Rhodesian Ridgeback


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 lion.

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 Africa.

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 history.

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 Africa.


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 semi-domesticated environment.

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 Ridgeback.

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 others.


German  Rhodesian Ridgeback  German

America  Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue  America

Rhodesian Ridgeback Information

Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain





Thai 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 recently.

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 fanciers.






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 extinct).

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 countries.

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 survived.

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 "boel".

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 dog.


English Boerboel German

The Basenji

By Kathleen Newton



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 soup pot. 

Besides being hunters, the Africans worshipped and revered the Basenjis.
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 Basenji.

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.

Physical Characteristics:

The most unique physical trait of the Basenji is their inability to bark.

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 vocabulary.


Adopt a Basenji  Basenji Rescue in America  Adopt a Basenji

America   Joyce Fay Rescue Dogs  America

Basenji Breed Council of Great Britain

Basenji Club of Great Britain




Cape Hunting Dog

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 behavior.

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 dog.



Zululand Wilddog Conservation
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.


SWA K-9 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 had to find them!

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 horseback.

The motorcyclists enjoyed much the same advantages as did the mounties, modified by a greater potential speed bought at the cost of noise.

Dogs were used by both wing elements quite successfully! In South Africa during the 1980s, a total of 800 dogs were being used, and 1,200 horses.

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 different roles.

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 at roadblocks.

SADF Veterinary Services

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 animals.

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.

SWASpes 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 elude.

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 day.

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 on.

Bush Dogs


Johan Gallant is the breeder of
African Dog (Africanus), the oldest dog in the world.
This dog has travelled down through Africa as Africans migrated South
7000 years ago.

Bush Dogs

Paul Weinberg Photography



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