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Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament: Confident, Independent, Loyal

If you're searching for a canine companion that's both strong and loving yet independent, look no further than the Rhodesian Ridgeback. These majestic dogs are instantly recognisable by their distinctive ridge of hair along their spine, but their temperament truly sets them apart. With roots in South Africa, this breed boasts a rich history and a captivating personality.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the unique characteristics of the Rhodesian Ridgeback temperament and explore why they make such wonderful companions. We've got you covered, from their fascinating history to potential health concerns and intriguing, fun facts. Whether you're considering adding a Ridgeback to your family or are simply curious about these magnificent creatures, keep reading to discover why they're cherished by so many.

Rhodesian Ridgeback History: Where do Rhodesian Ridgeback come from?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks were developed initially in what was then known as Rhodesia, a former British colony in Southern Africa now known as Zimbabwe. The breed was developed by European settlers in the late 19th century who wanted a dog capable of hunting, tracking and baying big game in the African bush, such as lions and leopards.

It is also important to note that lions are powerful predators with sharp claws and teeth, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback would be no match for a healthy adult lion. Therefore, they were used for tracking. In addition, it is not ethical or legal to use dogs to hunt lions or any other big game in most countries. Such practices are generally frowned upon by the international community. Therefore, putting a Rhodesian Ridgeback in a situation where it might have to confront a lion is not recommended.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
Rhodesian Ridgebacks were initially bred in Zimbabwe

The breed's name comes from the region where it was developed. Rhodesia was named after Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman and politician who played a vital role in colonising Southern Africa.

Rhodes was a proponent of British expansion in Africa, and his vision for a British-controlled corridor of territory from Cape Town to Cairo was known as the "Cape to Cairo" plan.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks were originally known as "African Lion Hounds" or "Van Rooyen's Lion Dogs," after Cornelius Van Rooyen, a big game hunter and dog breeder who played a crucial role in developing the breed. However, in the early 1920s, the breed was renamed the "Rhodesian Ridgeback" in honour of the region where it was created.

A few European breeds were believed to have been added to their bloodline, like Pointers, Lurchers or Bloodhounds. But unfortunately, no official records were kept.

Before the breed was perfected and standardised by settlers, the ancestors of the Rhodesian Ridgeback were believed to be the ancient dogs of the Khoikhoi people. Also known as the Khoi, they are an indigenous group from Southern Africa known for their nomadic lifestyle and livestock use, including dogs, for transportation and protection. The Khoikhoi people had several types of dogs for various purposes.

These dogs were highly valued by the Khoikhoi people and played an essential role in their daily lives. The Khoikhoi people believed that these dogs had spiritual powers and were able to protect them from evil spirits and other supernatural threats. A well-marked ridge was a sign of courage.

The first Rhodesian Ridgebacks were brought to the UK in the early 20th century, around 1912. The breed was first exhibited at the Crufts dog show in 1928.

Leonard E. F. "Jack" Williams was the pioneer breeder who brought Rhodesian Ridgebacks to the UK. Williams started breeding the majestic hounds in the UK with a pack of several Ridgebacks imported from Southern Africa in the early 1920s.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
The UK Kennel Club officially recognised the Rhodesian Ridgeback in 1955.

As a leading figure in breed development in the UK, Williams played a vital role in establishing the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain in 1927. He was also the author of the first-ever book on the breed, titled "The Rhodesian Ridgeback", published in 1952.

Williams was passionate about maintaining the hunting prowess of the Ridgebacks and preserving their trademark feature, the ridge of hair along their back. He put in immense effort to create a breed standard that was eventually accepted by the Kennel Club in the UK.

Today, Williams' legacy lives on as many of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the UK can trace their lineage back to his original breeding program.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are known today for their courage, loyalty, and athleticism and are often used as hunting dogs, loving family companions, and show dogs.

Coat colours range from light wheaten to deeper shades of brown and red. Breed standard colours in the UK for showing are wheaten, light wheaten and red wheaten.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback was first registered with the UK Kennel Club in 1955.

In 2022, 1,386 Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies were registered with the UK Kennel Club, which is less than last year at the same time. The below table shows the registrations since 2021. The dip in registration is minor, however, and the love for the breed is persistent.

Q1 2021

Q2 2021

Q3 2021

Q4 2021

Yearly 2021

Q1 2022

Q2 2022

Q3 2022

Q4 2022

2022 Total











Source: UK Kennel Club April 2023

Now that we have a rough idea about their breeding history let's dive into how your life with a Rhodesian Ridgeback might look.

What is the Temperament of the Rhodesian Ridgeback?

While Rhodesian Ridgebacks can make excellent companions, they may not be ideal for novice canine owners unwilling to put in the time and effort. These dogs have strong-willed personalities and require consistent training and socialisation to prevent potential behavioural issues.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are known for quickly learning commands with consistent and confident training. However, they possess a strong will and can exploit situations to their advantage if they sense that they have the upper hand.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
Rhodesian Ridgeback have a majestic and almost royal demeanour.

Thus, owning and training a Rhodesian Ridgeback requires firm but fair leadership. Failure to do so may result in an unmanageable and uncontrollable dog, which can pose a threat due to its size and power.

Never estimate the ability of your Rhodesian Ridgeback to read you. Despite their robust appearance, they're sensible dogs who can read their owners without fail.

A hesitant owner can be taken advantage of. Be too harsh, and you will lose trust. A balance between being firm and kind is a balancing act with this dog. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a hound, the same as the Saluki and the Afghan Hound. Harsh or abusive handling will have an adequate response. Your dog will either shut down or respond with a bad temperament.

Ridgebacks can display a lack of reflexive obedience and are less people-pleasing than Labrador Retrievers. Therefore, your creativity and thoughtfulness must be front and centre of every training session. Always remember, these dogs were bred to be self-sufficient and, in most cases don't feel like they need your approval.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not the type of dogs that can be handed over to a trainer for obedience training. Their obedience is earned through trust and a strong bond with their owners. Therefore, they will only respond to commands from people they trust at their discretion.

Moreover, Ridgebacks are highly energetic and need plenty of physical and mental stimulation to maintain their happiness and health. Their strong prey drive may also make them unsuitable for households with small pets or young children. They can be rough when playing and knock a smaller child over accidentally, never in malice.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is also known for its strong prey drive, often exhibiting an intense stare before giving chase. As a result, few Ridgebacks are suitable as off-leash dogs. These dogs only suit people willing to deal with their independent nature and athleticism. Again, if you lose the upper hand in this relationship, your dog can become stubborn and destructive out of boredom. A tired Rhodesian Ridgeback is a good Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks share a common trait of being initially aloof with strangers. This behaviour stems from their protective nature, as they were initially bred to hunt large game in Africa and have a strong instinct to safeguard their owners and territory. As a result, they may exhibit a reserved and cautious demeanour towards unfamiliar individuals and animals.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are known for their loyalty and affection towards their owners despite their wariness towards strangers. Proper socialisation and training from an early age can help them distinguish between friendly visitors and potential threats and adapt to new situations.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be prone to obesity as their eyes are larger than their stomach.

Socialisation is crucial in expanding a dog's world perspective and exposing them to new experiences. This includes meeting people of different age groups, practising commands in various situations, and walking in busy areas such as markets or shopping centres.

A Rhodesian Ridgeback can become a faithful and affectionate companion with proper training and socialisation. Although aloof with strangers, they love their family with no compromises. They tend to form strong bonds with their owners and are highly loyal.

This breed was initially bred to be a guard dog and is naturally protective of its home and family. They make excellent watchdogs and can be trusted to alert their owners to potential danger. So if you're looking for a dog to protect, the Ridgeback is a perfect choice. However, they lack the sort of sharp response that some Dobermann or German Shepherds display. The Rhodesian Ridgeback has a more muted response; usually, they see people as innocent until proven guilty. If you have let a guest into the house, the Ridgeback will trust your decision.

Despite their reputation as independent dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be very affectionate and love to cuddle with their owners. However, once they have formed a deep level of trust, it's you they want in their life and you alone.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks possess an "off switch", unlike breeds such as Samoyeds or Border Collies. Once they have received adequate exercise, they are content with sleeping for extended periods. Although they are not typically clingy dogs, their owners will often sense their close presence.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks exhibit a high degree of patience and tolerance towards children, as they can quickly dismiss any irritations and disengage from the situation. Nonetheless, it is essential to note that children should not be left unattended with a dog.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
Rhodesian Ridgebacks make for a great watchdog

It should be pointed out that a screaming and running toddler could trigger a Rhodesian Ridgeback's instinct and prey drive, leading the dog to chase the child and potentially causing it to fall. Therefore, it is essential to supervise interactions between children and dogs to prevent such incidents.

It is recommended for the child to be at least five years old before bringing a Rhodesian Ridgeback into the home.

Suppose you're a novice canine owner considering adopting a Ridgeback. In that case, you must do your due diligence, collaborate with a reputable breeder or rescue organisation, and commit to investing time and effort into training and socialisation. It's also important to acknowledge that Ridgebacks have specific needs and may not be suitable for every household.

Let's now look at some common Rhodesian Ridgeback questions.

Why do Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a ridge?

There are many exciting facts about Rhodesian Ridgebacks, but one of the most unique and fun facts is that they have a distinctive ridge of fur along their backs that grows opposite from the rest of their coat. This ridge made up of hair that grows in the opposite direction, is a defining characteristic of the breed and is why they are called "Ridgebacks." The ridge is believed to have been developed by breeders in Southern Africa, where the breed originated, and is passed down genetically from parent to offspring by selective breeding.

Can Rhodesian Ridgebacks be left alone?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks possess an independent disposition and can be left alone for short periods. However, it is essential to remember that all dogs require social interaction and mental stimulation. As a result, Rhodesian Ridgebacks may develop behavioural issues, such as separation anxiety, excessive barking, or destructive behaviour if left alone for prolonged periods.

To avoid these issues, it is recommended that Rhodesian Ridgebacks be gradually acclimated to being alone, starting with brief periods and progressively extending the duration. Providing them with toys, puzzle feeders, and other forms of mental stimulation can also help to keep them engaged and entertained while you are away.

It is generally advisable not to leave Rhodesian Ridgebacks alone for more than 3-5 hours at a stretch. If you anticipate leaving your Rhodesian Ridgeback alone for an extended period, hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to check on them and provide them with exercise and social interaction during the day is a wise choice. Ensure the dog walker is accustomed to the breed and your Rhodesian Ridgeback "knows" them.

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks legal in the UK?

Yes, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are legal in the UK. This is because they are not a banned breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which prohibits the ownership of certain breeds of dogs, including Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro. However, it's important to note that all dog owners in the UK are responsible for ensuring their dogs are well-behaved and do not pose a risk to public safety.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament in a nutshell

Rhodesian Ridgeback Temperament
Ridgebacks are good family dogs
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks are known for their strong and independent temperament

  • They are highly energetic and require regular exercise and mental stimulation

  • Ridgebacks are loyal and protective of their families but may be reserved with strangers.

  • They have a high prey drive and may be prone to chasing smaller animals

  • Ridgebacks have a reputation for being a "one-person dog" and may bond with one particular family member, but they can be socialized to get along with other people and animals.

Rhodesian Ridgeback fun fact

Did you know some Rhodesian Ridgebacks are born without the breed's signature "ridge" of hair along their spines? These Ridgebacks, known as "ridgeless" Ridgebacks, are a breed variation that lacks this distinctive physical feature.

This unique feature is caused by a genetic mutation that affects the hair follicles and is a defining characteristic of the breed.

Ridgeless Ridgebacks result from breeding two Rhodesian Ridgebacks that carry a recessive gene for a smooth coat without the ridge. While they may not have the distinguishing physical feature of their breed, they still possess many of the same personality traits and make excellent pets for those who appreciate the Rhodesian Ridgeback's temperament and loyalty. However, since breeding two ridgeless Ridgebacks can produce health issues, it is crucial to only obtain a Ridgeless Ridgeback from a reputable breeder who practices responsible breeding.

Potential health issues in the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed

Rhodesian Ridgebacks typically have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years, but with proper care and attention to their health needs, some may even live longer. As with all dog breeds, Ridgebacks are susceptible to specific health issues, and early detection and treatment of any potential health problems can improve their lifespan. Consistent veterinary checkups, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are essential in maintaining Ridgebacks' well-being and prolonging their lifespan.

Budgeting for potential veterinary bills and the time required to care for your Rhodesian Ridgeback is essential, as they may develop specific health conditions. Being financially prepared for any associated medical expenses is crucial as a new owner. Comprehensive insurance is highly recommended to mitigate the potentially high and prohibitive costs, especially given the breed's body weight.

As with any breed, a dog can have inherited conditions or conditions due to environmental factors.

It's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment.

Like all dog breeds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to specific health issues. Some of the most common health issues that can affect this breed include:

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy: A neurologic disorder that causes uncontrolled muscle movements and can be fatal. It's a form of epilepsy. JME can be tested with a simple blood test to determine if your dog is a carrier.

Hip dysplasia: This common orthopaedic condition affects many large breeds, including Rhodesian Ridgebacks. It occurs when the hip joint doesn't develop properly, leading to pain and discomfort in the dog.

Elbow dysplasia: This is another orthopaedic condition that can affect Ridgebacks. It occurs when the elbow joint doesn't develop properly, leading to pain, lameness, and eventually arthritis.

Dermoid sinus: This congenital condition affects Ridgebacks more commonly than other breeds. It occurs when a tubular indentation or sinus is present along the dog's spine, which can lead to skin infections.

Hypothyroidism: This is a hormonal disorder that affects the thyroid gland. It can cause weight gain, lethargy, and skin problems.

Bloat: This life-threatening condition can occur when the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself. It can happen suddenly and requires immediate veterinary care.

Working with a reputable breeder who performs health screenings on their breeding dogs is essential to reduce the risk of inherited health problems. In addition, regular veterinary checkups and preventative care can help keep your Rhodesian Ridgeback healthy and happy.

Conclusion: Is the Rhodesian Ridgeback the right breed for me?

Choosing the perfect dog breed depends on several factors, such as your lifestyle, activity level, living arrangements, and personal preferences. However, as a general guideline, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a strong-willed and energetic breed that requires ample exercise, socialisation, and training to flourish.

If you are an active individual or family who enjoys spending time outdoors and can provide a Ridgeback with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, this breed may suit you well. However, if you have limited time for exercise or prefer a more low-key dog, there may be better choices than a Ridgeback.

Furthermore, Ridgebacks are naturally protective and may not be suitable for homes with small children or other pets. They also require an experienced owner who can provide consistent training and socialisation to prevent behavioural problems.

Suppose you are interested in adopting a Rhodesian Ridgeback. In that case, it's crucial to research the breed, talk to breeders or rescue organisations, and meet some Ridgebacks in person to better understand their personalities and needs.

Ultimately, only you can determine if the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the right breed for you based on your circumstances and preferences. Knowing what you've learnt today, you might want to ask, "Am I right for the Rhodesian Ridgeback".

Owners' voices about their Rhodesian Ridgeback

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Rhodesian Ridgeback Summary Breed Info box



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