The defining physical characteristic of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is – what else? – its ridge, which runs down the dog’s spine from just below the shoulders to the hip bone. The interesting feature about this strip of fur is that it grows in the opposite way from the rest of the dog’s coat. If you look closely at the ridge to the left, you can see quite clearly how the fur grows in two different directions at once.
The big question is – how did this ridge come to be?
It’s an amazing story. In Africa, the Ridgeback was trained to track and corner the fiercest of lions. Legend has it a pack of the dogs had a lion circled and trapped as the human hunters approached to make the final kill.
The desperate lion was running out of time – so it lashed out and, with its outstretched claw, tore one of the dogs on its back, creating the ridge that would last for centuries to come!
Yes, an amazing story. Unfortunately, much too amazing to be true!
The fact of the matter is the ridge is a mutation and we will never truly know when it first began appearing on the breed. It was unnoted by artists and writers until 1759 AD, when the existence of ridged dogs was mentioned in a journal near Capetown. The reference was to the ridged Khoikhoi dogs, used by their owners and the European settlers to protect villages, cattle and sheep.
Ridged dogs, however, have appeared in two other locales. In 1898, three Sloughi dogs were taken from North Africa – probably Algeria – to Holland, and two of those animals were identified as having ridges. Surprisingly, sightings of ridged dogs were also recorded on the island of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand, between the Malay Peninsula and Viet Nam.
Were the Phu Quoc dogs taken to Africa? Were the Khoikhoi dogs brought to Pu Quoc? Or did the ridges mutate naturally in both places on their own? All three scenarios are certainly possible, but the argument for the Ridgeback originating in Africa seems the most probable, because of the ridged Sloughis.
A Ridgeback’s ridge is ALWAYS there – a constant from birth on. Contrary to some misconceptions, the ridges do not grow in over time nor are they only present when the dog is excited or otherwise stimulated. It’s just a physical feature, plain and simple.
A “correct” ridge begins at the shoulders and has two evenly-sized whorls, also called crowns, and continues down to the hip bone. You can see a good example of two even crowns in the close-up above left. When a Ridgeback has extra whorls, they are not considered “show-quality” – but, no matter the number of whorls, a Ridgeback should always be considered a marvelous animal and a pet you can feel lucky to own.