In the early days, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was primarily a utilitarian animal. Life on the African Veldt was challenging, to put it mildly. Our breed was used for a variety of tasks to help make life easier. It was bred to be capable of many things, including guardian of livestock, protector of property, a game dog and of course, as a tracking dog – and from history we know that it was used extensively in the pursuit of lion.
It is this last feature that is of major importance to us because it demonstrates a particular attribute of the breed, although it has nothing to do with its hunting instinct.
Tracking and baying of a lion for a Rhodsesian Ridgeback requires a set of unique skills to be sure, but without the physical capability to perform these abilities, the dog would be useless. In fact, many a breeding and crosses were accomplished over many years in order to spawn the dog we are familiar with today. Often, a breeding could be so far away from the intended outcome, that whole litters were culled in order to prevent compromising the future of the breed. This may seem harsh, but an animal without proper credentials would not only severely impact the soundness of future generations, but would become a hindrance to itself and possibly others.
One area of concern – and it is still a very big issue today – is the Rhodesian Ridgebacks skeletal structure. This dog was bred to carry itself in such a way that it would not tire after many miles of tracking, or even herding. “Endurance”, which comes about by economy and efficiency of motion, was – and still is – a hallmark of the breed. Mismatching of sire and dam can be fatal to the endurance of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. In fact it is so important that the more reputable breeders do not merely look to the sire and dam of a potential pairing, but at several generations of each side of the pedigree. In this way the subtle problem of poor structural angulation can be reduced, or even eliminated. This issue is so important that the problem of poor skeletal structure can be such that where a dog may not have a hip or elbow problem otherwise, it may develop just because of this alone. Whats more, to the untrained eye, a dog that has a problem with, say good shoulders and forearm will never appear to be an issue at all. This is something that only a well educated, experienced breeder can see.