As with the Poodle’s pompons, the Chinese Shar-Pei’s blue-black tongue, and the rolling gait of the Pekingese, we’re often asked what’s up with the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s famous ridge. With the word right there in his name, it’s easy to understand why the ridge is, as the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the Unites States puts it, “the defining characteristic of the breed.”
What is it?
The distinctive ridge on the back is formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. Ideally, the ridge should be clearly defined, tapering, and symmetrical. It should start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point between the prominence of the hips and should contain two identical “crowns”—what you might think of as whorls—that are directly opposite each other.
Why is it there?
Nowadays, the ridge is purely aesthetic. But how it came to be gives us valuable insight into how and why purebred dogs are developed. We asked Barbara Rupert, an AKC judge of hound breeds, including the Rhodesian Ridgeback, if the ridge had an original purpose. Early on, she says, South African farmers bred purebred dogs (Great Danes,Mastiffs, even some terriers) to wild dogs, to create an athletic, tough hunting dog. As she puts it, “they found that the ridged dogs came home from the hunt.” Which is to say, they were the smart, tenacious survivors. So the farmers focused on breeding the ridged dogs to each other to preserve and maximize these important qualities.
Today, if a Ridgeback is, well, ridgeless, it is disqualified from competing in the show ring.
Of course that cosmetic anomaly doesn’t prevent this strong, athletic hound from competing in other sports, such as agility, obedience, and the AKC coursing ability test.
To watch the Rhodesian in action at a lure coursing trial, check out this video. Seeing such a muscular, high-endurance breed in motion is impressive. Lure coursing brings out the hunting instincts of the Rhodesian, without any prey animals paying the price for it.
Meet a litter of cute Ridgeback puppies and breeder Denise Flaim:
Photo at top: Peggy Anderson/courtesy AKC Family Dog Photo Contest.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are strong, dignified, and even-tempered companions. Learn more about the breed here. If you think this breed is right for you, check out the AKC Marketplace for Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies.