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The Rhodesian Ridgeback: Hunter and Protector
In Monmouth County, New Jersey, Janice Wolfe works with autistic children and others with special needs who can benefit from a service animal, whether it is through simple companionship or special assistance. She is aided in her endeavor by a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Wyatt who helps Wolfe evaluate the children based on their reactions to the dog. Her organization, Merlin’s Kids, attempts to match up people in need with the right kind of dog for them, free of cost. The result is that rescue dogs get a second chance, and children and others with emotional or physical needs can gain a companion that improves their quality of life.
Out of Africa
The Rhodesian Ridgeback has come a long way from its beginnings in southern Africa. As Dutch and other European settlers moved to the Cape Peninsula to begin trading, they came across local dogs with a distinctive ridge of fur along their backs. The local Khoikhoi people used the dogs for hunting and guarding, and the European settlers began to appreciate the qualities of these athletic dogs.
The Europeans had brought their own dogs with them as they settled into the area, including Great Danes, Terriers, and Bloodhounds. They began to breed their own dogs with the local dogs and the early results were the Boer hunting dogs, who aided farmers.
By 1870, some of these new ridged dogs were introduced into Southern Rhodesia – now called Zimbabwe – by Reverend Charles Helm. His dogs were admired by Cornelius van Rooyen, a hunter of big game, who decided to start breeding his own dogs with these new arrivals. The dogs born of this mating were red in color and featured the distinctive ridge fur pattern. These dogs and their descendents were trained to aid in the hunting of big game such as lions. Rather than attack the game, the dogs would distract the lions by barking and running around, allowing the hunter to move in close enough for the kill.
Ridges and Crowns
The distinctive ridge that gives the breed its name is actually a strip of fur that runs along the spine from the shoulders to the hips. What makes the fur stand out is the fact that it runs in the opposite direction to the rest of the fur on the body. This section of fur begins with a section measuring approximately two inches wide between the shoulders, framed by two whorls often called crowns. The ridge of fur then tapers down to a point at the hips.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are relatively large dogs, standing around 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 85 pounds. Their coat ranges from wheaten to red and is smooth, sleek and shiny, requiring little maintenance.
The Ridgeback was once known as the African Lion Dog and although the name referred to the animals the breed helped hunt, there is something of the regal nobility of the lion that exists in the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Although loyal and affectionate with its family, the Ridgeback is standoffish with strangers and prefers to make the first approach. They are also protective of their family group, but are not inherently aggressive unless challenged.
Wyatt, the dog who works with autistic children, isn’t a breed anomaly. Despite their origins as hunting dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are surprisingly patient and easy going, accepting much of the rough-housing from children that is upsetting to many other breeds. A well-trained Ridgeback is an excellent pet for families, offering loyalty and affection for a lifetime.
- Kylie Minogue, John Travolta, and Carl Lewis have all owned Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
- The breed’s standard was first set in 1922 and has remained almost unchanged since then.
- The Voortrekker Monument, in honor of the early pioneers in South Africa, includes a depiction of Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
- Only three breeds have a ridgeback: Rhodesian Ridgeback, Thai Ridgeback, and Phu Quoc Ridgeback.
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an energetic dog who needs a great deal of exercise, but at the end of the day, the breed is equally happy to play lap dog if allowed.