The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s distinguishing feature is the ridge of hair running along its back in the opposite direction from the rest of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called “crowns”) and tapers from immediately behind the shoulders down to the level of the hips. The ridge is usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in width at its widest point.
Ridgebacks are typically muscular and have a light wheaten to red wheaten coat, which should be short, dense, sleek and glossy in appearance, and neither woolly nor silky. White is acceptable on the chest and toes.
Ridgebacks sometimes have a dark mask. The dog’s nose should be black or brown (liver) in keeping with the color of the dog. The dogs were used to hunt not only lions but also other game, including wild pigs and baboons.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are loyal, intelligent, and somewhat aloof to strangers. This is not to be confused with aggression; a Ridgeback of proper temperament will be more inclined to ignore, rather than challenge, a stranger. This breed requires positive, reward-based training, good socialization and consistency; it is often not the best choice for inexperienced dog owners. Ridgebacks are strong-willed, intelligent, and many seem to have a penchant for mischief, though loving. They are protective of their owners and families. If trained well, they can be excellent guard dogs. Like any dog, they can become aggressive when they are not socialized properly.
Despite their athletic, sometimes imposing, exterior, the Ridgeback has a sensitive side. Francis R. Barnes, who wrote the first standard in 1922, acknowledged that “rough treatment … should never be administered to these dogs, especially when they are young. They go to pieces with handling of that kind. The Ridgeback accepts correction as long as it is fair and justified and as long as it comes from someone he knows and trusts.
Health conditions known to affect this breed are hip dysplasia and dermoid sinus. Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a neurological disease which affects Rhodesian Ridgebacks at a rate of only 0.75%.