Your Best Dog Running Partner

Your Best Dog Running Partner

By John Arvin for Exceptional Canine

Your Best Dog Running Partner

I got my first Rhodesian Ridgeback 27 years ago. My ex-wife wanted one, and she convinced me. I've been a fan of the breed ever since.

The Ridgeback: A Breed With Real Smarts
What do I like about Ridgebacks? Their intelligence, for starters. One of my dogs figured out how to open a mason jar! They are also good with children, clean and relatively quiet — overall good family dogs. They learn fast, but they have to be given a reason to do things. Forced training doesn't work well; praise- or reward-based training with positive reinforcement works best.

What About That Name?
The most notable physical aspect of the breed is the distinctive ridge of fur down the dog's spine, which is caused by hair growing in the opposite direction of the coat. The breed standard states that the ridge starts immediately behind the shoulder blade and ends at the hip. The whorls (also known as crowns) are striking and should be directly opposite of each other.

For most pet buyers, the shape of the ridge or its length is not that important. You should be more concerned about your potential pet's temperament and health — unless, of course, you're looking for a show dog.

Your Dog Running Partner: The Athletic Ridgeback
The Ridgeback is a dog of great agility and endurance and is often an ideal workout partner for joggers or runners. (I've placed several in homes in which the owners are runners.) They're also good athletic competitors; most of my dogs now are field champions, and three I've bred have won Best in Field at lure coursing trials — that is, a short field racing competition for sighthounds (like the Whippet or Greyhound) that specialize in pursuing prey and keeping it in sight.

The Ridgeback's Temperament
The breed is known for being somewhat aloof, but that behavior can be affected by how the dog is socialized as a puppy. I've had some that run up to everyone and anyone to get a pat (or a treat!). Aloofness should not be confused with shyness. If Rhodesians perceive a threat when they encounter strangers, they'll stand crosswise in front of you while they evaluate the situation. It's not a breed that typically charges at someone.

What You Need to Know About Ridgeback Health
If you're thinking about getting a Ridgeback, one health issue to ask about is the dermoid sinus, a tubular cyst that attaches to the spine. Dermoids are no longer a frequent health issue, and most can be removed surgically with no further issues. I've bred 13 litters (about 100 dogs), and only two of the puppies had dermoid sinuses. Both pups had the cysts removed, and the dogs lived long, healthy lives.

Dermoid sinuses aren't easy to find without some training. You can turn to the Internet for information on how to detect it. Most veterinarians aren't familiar with the search techniques unless they're familiar with the breed.

Fortunately, hip and elbow dysplasia are not very common. (I haven't had any dogs with hip dysplasia, and I've only had one with elbow dysplasia.)

An adult Rhodesian male should weigh about 85 pounds, and a female should weigh about 70 pounds — no larger. They tend to live 11-14 years if you feed them right and if they aren't grossly obese. The average price for a purebred is about $1,500, but I've seen them sold for as much as $5,000.

Make sure you work with a reputable breeder. I recommend that you begin your search at to find breeders in your area who subscribe to the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States Code of Ethics.


Exceptional Canine expert John Arvin owns Mystic Isle Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Barnegat, N.J.