Waarheid Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Promoting the Total Rhodesian Ridgeback
"Function First, True to Type"
Hunting Companion, Cattle Drover, Farm and Family Guardian


A word about Ridglessness and Breeding Ridgeless Dogs

A quick glance around this site and you might notice the term "Ridgelessbacks" being used and wonder what that's all about. In fact not once will you find the phrase "Ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback".

Most in the breed will use this definitively incorrect phrase when identifying the Ridgeless puppies that they have produced, thinking that these dogs are "Ridgebacks" even though they have no ridge, and genetically, cannot contribute a ridge to their offspring. After all, their logic goes, these dogs are pure bred - the progeny of two ridged parents, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback is more than just its ridge. In short, a Rhodesian Ridgeback is not defined by it's ridge.

From a historical, semantic, and genetic perspective, I respectfully disagree.

The history of our breed makes it transparently clear that the ridge is the breed defining feature of the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

We know that in December of 1924 Barnes wrote to the South African Kennel Union (SAKU, later changed to KUSA) petitioning for recognition of the breed and affiliation for the Parent Club in Bulawayo (later moved to Salisbury). The petition was denied. We also know that Barnes did not give up, but kept trying, and more than a year later (Feb 1926) SAKU *officially* affiliated the founding Parent Club.

The obvious question... "So What?"

Oft overlooked by modern fanciers is the fact that part of the Parent Club affiliation acceptance included an agreement by SAKU to change their classification of the breed. Up to that point it had been "Rhodesian Lion Dog".

The classification was at that point specifically changed to "Rhodesian Ridgeback".

The next obvious question then is "Why the change?" History gives us the answer. As it turns out there were numerous types and kinds of dogs that were used in the pursuit of lion... even then, in the mid twenties when lion hunting had already experienced the 'lion's share' of its demise, the ridged descendants of Van Rooyen's stock were not the only dogs being used for lion hunting. Rhodesian Ridgebacks weren't the only 'Lion Dogs', even in the 1920's.

Linda Costa in her historical treatise on the breed "Rhodesian Ridgeback Pioneers" summarizes the significance of the change in classification this way:

    "Francis Barnes was concerned that word "Ridgeback" be included in the name, otherwise any dog that hunted lion in Rhodesia could be a Rhodesian Lion Dog - this he successfully persuaded SAKU to accept."

So, with all due respect to those who's emotional sentimentalities prevents them from being able to be objective about the issue, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is defined by its name. It has been very intentionally defined by its name as it relates to the ridge phenotype since February of 1926.

From the historical perspective, to say that "a rose is a rose" or "a lion dog is a lion dog is a lion dog" is intellectually dishonest and places oneat odds with the founders of the breed, and most breed historians/experts. Follow the timeline, the message remains constant - The Ridge IS what makes these dogs.

  1. --1 Of some of the predecessors Green wrote, "the finest type of bushman hunting dog, a light brown ridgeback... without a doubt the finest dogs in the world for the hunter's purpose..."

    --2 Beyond the precursors, of the foundational stock, renowned breed historian Linda Costa wrote, "The best from each litter was always kept to improve the strain. The ridged puppies produced from these matings showed a marked tendency to excel as hunting dogs... "

    --3 When it finally came time for standardization and club recognition, Barnes specifically insisted that our breed NOT be called the Rhodesian Lion Dog by the SAKU, citing the fact that there were several other breeds and mongrels alike being used in pursuit of lion (with varying degrees of success) at the time. "Lion Dog" was changed to "Ridgeback" by thoughtful INTENT and design, not by happenstance. Barnes didn't want ours to become "just another lion dog". It was the *Ridge* that separated these dogs from the rest.

    --4 In regards to the husbandry of the modern incarnation of the Ridgeback, Major T.C. Hawley, the worlds foremost authority on our breed, wrote, "It has been argued that the animal is first and foremost a dog and thereafter a ridgeback; that the ridge... has really nothing to do with the quality of the dog, and therefore of minor importance. This cannot be conceded." "... the ridge is the escutcheon of and inseparable from the breed."

Beyond the testimony of history/founders/experts, there is the genetics. Unlike recessives, as an autosomal dominant trait, the Ridge is also reliably indicative of genotype - if you don't show it... you don't have it to offer. Ridgelessbacks cannot produce Ridge- backed offspring by matings to another Ridgelessback. Whether the AKC would grant them registration or not is completely irrelevant. Consider a theoretical 2 or 3 or 5 or 10 generations of breeding ridgeless offspring to ridgeless offspring. This theoretical breeding program would only produce one thing - more ridgeless offspring. Would the AKC register these dogs as "Rhodesian Ridgebacks" as the 10th consecutive generation of ridgeless to ridgeless bred offspring? Yes, they absolutely would!!! But are they really "Ridgebacks"? No. They haven't had a single ridged genotype in their pedigree for 10 generations, but 'by gum' the AKC will register them. --- They are not Ridgebacks, they are 10 consecutive generations of brown dogs bred to brown dogs.

In defense of the Ridgeless-as-Ridgebacks position, the question has been rhetorically posed many times, "What are the ridgeless offspring of two pure-breed Ridgebacks, other than Ridgebacks? Carrots?"

Let's be intellectually honest. Many folks in our breed community have deep running emotional investments in this issue. They love and/or have loved one or more very special ridgelessbacks. These dogs are sensitive, beautiful, intelligent... everything we who love Ridgebacks love them for. Even from a non-emotional, purely intellectual perspective, to even suggest that these wonderful ridgeless purebreds are somehow not "ridgebacks" feels seemingly paradoxical. And then factor the emotional component in and it almost seems personally degrading, as if these beloved dogs are somehow "less-than". The very idea feels offensive and insulting.

But emotional investment will not alter the reality. A ridgeless "ridgeback" is not a carrot. It is a dog. But from the semantically and genetically honest perspective and the historically accurate perspective, while it could be considered a *Rhodesian Lion Dog*, by definition, a "ridgeless" "Rhodesian Ridgeback" is in fact -NOT- a Rhodesian Ridgeback. To disagree on this, is to disagree with the very formalizing founder of the breed himself, Francis Barnes, and the determination of the Kennel Union. The fundamental question that drives this debate was -definitively- answered in 1926. The answer hasn't changed in 80 years... this latest genetic discovery does nothing to change it now - if anything, it has actually confirmed that Ridgelessbacks do not posses even a single copy of the Ridge mutation. And it most certainly does not give us the right to try to undo the work of the founders because we are emotionally invested in our ridgeless purebreds.

Forgive the pun, but I have no real "dog" in this fight. I have gone on record advocating some pretty outside-the-box breeding ideologies/practices and interpretations of both the current and historical breed standards. If there is anyone that doesn't buy into the 'elitist' arguments and conventions of the fancy and much of the popular breed culture... it's me. If people want to increase heterozygosity (ostensibly to reduce the incidence of DS) by breeding within the confines of 'finishable' ridged stock, or by breeding homozygotes to non-showable ridgeless purebreds, I could care less. The point is that it can be done either way, we don't have to breed ridgeless to accomplish that goal, but with this new genetic test added to our breeding arsenal, we can certainly choose to. Regardless of the breeding practices embraced going forward, the issue is, "Does a dog have to be pure bred, or ridged, or both, to be a Rhodesian Ridgeback?" Again, we were given the answer 80 years ago.

I don't personally care if a dog has a ridge or not. I love dogs, all dogs. But over 80 years ago both Barnes and SAKU agreed that the -ridge- as a distinction between a non-descript Lion Dog, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was so significant, that it warranted changing the very name of the breed.