Unlike the Boerboel, which was developed from strictly non-African breeds, this Zimbabwe-based breed was created by crossing the native ridge-backed dogs, such as the old Steekbaard and Khoikhoi hounds, most likely descended from the ancient Thai Ridgeback introduced to the African continent from Asia by the nomadic Hottentot tribes, with the imported European Molossers, like the English Mastiff, Deutsche Dogge, Spanish Bulldog, Irish Terrier, Portuguese Pointer, Bloodhound, as well as various working Lurchers, Wolfhounds, Staghounds and Greyhounds. Some Cuban Bloodhound influence has also been suggested. Initially existing in quite a few local varieties, the Rhodesian Ridgeback eventually became somewhat uniform in type in the 2nd half of the 19th century, when a hunting and wildlife enthusiast named Cornelius Van Rooyen started his famous three-decade-long breeding program. Having decided that the heavier and more ferocious types within the original population were either too slow or too aggressive to make reliable hunters, Van Rooyen chose the leaner and faster dogs with calmer temperaments for his foundation stock. By using only the best representatives carefully selected from his personal hunting packs, as well as choosing the proven working examples owned by Charles Helm, he supplied the blueprint for the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, which was originally known as the Van Rooyen Lion Dog. Many other hunters of the time owned these rugged dogs and were helping Van Rooyen to promote them in South Africa as superb large game hunters, capable of killing hyenas, wild dogs, baboons and even lions. These bold promotional campaigns reportedly went as far as claiming that the intriguing hair pattern on the breed's back was actually used to hypnotize the lions, which would then become disoriented and easily overpowered by the Van Rooyen dogs. Contrary to popular belief, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was never a lion-killer, but rather a true tracking hound, used in groups of up to 5 dogs to chase the big cat down and keep it at bay until the hunters would arrive and make the kill.
At the suggestion of a great admirer of the breed named Francis Barnes, owners of various Ridgebacks from all over Africa gathered with their dogs to be judged and evaluated for standardization. Once the conformation was set, the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club was formed in 1922, its Standard written in 1924 and recognition by the South-African Kennel Union granted in 1926. With the introduction of a few early specimens to Europe and America in the 1910's, the Rhodesian Ridgeback quickly gained a small number of loyal fans, but it wasn't until the post-WW2 years that the modern incarnation of the breed became well-known and widely accepted. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was recognized by the AKC in 1955, the UKC in 1980 and the FCI in 1996 and has remained a popular working dog and family pet for over 40 years worldwide, eventually becoming more numerous outside South Africa than within its borders.
An excellent property guardian and hunting dog, this powerful breed also makes a good family pet, due to its calm and affectionate personality. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is very intelligent and alert, reasonably easy to train and handle. Supervision around strange dogs is needed, as some specimens can be quite confrontational. The head is strong and elegantly broad, with a powerful muzzle, defined jaws and muscled neck. The body is well-boned, lean and deep-chested.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a rugged and resilient dog, having a short, but dense coat with an obligatory ridge of hairs growing in the opposite direction along its backline. The colors come in a few shades of solid wheaten and fawn. Average height is around 26 inches.