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A breed standard is the guideline that describes the ideal characteristics, temperament, and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function with soundness essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be mindful of features that could be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed.

FCI Standard No 146 dated 10 December 1996

Adopted in Australia 1 January 1998

Origin: South Africa

Standard supplied by Kennel Union of Southern Africa and Zimbabwe Kennel Club

Amended October 2000

Group 4 - Hounds

Extension to the Breed Standard -  provides additional information and explanatory illustrations.


The Rhodesian Ridgeback is presently the only registered breed indigenous to Southern Africa. Its forebears can be traced to Cape Colony of Southern Africa where they crossed with the early pioneers’ dogs and the semi-domesticated, ridged Hottentot hunting dogs. Hunting mainly in groups of two or three, the original function of the Rhodesian Ridgeback or Lion dog was to track game, especially lion, and, with great agility, keep it at bay until the arrival of the hunter.

The original standard, which was drafted by F.R Barnes, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, in 1922, was based on that on the Dalmatian and approved by the South African Kennel Union in 1926.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is still used to hunt game in many parts of the world, but especially prized as a watch-dog and family pet.

General Appearance

The Rhodesian Ridgeback should represent a well balanced, strong, muscular, agile and active dog, symmetrical in outline and capable of

great endurance with a fair amount of speed. The emphasis is on agility, elegance and soundness with no tendency towards massiveness. The

peculiarity of the breed is the ridge on the back, which is formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat.


The ridge is the escutcheon of the breed. The ridge must be clearly defined, symmetrical and tapering towards the haunch. It must start

immediately behind the shoulders and continue to the hip (haunches) bones. The ridge must contain only two crowns, identical and opposite

each other. The lower edges of the crowns must not extend further down the ridge than one-third of its length. A good average width of the

ridge is 5 cm (2ins).


Dignified, intelligent, aloof with strangers, but showing no aggression or shyness.

Head and Skull

Cranial Region: Skull - Should be of a fair length (width of head between ears, distance from occiput to stop, stop to end of nose, should be equal) flat and broad between the ears; the head should be free from wrinkles when in repose.

Stop - Should be reasonably well defined and not in one straight line from the nose to the occipital bone.

Facial Region - Nose - Should be black or brown. A black nose should be accompanied by dark eyes, a brown nose by amber eyes.

Muzzle - Should be long, deep and powerful.

Lips - Should be clean, closely fitting the jaws.

Cheeks - Should be clean.

Eyes - Should be moderately well apart, round, bright and sparkling, with intelligent expression, their colour harmonising with the colour of the coat.

Ears - Should be set rather high, of medium size, rather wide at base and gradually tapering to a rounded point. They should be carried close to the head.

Mouth - Jaws strong with a perfect and complete scissor bite, i.e. the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set square to the jaws. The teeth must be well developed, especially the canines or holders.


Should be fairly long, strong and free from throatiness.


The forelegs should be perfectly straight, strong and well boned, with the elbows close to the body. When viewed from the side, the forelegs should be wider than viewed from the front. Pasterns should be strong with slight spring.


Should be sloping, clean and muscular, denoting speed.


Back - Powerful.

Loins - Strong, muscular and slightly arched.

Chest - Should not be too wide, but very deep and capacious; the brisket should reach to the elbow.

Forechest - Should be visible when viewed from the side.

Ribs - Moderately well sprung, never rounded like barrel-hoops.


In the hind legs the muscles should be clean and well defined with good turn of stifle and strong hocks well let down.


Should be compact and round with well arched toes and tough, elastic pads, protected by hair between the toes and pads.


Should be strong at the root and gradually tapering towards the end, free from coarseness. It should be of moderate length. It should not be attached too high nor too low and should be carried with a slight curve upwards, never curled.

Gait / Movement

Straight forward, free and active.


Hair - Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance but neither woolly nor silky.

Colour - Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes is permissible, but excessive white hairs here, on belly or above toes is undesirable. A dark muzzle and ears permissible. Excessive black hairs throughout the coat are highly undesirable.


The desirable heights are:

Dogs 63 cms (25 ins) to 69cms (27 ins)

Bitches 61cms (24 ins) to 66cms (26 ins)

The desirable weights are:

Dogs 36.5kgs (80 lbs)

Bitches 32 kgs (70 lbs)


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportions to its degree.


Male animals should have two apparently normally developed testicles fully descended into the scrotum.


Many thanks to the 25 breeders who submitted information to the Breed Genetics Survey. Information was received on 1397 pups born in 166 litters (average litter size 8.4 pups) from across the country. The breakdown of the 166 litters geographically was as follows: 52 from Victoria, 39 from NSW, 29 from Queensland, 20 from South Australia, 1 from West Australia and 25 not stated.

When considering the information provided, it must be accepted that conditions not seen prior to the pup leaving the breeder are likely to be under reported in this survey. These include heart murmurs, entropion, torsion/bloat, neurological problems, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, skin problems/allergies, cancers (including mast cell), elbow disease, and other skeletal issues.  However, most of the data gathered can be provided by breeders prior to the pup leaving. Some key findings from the survey are:

  • The rate of dermoid sinus is now 4.7% (4.5% if pre 1996 litters are excluded) as compared to 6.7% in the 1996 survey. While it is uncertain if this is due to selective breeding practices or the use of folic acid, it is tempting to speculate the latter has had some impact on the incidence of this condition in our breed.

  • The rate of ridgeless is largely unchanged (6.8% now as compared to 6.3% in 1996)

  • The difficulties of breeding ridgebacks for the show ring is borne out by three additional figures. 20.8% of pups born have ridge faults, a further 2.8% have incorrect colour and 3% have mouth faults. This suggests nearly 26% of pups are removed from the gene pool due to these factors.

  • A total of 35% of pups are unsuitable for breeding due to all the factors mentioned above.

  • Given the small sample sizes I have put NA (not applicable) in some of the analysis columns to indicate a sample of 1 or 2 dogs which will not provide data of any value.

  • Other issues may be under reported as the question was not specifically asked eg the rear dew claw figure is reported at 1.4%. However, where it was reported nearly 50% of the litter had rear dew claws. Some interesting comments/issues from the survey:

o One breeder put “not yet” next to a number of issues. As most long term breeders get to see most issues, this seemed a very pragmatic approach!

o One breeder reported a familial link for torsion/bloat

o The majority of the heart murmur cases were reported as Subaortic Stenosis (numbers up from 0.4% in 1996 to 1.1% in 2006,spread over most states)

o Some breeders provided numbers of liver/brown nosed pups. This data was not collated as it was not specifically requested (not seen as a genetic “issue”) - but   
    may be of interest next time around!

o Very few breeders reported hip dysplasia- either this is not a problem in the breed or a clearer definition may have helped (eg AVA/BVA score greater than 15).


Some comparative data from the 2001 Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of  USA (RRCUS) Health Survey is of interest. This is based on a sample of 1763 dogs and as such is more likely to provide accurate data as it seems to be based on dogs bred and kept by US breeders. For example the underlying dataset started with 278 breeders returning information on 1263 dogs. As this is an average of 4.5 dogs per breeder it is more likely to represent longer term information on dogs kept in addition to issues seen in litters.

From the 2001 data the 10 diseases/disorders that affected the greatest number of Ridgebacks, based upon number of Ridgebacks affected per susceptible survey population were as noted in Table I.

 Table I. Incidence Of Diseases/Disorders

 A summary of the information gained by the RRCUS was as follows:

“Hypothyroidism continues to be our number one endocrine disease, and a statistically significant number (83%) of these dogs are spayed or neutered. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain from this data what occurred first (spaying/neutering vs. the diagnosis of hypothyroidism) but, in most cases, it appears that spaying/neutering occurred first. This supports observations in the veterinary literature of an increased frequency of hypothyroidism in neutered dogs.

Ridgelessness and dermoid sinuses continue to be our major dermatologic concerns, but we are not euthanizing these dogs quite as frequently. In the 1996 survey, 73% of ridgeless dogs were euthanized vs. 68% in the 2000 update; in 1996, 61% of Ridgebacks with dermoid sinuses were euthanized vs. 52% in the 2000 update. Allergic dermatitis is also of concern for Ridgeback breeders, including atopic dermatitis, food allergies, and occasionally flea allergy dermatitis.

Urinary incontinence remains a problem limited primarily to spayed females (74% of the affected dogs were spayed females, the remainder were males) supporting a diagnosis of “spay” or “estrogen-responsive” incontinence.

 he incidence of hip dysplasia has basically remained constant (2.7% in 1996 vs.2.5% in 2000) but the incidence of elbow dysplasia in the susceptible survey population has almost doubled (.5% in 1996 vs. .9% in 2000). Keep in mind that these are very small numbers of affected dogs, but perhaps this is a trend we need to monitor.

Excessive aggression is still our primary behavioural concern. Although environment   and socialization opportunities can significantly impact a Ridgeback’s level of aggression, genetic influence on behaviour cannot be ignored when making breeding decisions.

Mast cell cancer is without question the most frequent type of cancer seen in the Rhodesian Ridgeback. The RRCUS Health and Genetics Committee has prioritized mast cell cancer as an area of research. We have recently “combined forces” with the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America, and the Boston Terrier Club of America in sponsoring AKC/CHF research on the biology and genetics of canine mast cell tumors.

Lastly, it is sad to see that the number one cause of death in Ridgebacks over 6 months of age is a very preventable problem- hit by car.  It cannot be overemphasized to Ridgeback owners, and especially puppy buyers new to the breed, that the sighthound nature of these dogs can easily get them into trouble when allowed off lead in unsecured areas.”

The comparison of the key US issues and the Australian data shows some areas of commonality and some where the Australian data differs eg the dermoid sinus- rates are very similar, as are issues such as death from chasing cars-although we did not collect this data. However, there are some areas of difference:

  • The Australian rate of ridgelessness is less, although it has risen slightly between surveys (now 6.8% compared to the US rate of 10.6%)

  • Hypothyroidism rate in the US is 5.8%compared to 0.3% in Australia. It is tempting to speculate the Australian rate would increase if we were to introduce the screening levels seen in the US, but there is a big gap between the current Australian rate of 0.3% and the US rate of 5.8%

  • Allergic dermatitis- this is probably also under reported in the Australian survey (0.6%)

  • Mast cell tumours are infrequently reported in the Australian data (0.2%) compared to 4.1% in the US. It is tempting to speculate this is due to the different gene pools, in addition to under reporting in Australia.

With an increasing globalization of our gene pool it is worth noting the issues seen in other countries- and the US data is the best source of this at present. In addition to the other conditions reported in their data (and probably under reported in ours) the comments on the genetic underlay to aggressive behaviour from the US data are worth noting and taking into account in breeding programmes.

Thanks again for your input. I hope this information can be used to structure improved breeding programmes and to raise awareness of issues we may see in the future- as well as those we are seeing now

Vicki Moritz
Secretary RRCV

For the NRRC December 2006

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