Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks Dangerous? - The Pets and Love

Many people when asked about the Rhodesian Ridgeback will immediately say ‘aren’t they the breed of dog that can kill a lion?’ They don’t mention its intelligence, its athleticism or even its handsome looks, no, they ask ‘are Rhodesian Ridgebacks dangerous?’

It’s an unfortunate truth, but still, a truth nonetheless, that many people when asked about the Rhodesian Ridgeback will immediately say ‘aren’t they the breed of dog that can kill a lion?’ They don’t mention its intelligence, its athleticism or even its handsome looks, no, they ask ‘are Rhodesian Ridgebacks dangerous?

In very simple terms the answer is no, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is not a dangerous dog breed. Also, just to be clear here they absolutely CANNOT and have not been used to kill a lion!

The truth is that Rhodesian Ridgebacks are just like any other breed of dog in the ‘dangerous’ stakes. They certainly have traits that could make them behave in an undesirable manner, such as being predatory, but so do Whippets and Terriers and we don’t question the ‘danger’ levels with them. What we do instead, is we train these breeds, we teach them desirable behavior.

So Where Did The Lion Killing Reputation Come From?

It can only be imagined how exactly Rhodesian Ridgebacks jumped from being known as the near perfect protector to the slayer of lions. It is, however, quite clear that this ‘idea’ is still prevalent today. Just go into any forum that is discussing the Rhodesian Ridgeback and you will see a debate on this very subject.

The reality of the Rhodesian Ridgeback and its interaction with lions actually resides in protection; the protection of home ranges, cattle and people in Southern Africa. They did this by darting in, out and around the lions, keeping out of the reach of claws and jaws until their owners could shoot them.

Although these dogs had been used for some time as protectors it was Rhodesian Cornelius Van Rooyen that really brought them to the attention of other people and made them famous. Hence the nickname Van Rooyen’s Lion Dog or African Lion Hound which was given to them later. He mated two of his Greyhound like ridged dogs with ‘lion dogs’ producing the Rhodesian Ridgeback we know today.

During the time they were widely used, mid to late 19th century until the early 1920s, the Rhodesian Ridgeback had a wonderful reputation for being an excellent guard dog and protector that was wholly devoted to its family. They were also noted for their high tolerance of and affection for children. Believe me, when I say, nothing has changed!

Interestingly by the time the American Kennel Club was introduced to the Rhodesian Ridgeback in 1922 they were on the verge of extinction. A breed standard was however laid down and in the 1930s the famous actor Errol Flynn was the first to breed them in the United States. Unfortunately, the bloodline he created no longer exists.

So What Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks Really Like?

Physically they are a large and muscular species with a unique ridge of stiff hair along their backs, hence the name Rhodesian Ridgeback. Believe it or not, they were described by those who first kept them as ugly! How they came to that conclusion we will never know as most eyes looking upon this species see a very handsome, confident, and well-defined breed of dog.

Personality wise the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a loyal, affectionate, and protective breed that is in the main placid and easy going within the home. They are also highly intelligent, have a stubborn streak, and can be fiercely independent.  Full of energy they need a lot of exercise and tend to bore easily. This can lead to damage and destructiveness within the home and garden if not addressed.

It also needs to be noted that the Rhodesian Ridgeback can be a little contradictory in nature. For example whilst being loyal and affectionate with their family they can be standoffish and aloof with others. They may also bond well with other family pets but chase after strange cats or other animals in a possibly aggressive, predatory manner.

Both of the above traits, aloofness, and predatory behavior, can, however, be easily addressed by training the Rhodesian Ridgeback correctly. Be aware though that this breed is strong-willed, independent and highly intelligent so needs an owner with those identical traits.

What Kind Of Training Does A Rhodesian Ridgeback Need?

Firstly it cannot be stated strongly enough the importance of any dog breed, not just the Rhodesian Ridgeback, receiving the correct training to ensure that they are not a danger to themselves, other people and other animals. The responsibility for ensuring that you have a well-behaved dog that poses no threat to anyone or anything is set squarely on the owner’s shoulders.

As with all other dog breeds, it is important that you teach your Rhodesian Ridgeback basic safety commands and exactly what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior. In fact, you would follow the same training programs that any other dog would participate in. However, and this is where it gets more difficult, there are certain areas you will need to ensure that you concentrate your efforts and get excellent results!

  • Socialization – All puppies need to be socialized to ensure that they do not become fearful or show fear aggression. This is especially true, however, of the Rhodesian Ridgeback who has the natural trait of being protective of their owners and very aloof around strangers. Try to introduce them at an early age to lots of people and lots of different experiences including interaction or sight of other animals.
  • Predatory Instinct – As well as being used for protection Rhodesian Ridgebacks would often hunt baboons, wild pigs etcetera on their home ranges in South Africa making them a hunting dog with a predatory instinct. This can, but not always, lead to them displaying behaviors such as chasing wild animals, neighbors cats, and other dogs. To help control this instinct early introduction to other animals should be used.

Please note: Rhodesian Ridgebacks need owners who are strong-willed, can provide consistent training, and mean what they say! This is due to the breeds own strong will and a tendency to believe that it is equal to its owner. Fail to display these traits with your Rhodesian Ridgeback at your own peril. These are strong dogs that will rule the roost if you let them!

Simplify It For Me; What Are the Pros Of Rhodesian Ridgeback Ownership?

There are many pros involved in welcoming a Rhodesian Ridgeback into your family and these include:

  • They are loyal, affectionate and intelligent
  • They make excellent guard dogs
  • They are exceptional with children
  • They are unique looking (ridge of hair down back)
  • They are quiet and calm in the home
  • They have short easy to care for coats that tend to be odorless

Sound good? Then a Rhodesian Ridgeback is the dog for you.

What Do I Need To Be Aware Of With Rhodesian Ridgebacks?

There are no cons when it comes to choosing a Rhodesian Ridgeback as the dog breed for you, just things that you should consider. These include:

  • They need a lot of vigorous exercise
  • They are naturally predatory with a chasing instinct
  • They are incredibly strong
  • They can be destructive when bored
  • They are strong willed and think of themselves as your equal

If you can’t or don’t want to deal with the above, the Rhodesian Ridgeback may not be the breed for you.

Where would I Get A Rhodesian Ridgeback?

You have a couple of good options when it comes to getting a Rhodesian Ridgeback to join your family. The first of these is choosing a breeder and buying a puppy, the second is adoption or rescue.

If you want to have a Rhodesian Ridgeback from being a puppy, the first thing you have to do is choose a breeder carefully. Ensure that you can spend time with at least the mother of the pups, both parents preferably so that you can see the temperament and health of one or both. This will help you to avoid buying puppies with potential negative traits. Also, research your chosen breeder to ensure that they are reputable and not running what could turn out to be a puppy farm!

Rescuing or adoption is not only a really good thing to do from the point of view that you are giving a dog in need a new home, but also that you should know better what you are getting. Older dogs will have already developed any negative traits they could possess and potentially have had them trained out. Be aware, however, that any potential issues an older dog may have can be a lot harder to address and correct than they are in a younger dog or puppy.

However you decide to bring a Rhodesian Ridgeback into your home it is a decision, once made, you won’t regret. They are loyal, affectionate, protective, in fact, a rather large lap dog that will absolutely brighten up your life. Oh, and just one more thing that brings us back to the original question; are Rhodesian Ridgebacks dangerous? Yes, they are absolutely are, because once you own one, you will be in serious danger of losing your heart!

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