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How To Breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks

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Published on
Wednesday 12 June 2019
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
How To Breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks
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Tall, boasting a ridge on its back, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is an impressive dog breed with incredible athleticism. If you are wondering how to breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks the right way, this article was conceived for you.

An African history for a dog that is now loved in most countries in the world. Breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks is relatively problem-free thanks to their healthy gene pool and overall fitness.

The breed works very well with humans and is an excellent childminder too! It is active and will spend a lot of evenings playing with your kids. The Rhodesian Ridgeback makes for an excellent family dog!

Background of Rhodesian Ridgeback Breeding

Largely speaking, Rhodesian Ridgeback breeding is a result of European colonization in South Africa. The Khoikhoi people – an ancient nomadic settlement in Africa – used a dog that was best known for its guarding abilities. Despite the many efforts that the Europeans made, to import dogs such as Great Danes and Terriers, they too eventually started using these local dogs, mainly to keep lions at bay.


Soon enough these dogs, known as the African Lion Dog by some, were bred with imported Great Danes and Bloodhounds to create a larger looking breed. Thus was born a new dog breed altogether – the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

South African Kennel Club Recognition

In 1927, the South African Kennel Club embraced this new breed with open arms. While a lot of breeds have been mated with the original African Lion Dog of the Khoikhois, none have made quite an impact as much as the Great Dane has.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback breed that we see today was influenced greatly by the Great Dane. But we mustn’t forget that it also has a cocktail of DNA, right from Terriers to Mastiffs. A lot of Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders have tried to mate different breeds with this dog, but haven’t quite succeeded.

By 1950, they had been shipped out of Africa and into the United Kingdom, where within a span of four years, they were listed by Kennel Clubs there too. The year after that, the breed Rhodesian Ridgeback was officially a part of the American Kennel Club too.

The Ridge

The Rhodesian Ridgeback gets its name from the unique ridge on its back. The ridge is nothing but a thick line of fur on its back, the hair of which grow in the opposite direction. So while the rest of the hair on the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s body, grow in a single direction, this patch grows in the opposite direction, making the fur stand upright on its back, like a fan on its back.

The ridge is created in the upper part of the dog’s body, near the shoulders, from two whorls of hair. It aligns with the dog’s back and tapers towards the end, near the hips. This uniquely defining feature of the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed is believed to be passed down from the original African dog of the Khoikhoi people. An ancient painting of the original African Lion Dog has corroborated with this. Despite the many dilutions in the genetics of the original African Lion Dog, the ridge has remained as the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s identity. So much so, that a ridge-less dog isn’t allowed in conformation rings.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a muscular, lean and tall dog breed. The male Ridgebacks grow about 2.5 feet in size while the females stand tall at a little over 2 feet. They are handsome, alert dogs with upright ears and a sharp, expressive face. A purebred Rhodesian Ridgeback must always have a black nose.

Rhodesian Ridgeback breed standard
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a very athletic dog.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback flaunts a short, glossy coat that feels almost skin-like to the touch. The color doesn’t vary a lot either, a standard Rhodesian Ridgeback will be red or wheaten or a subtle mix of both.

This breed may or may not have a touch of black, somewhere around the toes, but not anywhere else. Too much black or brown on the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s body might put its pedigree to test. Another feature that can throw the dog’s genetics under the scanner is the nose – a brown nose isn’t acceptable at any of the kennels.

This muscular, glossy body is finished off with a slightly curved, short, smooth tail.

Typically, Rhodesian Ridgebacks would grow to be about 35-37 kilograms in weight, when they reach adulthood.


In ancient days, the original African Lion Dog, an ancestor of the Rhodesian Ridgeback, was used to keep lions at bay. They were mainly used as brave hunting dogs, which could identify and corner a lion, long enough for their master to arrive and hunt it.

Even today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be trained to guard the house and the humans in it from animals. They are equipped to singlehandedly kill an adult baboon. However, their ferocity is limited only to other animals.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an otherwise calm and temperate breed. They do not harm other humans or even animals unless they disturb or harm them. A Rhodesian Ridgeback will almost never make the first move. They are rock-solid loyal as pets. However, their personal space must be respected at all times. They’re very private dogs and like to keep aloof unless required. Not your typical snuggle buddies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks work well for large families who live in big spaces. They are slightly more detached than other dogs are.


Despite its loyalty, good-naturedness and a pleasing appearance, the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed is not very popular with people in the USA and UK either. They aren’t a banned breed and work well with people too.

However, one reason for their low popularity could be the fact that they are a niche variety of dogs. Rhodesian Ridgebacks aren’t for everyone. One needs to have a peculiar lifestyle to be able to fit in a Rhodesian Ridgeback into their homes and their lives. You also need a bigger home and ample open space to breed and own a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog.

Another reason is that Rhodesian Ridgebacks can be an overwhelming breed to deal with. Even though they are a no-fuss, no-nonsense breed, they are large and dominating and do not work well with other animals. So those who have cats or other dogs may never be able to own a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Their dominance is also pretty much a lot of deal with, they will require attention, exercise, and care to leave you with very little time to tend to other animals. Socialization is of the essence from the earliest days.

rhodesian ridgeback with children
Don’t be threatened by its appearance: the Rhodesian Ridgeback is amazing with kids!

Health Concerns When Breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks

The average lifespan of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is about 12 to 14 years, which is standard for similarly-sized dog breeds. While healthy and super active, this breed does fall prey to some serious health issues, that could be fatal or life-altering. One can blame these on the dilution of genes that the breed has seen.

veterinary and medical health issues

Dermoid Sinus

A condition that largely affects Rhodesian Ridgebacks is Dermoid Sinus. While a survey suggests that only 5% of the Rhodesian Ridgeback population in the US has been known to suffer from this prohibitive disease, it is always better to practice caution. Possible outcomes of an untreated dermoid sinus are death due to meningitis or infection. Dermoid Sinuses are basically inherited genetic defects, that cause changes in the neural tube. Resultantly, a thin, single strand of a nerve will be seen passing through the dog’s body, starting at the base of the skull and going all the way towards the end of its tail.

Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders have to be particularly careful about this. Checkups and follow-ups must be done for newborn puppies to see if they are affected. In the neonatal stage, this defect can still be corrected, by surgically removing the nerve and aligning the rest of them. But once the dog reaches adulthood, a cure is unlikely.

As a breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, you must take the utmost care to never mate your dog with a dog who has ever suffered from dermoid sinuses. Even those dogs that have had their sinus surgically removed, must be neutered.

Dermoid sinuses can be prevented, by feeding the birthing mother a good amount of folic acid before and during her pregnancy.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) causes extreme pain to the dog, it is excruciating to see evolve. DM starts by affecting the spinal cord of the dog, causing them to initially slip. The rear legs begin to look clumsy and the dog’s gait becomes wobbly. Before you know it, within a matter of a few or several months (depends on how each dog gets affected), the disease cripples the poor animal, forcing it to drag itself on its two front legs.

Eventually, the spine gives away and the dog can no longer walk or stand on its own.

While it only affects 1% of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, it is still something to be careful of. A simple genetic test will tell you if your dog or the dog you are mating yours with, is at risk of suffering from Degenerative Myelopathy. Even if both the dogs are known to be unaffected, it is always better to practice caution. Breeders of Rhodesian Ridgebacks should run these tests on almost all of their newborn litters, to ensure that the puppies don’t contain the defective gene.


If your Rhodesian Ridgeback starts showing signs of weight gain, you must get them checked for hypothyroidism, pronto. The entire Rhodesian Ridgeback breed is susceptible to hypothyroidism. Your dog may also start losing hair with hypothyroidism. Some studies also suggest that hypothyroidism is something that they may have received from their ancestors, the African Lion Dog of the Khoikhoi people. But many are divided on this, so it isn’t established fact.

However, this is one of the less alarming (but not any less serious) health concerns that the breed faces. The cure for hypothyroidism in Rhodesian Ridgebacks is not only available and accessible, but it is also inexpensive.

A study carried out by the University of Manchester proved that the presence of a certain type of gene group called haplotype genes doubles the chances of a Rhodie’s susceptibility towards being hypothyroid. This makes it fairly simple for breeders of Rhodesian Ridgebacks to ascertain whether the dogs they are about breed may produce hypothyroid litters. It also helps to get the litter tested, for future chances of suffering from it.

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus

This disease is a red alert for every breeder and every Rhodesian Ridgeback’s worst nightmare. Simply put, Gastric Dilation-Volvulus, or bloat, causes the stomach of the dog to bloat, but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. This condition is life-threatening to dogs.

GDV is usually caused by the indigestion of large meals in a dog’s stomach. These meals eventually lead to up to gas and bloating, causing the stomach to swell up to enormous levels. But this is not normal bloat. Here, the stomach lining may rupture, the blood flow may get disturbed and the dog may also face huge problems of the blood doesn’t reach the abdomen due to the bloating obstruction.

The dog begins to die a slow death, with the loss of oxygen flow inside the body. Tissues and cells rapidly begin to perish and soon enough, the abdomen rotates to a painful angle within the dog’s body. Everything happens at lightning speed, giving owners and breeders of this fabulous Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, very little time to act.

Breeders must ensure that the dog they are breeding isn’t prone to this condition. One way to do it is to check for a widened chest – Rhodesian Ridgebacks with deep wide chests are more inclined towards this blaring defect. But more often than not, the condition is blamed on giving large meals to the dog, so you can use slow eating bowls designed to pace down dogs during their meals.

There are very few treatment options available, the most popular one being surgery. The spleen and a part of the stomach are removed in order to cure the dog of GDV.

Other Problems

A hale and hearty breed, the Rhodesian Ridgeback rarely faces any common issues. However, the breed is prone to suffering from canine hip dysplasia, both. Both of these are painful conditions for the dog as well as for the Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder, who must watch his dog go through excruciating levels of pain. Deafness is another common health concern in Rhodies.

How To Breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks is probably one of the best decisions you will make as a breed fancier. It is a niche and exclusive breed of dogs, preferred by a chosen few.

The breed is often going through pregnancy and nursing smoothly. Due to the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s giant size, they may have very high puppy counts so making sure the mother is fit for the entire whelping process is important: diet, exercise, supplements, and a lot of love.

Breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks
Breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Litter Size

The average litter size for Rhodesian Ridgebacks in around 8 to 10 pups in a single litter. It is one of the few dogs that birth such a massive litter in one go. The larger the size of the dog, the bigger the litter is. It is an obvious factor as you can only have so many puppies growing in the uterus.

Research conducted under Swedish Kennel Club supervision found that naturally mated females birth larger litters as compared to an artificially inseminated one or through IVF. So as Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders, that is definitely something you must look into.

Consider that artificial insemination allows you to find mating partners all around the world using frozen semen. By wanting to mate “in person”, you limit yourself to your local pool of Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Birthing Difficulties

While there aren’t any known birthing difficulties in Rhodesian Ridgebacks, the breed as a whole does seem more susceptible to suffering from morning sickness, as compared to other dogs. Long, leisurely walks are known to be of help.

The gestation period of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is 60 days. Most dogs usually give birth within 60-70 days. What is remarkable about the pregnancy of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is how quickly the developed puppies begin to show in the tummy of the mother.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks do not necessarily have to have a C-section, but if needed, their bodies are pretty much surgery-prepared. There have been many instances from around the world where Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies have been birthed via surgery, without harming as much as a hair on the mother.


The ridge of backward hair on a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s back is its most defining and precious asset. It is what makes the breed stand out from the rest of the canine world. This ridge begins to show immediately after the puppies are born, it is just something that they are born with – like eyes and ears.


The ridge is so important to this breed that Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies born without the ridge are disqualified and cannot be listed at the American Kennel Club. They cannot participate in competitions and cannot have a registration either.

Ridgelessness in Ridgebacks is seen as a genetic defect. The ridge has been a part of the breed gene pool since the time of its origin, dating back to the African Lion Dog. So a good breeder, one who really cares about breeding Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs, will usually remove the defective dog from the breeding program and continue to breed normally, so as to conserve the genetic pool. However, it is because of the malpractices of certain amateur breeders, due to which such faulty genes make their way through the pool. Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders must be very careful to weed out the faultiness so as to continue with the uniqueness of this gentle breed.


As of today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has found its place amongst the ranks of the hounds – it is classified under the category of a scent hound. The American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club have both identified with this. However, believe it or not, Rhodesian Ridgebacks were not always hounds.

They have an amusing past with their classification conundrum, nobody really knew where to put them. The African Lion Dog or the Rhodesian Lion Dog was one of its kind, a local wild dog from the hills, tamed by the Khoikhoi tribal folk. Now, a diluted, mixed bred version of that dog is called Rhodesian Ridgeback. But where to place this breed was a question, that seemed to have many answers – but not the right one.

SAKU Classification

It all begins with the South African Kennel Club taking registrations of the Ridgeback as a lion dog for the longest time. Folks popularly recognized it as the Rhodesian Lion Dog. Later the South African Kennel Union (SAKU) changes its name to Rhodesian Ridgeback and finally gave it a classification under the “Gun dog” category.

For the next 20 years, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was a “gun dog”.

But that decision was put under the scanner too. The SAKU had two main groups –gun dogs and sporting dogs– sporting dogs were those that hunted without any assistance. Gun dogs, on the other hand, would simply corner an animal and wait for its master to come and shoot it.

FCI Classification

By that logic, Rhodesian Ridgebacks were definitely gun dogs, who would keep a lion at bay while their master shot at it. However, when the SAKU merged into the Federation Cynalogique Internationale (FCI), they had to follow their standards of classification, which clearly indicated that the Rhodesian Ridgeback was anything but a bird dog.

After the merger, the breed was then classified into the category of “sporting dog” instead. Under it, they were further sub-categorized as “scent hounds” in particular.

According to the FCI, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was better suited to the hound’s category owing to the fact that it wasn’t a dog that hunted birds per se. The breed was meant to hunt bigger animals and showed no inclination towards birds anyway.

How much does a Rhodesian Ridgeback cost?

A purebred Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy can cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000. The price varies according to the lineage and quality of the dog. A ridgeless dog will cost a lot less. The adoption of Rhodesian Ridgebacks costs a lot less, too, but you may not have a choice with the authenticity there. They would make awesome pets, though.

For those who want authentic ridgebacks, you must be prepared to shell out in the vicinity of $2,000. The reason for the high costing of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is that it is a very niche dog breed and is bred exclusively. The cost of maintaining – feeding, medicine, etc – is at least $75 a month.

Can a Rhodesian Ridgeback kill a lion?


Rhodesian Ridgebacks can potentially kill a lion but it is highly unlikely that they ever will. Their ancestors, the African Lion Dogs were naturally skilled and strong enough to kill lions or at least keep them at bay until a hunter arrived. This may have passed down to their successors – the Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

While they are built similarly to the primitive version of their breed, strong, lean, muscular, large and capable of displaying great ferocity and speed, it is also a highly diluted breed.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks also contain DNAs of other breeds and over the years have come to being family dogs. In simple words, they have left their wild dog days behind and have settled into a life of ease and domesticity.

So, while they can definitely “kill a lion” owing to their breed status and ancestors, they would have to be trained and taught how to do so.

How much exercise do Rhodesian Ridgebacks need?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks thrive on a rigorous exercise regimen. They need to be taken out at least 2-3 times a day.

Breeders planning to breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks must ensure that they have a space big enough to let them be. Even when adopting one, you must take its size into consideration. A Rhodesian Ridgeback originates from a wild dog, so it will want to roam free.

Even if you cannot take them out two or three times a day, vigorous play or running for an hour a day is the bare minimum. Play with your dog, run with them and watch how the dog blossoms into a happy, domesticated, well-kept family breed.

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2 comments on “How To Breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks”

  1. Susan Perkins

    We found a Rhodesia Ridgeback roaming the area and after 6 months he chose us to live with. He is a “full male”. We don’t have papers, of course, if we decide to breed him what should we charge for breeding fee?

  2. Kevin Moore - Ridgeback dad for 35 years

    Almost all AKC registered Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies have a subdurmal microchip injected before being transferred from the care of original responsible breeder. This microchip is located between their front shoulder blades toward the base of the neck. Most veterinarians offices have microchip readers. Before you irresponsibly breed a stray full blooded Rhodesian Ridgeback, take him to the vets office and they will be able to help you to find the breeder… who will have record of the real owner (who, no doubt, spent a lot of money on that boy puppy).

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