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Rhodesian Ridgeback is a breed that made a real sensation among all enthusiasts in the field of breeding dogs as soon as it emerged from the fabulously mysterious expanses of South Africa.

The roots of the breed can be traced from hunting dogs that were able to hunt large predators, including lions.

These dogs were valued for their invariably loyal character, which made them the perfect companions of the tribes who constantly moved from place to place, encountering danger at every step. It was such tribes were the Hottentots – the short-lived inhabitants of the Bush of South Africa, which in the past were much more widespread – up to the North of Africa.

Traditionally, the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians had strong ties with a certain breed of dogs, and therefore it is easy enough to trace the origin of modern head hounds and bezan-hounds on rock paintings and other evidence that has survived to the present day.

There are indisputable evidence in the form of images of these breeds, dating from 4500 BC in Egypt. And in the image, dated 4000 BC, also found in Egypt, depicts various breeds of dogs, including a lop-eared hound with a distinct image of the ridge on its back.

The most plausible is the assumption that this dog was domesticated by the Hottentot tribes.

For centuries, the Hottentots moved south all the way to Tanzania, Zambia and Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe), until they reached Cape Peninsula just when the Dutch founded their settlements on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. Among the animals that traveled with the Hottentots, there were also their hunting dogs with a ridge on their backs.

The first indisputable testimony of Hottentot’s dogs is rock paintings 30 km north of Rusal in Zimbabwe. Hottentot’s dogs, most likely, were significantly smaller than the modern Ridgebacks, a little more than 46 cm at the withers

The dog was described by historian George McCaulhill as a terrible creature with a body resembling a jackal’s body, and wool on its back, growing in the opposite direction, but at the same time is animal that selflessly devoted to the human.

Subsequently, the external data of the dog was improved by crossing with the dogs of the Bacalahari tribe, having a type of greyhound, which undoubtedly improved the hunting qualities of the Hottentot’s dogs.

In 1936, during the excavations near the Orange River in the town of Damara, Professor von Schulmot found the remains of Hottentot’s dogs. One of the samples was found at a depth of two meters in the mud of the river. The most important thing in this find is that the remains are so well preserved that it was possible to identify the dog’s fur – short and silky, of wheat-red color. The remains of the animal type of the Hottentot’s dog were also found on the Vietnamese island of Phuk Oak. There was much debate about whether the dog was imported from the east to Africa or vice versa. Most likely, two types of dogs evolved separately from each other. In 1651, the Dutch East Indian company sent Jan van Riebeeck to build a settlement on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, where he arrived on April 6, 1652.

The policy of the Dutch in relation to the breeding of domestic animals was reduced to attempts at breeding new breeds by crossing brought from Europe with local breeds, and not by introducing purely European breed lines in new countries.

In South Africa, this led to the removal of red-brown Afrikaner dogs, which were the predecessors of the Ridgebacks of our day. Settlers hunted a lot and, naturally, tried to improve the quality of the Hottentot’s dogs by crossing with some European sports breeds, the witness and participant of which was Jan van Riebeeck.

The next, perhaps most decisive step in breeding the breed occurred in the 1870s, when missionary Charles Helm brought two dogs with ridge, Powder and Lorna, from the Svellinds to Matabeleland (Rhodesia), where he met Cornelius van Rooyen, engaged in cattle breeding in Plantry (Matabela) and having also a huge herd of hunting dogs. When van Rooyen saw the two female brought by Helm, he admired their physical and protective qualities, which led to an arrangement with Helm about crossing Helm’s female dog with hunting dogs of van Rooyen. The result of the crossing was the dogs with ridge on their back, red wool and the tail of modern Ridgeback, which laid the foundation for the purposeful breeding of dogs by van Rooyen for the next 35 years in order to bring out a dog that could hunt lions the way its ancient ancestors did. The official recognition of the breed took place several years later and was a merit of Francis Barnes, who, together with other enthusiasts, founded in 1898-1900 the Sallesbury kennel. In 1915, he bought his first Rhodesian Ridgeback Dingo, whose roots originated from van Royen’s Ridgebacks. Somewhat later, Barnes purchased another Ridgeback – the female Judy, launching a well-known line of Ridgebacks. Barnes was clearly aware of the need to introduce the standards of the breed, because he constantly faced with Ridgebacks of different sizes, wool cover and color. In 1922, a group of seven people founded the Club of Rhodesian Ridgeback (lion dog).

In the same year, the first breed standard was issued, which, according to Barnes, was largely borrowed from Dalmatian standards. In fact, this standard did a good job and remained practically unchanged on the most important points, having undergone only small changes limiting the admissible colors of the wool and allowing white spots exclusively on the fingers and chest.

In September 1924 the Rhodesian Ridgeback as a breed was officially recognized by the South African Union of dog breeders.

In 1914, the first dog named Cuff was brought to the UK from South Africa by Mr. Reeves. However, the next officially registered Ridgeback was imported only in 1927 by Mrs. John Player. She also on October 5, 1932, first exhibited a pair of Rhodesian lion dogs (that’s how they were called at that time) in the class of rare breeds at the dog show in the Crystal Palace in the UK.

This couple caused a great interest and respect in the class of rare breeds. Four years later, the first Rhodesian Ridgeback became the champion, and little by little, as soon as the first Ridgebacks were exported, the international recognition of the breed began to grow. In their own country the breed also quickly gained popularity and soon many farmers kept the Rhodesian Ridgeback as a guard and hunting dog. They were highly appreciated in articles written in 1932 and then in 1972 by Robert Fraser, a farmer who lived in Zambia for 25 years at a time when Rhodesian Ridgebacks were used as hunting dogs.

After the Second World War, the first of a large number of Rhodesian Ridgeback was brought to the US by soldiers returning from the regions of South Africa. The first official Club of Rhodesian Ridgeback was founded in Arizona in 1950 by Bill and Sarah O’Brien. Rhodesian Ridgeback has come a long way of becoming like a breed before the first official recognition in the country of origin. Rhodesian Ridgebacks were exported to all parts of the world, their number increased in all countries where they took root, and they were gaining increasing popularity.
With the increase in popularity, legends also grew about their hunting achieving and guarding abilities.
Ridgeback – is health without problems of breeding, it is easy to take care about them, easy to feed and train them. They love comfort: they always compete for the first place by the fire, but equally they are ready for a five-mile walk.

Based on the book
“The Complete Rhodesian Ridgeback”
Peter Nicholson & Janet Parker, New York, 1991

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