An early description of the "Rhodesian Lion Dog"

History must pay tribute to those who recorded their thoughts and details about the origin and history of the breed. One of the first to write about the "Rhodesian Lion Dog" was C.H. Edmonds, Senior Veterinary Surgeon of Southern Rhodesia, who published an article in the Farmer's Weekly of 7 February 1923, entitled "A Valuable Hunting Breed of Unknown Origin: Strong Characteristics". Edmonds stated that the first specimens were imported into Rhodesia by Charles Helm from Oudtshoorn. Edmonds explained:

"Lions are rapidly decreasing in Rhodesia and, with them, the lion hunters. It would be a great pity if this grand breed of dogs were allowed to become extinct as there are still many uses to which they can be put, but they are not likely to be so used.

A few people are still breeding them and I am informed that it is the intention of the Bulawayo Kennel Club to apply to the South African Kennel Club for authority to provide classes for them at its next show in Bulawayo.

A scale of points will have to be provided and, as a basis for discussion amongst breeders, I suggest the following:

Height - 24 inches at the shoulder
Weight - 60 lb
Colour - Tawny, fawn or brindle
Coat - short and hard

Tail - Longish and thick, free from feather and carried low
(Note: two breeders have advised the writer that considerable difficulty is experienced in the tail as at times varying lengths of tail occur in the same litter, some being only six to seven inches long like a docked dog, others with a kink like a Bulldog and others with long tails as described. I would ascribe this to the possible introduction of foreign blood at some time.)
Head - Rather broad, cheek muscles well developed. In shape resembles the old style of Bull Terrier

Muzzle - somewhat pointed
Ears - Low set
Eyes - Yellow, intelligent, with a bold, somewhat savage expression

The distinctive feature of the breed - the man, razor-back, fiddle-back or whorl, as it variously called - is a ridge of hair up to two inches in height (usually less) that commences above the shoulders where it is broadest and continues along the centre of the back finishing at a point opposite the hips."

This set of guidelines, published as it was in a journal of repute such as The Farmer's Weekly, must have attracted a lot of attention, especially as it was the first authoratative writing about the Ridgeback and came from no less a person than Edmonds, a recognised specialist. So to Edmonds must be accorded the first description of the breed by a person capable of doing so.

Setting the Standard

The chief, if not the sole, credit of getting the breed standardised and recognised by the S.A. Kennel Union, is due to Mr F.R. Barnes of Figtree - then resident in Bulawayo. I think it was in 1922 that Mr Barnes circularised the many owners of "Ridgebacks" or "Lion Dogs", as they were beginning to be known, and asked owners to bring their dogs to a meeting to be held on the second day of the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show to endeavour to formulate a standard with the object of later recognition by the S.A. Kennel Union.

The response must have been gratifying to the convenor. A large number of owners attended and well over 20 dogs were paraded. I attended by invitation. These dogs were of all types and sizes, from what would be regarded as an undersized Great Dane to a small bull Terrier; all colours were represented - reds and brindles predominating.

The convenor addressed the gathering and there was general agreement that a club to further the interests of the breed be formed. Mt Barnes then asked for suggestions as to the standard to be adopted. Owners were reluctant to come forward., each naturally thinking his was the correct type.

Finally, a spectator with some knowledge of the breed took a dog and suggested that the size and configuration be adopted, then he chose another specimen for its head and neck, a third for legs and feet, and, making use of some five different dogs, built up what he considered to be aimed at.

A few days later Mr Barnes compiled the standard, a club was formed, Mr Barnes' standard adopted and this, with some amendments and alterations is the standard in use today.

Mr B.W. Durham
S.A.Kennel Union Gazette - December 1950



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