PART 1: So you (think you) want a ridgeback?
Some (not so) random musings about things to think about BEFORE you get a puppy .... I will do part two, including things to consider when selecting a breeder at a later date.
THE BREED Apart from the fact that they are short coated larger dogs with a cool feature running down their back (note: approximately 5% of RRs are ridgeless), how much do you really know about the breed? Please take your time and LEARN about the breed (beyond its physical attributes) BEFORE you decide you want an RR.
Did you know that RRs were bred to work (in a pack) independently of man? Working independently of man has resulted in a breed that is an independent thinker that is programmed to achieve its goals, not yours. Do you know why you should care about this trivia? You should care because it affects how you train your dog and should mitigate your expectations and understanding about the breed. If you put dog breed personality on a circular scale, if you think of where you would put breeds like Golden Retrievers or German Shepherd dogs (or any other breed that was designed to work closely with man), find the point on the opposite side of the scale (diametrically opposed) and that it where the RR would be found. When you are working with/training RRs there has to be something “in it” for them or they will simply shut down ... this is one of the reasons that punishment /negative training does not work well for this breed.
RRs are master manipulators (it goes back to the concept of them pleasing themselves), be it about food (more on that below), getting on the furniture, getting their toenails done (oh the drama) or simply walking nicely on lead. Put the time in and work with your dog .... there is no shortcut with this breed. This is NOT a breed that you bring home and forget ... they are NOT a short haired Golden retriever that you can bring home, do very little and still end up with a nice social family pet. This breed requires LIFELONG work and socialization. Ignore your RR at your own peril as you may come home one day to a house that is destroyed or (even worse), a dog that has become fearful and phobic of things it does not know - this includes having their toenails done!!!!!!!
Sadly in ~ 25 years of ridgeback rescue, I have seen too many ridgebacks that were inadequately trained and socialized that became fear biters. Here is the deal with fear biters, once a RR has figured out that it can stop whatever it doesnt like or make the person/animal that it doesnt like go away by putting its mouth on someone or something, it WILL do it again. Trust me when I tell you that there are few things scarier than a fear aggressive ridgeback wanting to stop something it doesnt like ... remember my comment about the breed wanting to please itself, not you.
RRs are a very physical breed and are nasty little vampires as baby puppies that will bite any and everything that comes close to their mouths ... while most puppies (any breed) will do some biting, RR puppies are biters on steroids. This is the #1 complaint of all new puppy owners. They WILL bite you and your children ... they will also body slam you and your family - especially young children who run and scream around the puppy. This is why many RR experienced owners and breeders will caution against getting a puppy when you have toddlers and younger children in the home. With time and consistent training, this too will pass ..... BUT .... you have to live through /survive the first few months of a RR puppy life.
RRs (most) are prey driven hounds. Apart from being an interesting fact, do you know why you should care? First ... while there are going to be people who tell you that they have dogs in an unfenced backyard or use e-fencing and that they take their dogs on wonderful off leash walks, the reality is that they are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of RRs will not respect an unfenced yard and/or an e-fence and will chase any and everything that runs. The thrill of the chase applies equally to off leash walks - most RRs should NOT be trusted off leash in an area that is not completely secure. This is also not a breed that should be walked by children .... while I occasionally see pictures of children on the end of a leash of a RR, the breed is too strong and the prey drive is too high in most dogs to make this safe ... I dont care how well leash trained your dog is.
Food ... the master manipulator can go one of two ways: you have have a “I am starving” RR that will eat until it explodes or the I dont want that food, give me something else picky eater. RRs are supposed to be lean athletic hounds - they are not supposed to have the outline of a lab. There are waaaaaay too many people that have obese RRs that are in denial.
Hopefully these musings will help set your expectations about the breed ... there is one thing that I didnt mention, to lovers of the breed, RRs are like potato chips or peanuts, one is never enough!!!
PART 2: Things to consider when selecting a breeder
So you have done your homework about the breed and fully understand that you will be committing yourself and your family to a 10+ year journey of socialization, bruises and bed hogging ... your next question is “where do I get the puppy”?
So here is the deal, there are generally two different types of breeders out there .... responsible and (ahem) not so responsible (sometimes known as “pet breeders”), with the only similarity between the two being that they both produce puppies.
The purpose of this set of abstract thoughts is to help you differentiate between responsible and not so responsible breeders and to show you why you should care about which bucket your future breeder is in.
I can already hear the comments .... “I went to a pet breeder because I don’t want a show dog, I only want a pet”; “I don’t care if the dog is AKC registered because I only want a pet”; “I dont want to wait, I contacted several responsible breeders and they told me that they were not going to have a litter until (add some random dates in here), but I want a pup NOW and there is a breeder listed on XXXXX (insert your favourite online source) with pups and they will ship a pup to me tomorrow”; and the list goes on.
No matter what I do or say, there are going to be individuals out there who don’t care about where their puppy comes from - all they want is a puppy. If you fall in that group I strongly recommend that you just scroll on by because it is highly unlikely that anything I say is going to change your mind. If however, you do care about where your pup comes from, hopefully my thoughts will help you set some expectations regarding your future breeder.
There is a myth out there that I would like to address right up front, that is there are show breeders and pet breeders. This is a false dichotomy created by the not so responsible breeders out there. There is NO such thing as a show breeder, rather, there are responsible breeders and non-responsible breeders that have very different motivators for producing puppies. The vast majority of responsible breeders show their dogs to ensure that the dogs that they are breeding are good representatives of the breed. First and foremost these responsible breeders are trying to produce healthy happy puppies that make great family members that look and act like a ridgeback. The fact is that ALL the puppies produced by responsible breeders are pets living in homes with families, even if they are shown.
I think that we can all agree that everyone wants a healthy pup that grows into a healthy adult that has a good temperament and lives a long happy life as a member of your family ... right? Producing the healthiest puppies possible does not happen by accident - it comes from health testing multiple generations of dogs and only breeding the dogs that actually PASS those tests. If I can impart any words of wisdom when it comes to health, it is “trust but verify”. I don’t care who the breeder is, how flashy their website is, whether their dog is from “African lines” or how many positive testimonials are on their page, be an informed potential puppy buyer and verify that you are not being fed a load of #%*& regarding the health of the sire and dam of the litter. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has an incredibly useful online database that can be searched to verify that your prospective breeder is actually breeding health tested dogs. The website is OFA.org and all you need is either the AKC registered name(s) or registration number(s) of the sire and dam to look up the results of their health tests. If you cannot find the sire and dam of the litter in the OFA website, I strongly suggest that you run (not walk) in the opposite direction. If you don’t think that health testing is necessary, I strongly suggest that you scroll through this group and read the posts from individuals who didnt know that health testing was a thing or were lied to about testing by their “breeder” and are now living with the consequences.
Did you know that there are other fundamental differences between responsible and not so responsible breeders?
Hands up - how many of you got your puppy from “John Doe” that advertised a litter on XXXX (again, insert your favourite online source) and tried to get advice from John about something to do with feeding your pup, behavioural issues, or even worse, your puppy is experiencing health issues, only to be met with silence??
As responsible breeding is soooo much more than just producing puppies, I am going to call the next section “did you know”, as in, DID YOU KNOW that this is what you should EXPECT from your breeder:
DID YOU KNOW: * Responsible breeders are your “go to” for most questions about your pup (food, training, behavioural issues, etc...). They are there to help you work through your issues and provide you with guidance - day or night. This is for the lifetime of your dog and does not matter if your pup is 13 weeks or 13 years old. They will be there through the good times and will cry with you when it is time for your beloved pet to cross over. * In the rare occasion that a dermoid sinus (DS) (or other health issue) was not detected prior to the puppy being placed in its home, responsible breeders will pay for the cost of dermoid removal (or other treatment) by a qualified vet. * Responsible breeders will make you sign a contract or purchase agreement that says if you are not able to keep your puppy/dog for any reason, it MUST be returned to the breeder, regardless of the age of the dog. They are also going to have non-breeding clauses in their contacts. * Responsible breeders carefully screen applicants. Expect to be interviewed and assuming that the current restrictions are not in place forever, most will want to meet you (and your entire family) in person before deciding if you can get one of their puppies. * Responsible breeders will only breed dogs that are AKC registered and will register the litter/puppies. * Reponsible breeders will only breed dogs that have passed comprehensive health tests.
My final section outlines things that make me go “hmmmm” when trying to decide if a breeder is responsible (or not so much):
* Most responsible breeders will show their dogs to its championship with the AKC. I would be cautious about individuals that make claims about having champion dogs that were in fact, evaluated in systems outside of the AKC. Like with claims of health testing, this falls under the concept of “trust but verify”. While you may not care that the parents of your puppy is an AKC champion, you should care that the breeder is making misleading statements to you. If they are trying to mislead you about this, what else are they misleading you about? * Breeders who talk about “champion lines”. To me, this is code that the breeder is not bothered about whether their dogs actually look or act like a ridgeback, but will claim this because some dog multiple generations back was a champion. * Breeders who do not mention health testing or claim that they do not test for XXX because it does not run in their lines. * One of my favourites!!!!! Breeders who claim that their dogs are from African lines or are X% African. I will put this as gently as possible: I know of NO responsible breeders who advertises this (truly) irrelevant fact. Dogs from Africa are no more authentic ridgebacks than dogs bred anywhere else in the world. * While non-standard coloured RRs do occasionally show up in litters bred by some responsible breeders, NO responsible breeders actively breed for or advertise “non standard” colored ridgeback puppies. * Puppies are being placed in homes before they are 8 weeks old. * I know of no responsible breeders who decide in advance that they are going to have one litter ... period. In many (most?) cases, the “breeder” is someone who just loves their dog sooooo much that they think that it is a good idea to get one of its puppies. While these individuals may not be breeding to make money, you really have no idea what you are getting from a health and temperament point of view ... it is like playing Russian Roulette with your future puppy. It is also highly unlikely that these breeders have enough experience to provide you with any guidance or advice with respect to the health and or behaviour of your puppy/dog.
Hopefully my ramblings have helped to illustrate that there are major differences between responsible and not responsible breeders and will help you decipher one from the other. There is a saying “act in haste, repent at leisure” - a truer word has never been spoken, especially when selecting the individual that will be shaping your future family member. Be an educated puppy buyer - choose a responsible breeder.
One more word of wisdom before I go; do your homework BEFORE you commit and preferably before you see the puppy in person - the reality is that we all tend to loose our brains and all semblance of rational thought tends to go out the window when we get to snuggle with a RR pup (and smell the puppy breath).