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
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 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
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?
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.