Rhodesian Ridgeback: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog

vidokprzemprun / 500px / Getty Images

The Rhodesian ridgeback is a large hound dog breed from Africa that has a short, smooth coat with a distinctive ridge of fur running down its spine. The ridge grows in the opposite direction from the rest of the fur. Having been bred to hunt big game, including lions, ridgebacks possess a high prey drive. They need consistent training and proper socialization and might not be ideal for first-time dog owners. However, they tend to be loyal and affectionate with their family.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Hound

HEIGHT: 24 to 26 inches (female), 25 to 27 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 70 pounds (female), 85 pounds (male)

COAT: Short, smooth

COAT COLOR: Light wheaten to red wheaten; may have white markings and/or black mask

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 15 years

TEMPERAMENT: Courageous, independent, protective
HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Africa

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Click Play to Learn More About the Athletic Rhodesian Ridgeback

Characteristics of the Rhodesian Ridgeback

Ridgebacks are athletic dogs with a moderate energy level. They often bond closely with their family and have a protective streak to their temperament. That personality trait can cause them to be wary around strangers, but they don’t tend to bark a lot.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian ridgeback breed has its roots in semi-wild dogs native to southern Africa that were crossed with other breeds brought to the area by European settlers starting in the 1600s. Some dog breeds that are included in its makeup are mastiffs, Great Danes, bulldogs, bloodhounds, greyhounds, and terriers. 

In the 1800s, a hunter from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) used an early version of the ridgeback for big-game hunting. He found the dogs to be fearless in confronting and holding lions and other prey. The dogs also were protective of their property while being devoted and affectionate family companions. 

A breeding program began, and the first breed standard was written in 1922. The American Kennel Club didn’t recognize the breed until 1955. Interestingly, one of the first ridgeback breeders in the U.S. was actor Errol Flynn.

Rhodesian Ridgeback Care

Rhodesian ridgebacks need a dedicated owner who can provide them with daily exercise, as well as consistent training and socialization. These big, powerful dogs can be difficult to handle if they aren’t well-mannered. Fortunately, they need little more than basic grooming.

Exercise

Rhodesian ridgebacks need daily physical activity and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. Provide at least an hour of exercise per day in the form of brisk walks, jogs, hiking, play, and more. This breed also excels at various dog sports, including agility, obedience, and lure coursing. Participating in dog sports not only is a good way for your dog to exercise but also challenge its mind. 

Always keep your ridgeback on a leash or in a secure area when outside. Otherwise, it might take off chasing perceived prey. Many ridgebacks love to dig, so it's important that you have a fence they can't dig under or leap over.

Grooming

The ridgeback’s coat sheds a moderate amount but requires little grooming. Brush weekly to remove loose fur and distribute oils. You might see an increase in shedding in the spring and fall as the weather changes, requiring brushing a few times per week. Bathe your dog roughly every month, depending on how dirty it gets. Also, check the ears weekly for any dirt, debris, redness, or other abnormalities. 

Look at the nails roughly once a month to see whether they need trimming. Some ridgebacks do better with a nail grinder rather than a clipper. Finally, aim to brush your dog’s teeth daily.

Training

Rhodesian ridgebacks are smart. But their independence and strong will can complicate training. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key. 

Aim to start training when your dog is a puppy, as an adult ridgeback with poor manners can be very difficult to control. Take your dog to obedience classes as soon as it’s old enough, and socialize it with different people, dogs, and various environments. Ridgebacks tend to be reserved around strangers, but early and regular socialization can help to boost their comfort and confidence.

Rhodesian ridgebacks digging a hole
Alistair Lyne / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Rhodesian ridgebacks are typically a healthy dog breed overall. But they are prone to some hereditary health conditions, including:

Rhodesian ridgebacks as pets illustration

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Always provide fresh water for your Rhodesian ridgeback. Feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet; most owners feed two measured meals per day. The appropriate amount of food will depend on such factors as age, size, and activity level, so be sure to discuss both the diet and quantity with your veterinarian. 

Also, make sure to factor treats and other extra food into your dog’s daily diet to prevent overeating. Thanks to their size, ridgebacks can easily steal food left on tables and counters. So ensure that your food is always secure.

Furthermore, like other deep-chested dog breeds, ridgebacks can experience bloat and twisting of the stomach. This is often due to eating too quickly. So you might consider feeding smaller, more frequent meals or using a puzzle toy to slowly dispense the food.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Rhodesian Ridgeback

Look at local animal shelters, as well as breed-specific rescue groups, for a Rhodesian ridgeback in need of a home. If you’re looking for a breeder puppy, expect to pay around $2,000 to $3,000 on average, though this can vary widely depending on bloodline and other factors. For further information to connect you with a ridgeback, check out:

Rhodesian Ridgeback Overview

Pros
  • Intelligent

  • Loyal and protective

  • Affectionate

Cons
  • Can be independent and strong-willed

  • Prone to chasing smaller animals

  • Likes to dig and try to escape fenced enclosures

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you think the Rhodesian ridgeback is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research before you get one. Talk to other ridgeback owners, vets, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Rhodesian ridgebacks good family dogs?

    Rhodesian ridgebacks can be a good family dog as long as they are well socialized with children. However, they should always be supervised around young children.

  • Are Rhodesian ridgebacks aggressive?

    Rhodesian ridgebacks can be wary around strangers and in strange situations. They are protective of their families, but they don't tend to be aggressive.

  • What were Rhodesian ridgebacks bred for?

    Rhodesian ridgebacks were bred to be big-game hunting dogs, as well as guard dogs. They have excellent tracking abilities and are confident and powerful on the hunt.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rhodesian Ridgeback. American Kennel Club.

  2. Rhodesian Ridgeback Puppies For Sale. American Kennel Club.