The modern day Rhodesian Ridgeback is a large, sleek handsome hound that possesses exceptional qualities as a hunter, protector as well as companion. But this was not always the case, at least as far as the large size and lithe refined looks were concerned. The fact is the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog of today actually originated from very humble beginnings. It is believed that the Rhodesian Ridgeback heritage harks back to the pariah dogs of the nomadic Khoi Khoi people (Hottentots).
The Khoi dogs were typically small, slender and somewhat jackal-like in appearance. These dogs seldom attained a height in excess of 171/2 inches and were so far removed from the appearance of the latter day Rhodesian Ridgeback dog that Kolb, a German settler in circa (1705 – 1712) was moved to observe that “…he is such a piece of ugliness, of the dog kind, as is not to be seen, perhaps in any other part of the world. Tho’ he has a thousand good qualities, you see nothing in his features that is indicative of ’em. Appearance never gave such a lie as it does in him…”
Kolb was not alone amongst those early settlers in his unflattering observations that ridiculed the native dogs of the Khoi Khoi people, but as one they all had to concede that they had never come across a dog that exhibited such exceptional bravery, courage and loyalty. Moreover the “ugly” looking dog possessed a unique versatility in dogs being watchdog, hunter, herder and protector all rolled in one. So it was no surprise that they deemed it extremely desirable to crossbreed their larger imported breeds from Europe with the fierce native local breeds.
Such a heritage goes a long way in explaining the African Lion Dog’s (Rhodesian Ridgeback) legendary courage with respect to confronting much larger foes such as lions.
Origins Of The Ridge Of The Rhodesian Ridgeback
There are various schools of thought postulating how the characteristic ridge found on the back of the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog came into being. This ridge of hair for which evidently the dog breed is named, grows along its back in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat; which is to say the hair found on the ridge grows towards the dogs head not its tail. As for the origins of this ridge, it is more than likely that it was another trait passed on from the Khoi dogs when crossbred with the larger European dog breeds.
The real mystery however, leading to the differing school of thoughts, is in explaining how very different dog breeds found on different continents and separated by large masses of water, both came to possess such a distinguishing and characteristic ridge of hair on their back. In Thailand on the island of Phu Quoc there exists a breed of dog that also has a dorsal ridge which however is quite distinct from that of the Rhodesian Ridgeback in that it has a long head, erect ears and typically its eyes are reddish in color. The hair found on the ridge of this dog breed is substantially longer, coarser and darker than that of the rest of its body.
This paradox of two distinct dog breeds both sporting a dorsal ridge of hair yet separated by thousands of miles has led some researchers to conclude that Phu Quoc dogs or some ancestral derivative was responsible for exporting the trait to from Thailand to their African counterparts in the southern portion of Africa. This theory has been widely embraced by many much in part to the fact that their was significant sea traffic trade passing through Phu Quoc.
Yet an equally strong argument and perhaps more accurate is that the characteristic ridge of the Rhodesian Ridgeback was actually indigenous to Africa (indeed for thousands of years several African dogs have sported ridged backs) and was exported to Phu Quoc in congress with the human cargo that was part of the booming slave trade between both shores.
Rhodesian Ridgeback Dog Temperament
As mentioned earlier, the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback dog comes from a long line of canines that were legendary for their courage and versatility in duty performance. Thus it should come as no surprise that today’s Rhodesian Ridgeback dog possess many of the same qualities.
Not too long ago the Rhodesian Ridgeback was referred to as the African Lion Dog or the Rhodesian Lion Hound because it was actually selectively bred to hunt lion. Now don’t get me wrong, contrary to many a misguided belief, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is not, and never was a lion killer. Fact is it would be the most exceptionally dog indeed that could kill an adult healthy lion (male lions weigh up to as much as 500 lbs and lioness typically scale in at 260lbs). Simply put there isn’t a dog alive that is a match for a full grown lion.