Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy 🙂
5 Things You Need to Know Before Owning a Rhodesian Ridgeback
This week Facebook reminded me of a picture taken of Florence when she was around 12 weeks old, she not long ago turned 5 years old. Looking now, I see a cute wrinkly face just ripe for cuddles and echoes of my trusted friend to be. Then, when I saw the pic, though I saw the cuteness, after only a few short weeks I’d also seen how exasperating she could be. We’d rescued an adult Ridgeback-cross before having Florence and on saying goodbye to him we’d agreed that we had to have another Ridgeback. There were times not long after that I came to regret having made that choice.
That is not to say she was a bad dog or that she is a bad dog now, far from it. Florence is a great friend, my running buddy and I cannot imagine life without her. When she’s not at home the house doesn’t feel right and some of my happiest times are out running in the forest with her. But she was hard-work as a pup and while I’d done a lot of reading on Ridgebacks I didn’t know how hard she would be. If you are prepared to bear a few things in mind I would recommend the Rhodesian Ridgeback as they are a class of dogs far on their own, but they do require special attention and treatment to build a happy partnership. If you are a prospective Ridgeback owner, here are 5 Things You Need to Know Before Owning a Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Do you have time for a Ridgeback in your life? In the proceeding paragraphs, I’ve used words like ‘friend’ and ‘partnership’ and that’s the truth. Ridgebacks become a trusted member of your family and this takes time. Yes, traditional basic obedience training is important, all dogs should know this, but Ridgebacks cannot be bullied. In their owner, they are looking for a leader. Put aside all those hinky notions of ‘packs’ and ‘alphas’, those studies were based on how wolves behave in captivity, not dogs. Dogs form loosely associated groups to achieve an objective that may disband after. So a Ridgeback is not looking for a heavy handed bully, they are looking for a leader under whose guidance they can find food and security. Anyone can raise their voice and frighten a puppy (or a child) into submission, but this won’t wash with a Ridgeback. To own a Ridgeback you have to ask, do I have what it takes to be a leader? To inspire the dog to follow me because it chooses to? This takes time as it requires a bond of trust to be built.
It’s not just training that you need to think about, a young dog needs fuss and time spent playing, in some ways you become a surrogate parent to them, it’s a big commitment with a work life to factor in.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are bay hounds. They were bred to be sent after large, dangerous game in pairs, ahead of human hunters. Their role would be to back a lion into a corner or to harass (or bay) it until it was tired. For this, they need a combination of courage and intelligence. Many dogs will rush into danger as they’re often too stupid to know the danger is there. A Ridgeback has to assess the danger and run in any way. As a result they are brave, intelligent dogs capable of making independent decisions and solving problems with logic. In a modern
In a modern home, those problems might well involve how to steal food from the worktop silently or to escape the back garden. They also know when you’re tired and when your guard is down and they will exploit this to their advantage. It takes patience to deal with this without blowing your top and Florence definitely taught me this in spades.
When mature, Ridgebacks are gentle companions and even when young they are rarely aggressive, however, they are very strong. Even in comparison to other dogs of a similar size, the Ridgeback has unusual strength. From an early age they know that they have this in their trouble finding arsenal, so while they would never hurt their family they are most certainly not above shoulder barging as they move around the house or a well-timed jerk to try and slip the lead (if they see a cat or a deer for example). It would be unwise to get a Ridgeback if you have any health issues such as back troubles. Likewise, I would not allow my young children to hold their lead, particularly near roads (they have no road sense at all).
Ridgebacks are part of the family. They are not dogs that can be kennelled outside and attempting to do so will make them profoundly unhappy. This implies they have to live inside and that takes space. Florence is a nice lean dog and even still she runs to around 45kg, males can go even larger. For the early part of their life, it is ideal to provide them with a crate so that they have space of their own, this further increases the amount of floor space they need. I would not advise a Ridgeback for a home where space is very limited as they are large dogs.
Access to Off-Lead Areas
Whether you have it within walking distance or drive daily it is vital for Ridgebacks to be given time off the lead. They need a reasonable (though not insane) amount of exercise, but this needs to involve mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Even when small they will need to be allowed to roam on a flexible lead and indulge their natural tendencies (sniffing stuff, running about in bushes). It’s not enough to walk long distances on a lead, this will just leave them frustrated and a frustrated Ridgeback will soon become mischevious.
So, lots to bear in mind. You might be thinking that this all sounds like too much to take on, well, it is a big undertaking. If you can bear in mind these caveats I’d say the next stage is to do some reading. I cannot recommend enough the marvelous ‘Raising and Training Rhodesian Ridgebacks The Imbali Way’ by Sue Craigie. What she does not know about Ridgebacks is unlikely to be worth knowing. If, after that, your mind is set, then welcome to the best dog ownership experience it’s possible to have.