Before you go any further, you should read the following: Yes, their hair is supposed to stand up. No, they’re not mad, or scared. No, they’re not razorbacks (those are hogs). Yes, they are big. They are Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They are dogs that were originally bred to hunt lions, and other big game on the plains of Africa, with roots tracing back to the 16th century. Originally, when the English settlers came to Africa, they noticed that the Hottentot tribesmen had domesticated wild dogs that had a ridge of hair that stood up along their spine. These dogs were superior hunters, and the settlers quickly learned to breed their dogs with these ridged dogs in order to produce fearless dogs for big game hunting. The Ridgeback, part of the hound group, is fast enough to catch an antelope and brave enough to stand up to a lion. Ridgebacks hunt lions in a pack, usually of 3-5 dogs. The dogs circle the lion, taking turns darting in and distracting him until the hunter arrives to shoot the lion. While these dogs are brave, they’re not crazy, and would not try to bring the lion down alone.
Ridgbacks are independent thinkers, and are therefore not the dog for everyone. Training a Ridgeback is considerably more challenging than training say, a Lab, simply because the Ridgeback will think about what you are asking of him, and need a better reason to do it than just the fact that it’s what you want him to do. They were bred to hunt without a human, and consequently must make decisions without the hunter. After all, you can’t outrun a lion, right? This is true of most breeds that people deem ‘untrainable’. They’re not untrainable, just independent. Dogs bred to work alone don’t need someone asking them to sit and shake every twenty minutes, and will tire of that game pretty quickly, if there’s not something (read food) in it for them. This is why most hounds don’t seem to make good retrievers. They don’t see the point in it. Once they bring a ball back to you once or twice, they realize you’re crazy enough to keep throwing the thing you want away. Then, it’s your problem, as far as they’re concerned.
Ridgebacks are typically not trained for guard work, but are protective of their homes and owners. They rarely bark, so if a Ridgeback wakes you up at 2 AM with his ‘big dog bark’, it’s time to break out the shotgun, or your preferred method of home defense. Actually, they rarely do anything that isn’t necessary. Give them an hour or two of exercise in a day, and they’ll sleep for 15 hours or so. They are quite content to laze around the house (preferably on the sofa, if you’ll let them).
Both of our Ridgebacks , Deke and Miles, were obtained through the Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue.
We got Miles when he was about 10 weeks old. We’ll never be quite sure of his age, because his litter was found abandoned in a school parking lot around the middle of May, in 2002. We guessed he was about 6 – 8 weeks old then, and we brought him home about 2 weeks later. He was the smallest of the litter, weighing about half what the rest of his litter weighed. Miles has caught up to his littermates though, at 10 months, he weighed 80 pounds. (Standard Ridgeback males weigh around 85 lbs.) When Miles was almost 7 months old, we went to a Ridgeback Playday hosted by the rescue, and got to see all of Miles’ littermates. He was still smaller than the biggest (Zena), but had caught up to Jack, and was a tad taller than Laurens. Miles is totally fearless, and has been going to agility classes to watch since he was very young. I usually let him run around before and after class, and he has learned to negotiate all of the equipment with no official training. He will also swim a bit, and retrieves from water when he’s in the mood. Swimming is not something that Ridgebacks are known for, but Miles seems to enjoy defying the status quo at every turn.
Deke came to us after his original owner died of kidney failure. She had been active with the Ridgeback Rescue, and had Deke (who was originally named Chopper) and one of his puppies. Yes, Deke is a father, and if the rest of the litter looks anything like the pup we saw, he has wonderful genes. Deke is a liver nose, which means his eyes are a light, amber color, and his nose is brown instead of black. You can see the difference between Deke and Miles in the pictures below. Deke’s first weekend with us was at the Ridgeback Playday, but he had to stay on his leash. He was finishing up the last few days of heartworm treatment, which is just a terrible thing to put a dog through, and a snap to prevent. Luckily, Deke hung in there and tolerated 28 days of zero activity with his usual, mellow attitude. Now that he’s cured, and can run around, he loves to wrestle with Miles, and typically treats Miles like his pesky little brother. Deke turned 2 in February of 2003, and weighs in at just over 100 lbs. He’s a bit big for a Ridgeback, but he’s a beautiful red color. He also has the sweetest disposition. Deke needs quite a bit of attention, unlike Miles. Some people think that liver nosed Ridgebacks are more affectionate, and more sensitive, that regular Ridgebacks. I don’t know if that’s true of all liver noses, but it’s definitely true of our boys. Miles can take us or leave us, but Deke rarely wants to leave my side. It has made training him to heel easy, but stay has been rough.
Okay, enough history and mush about our dogs. You’ll see by the crazy number of pictures that we take of them that we’re a bit obsessed. Well, mostly me. Brian is quite a sport when it comes to my dog stuff. I am forever looking for new toys for them, or new treats. He even brings them to training, since I’m teaching the classes. When the boys aren’t in class, I use them as the demo dogs though, which keeps them in shape, and they get to go and play with all of their puppy buddies. On the nights that they don’t get to go, they’re both very depressed, and make it pretty tough for me to get out the door without them.