In the early days, life was difficult on the African Veldt, and the dogs were mostly kept for hunting purposes, rather than as house pets. In spite of their apparent lack of comeliness, they were well known for their ability to hunt and guard. It wasn’t long before, Van Rooyen became well known for his ridged dogs with the “uncanny ability to guard and keep lions at bay”, a useful trait for the settlers who were often plagued with large game harassing their livestock. Hunter and dog worked as a team to hold the lions back, keeping the king of beasts preoccupied while the hunter went for the kill. This new breed was also able to handle the unfriendly terrain of Southern Africa and to fight of many the diseases that often took wildlife.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback was never used to engage a lion head on, but rather to relentlessly discourage it. The hunter, whose rifles lacked accuracy would then be able to get close enough to overcome the weapons ineffectiveness. However, a Ridgeback was known to engage smaller predators, such as Baboons, and Africanis, a wild scavenger dog. The Rhodesian, or Lionhound as it came to be known, used its well developed sense of smell to hunt down a group of its prey. Their long legs and great stride would also help them to run down the group they were hunting and quickly gain on them, long before the hunters on foot ever could. The hounds were grouped in pairs, and often squads of three or more, which would allow them to corner their prey, by taking turns darting in and out, creating confusion in the mind of their quarry. Hunters were very selective about which Rhodesian Ridgebacks they used. They needed a dog with great focus, courage and ability to keep its prey cornered, while staying away from the lightning fast responses of the claws of the big cats. A good animal would give the hunter time to set up the perfect shot. Having a dog that was not cut out for hunting could allow for injury to another dog, or injury to the hunter themselves. Consequently, they relied on only the very best animals, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback became legendary in that regard.
Eventually, the dog was recognized as the South African Rhodesian Ridgeback, having the particular attributes of being medium in size, a hound type of dog, tan or red in color, and fast and nimble. He must also possess the one trait that made it known as being a ridgeback. It must have a ridge of hair that runs the entire length of its back, flowing in the opposite direction of the rest of its coat. It is about two inches wide, tapering in width from from a fan just above the withers having two symmetrically positioned crowns. It then proceeds down the back and ends at a point just above the loins. A very noticeable feature and the hallmark of the breed, to be sure. Eventually they became eligible to be registered through the Kennel Union of Southern Africa. The Rhodesian standard was based loosely on the Dalmatian standard as a starting point, due in part because of the Dalmatian’s endurance. Well bred, properly structured Ridgbacks can routinely cover 20-30 miles in a day. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was finally accepted as a breed into the KUSA in 1926.