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The Rhodesian Ridgeback originated in Southern Africa where the early European settlers mated their imported sporting breeds with the small fierce hunting dogs 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. 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 95cm 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 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 to Central Africa (then Rhodesian now ) were taken by the Rev. 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 Ridgeback in the hunting field became established by the exploits of the famous big game hunter in Rhodesian 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 borrowed much from the Dalmatian standard and 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 South Africa {KUSA}) in 1924. 

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