Getting a Rhodesian ridgeback when you are a first-time dog owner, is admittedly, like jumping into the deep end of the pool before knowing how to swim. But, this article isn’t here to squash ridgeback dreams, as I do think it’s possible, as long as some crucial understandings are covered beforehand.
While Rhodesian ridgebacks generally aren’t recommended for first-time dog owners, it’s not impossible to make work.
First-time dog owners must understand that a ridgeback will test their patience, authority, and willpower, but with determination, consistency, and resilience a first-timer can certainly do it.
What First Time Owners Must Know About Rhodesian Ridgebacks
So why is it that breeders, veterinarians, and most other ridgeback owners claim ridgebacks to be too much to handle for first-timers?
Let’s walk through some of the most important things for first-time owners to know. But don’t get intimidated, I will also cover how all this is possible, further below.
1. Ridgebacks are very independent and strong-minded
Perhaps the biggest trait to tackle for new owners is the fact that ridgebacks are very strong-minded and incredibly independent. They think for themselves and can be frustratingly stubborn. Although they are highly trainable, they love to do things their way. This requires an equally strong-minded leader that’s firm, fair, and authoritative.
Acting independently and thinking for themselves was a key part of their survival and success in both hunting and guarding. So this trait is non-negotiable, and it can’t be “removed”. It will be a matter of working with it and training in certain ways.
2. Ridgebacks must be put to work and need a role to fulfill
Ridgebacks are not couch potatoes, they are a highly active breed that must be put to work. They are true working dogs that crave having a job or task to complete for their owner. This can be a hard concept to understand for new owners, but it’s absolutely crucial.
Consistent training, exercise, interaction, socialization, and a lot of your time are required as it’s you who needs to facilitate everything for your ridgeback. They might be able to think for themselves, but they certainly don’t train, exercise, or entertain themselves.
A Rhodesian ridgeback that is not stimulated both mentally and physically every single day, to a high level, will soon cause problems for the owner.
3. Ridgebacks need a lot of exercise
Rhodesian ridgebacks need a surprising amount of exercise on a daily basis. A healthy adult ridgeback will need a solid 2 hours of exercise every day. Preferably split up into two sessions, one hour in the morning and another in the evening.
And as ridgebacks are so athletic, a simple walk will not suffice, a mixture of running, agility activities, swimming, and chasing their ball should all be part of a varied exercise plan.
It’s really important to consider your schedule and how much time you have, if this already seems impractical for the owner’s schedule, then it would not be fair to get a ridgeback in the first place. Exercise is fundamental to their health and behavior.
4. Ridgebacks are large and physically strong
Ridgebacks grow to be considerably large and particularly thick-set males can weigh up to 80-90lbs. With this agility, speed, and power, a new owner must be physically ready to handle such a dog.
This is no small dog to have to manage especially when out in public, which adds to the importance of getting a grip on their training, obedience, and behavior.
5. Ridgebacks are natural guard dogs
Adding to their physicality is their ability to hunt and guard. While ridgebacks are not by nature an aggressive or “dangerous” breed, they certainly can be when either trained incorrectly or under various circumstances.
Their size and strength put a lot of responsibility on the owner. The owner needs to be proactive and situationally aware to prevent any unwanted attacks or difficult situations to deal with.
Providing sufficient early-on socialization and training will likely result in friendly and sociable ridgeback. Although this doesn’t mean that the next dog you cross paths with will want to make friends, and it’s in these moments that a first-time owner must be ready to react quickly.
Interesting read: Why do ridgebacks have a ridge? Ridge explanation
How a First Time Owner Can Handle a Ridgeback
Let’s run through how I think a first-time owner can successfully raise a happy and well-behaved Rhodesian ridgeback.
Being a good leader
Whenever you see a well-behaved and respectful ridgeback, you can rest assured that’s the result of an owner who’s done a very good job.
What’s a good leader for a ridgeback?
- Someone who’s calm around their ridgeback
- Someone who’s firm but never abusive
- Someone who doesn’t cave in on stubborn behavior
- Someone who’s clear and consistent with their commands
- Someone who’s positive and very rewarding of good behavior
Strong working dogs like ridgebacks must have a clear understanding of who the leader is. Having proper hierarchy within your home is essential for your ridgeback to actually listen to you. He must know he is not at the top!
Fortunately, this can be achieved by the owner (new or experienced) by properly setting good boundaries from the start, being firm but fair, and most importantly, being consistent (in all ways).
Remaining consistent on a daily basis with the instructions you give your ridgeback and your standards of what you accept and do not accept, and how you tolerate defiance in a calm corrective way will make all the difference. This will show your ridgeback that you are in charge, and you are a good leader that should be listened to. And this is half of the battle.
Boundaries are vital in establishing early on respect from your ridgeback. You must have in mind boundaries in terms of what behavior you do and don’t accept, as well as physical boundaries that stop your ridgeback from roaming the entire house.
By keeping your ridgeback in a set area of the house, and only allowing him into the rest of the house for family bonding, he will learn that he doesn’t run the show and that he needs to earn his place in the home. This isn’t to isolate him, and he should still receive plenty of frequent interaction, but a simple preventative measure to stop him roaming, wherever he wants to go is an important first step.
A vital part of being a good leader is to be consistent. From choosing your commands to whether or not you allow him up on the couch, being consistent is the key to him learning and actually following what you do and say.
If one day you say “drop it” and the next, “drop the ball” that’s not the same. Likewise is allowing him up on the couch one day, but not the next. So is correcting his behavior for chewing the chair leg today, but not tomorrow. What he is and is not allowed to do needs to be black and white for your ridgeback. And always consistent.
The more consistent you are with your standards, your routine, your commands, (and pretty much everything) the easier it is for your ridgeback to learn lessons, learn from his training, and listen to you.
And honestly, as long as you put the conscious effort in to be consistent, it doesn’t matter if you are a first-time owner or an experienced owner.
Being firm but fair
The need to be firm with your ridgeback is paramount. If you aren’t firm with him, he’ll be firm with you.
This can be a little difficult to put into practice if you are a first-time owner, but not impossible.
And there’s a balance to be understood by yourself. Being firm does not mean shouting, smacking, or anything abusive. Being firm means standing your ground, always correcting his unwanted behavior, and showing him what he should have done instead.
This is all part of being a good leader. With his negative actions, you must intervene, stop it and show him what he should have done. Use moments of bad behavior as an opportunity to guide him and show him otherwise. The more you do this, the less he’ll engage in those activities you’ve just discouraged.
9 things to know BEFORE getting a ridgeback
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Having Time For Your Ridgeback
In my opinion, how successful a first-time dog owner will be in raising a ridgeback, not just comes down to their willingness and consistency, but also how much time they have. And it must be said that ridgebacks, especially puppies do not like spending much time alone.
If you have adequate time every day to interact, train, exercise, and build your relationship with your ridgeback, the easier the journey will be.
Before making a big decision like getting a Rhodesian ridgeback, it’s first important to consider how much time you have. The less time you have, the less time you can put into training, exercise, and general interaction. All of which will make the process slower.
I said I don’t want to squash any ridgeback dreams at the start, but the odds are highly stacked against those with full-time jobs.
Training Never Stops
I’ve used the term “training” a lot so far, but most of it has referred to what many would recognize as deliberate command training that you spend 30-40 minutes on per day.
And while that IS extremely important, there’s more to training than that.
Training is almost a way of life, and it never really stops. Training isn’t just learning to “sit and stay”, it’s correcting his behavior for the 20th time today. And you need to be willing to do that.
Training is using every opportunity you can to show your ridgeback how to behave. And sometimes, that even means training yourself!
Remember, he’s watching you and what you do all of the time, so your actions end up being either a good or bad lesson for your ridgeback. This is much like how young children watch what their parents do and say and then randomly reenact it at a later date.
Can a first-time dog owner get to grips with this? Absolutely, it just requires a lot of conscious effort and consistency.
Last Thoughts: Can First-Time Dog Owners Handle a Ridgeback?
Rhodesian ridgebacks are “a lot of dog” to handle, but this doesn’t mean first-time dog owners can’t do a good job of it.
Doing as much research as possible before you get your ridgeback can help you out tremendously, and there are some amazing resources online.
Of course, handling those tough stand-off moments in real life is very different than reading it from a blog. But as always, if you prepare yourself for the likely events, the more you’ll be pleasantly surprised with just how well you handled all situations that your ridgeback tests you with.
Recommended Read: When do ridgebacks go into heat?
Let me know if you have any more questions!
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