So, what is it like to own a Ridgeback…
Although Rhodesian Ridgebacks are still a relatively rare breed (about 2,000 AKC registrations per year, compared to >50,000 for breeds such as Rottweiler, Doberman, Labrador Retriever), there are quite a few reputable breeders who are members of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS), and subscribe to the RRCUS Code of Ethics. The Code includes several important provisions that are intended to assure the continued improvement of the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, and also to protect puppy buyers. These provisions include the following:
An ethical breeder does not engage in the overbreeding of stock for profit without regard for quality and health of the dogs. An ethical breeder studies and weighs the faults and attributes of a stud and bitch, becoming well informed of those considered genetic (inheritable). An ethical breeder is sincere in the intent of not breeding dogs with defects that are likely to cause impairment of the health of the dogs or offspring. An ethical breeder informs his/her buyers about the dermoid sinus and how to detect it. An ethical breeder is always available to buyers for consultation even after completion of a sale. An ethical breeder will x-ray the hips of all potential breeding stock and will use only dogs certified clear of hip dysplasia for breeding. An ethical breeder will obtain an OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certification of clear hips, or an OFA preliminary x-ray and will provide a copy of this certificate to a puppy buyer, on request.
Avoid buying puppies from pet shops. These dogs are typically produced wholesale by `puppy farms’ where the sole purpose is producing a salable product. Although pet shop puppies usually have AKC registration papers, you should know that this registration implies absolutely no guarantee. Puppy farms are in the business of wholesale production and typically pay no attention to possible inheritable problems like the dermoid sinus, hip dysplasia, and temperament. Often you will see Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy ads in the newspaper. Sometimes these ads are placed by reputable breeders. However, often these ads are placed by `backyard breeders.’ These are people who have acquired a dog and one or more bitches and crank out litters of puppies for the sole purpose of profit. You can spot one of these backyard breeders in several ways:
If the seller has trouble remembering details of the pedigree of the puppies for sale, beware. Breeders who are breeding with the goal of improving the breed will be very familiar with the pedigree of their puppies, and will be able to tell you the AKC names of sire and dam, grandparents, and usually even great-grandparents. People who are just in the business of selling puppies for a profit will often `not remember’ these important facts.
If the seller does not know what a dermoid sinus is, beware. This is a common genetic problem in the breed. The condition is present at birth and considerable experience is required to detect it. A dermoid sinus can be removed surgically, but the operation is rather major and costly. It is a genetic condition and is likely to pop up in any litter.
If the seller tells you that `hip dysplasia is not a problem in Ridgebacks’ or that it `is not a problem in my line,’ beware. Although the incidence of hip dysplasia in Ridgebacks is much lower than in many other breeds, it is still about 3%, meaning that the chance of a given puppy developing the condition is one in thirty! The probability of a puppy having hip dysplasia is much reduced if both parents and all four grandparents have been x-rayed and certified clear of the condition by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
If the seller is not willing to provide a written health guarantee, beware. Most ethical breeders do provide written guarantees that cover genetic conditions like the dermoid sinus, hip dysplasia, etc. There are enough reputable breeders that you can certainly find a guaranteed puppy, so there is no need to take one with no strings attached and then find in a year that you have a $300 vet bill to remove a dermoid.
If the seller tells you that the puppy `doesn’t have a ridge yet, but it will come in later,’ beware. A certain number of Ridgebacks are born without ridges. This is due to a genetic fault and reputable breeders are trying to eliminate this characteristic from the breed gene pool. You should know that the ridge is fully visible, in its complete form, at birth. A puppy that does not have a ridge will never have a ridge. If the seller tells you that he/she `doesn’t make a distinction between show-quality and pet-quality puppies, beware. The purpose of dog shows is to obtain independent judgement from a number of qualified judges that a dog is a good representative of the breed, as measured by the written breed standard. Breeders who are sincerely trying to improve the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed want to have their very best puppies exhibited in dog shows, and hope that their best animals will achieve American Kennel Club championships. Back yard breeders often tell potential customers that `show dogs’ are inbred and have genetic problems that will result in poor health.
The truth is exactly the opposite. When you buy a dog whose sire and dam are AKC champions (as evidenced by `Ch’ before the name on their names on the registration application), you know that at least three different judges (and usually many more) have measured these animals against the breed standard and awarded championship credit. Most reputable breeders make a distinction between `show-quality’ and `pet-quality’ and price the dogs appropriately (show-quality dogs are usually 30-50% more expensive than pet-quality dogs). Show-quality means that the dog has no obvious faults that would make it difficult or impossible for the dog to achieve a championship. With Ridgebacks, the most common faults are a defective ridge (too short, less than or more than two crowns) and excessive white. Other faults that might be present are kinked tail or imperfect bite. Faults of this sort are usually cosmetic rather than functional and do not effect the health of the dog. Remember that the breeder is making a decision that a puppy is `show quality’ at a very young age (usually seven or eight weeks of age). It takes a fair amount of experience to make these kinds of predictions with any confidence, which is a compelling reason to buy from a breeder who either has considerable experience in the breed, or who has a network of friends who can serve as consultants.
Written by Clayton Heathcock, a RRCUS member.
Permission is hereby extended to anyone who wishes to copy and distribute this essay.