Showsight Presents The Rhodesian Ridgeback

Rhodesian Ridgeback Q&A

WITH JOHN ARVIN, SANDRA FIKES, DENISE FLAIM, LINDA MORE

The Ridgeback breed culture is such that breeding ridge- less is still very much taboo; that said, we have evolved significantly from just a few decades ago, when healthy ridgeless puppies were routinely culled. A handful of breeders in the U.S., Canada and Europe have bred ridgeless bitches to males who were homozygous for the ridge gene, ensuring entirely ridged litters. But this is the decided exception. I think what breeders do in the privacy of their whelp- ing box is their own business. I do, however, believe that ridged dogs should be the end goal of any breeding and strenuously object to the idea of a ridgeless variety, which has been proposed as recently as last year by the FCI. LM: I’m not a RR breeder, but if I were I do not think I would use a ridgeless dog in breeding. It will be interest- ing to learn what the breeders have to say on this. 5. Do you believe that a lion-hunting dog fits the defi- nition of a sight hound? JA: No. The Ridgeback does not have the classic outline of a Sighthound. I was there in the 1980s and actively sup- ported lure coursing for our breed as something to get the dogs off the couch. I also missed where the Sight- hound definition included “track and bay”. SF: Certainly. Holding lions at bay is herding instinct and doesn’t preclude chasing by sight. DF: This question reflects a misunderstanding of the Ridge- back’s historic role and classification. First, the Ridgeback is not a “pure” Sighthound; it is a breed based firmly on Sighthound blood (specifically, Greyhound and likely Deerhound/Wolfhound) crossed with other breeds to give it a bit more biddability and air-scenting ability. Second, while lion hunting may have been the breed’s “sexiest” role, it is by no means its primary one. For every privileged 19th century trophy hunter who went lion hunting with a pack of Ridgebacks, there were thousands of Afrikaners who went about their daily lives with this breed quietly at their side, ready to chase down meat for the table or fend off a hostile baboon or leopard. LM: Actually, no, because RRs can use both sight and scent to find and track the lion (and see below about long dis- tance trotting). That said I’ve seen Ridgebacks totally lov- ing lure coursing and do extremely well at it; it’s clearly part of their skill set. 6. Do you believe Ridgebacks were more big game hunters, utilitarian farm dogs or something else? JA: Yes and yes—they were both SF: Farm dogs (all-round instincts) made famous by their hunting abilities. DF: Ridgebacks were, and remain, renaissance hounds. They were jacks-of-all-trades, never specialists. They trotted alongside their horse-mounted masters all-day; broke off to course, bay and bring down game; defended their

people and homesteads against intruders, including dan- gerous predators and even drove cattle if the need arose. This insistence on shoehorning this breed into artificial categories does it a tremendous disservice. Forced at gunpoint to choose a category, I believe we belong with the Sighthounds, as the parent club informed the AKC’s Group Realignment Committee in a report I was tasked with writing. The FCI categorizes the Ridge- back as a Scenthound simply because that’s where it placed the Dalmatian, on whose standard the Ridgeback standard was modeled in the 1920s. It is a classification with no factual basis; there is no documented Scen- thound blood in the Ridgeback and recent genetic studies have upheld this. And for my European friends who argue that Ridgebacks are not “Sighthoundy” enough to join Group 10, I ask them to please, please, explain the Irish Wolfhound. LM: I learned Ridgebacks as versatile dogs of many uses, both big game hunters and utilitarian farm dogs that would protect their people and property—the latter role not being typical of Sighthounds. 7. When judging this breed, a judge should keep in mind the purpose of the breed, is that purpose harassing and worrying the king of beasts? JA: No. Judges should keep in mind the dog they’re looking for had to survive lion hunting. The dogs they’re looking for had to have great endurance, balance and be quick and agile enough to stay out of harm’s way once the game had been tracked and the baying commenced. SF: If that means keeping them in correct height and weight, then yes—if someone has seen what that looks like. I don’t see most as truly understanding how important “agile” is in a Ridgeback. The most important factor in being agile is size. What’s more agile: a Fox Terrier or a Mastiff? DF: Again, this one-dimensional description of the breed does it no favors. The traits necessarily for baying, whether your prey is a lion or a gazelle, are correct, standard size (at best oversized dogs were unsuccessful, at worst they did not live to hunt another day); strong but never overdone bone, commensurate with the traditional game hunted; short, strong hocks, wide stifle and decent rear angulation for pivoting ability; clean and laid back shoulders for good shock absorption; ample rib cage for lung room and endurance; good feet for getting there, and good under jaw for finishing the job on smaller, less dangerous prey. Perfectly functional and perfectly bal- anced with no fillips or frills. LM: This follows from the last answer. I was taught that the Ridgeback should be constructed to be able to trot for miles following and harassing the lion, so that the dog could bring the big cat to bay when it finally tired and hold it until the arrival of the hunter(s). At the same time,

S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , S EPTEMBER 2017 • 289

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