Rhodesian Ridgebacks

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Breed Elaboration

An Elaboration of the Standard

by Diane Jacobsen

This is not the official Elaboration by RRCUS
This is an elaboration that was written before RRCUS wrote the current Illustrated Standard.  Parts were used from this article and the rest are my personal opinions.
The Standard is in italics. 

"The Ridgeback represents a strong, muscular and active dog, symmetrical and balanced in outline. A mature Ridgeback is a handsome, upstanding and athletic dog, capable of great endurance with a fair (good) amount of speed. Of even dignified temperament, the Ridgeback is devoted and affectionate to his master, reserved with strangers. The peculiarity of this breed is the ridge on the back. The ridge must be regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed."

Elaboration - A Ridgeback represents the perfect balance between power and elegance. The power should come from soundness and conditioning, not from excessive size. The elegance comes from style, presence and carriage. The Ridgeback should give a clean appearance with body lines blending smoothly. Described in our Standard as a handsome, upstanding, athletic dog, a male should be masculine, not coarse or cumbersome. A bitch should be feminine but strong, not weak or delicate. Great endurance and a fair (good) amount of speed are called for. The Ridgeback should not be expected to be as fleet of foot as the Greyhound, but he should be a very fast dog, demonstrating great coursing ability and endurance. When evaluating a Ridgeback, picture an athletic dog, clean muscled, upstanding, balanced and smooth in outline. A dog intended to hold large and dangerous game at bay. Agile, quick, light on his feet, intelligent enough to stay out of harm's way, brave enough to sacrifice himself for his master if need be. If the dog in front of you looks as if they could do that, then they are a good Ridgeback.

"A mature Ridgeback should be symmetrical in outline, slightly longer than tall but well balanced. Dogs - 25-27 inches in height, Bitches - 24-26 inches in height. Desirable weight: Dogs - 85 pounds, Bitches - 70 pounds."

Elaboration - Desirable weight should be a guideline. Appropriate weight should correspond with the height and bone structure of the dog/bitch. A heavier-boned animal may weigh more, a finer-boned animal less than the 85/70 pound ideal as described in the Standard. A guideline might be that a 26 inch male (mid Standard) should weigh 85 pounds, a 25 inch bitch, 70 pounds. Add or substract 10 pounds per inch on males and 5 to 7 pounds per inch on bitches.

A mature Ridgeback should be slightly longer than tall by actual measurement, but not by visual assessment. In measuring Ridgebacks, a 27 inch dog is usually 2 to 3 inches longer in body than tall, measured from the point of the shoulder to the pin bone (or rear tip of the pelvic bone). The back should be strong and firm. The length should be carried in the rib area, allowing for ample room for heart and lungs. The well-coupled loin is neither too long nor too short, but well balanced with the rest of the dog. A long loined dog may be fast, but he lacks the ability to stop, turn and maneuver which is required by the Standard. Overall balance and symmetry is most important.

"Should be of fair length, the skull flat and rather broad between the ears and should be free from wrinkles when in repose. The stop should be reasonably well defined.
Eyes - should be moderately well apart and should be round, bright and sparkling with intelligent expression, their color harmonizing with the color of the dog.
Ears - should be set rather high, of medium size, rather wide at the base and tapering to a rounded point. They should be carried close to the head.
Muzzle - should be long, deep and powerful. The lips clean, closely fitting the jaws.  Clear faced or masked dogs are equally correct and neither is preferred.  A clear face with black or brown/liver pigmentation is correct as long as the color is not continuing with a solid mask over the eyes.  A darker ear often accompanies the darker masked dog. 
Nose - should be black, brown or liver, in keeping with the color of the dog. No other colored nose is permissible. A black nose should be accompanied by dark eyes, a brown or liver nose with amber eyes.
Bite - jaws level and strong with well developed teeth especially the canines or holders. Scissors bite preferred."

Elaboration - The head must be in proportion with the rest of the body. The backskull is flat, never domed, free from wrinkles when in repose. When the ears are brought forward in an alert position, the skin is furrowed with expressive wrinkles on the backskull between the ears and above and between the eyes. The stop is reasonably well defined, not heavy and abrupt as in a Mastiff, nor in one straight line from nose to occiput. The planes of the backskull and muzzle are parallel and equal in length. Cheeks are clean and flat, not rounded or bulging. The head should never give a wedge shaped impression. The overall impression should be of balance and symmetry.

Eyes - The eyes should be spaced moderately well apart, rounded, bright and sparkling with intelligent expression, not small, recessed nor sunken. The color should harmonize with the pigmentation of the dog. Black-nosed (pigmented) dogs should have a brown to dark brown eye. Liver or brown-nosed dogs should have an amber-colored eye, with preference given to the darker shades of brown or amber. Light eyes are undesirable.

Ears - When the ears are brought forward to attention, they are raised even with the top of the head. The ears should hang close to the head and cheek, flaring outward to frame the head. The size is described as medium. If the first word that comes to your mind to describe the ear is either large or small, it is not correct. An incorrectly sized ear is objectionable, but not as serious as the "fly" ear. This comes from the cartilage in the ear, possibly from the Great Dane or Greyhound influence of years past. The ear tries to stand erect but folds and flares out to the side.

Muzzle - The muzzle is long, deep and powerful and finishes up fairly full in width, strong in underjaw. Depth of muzzle should be in the muzzle and underjaw itself, not in the leather of the lips alone.

Bite - Scissors bite is preferred, but a level bite will occasionally be found and is acceptable. Emphasis must be placed on the development and proper position of the canines.

"The neck should be fairly strong and free from throatiness and in balance with the dog. The chest should not be too wide, but very deep and capacious, ribs moderately well sprung, never rounded like barrel hoops (which would indicate want of speed). The back is powerful and firm with strong loins which are muscular and slightly arched. The tail should be strong at the insertion and generally tapering toward the end, free from coarseness. It should not be inserted too high or too low and should be carried with a slight curve upwards, never curled or gay."

Elaboration - Neck, Chest and Body - The neck should be fairly long and elegantly arched. Throatiness or an ewe neck should be penalized according to the severity. A chest that is too wide or too narrow is inefficient, hinders speed and diminishes endurance. The brisket on a mature dog should reach well to the elbow.

Topline and Tail - The topline flows smoothly from the top of the head down the neck and over the shoulders, back and through the tail. The point above the shoulders is the highest point of the backline, never lower than the loin or hindquarters, standing or moving. The back is firm, standing or moving - neither swayed nor roached. The loins are strong. The arch of the loin should not be exaggerated. The croup is neither flat nor steep but blends smoothly and finishes out with the tail set neither too high nor too low, tail ending in a gentle sweep. Standing, the tail may fall between the hocks, or may be tucked toward the abdomen. A kind or dud joint is considered undesirable.  The Standard says NEVER curled or gay. 

"The shoulders should be sloping, clean and muscular, denoting speed. Elbows close to the body. The forelegs should be perfectly straight, strong and heavy in bone. The feet should be compact with well-arched toes, round, tough elastic pads, protected by hair between the toes and pads. Dewclaws may be removed."

Elaboration - Shoulders - The shoulder blades should be long, well laid back and sloping; upper arm is of equal length and placed so that the elbow falls directly under the withers.

Forelegs - The bone of the front legs should have plenty of substance, more so when viewed from the side than from the front. Round, heavy Mastiff type bone is not compatible with the speed and agility that is required of the Ridgeback, neither is the refined, wispy, or weedy look desirable. The pasterns should be strong and slightly sloping.

Feet - The feet should be well knuckled up with thick pads. Flat, thin-padded and splayed feet are incorrect.

"In the hindlegs, the muscles should be clean, well defined and hocks well down. Feet as in front."

Elaboration - The strong elastic muscles of the hind legs should be carried well into the inner and lower thighs. The stifles are moderately well bent. Hocks should be well let down and straight from hock to pad. Rear angulation should balance and compliment the front. The muscling should be clean and well defined, denoting speed and agility.

"Should be short and dense, sleek and glossy in appearance but neither wooly or silky."

Elaboration - Puppies may have heavier coats than adults. When it sheds, more densely coated dogs may exhibit pellet-like molting patterns throughout the coat which should not be penalized. This usually happens between 6 and 18 months of age. Some vets are not aware of this condition and it is sometimes misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. It takes about 3 months for the dog to outgrow and nothing you can do will hurry or delay it.

"Light wheaten to red wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes permissible but excessive white there, on the belly or above the toes is undesirable."

Elaboration - A Ridgeback hair is banded, lighter at the base, darker at the tip. The color may range from light wheaten (buff) through various shades of gold to red wheaten; all shades are acceptable. Lighter wheaten highlights are usually noted over the shoulder blades. Clear-faced dogs or dogs with black on the muzzle and around the eyes are equally acceptable. However, these black points should not continue as a solid mask over the eyes. On some dogs with heavy markings, the ears are often very dark. Some Ridgebacks with black pigmentation may have black hair interspersed throughout the coat; dark brown hair may be seen on a liver/brown-nosed dog. If the amount of black or dark brown is excessive, it is undesirable.

White - Our Standard does not condemn white. Some white is permissible and excessive white is not desirable. Small socks and white on the chest on an otherwise typey, sound dog should not eliminate him from consideration. The scale of points allows 3 points out of 100 to Coat and Color. This should bring into perspective the consideration given to this matter. Emphasis should be placed on the general conformation, soundness and purpose of the breed and then deal with the amount of variation from the Standard on an individual basis. It is well known that a good dog can carry more white and not be objectionable than a poorer specimen where the white will stand out like a beacon. To quote from Maj. T.C. Hawley's definitive work - The Rhodesian Ridgeback - "We must, at all costs, avoid a fetish that white is taboo."

"The hallmark of this 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 must be regarded as the characteristic feature of the breed.  The ridge should start be clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical.  It should start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point between the prominence of the hips and should contain two identical crowns (whorls) directly opposite each other. The lower edge of the crowns (whorls) should not extend further down the ridge than one-third of the ridge. Disqualification: Ridgelessness.
Serious fault: one crown (whorl) or more than two crowns (whorls)."

Elaboration - The Standard is very precise regarding the ridge. The ridge is located on the dogs's back. Any variation in length of ridge or placement of crowns (whorls) is incorrect and is to be considered a fault. The amount of variation and the severity of the fault is up to the individual assessing the dog. The width of the ridge is immaterial. One crown or more than two crowns are considered a serious fault. Occasionally there will be a parting of hair at the top of the ridge. This is not to be considered a fault unless it contains a complete crown (whorl).  A ridgeless dog is to be disqualified.

"AT the trot, the back is held level and the stride is efficient, long, free and unrestricted. Reach and drive expressing a perfect balance between power and elegance. At the chase, the Ridgeback demonstrates great coursing ability and endurance."

Elaboration - The trot should be effortless and flowing, covering the maximum amount of ground with the least amount of effort. At a slow trot the Ridgeback appears to be moving parallel, but as speed increases, the legs angle inward toward a center line beneath the body. The head is carried slightly above the level of the back, the backline remains level and firm, never high in the rear or loin. The tail blends smoothly, carried slightly above or slightly below the level of the back, never gay or curled. At all speeds the gait is effortless, rhythmic and smooth, denoting efficiency, presence and style. The Ridgeback was bred as a hunter, a courser of game of all sizes. Fast enough to catch the quarry, with enough endurance to put up a fight at the end of the hunt if need be. Our Standard refers to speed three times and endurance twice. Both are very important and will help select the correct type of dog.

"Dignified and even-tempered. Reserved with strangers."

Elaboration - Stable, fearless, intelligent, reserved with strangers, yet accepting of his master's judgement. A family dog that will attach himself to one member of the family, but claims the whole family as his to watch over. In the show ring, a reserved attitude should not be confused with shyness. Unnecessary aggression is not to be tolerated. Shyness should be dealt with tenderly, but firmly and is not desirable.

"Though intangible, character and temperament are far more real and lasting than physical excellence, essential though the latter may be. For every Rhodesian Ridgeback that wins show prizes, there are hundreds which are treasured, trusted companions." Major T.C. Hawley, "The Rhodesian Ridgeback".

General Appearance, size, symmetry and balance
Ridge 20
Head 15
Legs and Feet 15
Neck and Shoulders 10
Body, Back, Chest and Loin


Coat and Color 3
Tail 2

If you are considering a show potential puppy, always be sure to check not only AKC's official written standard for the breed as well as to visit the RRCUS (Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the US) ~ the breed's US Parent Club ~ for the most current and accurate written standard a the time.  Also, RRCUS has an excellent "Illustrated Standard" which is very useful in answering many questions.

If you have further questions after reviewing the Breed Standard from AKC and/or RRCUS, please email me if I can be of help:

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