The Rhodesian Ridgeback is one breed in the hunting group that is often seen as an aggressive or vicious type of dog. In some areas the Rhodesian Ridgeback may even be listed as a restricted or prohibited type of dog, however this is not at all typical of the breed. Unfortunately some very disreputable and horrific owners have capitalized on the breed's natural protective instincts and have used cruel and horrible methods to accentual this trait. The result is the at the Rhodesian Ridgeback, along with other breeds such as the Pit Bull, Rottweiler and the Doberman Pinscher, have been labeled as vicious and dangerous dogs.
It is true, however, that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a highly dominant breed of dog and may not be suitable for every type of owner and family. They do need someone that is able to be an effective leader without being aggressive or punitive with the dogs in training. With a consistent, firm and positive training program the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a very well adjusted, socialized and outstanding family dog and all round pet. Without this type of training they will become more aggressive, highly territorial and less willing to be obedient and social types of dogs.
The history of the Rhodesian Ridgeback plays an important role in understanding the breed's natural temperament and traits. Since an owner should select a dog that meets his or her temperament, size, traits and behavior profile, knowing the breed is essential, especially with a dog such as the Ridgeback. The first Rhodesian Ridgebacks were developed in the Cape Cod area of Africa, a cross between European hounds and hunting breeds and a local hunting dog of the Hottentots people. It is from the local hunting dog that the unique ridge or reverse growth of hair down the spine descends.
From this relatively local dog evolved the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. They were specifically developed in the later part of the 1800's to allow for the then popular sport of big game hunting in Africa. A particular individual, Cornelius Van Rooyen, is often listed as the developer of the breed and his kennels were in Rhodesia, hence the name. The overall traits of the Rhodesian Ridgeback were that it was incredibly brave, fearless in hunting elephants, lions and other big game, was a low maintenance dog and highly suited to surviving the rugged climate of Southern Africa. The breed was originally called the African Lion Hound or African Lion Dog.
In 1922 a breed standard was developed that was along the lines of the then very popular Dalmatian breed. From this the red color, known as red wheaten, was considered the most desirable, however other variations of the color are still possible. The coat is to remain thick and dense but smooth, perfect for protecting the skin but still preserving the forward hair growth along the spine. The original categorization of the Rhodesian Ridgeback was as a gun dog, but it was placed in the hound group within the AKC as well as most other clubs as of the 1950's. They hunt by scent and sight, although most people owning the dogs report the sight is the natural hunting mode with scent only used in dense terrain or when the game is not visible.
The modern Rhodesian Ridgeback is no longer used for big game hunting, but it does retain its bravery, courage and outstanding work ethic. These dogs need to feel that they have something to do and are performing a job for the owner. Without this sense of accomplishment or contribution to the family the Rhodesian Ridgeback is more likely to become a problem barker, more aggressive and will become more destructive with regards to chewing and digging.
A well socialized and well trained Rhodesian Ridgeback is typically a dog that will be very aloof to strangers and will not readily welcome and include new people into his or her family. This is not shown by aggression, rather by remaining distant to the individuals and simply ignoring their presence. This can make it difficult to kennel or board a Rhodesian Ridgeback as they really will not interact with others until the owner arrives back home. Routine socialization of the breed with new people often minimizes but will never completely eliminate this trait in all Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Like most members of the hound family the Rhodesian Ridgeback is good with children and very tolerant of the attention of a child. They can be very protective of children as well and love to play and romp with the kids. Very small children may be intimidated by the dogs due to their larger size, but with proper supervision and training of both the child and the dog a wonderful relationship can be formed.
Cats and other animals need to be introduced to the Rhodesian Ridgeback from the puppy stage with constant monitoring to ensure the interaction is progressing smoothly. Some Rhodesian Ridgebacks do not adjust to cats or other small pets and will kill any animals they are able to chase down. With their incredible athletic ability this can be devastating to neighborhood cats and strays. The Rhodesian Ridgeback must always be on a leash when outside of the yard until fully and completely obedience trained. Once on a chase they will keep going, regardless of how much the owner calls.
Typically these dogs do well as single dogs in a household and do not need companion dogs to be happy or satisfy the pack instinct. They may be dog aggressive, especially intact males, so neutering is highly recommended with a high emphasis on regular socialization. If they feel threatened the ridge along their back will protrude upwards, a sure sign that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is ready to defend itself or its territory.
Very loyal and loving the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a good dog in the house. They love to jog, run and play but are very inactive indoors and need a lot of routine, brisk and intensive exercise. Although larger the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a good match for an apartment with the right amount of structured exercise. They are quiet and calm indoors, preferring to find an out of the way place and keep an eye on the family.