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Rhodesian Ridgebacks


When the first Dutch settlers landed at Table Bay in 1652, they found the Cape was inhabited by the Hottentots, who hunted with dogs of a peculiar appearance: medium-sized, reddish brown or tan in colour, with a short mane of hair on their backs, which ran from hips to shoulder. They were wary of strangers & quite vicious, but displayed unmatched hunting skills. The Settlers were impressed with their qualities, but the Hottentots would not part with any. The European-bred dogs, mainly of the sporting type, fell prey to the dangers & diseases of the African bush. Therefore the Settlers crossed their stock with the indigenous African dogs and useful, hardy frontier dogs were developed. The ridge of the Hottentot dog manifested itself in many of the offspring of these matings; as a dominant gene it recurred for generations. These dogs with their masters explored & expanded northwards; hunting, farming, etc.


Towards the late 1800's, a majority of British settlers colonised land north of the Limpopo river, defeated the local tribes and created Rhodesia. Early Rhodesia was "lion country" and a type of "Lionhound" was needed desperately. The ancestry of the early Ridgeback made him perfect for that title and purpose: he possessed a good nose, speed, stamina, courage, dash & spirit, hunting skills, immunity against disease and his identity - the ridge. These lionhounds would hunt with an uncanny similarity to lions: approaching slowly & with care, heads low, dropping occasionally to study their objective. Working in packs, they would spread out, approaching from all sides to confuse, and then instinctively rush in and overwhelm their prey. Only when they were upon a lion would they "bay", somewhere between a deep bark and howl, a signal to the hunter. This quarry's lethal defences would have to be avoided, while confining him until the hunter could get a good clean shot. One swing from a mighty paw could kill a dog easily, so they needed lightning fast reflexes. Many dogs didn't survive, some suffered serious injuries, only the fittest & most skilful lived to reproduce their qualities.


Mr Francis Richard Barnes acquired his first ridged dog in 1915 while in Bulawayo. "Dingo" was descended from one of Cornelius van Rooyen's hunting dogs, who was impressed with 2 hounds owned by Rev Charles Helm and bred from them. When the Barnes' moved and began farming at Figtree, the famous Eskdale Ridgebacks began and Eskdale Jock, Leo & Connie were foundations of the breed; they soon produced hounds that were practical and beautiful. It became obvious that a breed standard was needed; in 1922 Mr Barnes called a meeting of ridged dog owners at the venue of the Bulawayo KC Show. From those present at the meeting, great variety in colour, coat and size were found, but following much discussion, Mr Barnes drew up a Standard from those qualities most desired. It resulted in a Standard of conformation similar to the Dalmatian (only bigger), and remains unchanged to date apart from the brindle colour now being unacceptable and white allowed only on chest & feet. Modern dogs are somewhat heavier than their ancestors. The Parent Club was formed and 2 years later, the Rhodesian Ridgeback "Lion Dog" was recognised by the SA Kennel Union. The first dogs were registered in September 1925, the first Champion was made up 3 years later. They were excellent hunters & reliable protectors of homesteads, soon becoming popular as companions to those in towns & cities. As the finest examples of the breed were exported, the Rhodesian Ridgeback gained fame across the world.