarily on several well-known Hounds) we are placed third bottom of the eight breeds covered. This aspect is a bit disappointing, and we have no knowledge of HD being a problem in the Hottentot Hunting Dog (or Sitka if you prefer). Much of the original breeding stock used in creating the Ridgeback was of mixed origin, definitely not pure-bred, and in South Africa we must inevitably experience a heavy contribution from Boerboels as they preceded the Ridgeback in this country as the hunters’ dog of choice. But in spite of these cloudy/half-breed origins we would have hoped that our dog would compete more successfully against his hound peers in the HD stakes. Survival of the fittest was the cornerstone of the breed right from the start. 

    

General

It is not possible to do justice on this web-site to the wealth of information surrounding our favoured breed. It would take a book to give partial coverage to most aspects and it is not remotely practical to devote more than 10 times the above space to the subject in this medium. 

So we have not even touched on many very important subjects such as breeding, diseases, showing, Phu Quoc Ridgebacks and liver/brown noses, just to mention a few. 

We do recommend further, more detailed, reading from the excellent works by the following authors. We would mention, however, that any book about Ridgebacks is difficult to locate and often expensive when found; so we’ve provided a precis on the major strengths of these offerings:

  • T C Hawley – The Rhodesian Ridgeback, the origins, history and standard. 120 pages. This book is not split into chapters but lists over 40 headings in its contents. Written in South Africa from our Southern African point of view it covers a tremendously broad selection of topics. Printed for the first time in 1957 it includes 50 plates starting with a painting of a Hottentot dog followed by a photograph of Eskdale Connie in 1925. It concentrates primarily on those dogs, mainly champions, of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
  • Frank C Lutman – Rhodesian Ridgeback. 190 pages. Written in America this book also covers all the aspects of caring for your Ridgeback that you could wish for. It is written in an easy to read style and therefor appeals to the not-so-knowledgeable. It has lots of photos and drawings and gives you enough of the background to whet your appetite. A well-balanced book that every new Ridgeback owner will appreciate
  • J N Murray – The Rhodesian Ridgeback 1924 – 74. 480 pages. 0620 02204 3
    – The Rhodesian Ridgeback Indaba. 380 pages. 0 9588874 1 1. 
    Janet Murray has proved to be the compleat historian/chronicler of the breed. She has carried out the most incredible recording of the Rhodesian Ridgeback from its initial origins up to 1990. The two books mentioned above are not her only publications, just the principal ones. The first book covers the starting 50 years of the registered Rhodesian Ridgeback, but that is by no means all. It is difficult to comprehend just how one person could accumulate, assemble, and publish such an enormous volume of data, and no other book approaches anywhere near it in its presentation of historical/pictorial/genetic/technical etc, etc information. Definitely for the student, there is nothing comparable, and if you want to know any and every thing about the RR it is there. The second book is a continuation of the first but it concentrates more on Kennels than individual pedigrees throughout the world. This second book also has the interesting alternative title “From Hunter to Showdog”. Janet’s books are so comprehensive you won’t be looking elsewhere for more information, but with the two mentioned above totalling almost 900 pages they are a bit excessive for the casual breeder and are best borrowed for a long vacation if this can possibly be arranged.
  • Peter Nicholson and Janet Parker – Book of the Breed, the Complete Rhodesian Ridgeback. 160 pages. 0 948955 81 3
    This book is more in line with the “coffee table” concept. Beautifully prepared and meticulously put together, the authors have an excellent eye for a good looking dog and have in consequence included many outstanding examples of the breed. These pictures accompany text which caters for the general needs of the average owner, and it does devote more coverage to the USA dogs than any other book listed here.
  • The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain – Guide to the Rhodesian Ridgeback. 130 pages. 0951334 0 X 
    First published in 1987 this is the only book we are commenting upon which is produced by a Specialist Club. They formed a six man sub-committee, put together contributions from 13 authors, and gave grateful thanks to all the others who helped them along the way. As the authors breed under registered kennel names they are all extremely well versed in what is required AND how. Being among the smallest/shortest of the books referred to here it doesn’t waste time on unnecessary topics. Designed especially for the uninitiated by those in the know it is tailor-made for the job. Incidentally our Foundation also wishes to produce a book in a South African flavour and would be setting out in very much the same mould.
  • Ann Woodrow – Rhodesian Ridgeback. 180 pages. 0 – 9511408 – 0 – 9. First published in 1986 this book is about to be revised prior to reprinting. The author is very well known in the UK as a judge as well as a breeder. Her acclaimed winner Choppy, Champion Mirengo’s Mandambo, has received more accolades in the ring than any other representative of the breed there. Also Ann had gained over 20 years’ experience with these dogs prior to publishing her book so she brings a well-rounded background to bear on the subject. Further, she has relied extensively on assistance from friends, and in matters like this a lot of support is a tremendous asset. As is to be expected she gives coverage mainly to the UK dogs, but when it comes to matters of interest to the novice breeder what she says couldn’t bear greater applicability. She quite correctly prefaces the start by saying that her book “has been written both as a guide to novice owners and as a reference book for those more deeply involved”.

           

Observation

It is not an easy matter to locate one of the above books, or any other on the subject for that matter. The RR is a hound, was recently created as a breed, and was intended to bay lion. He is just that little bit closer to the “wild” dog than your average fellow who has been carefully bred and domesticated for many years (thousands of years in certain cases). You are well advised to be a bit cautious and not to accept some writings of general applicability. 

Not only are there few books available, but in certain cases the costs can be quite daunting. We do our best to bring in books for sale to our sponsors and members but are not in a position to advise places where all the above are available. For some books a second hand shop is your best bet, and at the end of the day you might decide that the book you can find is the best one to buy. 

   

S.H.Stewart
The Rhodesian Ridgeback International Foundation