Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Almost anyone can identify a Rhodesian Ridgeback with one glance because of the trait for which he was named -- the distinctive "mohawk" along his back. (Although if you're counting on that ridge you may be disappointed: A lot of purebred "Ridgebacks" don't have them!) A big, sleek and powerful dog, he's left his African farm dog and hunter past behind to become a popular companion dog in homes of all types and sizes in America.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

It's hard to categorize the Rhodesian Ridgeback. He's a big dog, weighing as much as 100 pounds, but quiet in the house. He's a fast runner, but he needs surprisingly little exercise. He has a strong protective instinct, but he rarely barks, even when someone's at the door, and is more inclined to put his well-muscled self between his human family and trouble than bark, snarl or attack. And he's a hound with a recent hunting past who tends to get along not only with other dogs but with cats he lives with, too. Strange cats he spots outdoors, however, are still seen as prey.

The Ridgeback is also every child's best friend, although a dog of this size and power can be too much for the smallest children. Most Ridgies can learn to modulate that power when they're around toddlers, but it's up to the adults to make sure dog and child are safe together.

The Ridgeback is an easy-care dog. His smooth coat, which comes in shades of tan and red, does shed, but his grooming needs are minimal. A fast weekly brushing and occasional bathing, as well as regular nail trimming, are all that he needs. His hanging ears are prone to infections, so make sure to keep them clean and dry, and seek veterinary attention for any signs of itching, redness or discharge, or if your dog is pawing at his ears or shaking his head.

Mature Ridgebacks love to run, hike and play, but can get by with a romp in the backyard and a leash walk daily, with occasional trips to the park or beach. Young Ridgebacks and puppies need a lot of exercise, but they need it in safe places. The urge to chase is strong, and that impulse is very likely to override any amount of training your young dog has had.

By the time he's older, if you put the effort into training him to come when called, you will be able to give him a lot more freedom. Ridgebacks are far more reliable off-leash than many other hounds, but only if they've been trained consistently from an early age. And that goes for all kinds of training with these somewhat hard-headed dogs. People who aren't familiar with hounds, and who are used to the similar-sized bird dogs such as the retrievers, will find training a rough road. Just keep lessons short and frequent, and your sense of humor set on high.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks love their human families, and don't do well as outdoor dogs. Life in a backyard is too boring for them, and they'll entertain themselves by uprooting trees the size of a midlife Giant Sequoia and scaling fences taller than you.

Something else Ridgies love to do: Eat. There has never been enough food to convince a Ridgeback he's full, and if allowed, he'll literally eat himself sick. He'll also happily eat himself fat, in which case, you're going to be in charge of putting the world's hungriest dog on a diet. Instead, give him plenty of exercise and become familiar with the concept of portion control in order to spare your hound the pain and health risks that come with canine obesity.

Health Issues Common to Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Make sure to have your puppy's eyes examined once a year by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to dermoid sinus, an opening in the skin of the newborns. The opening, really a tube-like structure under the skin, needs to be surgically removed or it will become repeatedly infected. Dermoids near the tail are tricky to paplate and remove, however, and require expert surgical care.

Ridgebacks are also one of the breeds who suffer from degenerative myelopathy, a degenerative spinal cord disease. While rare, it is incurable and crippling. There is currently no genetic test for DM in the Ridgeback, although research is ongoing.

Ridgebacks are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs who have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Finally, Ridgebacks can suffer from several kinds of cancer, most notably mast cell tumors.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Bloat High $1,500-$7,000
Deafness Medium $100-$300

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Rhodesian Ridgeback Puppy

Never, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. Because of their famous "zipperbacks" and adorable wrinkled puppy faces, Ridgebacks sometimes end up in the hands of unethical breeders and puppy millers. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Start your search by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States and who has agreed to abide by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits selling puppies to or through pet stores and stipulates that breeders need to take lifetime responsibility for making sure the puppies they breed never become homeless.

Ask your puppy's breeder for written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) that your puppy's parents' hips are free of dysplasia. OFA certifications that the parents are free of elbow dysplasia and thyroid disease are also required. Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) documentation must also have been received within the previous year, to certify that the puppy's parents do not have any genetic vision or eye abnormalities. Finally, seek out breeders who have OFA evaluations done on their dogs for heart problems and congenital deafness.

Discuss the condition dermoid sinus with your breeder since it affects newborn Ridgebacks. Don't be put off by assurances that "her lines" don't have this problem. That's what all bad breeders say.

Puppy or adult, take your Ridgeback to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. This includes advice on how to prevent and respond to bloat and torsion.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Pet insurance for Rhodesian Ridgebacks costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Rhodesian Ridgebacks are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Rhodesian Ridgebacks are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Rhodesian Ridgeback is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.