What makes a Ridgeback a “quality pet”?

There are several cosmetic issues that automatically remove a newborn Ridgeback from consideration as a show dog. None of them have any impact on the dog’s health or lovability.

First and foremost is the lack of a ridge—ridgeless dogs cannot be shown, as the lack of a ridge is a disqualification in the AKC standard.

Even if a newborn Ridgeback has a ridge, it might not be the “right” ridge. A “show-quality ridge” consists of two crowns, or swirls, located opposite one another in the upper one-third of the ridge. (Though the standard asks that the crowns be symmetrical, crowns that are slightly offset, or not perfectly aligned, are considered acceptable by many breeders, this one included.) Dogs that have more or less than two crowns, or crowns that are too offset (perhaps an inch or more) are pet quality.

The presence of too much white, for example, a white “sock” on the front leg that extends to the elbow, is another cosmetic reason for “pet” status.

How are Ridgebacks with children?

Wonderful, with some caveats.

Ridgebacks have a deep and intuitive connection to their people. It has been observed that this breed does not protect property—instead, it looks out for its loved ones wherever they may be.

Puppies raised with children form a deep bond with them that is humbling to watch. As a rule, adult Ridgebacks that have been well socialized to children are impressively accepting of their fumbling handling as well as assorted indignities such as being forced to wear an Easter bonnet. (Though of course no dog of any breed should be left unattended with young children.)

When an adult Ridgeback is confronted with a new human arrival in the household, it might take a while; months, even up to a year for him or her to get totally accustomed to the new baby. But once the Ridgeback understands that the baby is yours, that the household circle has expanded to include this new being, who is a permanent, not temporary addition, the loyalty he will show to that child will be awe-inspiring.

That said, Ridgeback puppies and toddlers are rarely an effortless pairing. Ridgeback puppies can be mouthy, with sharp, alligator-like teeth, and adolescent Ridgebacks can knock down a toddler with their exuberance, not to mention their whip-like tails.

In general, I do not sell Ridgebacks to families with children under age 5, though I do make exceptions for those who are very experienced with the breed.

Do you ship puppies?

No, not unless I have already met you in person.

I consider every puppy that I bring into this world, whether it’s a show dog or a pet, whether it has a ridge or not, whether it’s a young puppy or an oldster, to be my ultimate responsibility.

For that reason, I do not and will not place puppies sight unseen, no matter how nice you sound on the phone, no matter how erudite your emails. I need to meet you and you need to meet me, to make sure that this is a relationship that can and will last the lifetime of your dog. Most reputable breeders I work with and respect feel the same way.

If you are unable to visit me, then I can direct you to a breeder who is in a more convenient geographic area for you. Similarly, if you live in the metropolitan New York area, there are dozens of reputable breeders within a reasonable driving radius. There is simply no reason to buy from someone you have never met. Emails and phone calls can only take you so far: There is no substitute for meeting a breeder in person.

How much should I expect to pay for a Ridgeback?

This depends a great deal on geography. On the East and West coasts, Ridgebacks tend to be more expensive because of the higher cost of living (and breeding). In the metropolitan New York area, it is not unusual to find well-bred pet-quality Ridgebacks selling for $2,500 and up.

For show-quality puppies you should expect to pay at least at $3,000 – $3,500. Our puppies all currently sell for $4,000.

When I visit a breeder, should the sire and dam be on the premises?

At first glance, having the sire on premise may seem like a good thing, because, after all, it is wonderful to meet both your puppy’s parents and gauge their well-being and temperament. Keep in mind, however, that a reputable breeder is looking for the perfect match for his or her female. That may not necessarily be the stud dog that lives under their roof. Those breeders who use stud dogs that are out of state or clear across the country are doing so despite the inconvenience and extra cost because they are going the extra mile to plan a breeding that they believe will have the best chances of accomplishing their goals.

So in many cases, the stud will not be on premise. But the breeder should be able to show you photographs of him, share the results of his health screenings, and articulate why she chose him to complement her bitch.

Now on to the dam. Yes, in most cases, the mother of the puppies will be on premises. There are, however, some exceptions to this, and they include:

Stud-fee puppies. Sometimes, in lieu of a stud fee, a stud-dog owner will request a puppy. Such puppies are generally show quality, and the stud-dog owner may choose to bring the puppy home and sell it to a local home if there is no room at her place for another dog. Such arrangements are very common. The stud-dog owner should be willing to share photographs of the dam, as well as contact information for the breeder of record. And you will of course be able to meet the stud dog.

Co-ownerships. Because many breeders run small home-based operations, as opposed to having kennel facilities, some choose to place their bitches on co-ownerships so that they can have access to the females in order to show and breed them. In such situations, the dam may not be on the premises when you first visit, as the litter may be whelped at the co-owner’s home. If the litter is whelped at the breeder’s, the dam might go back home after the puppies are weaned, especially if there is an older female at the home who can take over “mommy duty” and teach the puppies correct manners and good inter-doggie coping skills.

In both of these scenarios, the breeder should be able to explain the arrangements that led to the breeding and whelping, and, unless she is out of state, arrange for you to meet the dam, either at her home or during a pre-scheduled visit.

My puppy’s ears are “crinkling,” and refuse to lie flat. What can I do?

At around 4 months of age, some Ridgeback puppies develop what breeders affectionately call “flying nun ears”: Instead of lying flat in neat triangles next to the head, the ears will crimp, crease, fold and generally misbehave, looking for all the world like a piece of origami.

Some breeders believe these misbehaving ears are the result of calcium demands made on the puppy’s body while he is teething, and will often supplement with a high-calcium food such as cottage cheese or whole milk. Pharmaceutical calcium supplementation is not recommended. For ears that do not respond to this approach, some breeders advocate taping them.

If the ears are not “fixed” before the puppy is six or so months old, there is a good chance they might stay that way. “Flying nun ears” have absolutely no health impact, and are only a cosmetic concern, particularly for those owners who puppies are headed for the show ring.

My Ridgeback has lighter-colored areas over his shoulders – is that normal?

Yes. Many, if not most, Ridgebacks have lighter shading behind their shoulders, as well as on their necks and on their “britches” (the area you see from the “rear view”). Many new owners are taken aback at what they think is “weird” coloring, but it is entirely normal and visible on most every Ridgeback you will meet. You just never noticed.

Is my Ridgeback fat?

Well, if you have to ask, he or she probably is. Sadly, many competent vets do not even know what a Ridgeback in good weight looks like. If your ridgie is beginning to resemble the neighborhood Labs in size and silhouette, that is not a good thing. Click here to determine whether your Ridgeback is fit, or fat.

Sometimes, when my Ridgeback falls asleep, he gets this weird “possessed look,” as if his eyeballs are turning up inside his head. Is something wrong?

No need to call Rome. While arguably grosser than light-shaded shoulders, this too is normal for our fascinating breed.

What you are seeing is the “third eyelid” – formally called the nictitating membrane. If you look in the mirror, you can see the human version of this membrane, which is non-functional: It’s that pink lump in the corner of your eye nearest your nose.

In a normal, healthy dog, this membrane is never visible when he is alert and active. However, during particularly restless, twitchy periods of sleep, the dog may open his eyes partially, and this membrane may be visible covering a portion of the eye.

My Ridgeback hates having his nails cut. What should I do?

This breed can be positively phobic about having its nails touched, particular on the front feet and particularly if you are exerting concentrated pressure, as with a clipper.

Instead, try a Dremel—those hand-held tools sold at Home Depot and other home-improvements stores. (Don’t bother with the battery Dremel, it doesn’t have enough juice. Go with the plug-in and use the cylindrical sanding attachment.) Many Ridgebacks respond positively to this method of nail maintenance if properly introduced.

Start with your Dremel plugged in, and a pile of cubed cheese at your side. Without turning it on, tap the Dremel gently against your dog’s nail. Treat generously and repeat many times. Once your dog is more interested in the cheese than the Dremel, simply turn the Dremel on, but do not apply to the nails yet! Your Ridgeback will likely be alarmed by the sound. Turn the Dremel on in short bursts, giving treats generously after each one, until your dog is more interested in the cheese than the sound of the Dremel.

Now begin alternating these two pieces: tap with the Dremel, turn the Dremel on for two seconds, tap, Dremel sound, tap, Dremel sound. When the dog is familiar and accustomed to both, then and only then put them together. Don’t worry about accomplishing anything with the first “live” Dremeling—just tap the toe, praise lavishly, and administered cheese.

Generously rewarding as you go, slowly progress to more nails and more time on each nail. Do not stint on the positive food reinforcement: With enough Gouda, all things are possible. Click here for a popular Dremeling tutorial by a Doberman fancier.

Will my Ridgeback be protective?

Not unless he needs to be.

Some owners, oftentimes, male ones, grow concerned when their Ridgeback does not show any “protective” behavior. This is because the Ridgeback, who is an excellent judge of character and discriminating guardian, does not overreact to or innately mistrust strangers.

Chances are if your Ridgeback has never showed distrust or animosity toward those outside his circles, it is because he has not had need to.

  • Under no circumstances should the guarding or protective instincts in a Ridgeback be enhanced with training or provocation. Instead, accept that they will only surface if there is genuine need for them, which hopefully is never.

What does your kennel name mean, anyway?

The Msasa tree, also know as zebrawood, is a medium sized African tree (Brachystegia speciformis), sprouting red leaves in the spring, and with small fragrant green flowers.