Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Rhodesian Ridgeback

Rhodesian Ridgeback, puppy, lionI’m frequently asked here, on Instagram, and on YouTube about the process of finding and adding a Rhodesian Ridgeback to your family. The questions have really poured in since I got Zero so I figured I’d put together a comprehensive public resource I can point people to for answers.

If you’re here it means you’re doing your research – which is great. A lot of work goes into having a Ridgeback, but a lot of work should happen well before you consider bringing a dog home.

For introductory/general questions about the breed, Wikipedia and the AKC both offer a solid overview of the breed history and standards. The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United Status (RRCUS) also has a couple helpful guides on preparation and choosing the right dog. For a closer look of what day to day life with a Ridgeback looks like you can check out my videos here and here.

Okay, so you’ve done your homework. You’re ready for the challenges of having a Ridgeback. You’re eager to invest the time and effort it takes to reap the wonderful rewards. Great! Now what?

More homework! I know, I know. You came here for a dog, not a degree. But trust me – this is important. There are a ton of pitfalls when it comes to finding a Ridgeback. RRCUS lists some of the most common ones here. Memorize that list by heart.

Everything you love about these dogs is the result of ethical breeders who through careful and loving devotion help Ridgebacks remain healthy and robust. RRCUS is a collection of such breeders and their website is a great resource and a perfect place to start your journey.

I began my search for each of my three Ridgebacks with the Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue – the official rescue of RRCUS. In each case there wasn’t a dog available or I couldn’t meet the requirements of the available pups in my home. The Ridgeback network is great and the RRR actually connected me with the breeder where I got Eko. Even though I haven’t matched with one of their dogs, I like to donate to RRR whenever I get a dog because they do such awesome work. I highly recommend you check them out.

If you decide a puppy is the right fit for your family, I always suggest people start their search with the RRCUS Breeder Directory. Avoid any and all websites which let you simply buy a puppy, little or no questions asked. No ethical breeder will list their puppies this way. Leave the one click deliveries to Amazon.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, puppy, cute, amazon

Whenever possible, use the directory to search for breeders within driving distance of your home. This allows you to meet the breeder/litter ahead of time and more fully participate in the process. Also, many breeders will not ship their puppies, or will only do so under extenuating circumstances.

After you locate a handful of breeders I’ve found the easiest thing to do is give them a call. Definitely don’t judge the quality of a breeder by the quality of their web presence. Glass Creek, where Zero is from, has an updated WordPress site with great photos. Mystic Isle, where Eko and Penny are from, is hosted on an older platform. I trust and recommend both Mary from GC and John from MI not because of their websites, but because I’ve spent a lot of time talking with/learning from them.

Expect finding a breeder to be a lot like speed dating. They’re going to have a lot of questions for you, and you should have plenty for them. Every breeder has different plans and goals in mind for their litters, so it’s important to talk about whether their plans match yours.

For example, some breeders may be looking for speedsters to home with families who lure course, while others might want to place a number of their dogs in show homes. It’s helpful if you go into your conversations with the breeders knowing what kind of puppy you’re looking for. Here’s a few items to consider ahead of time:

  1. Male or female? You’ll hear plenty of different opinions about this, but I believe the personality of the puppy is way more important than the sex. That said, I do like to have one female and one male together, so when looking around for a puppy this time I informed breeders my preference was for a male. If you’re amenable to either it helps give you more options.
  1. Show or pet? Puppies of every breed are evaluated for their potential to succeed in the show ring. For Ridgebacks, the most obvious marking evaluated is the ridge. Hips, joints, shape, movement and health are all considered as well. A puppy will be automatically designated as “pet” if it doesn’t meet certain breed standards. Penny, because of her off-kilter ridge and a neck-whorl, was evaluated as “pet.” Zero, because of his even ridge and no glaring disqualification, was evaluated as “show.” Most importantly, these distinctions mean nothing about the physical health of the pup. Some of the most stunning Ridgebacks I’ve ever seen have been “pet” quality. So unless you’re thinking of showing your pup I’d recommend not wedding yourself to the idea of a “show” quality dog.
  1. Temperament? All good breeders will temperament test their pups in order to gauge what their adult personalities will be like. It’s as much art as science, but I’ve found the evaluations to always be helpful and spot on. With Eko I knew he was a personable charmer, with Penny I knew I was getting a fearless firebrand, and with Zero I know I have an easy-going lug. It’s important to think about what types of personalities would be a good (or bad) fit for your home. In my case, one Penny is more than enough, so I fastidiously avoided any rabble rousers.

Remember the dating analogy? Well it holds true not just because you want to pick the right one, but also because you need the right one to pick you. Most breeders have more potential homes than they have puppies, so the best way to get higher on their list is to demonstrate your preparedness. An easy way to do that is to have solid answers for the above questions. You should also be ready to discuss your plans for caring for your pup in both the short and long term.

A breeder’s inquiries might seem intrusive to people going through the process for the first time, but the questions are simply the sign of proper diligence. Any ethical breeder commits themselves to the health and well-being of their pups for the lifetime of the dogs. An ethical breeder’s responsibility does not end when you take the dog home.

In fact, the contract you sign (yes, there’s a contract, we’ll get there) says you must return your dog to the breeder if for any reason you are unable to care for them. This is not some draconian mandate, it’s simply indicative of the breeder’s commitment.

When I first met John from Mystic Isle, he had just picked up two dogs a woman got from him a decade ago. Sadly, the woman was undergoing medical treatment and could no longer care for her pups or find someone who could. John said there was never a question in his mind whether he’d bring the two seniors back home. “No matter where they go and no matter how old they are, they’re always my puppies,” John said.

That conversation and so many more made it clear that John was a breeder I wanted to support. The same is true for Mary, who is similarly invested in the well-being of her dogs. A good breeder is an invaluable resource. It’s well worth your time and effort to find the right one.

Once you’ve found that breeder and you’re on their list for the litter, it’s time to pick your pup! Resist the urge to make any instant decisions based on a single photo. Treat the process as a collaboration with the breeder, whose intimate familiarity with the pups should help guide you. This is also why I recommend choosing a breeder within driving distance, if feasible.

I’ve always visited litters ahead of time to meet the pups in person. This is also nice because you can introduce yourself to the breeder and meet the dam (aka the two who do all the hard work). Plus, nothing beats being at the bottom of a pile of puppy Ridgebacks! Photos and videos are great, but there’s no substitute for face time.

You’ve picked your pup – woohoo! Almost there. Now just have to sign the contract. This part can spook people, so I want to let you know that it’s totally standard protocol. No need to hire a lawyer. The contract covers straightforward registration/health considerations, indicates show/pet quality of the dog, and delineates breeding restrictions – i.e., you must follow agreed upon guidelines for spay/neuter/breeding.

You should read the contract thoroughly and ask the breeder any questions you have about it. They will be happy to walk you through it.

For payment, some breeders take an early deposit while others will have you pay in full before pickup. Both are fine.

If you’ve made it this far, and you’re anything like me, you’re beyond excited and dreaming of the day you bring home the new pup. Get plenty of sleep while you still can! On pickup day I recommend you bring a leash, a good chew toy, some treats, and a blanket (let mom and the puppy siblings lay on the blanket to make it have a comforting, familiar scent). Your breeder will let you know about any other specifics.

Congratulations, you did it! Welcome to the Ridgeback family, enjoy that new puppy smell while it lasts. And don’t forget to take plenty of photos, they grow way too fast.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, puppy, chicago, marking our territory

Now, despite the title of the post, this certainly doesn’t cover everything you need to know about getting a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, but I do hope it will be a helpful primer. If you have any additional questions you can ask in the comments below or shoot me an email at will@markingourterritory.com

69 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Rhodesian Ridgeback”

  1. Will,
    Thank you for mentioning the rescue group. Our last ridgeback was a 9 yr old rescue with a truly sad story. He was a wonderful boy! He passed away after only having him one year. We still grieve for him. I encourage anyone reading this to consider older rescues because they so deserve our love.
    You are a beautiful writer and I love reading and watching you stories. I was so sorry to hear about Eko. He was a lovely boy.

  2. i have a 2 year old male ridgeback. I absolutely love this dog but I am having a few problems. I have been sick for the past few years and I’m unable to work so I’m home most days with him. He is very good with my 12 year old son gets a little rough sometimes but it’s all in fun. No aggression toward my son. My ridgeback sleeps in my bed and is usually right beside of me where ever I go but here lately when my husband lays down-in the bed the dog doesn’t like it. I have even heard him quietly growl. My husband has not heard this but I’m very nervous that he might turn aggressive with my husband. My son can come i here and he doesn’t act like this. In the past he is very territorial while he is in my car but thus is my bed! I don’t know what to do to correct this before it gets worse

    • Hey Kim,

      You’re right to want to nip any resource guarding behavior in the bud. I’m not a behaviorist, but a growl or grumble is likely your dog’s way of signaling discomfort with being moved. You might try asking your pup to leave the bed first, then have your husband get in bed and once you guys are settled ask the dog to return. If you’re concerned it’s a larger issue than it’s something you definitely want to get professional help with.

  3. Will,
    First – you have been a useful resource for my wife and me. We got married in Sept 2015 and while on our honeymoon finalized getting a ridgeback after doing homework on the breed all spring and summer. Most of that homework was from your work with Eko and Penny. Ironically, we had always wanted to name ours Penny so we did! So thank you!
    Second – I am so deeply sorry for your loss of Eko. However, as I pointed out above, Eko was an inspiration to us and has done more for the RR world than most. I am so glad you are continuing the journey here.
    Third – why I’m posting on this article. After having had our Penny for almost 2 years we are looking to add a second to our growing pack. I noticed above and in your work you always have 1 male, 1 female. I have seen much debate as to owning 2 female RRs. What are your thoughts and reasons for the 1-1? Is it just you don’t want to risk the potential issues between same genders or it just works out 1-1 in that way?

    Thanks again!

    • Hey Jim,

      Glad to hear we could play a small part in helping you guys on your own Ridgeback adventure. There’s no better living legacy for Eko and this blog than to help add more love to the world.

      As for the “best” pairing of male and females, I don’t think there’s really a right answer. But like you said, many people feel strongly about not having male/male or female/female pairings. Just as many people can show you cases where those pairings work great. I personally believe that matching dogs depends a lot more on the individual personalities rather than the sex. It’s also about the effort you put into socialization.

      I decided on the one and one format just because I wanted to get as much experience with the breed as possible, and I felt that balance was one way to achieve a greater perspective. It’s a guideline more than a rule for me. If I found the right pups, I’d have no hesitation with two females. Good luck on your search!

  4. I just thought I would mention it here since I found your blog.

    About a year ago, we knew we wanted to eventually get a dog together as a couple. I started doing a lot of research on breeds with a basic set of guidelines my husband had and a separate list that I had and merge them together. After many hours of research I had narrowed down my list to two dogs, one of them being the Rhodesian Ridgeback. I knew pretty much everything about other breed, but had not a clue about Ridgebacks! I based my research to the basics bare bone information and went from there. After lots and lots of reading and researching on forums, AKC websites, breeder websites and more. I stumbled across your Youtube Videos and watched every single one! I was convinced a Rhodesian Ridgeback was the breed we wanted! I told my husband about the dog breed I had narrowed it down to, and in like mind he did his own research and came across your videos as well, which helped convince him that a Ridgeback was a good choice for us! We found an AKC registered breeder and this past February brought Simba home with us! He is sleeping stretched out in my lap as I type this. 🙂

    I want to thank you first off for all the videos you posted! It was very helpful for us in the decision making process and I couldn’t be happier with our choice!

    I loved watching Eko and then Penny in their adventures with you, It broke my heart when I saw you had lost Eko! I have lost furry family members in the past and I know how much it hurts! I know it’s still fresh and it’s still hurting. I am sure Zero will help heal everyone with his puppy love, I know nothing can ever replace Eko and it shouldn’t! But I’m confident Zero is going to be there for you through it.

    I look forward to watching Zero grow up! Thank you again for sharing your life with your Ridgebacks! It helped this family get one of our own!

    • Hey Niki,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share that story. There’s nothing more I love to know than that the legacy of Eko’s love continues to ripple out across space and time. I’m happy that in some small way we could help you start your own adventure.


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