Ridgebacks were carefully and specifically bred in Rhodesia
from several well-known (mainly hound) breeds of dogs to perform a
specific function which was to bay lion. Baying entails distracting
the lion so that it remains in one place for as long as it
takes for the hunter to shoot the quarry.
The lion is probably the world's most efficient predator (killer).
He does not waste his skills; he kills to eat or to protect
himself; there is nothing frivolous about his killing capabilities.
And the Ridgeback knows this.
The dogs have tremendous
respect, bordering on fear, for the big cats.
To a lion a Ridgeback, physically, represents no threat whatsoever.
There is very little effort required of him to dispose of this dog.
And the Ridgeback is fully aware of this reality.
But the lion also knows that the Ridgeback can overcome his fear
and proceed to goad and terrorise him (because that is what his
activities amount to). In spite of his physical inferiority the
Ridgeback represents a very real psychological threat to the
And so "the game is on"
and one of nature's potentially most unequal contests takes place
successfully as a result of the intelligence/cunning and
speed/power of the dog.
The "hunting dog" of the late 1800's, for
example Vuilbaard, Steekbaard etc, were associated with the
migration from the Cape to the interior. These dogs were required
to protect the goods, the chattels, the farm animals (primarily
cattle and sheep), and most importantly the families, as the
pioneers moved through uncharted areas across
Until the 1940s and 1950s the dog used predominantly by the hunters
in South Africa was the Boerboel.
Before, and more importantly after, the Second World War those
hunter's changed over to the faster, more intelligent, breed
originally called the "lion dog", though by that stage the name of
Rhodesian Ridgeback was well entrenched regardless of genetic
The name of the breed is determined by the peculiarity of the ridge
on the back of these dogs.
In Europe these ridges are unknown but they are common in much of
For example, many of the Sitkas have ridges, and this feature is
observed frequently in the indigenous dogs of Zaire, Angola,
Tanzania, and Zambia.
The Mesopotamian Hunting Dog was brought down the east coast of
Africa in the course of tribal migration over several centuries and
part of the movement was deflected towards the west.
It is assumed that these dogs carried the ridge gene and that
eventually they reached the Cape and acquired the name of Hottentot
Hunting Dog, serving a very useful purpose with the Khoisan in a
Most importantly there was the native Hottentot dog which was
particularly prized by the Hottentots for their natural wariness
and instinct for sensing danger, (which was essential lest they
become the hunted), ability to harry lion and the most important
and unique factor of all - the Ridge.
For the above reasons the first pioneers in the 17th Century soon
found it expedient to cross their European breeds with the
indigenous Hottentot dogs as this also gave their dogs the ability
to cope with disease and environment and so majority of the dogs
had this unique blood coursing through their veins.
The Hottentot Hunting Dog was very similar to the Sitka, that is it
had a small narrow head and a jackal sized body, in other words,
very different from the Ridgeback of today. But it did have a
ridge, and the settlers made much use of it in producing what they
sought for hunting and security purposes.
One of the best known early pictures of a ridged dog depicts the
scene of a dead Hartebeest surrounded by Khoisan hunters, with that
particular dog, near Lake Ngami in Botswana.
That dog belonged to a well-known hunter called Baldwin; he
recorded it in a drawing in May 1858 and though it is no Ridgeback
by today's description it does have size and substance, and Baldwin
acquired it in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
The Reverend Charles Daniel Helm (1844 - 1915)
brought two dogs to his mission at Hope Fountain near what is
now Bulawayo, which is in the far south-west corner of Rhodesia
(now known as Zimbabwe), and these two bitches were to become the
foundation of what we refer to today as the Rhodesian
A hunter, Cornelius van Rooyen, who was born at Uitenhage in
1860 and moved to Tate (Matabeleland) in 1875
bred Helm's two bitches into his hunting pack.
Cornelius van Rooyen used many breeds of dogs, principally
Khoikoi, Greyhound, Bulldog, Pointer, Irish Terrier, Airdale
Terrier, Collie, and Deerhound.
The first Rhodesian Ridgeback book by Major Hawley (considered by
Ridgeback clubs to be "The Bible") writes of crosses which were
particularly useful and used during the mid to late last century
Bullmastiff-Foxhound and Stag-Bloodhound.
Mastiff crosses would hunt Baboon and Bulldog-Mastiff crosses were
also capable of hunting leopards.
Steekbaards (which were probably derived from Irish Terrier and
possibly old Deerhounds) are also mentioned and it is likely that
they were the foundation for Von Rooyen's pack.
The Ridgeback gene has filtered down into many of the pedigree
dogs, as nature and the dogs themselves have sought their own
"breeding program" and you will find Alsatian/Ridgeback crosses,
Labrador/Ridgeback crosses, Great Dane/Ridgeback crosses and
Rhodesian Ridgeback Club
of Great Britain
Ridgeback : Phu Quoc
Traditionally, the only
other pedigree Ridgeback dog beside the well known Rhodesian
Ridgeback has been the Phu Quoc Dog.
Pho Quoc Island, now a part of Vietnam, is the major isle in the
Gulf of Siam, about 200 km south of Bangkok.
The ancestry of the Phu Quoc dog is undoubtedly the Thai Ridgeback
which has existed in eastern Siam (near the Cambodian border) for
at least four hundred years .
Ridgeback dogs in cave paintings dating back 1000 years have been
found in Cambodia and Thailand.
These Thai Ridgebacks were used for hunting (they are keen sight
hounds) deer, tapirs and birds in dense jungle, as guardians for
family homesteads and as companions for carts, the traditional mode
of transportation in these areas.
As a result of the isolation of the area, Thai Ridgebacks have
retained their unique type and traditional usage until
However, today "civilization" has come even to these isolated
areas. Roads have been built and autos have replaced carts as the
major mode of transportation. Intense deforestation throughout
Thailand has destroyed most hunting habitat.
Thai Ridgebacks today are primarily kept as companions or guards
for the family homestead and have been adopted by many Thai dog
When Jan van Riebeeck
came to the Cape in 1652, he brought his own dog to protect him and
his family in this wild and unknown country. This dog was a
"Bullenbijter", a large and heavy mastiff-type dog (now
The settlers who came after Jan van Riebeeck also brought along
their strongest dogs to protect them against all the unknown
dangers of this strange land, thus dogs arrived from many different
As the pioneers moved further and further inland and settled on
remote farms, the dogs were forcibly isolated and a lot of
inbreeding took place which had the result that the characteristics
of the original assirian dog started to reappear. Survival was of
the outmost importance and it was here that the hardiness of
today's Boerboel was per force bred into the dog.
During the Groot Trek the Boerboel had most of the features that it
has today and is clearly recognizable from old drawings. In the
period after the trek, on the distant farms, the Boerboel inbreed
further and only the biggest and strongest dogs
His pioneer owner required him to be a friend of the family, a
worker, provide protection, they could not afford to have a
disobedient, moody, finicky, sickly dog-they had to be able to rely
on him to protect the family and to work.
At the turn of the century the characteristics of the old, original
dog were clearly visible and the dog was generally known as the
The years that followed brought tragedy to the Boerboel.
Urbanization caused cross breeding with anything that could bark
and the typical "boel" started to dissappear. It was only in the
eighties that a serious search started again for the original farm
Although not as old as
mankind, the Basenji (pronounced buh-sen-jee), known as the
"barkless dog of Africa," is an ancient breed.
Archaeologists have traced the Basenji's origins to the Zaire and
Congo regions of Africa, where the Basenji first appeared in
ancient engravings about 5,000 years ago.
However, the Louvre museum in France contains a statue of a Basenji
dated at 5000 B.C., which would indicate the breed has been around
for closer to 7,000 years.
Tribes in Africa used the Basenji as a hunting dog. They passed on
the breed's excellent hunting skills through not-so-natural
culling: Basenjis with poor hunting skills often ended up in the
Besides being hunters, the Africans worshipped and revered the
Explorers have discovered statues and engravings of the Basenji
throughout the Nile Valley, particularly within the tombs of
Pharaohs. For example, Anubis, the Egyptian deity who was one of
three "weighers of hearts", contained the head of a
Ancient Egyptian art works show very clearly, dogs of the basenji's
size and shape. Of course, other breeds are also depicted, namely
Pharaoh Hounds and Izban Hounds.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu (also known as Cheops), constructed
about 2700 BCE, has paintings of basenji type dogs seated at the
feet of their owners.
There are also cave and rock drawings dating from about 6000 BCE in
what is now Libya.
These paintings show hunting scenes that contain pariah dogs
looking very similar to basenjis. European explorers first started
describing basenjis in 1870.
The most unique physical trait of the Basenji is their inability to
This is due to a breed-specific anomaly of the vocal cords.
While the Basenji cannot actually "bark", he makes a
yodelling-sound and can make every other sound in the canine
Basenji Basenji Rescue in
America Adopt a
Joyce Fay Rescue
Council of Great Britain
Basenji Club of Great
Lycaon pictus (painted
wolf in Latin), is an unlikely creature; long-legged and slender,
with broad skull and hyena-like ears, he looks like an awkward
teenage boy, not yet full-grown. But in motion, he is a stunning
combination of brilliant color and perfect grace, form and function
brought to perfection.
The African wild dog, also known as the Cape hunting dog, is the
single species in its genus.
It belongs to the family Canidae, the dog family, and thus is a
distant cousin of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) and its
precursor, the wolf (Canis lupus).
Major differences between Lycaon and Canis is in the teeth and
toes; the wild dog has highly specialized shearing teeth and four
toes instead of five on its front feet.
At first glance, the painted wolf superficially resembles the
hyena, another broad-headed, big-eared, pack-dwelling carnivore; a
second look, however, readily discerns major differences in
structure that bespeak differences in hunting style and
The hyena is front-heavy, with a stocky, earth-colored body
well-camoflaged in its habitat and a small tail; the wild dog is
brilliantly colored in black, deep brown, gold, and white, each
with a unique pattern.
The wild dog tail is relatively large and always tipped with white;
it is used much as a domestic dog uses its tail as an indicator of
mood. The wild dog stands about 30 inches at the shoulder and
weighs 40-80 pounds.
The Cape Hunting Dog is facing extinction because farmers consider
him to be vermin, which is a shame because he is a beautiful
Working Holidays with
Wilddog Conservation in Zimbabwe
A Dog Centre was started in 1964 to train both handlers, and dogs
for the South African Defence Forces and also to breed suitable
dogs at their center at Owambo, South Africa.
Like most western countries, South Africa uses service dogs
in its Armed Forces and by their National Police for explosive and
mine detectors, sentry, patrol, and tracking duties.
Specialist Unit ... Counter Insurgent Trackers!
But the South West Africa Specialist Unit - the SWASpes from the
Afrikaans - was perhaps, one of the World's most unusual units of
any army. This follow-up specialized unit grew out of the S.A.D.F.
peculiar requirements of their counter insurgency campaign,
for northern South West Africa during the 1980s.
Its basic concept was to combine, and blend the skills of highly
trained infantry and expert trackers with the mobility granted by
horses and motorcycles and the special abilities of well trained
dogs and their handlers.
As in any counter insurgency, the major difficulty faced by the
SWAS was actually coming to grips with the insurgents ...you had to
A composite unit of SWASpes had three main wings: mounted,
motorcycle and tracking. Prospective members of the mounted wing
and the future dog handlers were first sent to the SADF Horse
Centre, and the SADF Dog Centre respectively to learn the rudiments
of their new trade.
The primary advantage that the mounties enjoyed over their foot
mobile opposition was that of mobility, in terms of both speed and
endurance. This mobility edge was fully exploited by the SWASpes,
who learnt the 'art of tracking' while riding
The motorcyclists enjoyed much the same advantages as did the
mounties, modified by a greater potential speed bought at the cost
Dogs were used by both wing elements quite successfully! In South
Africa during the 1980s, a total of 800 dogs were being used, and
While the selection and training of both was very demanding,
all prospective trackers, faced a complete program designed to
provide a thorough knowledge of spoor interpretation.
And what even the most skilled trackers couldn't achieve, well
trained and handled dogs often could, a fact that was not lost on
the security forces. SWASpes used several breeds of dogs, each in
The German Shepherd remained the favourite dog, combining a good
nose with discipline, intelligence, controllable aggresiveness and
an alert nature, but preference in tracking went to the Labrador,
and the Australian Sheepdog, although Alsatians, Bloodhounds and a
Doberman-Rottweiler cross were also used with success.
Other duties assigned to the expert canine counter insurgents
included mine, and explosive detection during searches, and
The Directorate of Veterinary Services is one of the smaller, yet
most dynamic and specialised directorates in the South African
Medical Service (SAMS) today.
The directorate was founded in 1977, when the need arose for
fulltime care of the animals used by the South African Defence
Force. This entailed, not only medical care for the animals, but
also nutrition, housing and breeding programs.
These remain the main priorities of the directorate, and have been
expanded to such a degree that there are presently SA military
veterinarians who only involve themselves exclusively with
breeding, and medical care of, and surgery on all SADF
In the 1980's, during involvement of the South African Defence
Force in Namibia, veterinarians were deeply involved in the health
and care of horses and dogs used in the bush war.
During the war, service dogs were primarily used for tracking,
detection of explosives and drugs; and the horses were used for
patrol work. Various follow-up operations and even attacks were
performed on horseback.
Introduced The Irish Packhound Concept
During the early 1980s, the SWASpes introduced the counter
insurgency application of the Irish Packhound concept; using dogs
to track, run down, and corner the quarry for the infantry or more
practical, the mounties to deal with.
While these pack dogs were not particularly well disciplined and
certainly responded somewhat erratically to commands, they did
track extremely well, and could keep up a speed of 15km for
over 4 hours, peaking at 30km for 15 minutes.
It takes little imagination to realize, that this combination of
mounties 'n pack dogs was one few insurgents could
It is, in fact, very much the combination of the mobility of the
mounties via horse or motorcycle and the skill of the tracker, dog
combination, that made the SWASpes what it was.
To illustrate this by an example:
A tracker team on a follow up, picked up a relatively old spoor
early one morning. A mountie section with their own trackers took
it over from them, and continued to follow the spoor throughout the
By darkness, they had made up alot of ground, that the spoor was
fresh enough for dogs to pickup and follow. A K9 unit of handlers
and infantry was then brought up by vehicle, and it followed
the spoor through the night.
Early the following morning, the insurgents found their entire day
ruined by the arrival of troops just as they were about to move
Gallant is the breeder of
African Dog (Africanus), the oldest dog in the world.
This dog has travelled down through Africa as Africans migrated
7000 years ago.
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