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Rhodesian Ridgeback Breed Standard


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is presently the only registered breed indigenous to southern Africa. Its forebears can be traced to the Cape Colony of southern Africa as a hybrid of the early pioneers’ dogs and the semi-domesticated, ridged, Hottentot hunting dogs. Hunting mainly in groups of two or three, the original function of the Rhodesian Ridgeback, or Lion Dog, was to track game, especially lion, and with great agility keep it at bay until the arrival of the hunter.

The original standard, which was drafted by F.R. Barnes in Bulawayo, Rhodesia in 1922, was based on that of the Dalmation and was approved by the South African Kennel Union in 1926.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback originated in Southern Africa where the early European settlers mated their imported sporting breeds with the small fierce hunting doges owned by the Hottentots in order to produce a guard/hunting dog ideally suited to the local conditions.

The Hottentot hunting Dog had a ridge of hair along its spine running in a reverse direction to the rest of the coat: the historian George McCall Theal was the first to describe this characteristic ridge when writing on conditions in Southern Africa before 1505.


Possibly the only existing illustration of Hottentot dogs, which actually shows ridges on their backs, is to be found in Dr David Livingstone’s book, "Livingstone’s Missionary Travel in Southern Africa", published in 1857. There is no way of knowing for certain which of the European breeds do feature in the background of the Rhodesian Ridgback. The breeds that have been recorded as being in Southern Africa during the 1860’s and 1870’s are Bloodhounds, Deerhounds, Greyhounds, Bulldogs (much longer in leg than today), various Terriers Mastiffs, Pointers (possibly responsible for the brown nose) and, occasionally Foxhounds.

The ridge of the Hottentot hunting Dog became a feature of the cross matings between the European breeds and the indigenous dogs. These ‘Ridgebacks’ were used as functional all purpose guard and hunting dogs and it was found that they surpassed any other breed when hunting lions. Ridgebacks were not expected to kill lions - no dog could do that as a lion is an extremely powerful and heavy big cat standing about .95m at the shoulder. The Ridgeback would track the lion and bail it up enabling the hunter to come in and shoot it: this required intelligence, cunning, tremendous athleticism and agility on the part of the dogs. Ridgebacks were, however, expected to chase, catch and pull down lesser game, and would kill a lion cub without hesitation.

The first recorded pair of ridged dogs to go from South Africa to Central Africa (then Rhodesia now Zimbabwe) were taken by the Rec. Charles Helm in 1879 to Hoe Fountain Mission (near what is now Bulawayo) probably from the Swellendam, Cape Colony.

During the late 19th century the reputation of the Ridgebacks in the hunting field became established by the exploits of the famous big game hunter in Rhodesia named Cornelius Van Rooyen who had a pack of these dogs. Van Rooyen’s dogs were very similar to today’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks. By the late 1920’s when the days of big game hunting on a grand scale were drawing to a close, it became apparent that Ridgebacks might disappear if the breed was not standardised and breeders encouraged to strive to conform.

The standard of the breed, that borrowed much from the Dalmatian standard, was drawn up by Mr F R Barnes after he called a meeting of ‘Ridgeback’ owners in Bulawayo in 1922. This standard was accepted by the South African Kennel Union (now the Kennel Union of Southern Africa) in 1924.


F.C.I. Standard No 146 dated 10/12/96

Adopted in Australia 1/1 /98

Country of Origin: Southern Africa


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is still used to hunt game in many parts of the world, but is especially prized as a watch-dog and a family pet.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is presently the only registered breed indigenous to southern Africa. Its forebears can be traced to the Cape Colony of southern Africa where they crossed with the early pioneers’ dogs and the semi-domesticated, ridged Hottentot hunting dogs. Hunting mainly in groups of two or three, the original function of the Rhodesian Ridgeback or Lion dog was to track game, especially lion, and, with great agility, keep it at bay until the arrival of the hunter.

The original standard, which was drafted by FR. Barnes, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, in 1922, was based on that of the Dalmatian and was approved by the South African Kennel Union in 1926.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback should represent a well balanced, strong, muscular, agile and active dog, symmetrical in outline and capable of great endurance with a fair amount of speed. The emphasis is on agility, elegance and soundness with no tendency towards massiveness. The peculiarity of the breed is the ridge on the back, which is formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat.


The ridge is the escutcheon of the breed. The ridge must be clearly defined, symmetrical and tapering towards the haunch. It must start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to the hip (haunches) bones. The ridge must contain only two crowns, identical and opposite each other. The lower edges of the crowns must not extend further down the ridge than one-third of its length. A good average width of the ridge is 5 cm (2ins).


Dignified, intelligent, aloof with strangers, but showing no aggression or shyness.


Cranial Region:

Skull Should be of a fair length (width of head between ears, distance from occiput to stop, stop to end of nose, should be equal), flat and broad between the ears; the head should be free from wrinkles when in repose.

Stop Should be reasonably well defined and not in one straight line from the nose to the occipital bone.

Facial Region:

Nose Should be black or brown. A black nose should be accompanied by dark eyes, a brown nose by amber eyes.

Muzzle Should be long, deep and powerful.

Lips Should be clean, closely fitting the jaws.

Cheeks Should be clean.


Should be moderately well apart, round, bright and sparkling, with intelligent expression, their colour harmonising with the colour of the coat.


Should be set rather high, of medium size, rather wide at base and gradually tapering to a rounded point. They should be carried close to the head.


Jaws strong with a perfect and complete scissor bite, i.e. the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set square to the jaws. The teeth must be well developed, especially the canines or holders.


Should be fairly long, strong and free from throatiness.


The forelegs should be perfectly straight, strong and well boned, with the elbows close to the body. When viewed from the side, the forelegs should be wider than viewed from the front. Pasterns should be strong with slight spring.

Shoulders Should be sloping, clean and muscular, denoting speed.


Back Powerful.

Loins Strong, muscular and slightly arched.

Chest Should not be too wide, but very deep and capacious; the brisket should reach to the elbow.

Forechest Should be visible when viewed from the side.

Ribs Moderately well sprung, never rounded like barrel-hoops.


In the hind legs the muscles should be clean and well defined with good turn of stifle and strong hocks well let down


Should be compact and round with well arched toes and tough, elastic pads, protected by hair between the toes and pads.


Should be strong at the root and gradually tapering towards the end, free from coarseness. It should be of moderate length. It should not be attached too high nor too low and should be carried with a slight curve upwards, never curled.


Straight forward, free and active.



Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance but neither woolly nor silky.


Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes is permissible, but excessive white hairs here, on belly or above toes is undesirable. A dark muzzle and ears permissible. Excessive black hairs throughout the coat are highly undesirable.



The desirable heights are:

Dogs 63 cm (25ins) to 69 cm (27ins)

Bitches 61 cm (24ins) to 66 cm (26ins)



Dogs  36.5 kg (8Olbs)

Bitches 32 kg (7Olbs)


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportions to its degree.


Male animals should have two apparently normally developed testicles fully descended into the scrotum.