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THE RHODESIAN RIDGEBACK – QUESTIONS ANSWERED, By Patricia H. Gilbert (First published in Sight & Scent, January/February 2010, Vol. Five, No. 8)

What should strike you first as they walk into the ring?
This is a handsome agile endurance Hound, not a Mastiff, that is strong, athletic and well muscled. Overall muscling should be smooth and supple, not bulgy. The size, both height and weight, should be balanced for a properly functioning Ridgeback. The Ridgeback is confident and not subservient to the handler. Slightly longer than tall, with the length coming in the rib area, not the loin. The typical Ridgeback head carried forward on a strong neck which flows into the level topline. The bottom line showing the length of ribcage with a slight tuck up in the loin area There is balance between the front and rear angulation. The male shows masculinity, while the bitch is definitely feminine yet strong.

When viewed from the front there should be excellent fill with some forechest. The forelegs should be straight, strong in bone with compact well arched toes, feet round with thick pads.

When viewed from the rear there should be well developed first and second thighs, hock joints well let down and rear pasterns parallel. The tail should be strong at the insertion and taper to the tip.

Though not readily apparent when the dog first walks into the ring - it is essential to check the most characteristic feature of the breed, the ridge. Most importantly does he have the all defining for breed type ridge down the back. “The ridge should be clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical. It should start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point between the prominence of the hips and should contain two identical crowns (whorls) directly opposite each other. The lower edge of the crowns (whorls) should not extend further down the ridge than one third of the ridge. Disqualification: Ridgelessness. Serious Fault: One crown (whorl) or more than two crowns (whorls).” AKC Breed Standard Approved August 11, 1992

Is there a particular trait that makes you cringe and should never be overlooked?
There is often a trend to the thinking bigger is better. This is not true for the Rhodesian Ridgeback. If a dog is too large then he becomes a threat to the lion and the lion will swipe him out with one paw.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback should only hold a lion at bay and worry him to keep his attention. He should not attack the lion and he should never be a threat to the lion. He is a lion hunter not a lion killer.

Keeping that thinking in mind, then you want to err on the side of Hound features as opposed to selecting Mastiff features.

What have breeders worked hard to achieve in the breed that should be acknowledged?
I think breeders have worked very hard to get the balance between Hound and Mastiff correct. They also have done an outstanding job with the ridge. When I judge the breed I see good to great ridges with very acceptable to great whorls.

Conversely, what do you see that could become a problem?
I see a problem in the making due to judges who don’t understand correct colors in this breed.

We need to look at light to red wheaten and understand the colors and shadings. Black, brown and liver pigment is ALL acceptable. Think of the dog as being color coordinated for coat and pigment. No color within accepted colors should ever be awarded above true quality due to personal preference.

I also see toplines that are not firm. While the back should not be rigid, it should be firm both standing and moving. Sometimes this is due to lack of proper exercise. Sometimes it is conformation. Either one is wrong because again the breed standard discusses a back that is held level on the move.

Poor temperament should not be tolerated. The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States has spoken out very strongly about temperament. Shyness should never be awarded. Shyness is not to be confused with being reserved. A dignified temperament is the Rhodesian Ridgeback calmly accepts your examination. He does not flinch or pull back or lean into the handler.

Excessive speed in the showring is always detrimental. This is a breed that should be free moving with power and balance. His trot must be efficient. On the down and back he has a tendency to converge. There is never any wasted action in this dog’s trot. He must carry himself also with a certain pride and dignity.

This dog owns his ground without being pushy about it.

Is there something that every judge of Rhodesian Ridgebacks should do (not do) or notice (not notice)?
The judge should approach calmly and with a sense of purpose. Do your exam with quiet hands.

I like to check the head proportion with my hand to make sure they are equal. Make sure the head has the proper proportions. They are the same distance between the ears (where the skull is flat and broad) equals the backskull length equals the muzzle length. These three measurements give you a truly balanced and beautiful head. Please make sure that the muzzle has enough strength to be powerful. Look at his eyes. Are they far enough apart without being too far? Are they intelligent in expression and sparkling?

There are some poor temperaments where the dog will completely shy from the judge. This is so untypical of the breed. The dog should be excused or at the very least not be awarded any placing. As I wrote earlier The Parent Club came out strongly about good temperaments being essential.

This is a cleanly muscled dog. He should not be lumpy and he should not be squishy. He is an athlete and should immediately give you that impression. All his parts fit cleanly together. You should always get the impression of strong, muscular, active power and balance.

When I get to the back and have checked both side of the rib cage for strength and depth and length, I take my thumbs and place them over the whorls to check for size and symmetry. I have small hand so I expect to see the whorls larger than my thumbs. Then I run my thumbnail down the ridge to check length. Does it approach the point between the hips. Then I run my thumbnail back up. This tells me it is a true ridge.

Step back again to get the total picture. This is a hound that is strong, supple, confident, and above all has the hallmark of its breed, the ridge.

Trust your good instincts and you will do justice to the breed as a judge.