"Big Game/Gun Dog"
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One of the earliest reports of the modern Ridgebacks ancestors comes from
the early 1500’s in South Africa. It was described as a small dog seldom
higher than 18 inches. It also had a strange ridge of hair along its spine,
growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. It was found in
the company of the native tribes, notably the Hottentot tribe. These dogs
were faithful and totally fearless, making them excellent hunting and guard
dogs, not hesitating to protect their masters from attacks from lions
leopards, etc. When the Europeans landed in Africa they brought with them
their own dog breeds such as Greyhounds, Mastiffs, Bulldogs, Great Danes,
Bloodhounds, Deerhounds, Foxhounds, as well as many other gundog and working
In time the European dogs and the dogs of the Natives interbred. The various
crosses produced combined the hardiness, cunning and big game hunting
ability of the native dog and the size, strength and trainability of the
introduced breeds. Originally no thought was given to the look of the dogs
only their hunting and guarding abilities were important.
It was a case of survival of the fittest indeed. These dogs had to contend
with crop and stock raiding animals such as Baboons, Hyenas, Leopards and
Lions etc on an almost daily basis.
Baboons, Hyenas and Leopards could usually be overpowered by a pack of these
dogs working as a team. Lions are a different matter altogether as it would
be very rare for a dog to kill a fully grown lion.
How these dogs did hunt the king of beasts is interesting to note. Once a
Lion scent was found, the dogs would trail off silently, only barking when
the Lion was cornered. It was then that the dogs had to use their agility
and intelligence to keep the Lion at bay and in a good position so that the
hunter could take careful aim. If the shot wasn’t a killing one, the dogs
also had to keep the wounded Lion from attacking the hunter, enabling him to
get a second shot away.
After many years of breeding only the best hunting dogs together it was
generally found that the best dogs had retained their ridge from the native
African dogs. Around the 1870’s a big game hunter and collector of zoo
animals, Mr Cornelius Van Rooyen was known to have these ridged dogs in his
large hunting packs. He bred only the best hunters for a period of
approximately 35 years. The reputation of Van Rooyen’s Lion dogs spread as
he supplied dogs to F.C Selous, Upcher and other famous big game hunters of
that era. The tradition of Lion hunting with Ridgebacks continued until the
In 1924 the Rhodesian Ridgeback was accepted by the South African Kennel
Union as a distinct breed, first placed in the gun dog group it was moved to
the hound group in 1949.
Ridgebacks have been used in all the usual canine activities throughout the
world such as showing, obedience, agility, working trials, protection work
and lure coursing. They have also been used as police dogs as well as guide
dogs for the blind. In Africa the breed is still used as guard dogs
especially around diamond mines.
They have been used by hunters all around the world and some of their quarry
have included Mountain Lion, Jaguar, Bob Cat, Lynx, Bear, Boar and Deer as
well as just about every type of animal and game bird that Africa has to
They would find and bail up large and dangerous game, track down wounded
animals as well as flush and retrieve small game.
It must be remembered that Ridgebacks were mainly pack hunting dogs bred to
hunt large and dangerous game. Any single dog that would try to hold lion or
buffalo etc was usually killed. Dogs that showed too much courage were not
used for hunting but were retained for guard dogs. These dogs had to protect
live stock and farming families from attacks by large carnivores.
I have owned and bred hunting dogs of various types and breeds for over 20
years. I have had Ridgebacks since 1984. In that time many different types
of animals and birds have been successfully hunted.
The Ridgebacks have proven to be good all rounders.
Although they are not as fast as my usual fox hunting dogs, (deerhounds and
wolfhound/greyhound crosses), the Ridgeback has a lot better sense of smell
and far greater staying power.
These dogs will easily dispatch foxes and we have used them to guard fowl
yards and bird aviaries at night.
The Ridgeback makes a very handy pig dog. A single Ridgeback will find and
hold pigs up to around the 40-50 kg mark. Pigs larger than that will usually
be bailed up and the dog will keep barking and wait for assistance from
either the hunter or another dog. Two mature, well trained Ridgebacks will
however hold even the largest of boars without much trouble.
should commence training your pups on pigs when they are approximately six
months old and start them off on small pigs only, slowly increasing the size
of the pigs caught until the pups are over 12 months old. It should be
remembered that Ridgebacks are mostly pack hunting dogs and are therefore
preferably hunted in pairs. They will also work well when teamed with other
Ridgebacks have an excellent short range finding ability. When we used to
hunt the Macquarie Marshes area we used a mixed pack of 8 dogs because of
the thick vegetation. The best finding dogs were always the ridgebacks.
Ridgebacks wind scent as well as ground scent. I have lost count of how many
times ridgebacks have found hidden pigs that were overlooked by the other
dogs. In summary, if you hunt with a gun or bow a single ridgeback would be
an excellent partner and if you want to catch and hold pigs two ridgebacks
would be the way to go.
Duck, Quail, Rabbits
While not in the same class as the more traditional gun dogs, most
Ridgebacks can be trained to be reasonably efficient, if they are started at
an early age and used regularly in this type of work. The Ridgeback is an
intelligent breed but, can become easily bored so it is best to keep the
training sessions short, finishing while the dog is still keen. The breed is
also a good spotlighting companion. It will stay still and quiet while you
are shooting but will always be ready to tackle a wounded boar or fetch a
Ridgebacks have assisted me hunting deer for a number of years. Their
scenting ability and intelligence are a great asset.
For a few years we caught wild goats for live export, the goats had to be
healthy and free from bite wounds. Nannies and young goats were easily
rounded up with sheep and cattle dogs but the large billies would break away
from the mob and defy the working dogs. We used ridgebacks and deerhounds to
catch these billies. The dogs would grab the goats by the ears, applying
only a small amount of pressure. The goats were then loaded into vehicles
and transported to the holding yards.
Most ridgebacks make reasonably good cattle dogs due to their mixed
ancestry. We have also used them on a number of occasions to catch and hold
The Ridgeback is a very loyal, one person or one family dog. They make
excellent guard dogs, being protective of their owner/family and
possessions. Most of the breed are especially fond of children, being both
patient and tolerant.
Having owned the breed for the past 15 years the only draw back I can think
of is they need a fair amount of attention and exercise. They are not a
breed that can be tied up in the back yard, in fact a chained up Ridgeback
will pine away, deteriorating both physically and mentally. Ideally,
Ridgebacks should be kept in a yard within view of the house, and be allowed
For more information and pup
inquiries please contact James Callan on: