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History of the Breed

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a native of South Africa. The breed’s long history dates back to early in the 16th century when Europeans found that the Khoikhoi tribe had a domesticated dog with the hair along its spine growing in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat (the ridge). The only other known dog which has the peculiarity of the ridge is found on the island of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Siam. It has never been definitely determined whether the ridge originated in South Africa or on the island of Phu Quoc.

Hunter, Guard and Companion
The foundation stock of the Rhodesian Ridgeback was developed by the first Europeans n South Africa to fill their specific needs for a serviceable hunting dog. The Dutch, Germans and Huguenots who migrated to South Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries brought with them Danes, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, Salukis, Bloodhounds and other breeds. The Europeans needed a dog that could flush birds, guard, bay or take down larger game, withstand the rigors of the bush, hold up under drastic changes in temperature, have short hair, and be a devoted companion. By selective breeding between dogs they had brought with them from home countries and the Khoikhoi ridged dog, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was created. Throughout all of the interbreeding and crossbreeding between the Khoikhoi dogs and those of the settlers, the ridge of the Khoikhoi dog was respected and retained, with the dog establishing the foundation stock of the present day Rhodesian Ridgeback.


In the year 1875, the missionary, Rev. Charles Helm, undertook a journey from the Cape Province of South Africa to Rhodesian (what is now Zimbabwe) accompanied by two of these dogs. While Helm was in Zimbabwe, Cornelius von Rooyen, a big-game hunter and early authority on South African wildlife, borrowed the two dogs to take along on a hunt. Von Rooyen concluded that they possessed excellent instinctive hunting qualities and pioneered the breeding of a pack of the species as hunters of big game.

In 1922, the first Ridgeback Club was founded at a show in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, and a standard of points for the breed was set, which differs little from the prevailing standard today. In 1924, the Ridgeback was also recognized by the South African Kennel Union as a distinct breed and the organization recognized its first registered dog. Only two dogs were registered with the SAKU in that year, followed by four in 1925, and not less than eleven in 1926. 

Breed Recognized by AKC
It is not known definitely when the Rhodesian Ridgeback was first brought into the United States. A few were imported prior to 1940, possibly as early as 1912. However, after World War II (between 1946 and 1955 — when the breed was recognized by AKC), quite a large number of Ridgebacks were imported, not only into the United States, but also into England and Canada.

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