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The Rhodesian Ridgeback was first officially recognised as a breed in Rhodesia in 1922 after a campaign by one Francis Barnes. The dog contains elements of the irish terrier, great dane, pointer, greyhound, bulldog and African Khoikhoi dog, from which the breed gained its distinctive ridge. Despite these mixed genetic inputs the dog is very attractive, with short reddish-brown fur and a solid, pointer-type head. Show quality dogs are judged particularly on their ridges, which should be two in number and symmetrical.

The Ridgeback was originally a hunting dog for the great white game hunters of Africa and was known as a 'Lion Dog.' Despite this, the dog actually has a very nice temperamet and make an excellent guard dog as it becomes very attached to family members. It is more accustomed to hunting unprotected leg roasts and slices of pizza than lions, and once mature at about 2 years of age tends to do little other than lie in the sun all day. During their teenage years they can be a handful and have been known to smash wooden fences to matchsticks with their powerful jaws (in order to get at food on the other side) and to repeatedly rip every single item from a clothes line - most Ridgeback owners have similar tales of woe.

The breed is acutely aware of the pecking order in any given situation. Our 60 kilogram specimen was reduced to a neurotic wreck when it perceived that a new Tonkinese kitten was taking its place in the family order. Although they can be ferociously protective and intimidating to strangers they will turn tail and run from anyone who they know and consider 'senior' to them. The dogs are also extremely friendly, but affable advances are often misinterpreted by unreasonable mothers with newborn babies and terrified pensioners as an imminent mauling.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback, a hunting dog whose path of descent passes through numerous breeds, is perhaps most remarkable for its distinct place in evolutionary biology. It is well known that all dogs are descended from wolves. But no kind of wolf sports a pronounced counter-whorl ridge along their back. And in fact, none of the other dogs which make up the ancestry of the Rhodesian Ridgeback regularly have such a ridge either. The African Khoikhoi occasionally presents a minimal ridge -- but in that forebear, the feature is associated with genetic deficiencies. In the tawny, muscled frame of the Ridgeback, the ridge is far more prominent, but is no deficiency, and not related to any health problems in the animal. (And in fact, studies have shown that this breed on average has fewer genetically traced health problems than other breeds.)

The ridge of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is, simply put, a new genetic feature, a new piece of information welling up in the DNA. An addition formed from the tireless process of random mutation for generation after generation. And, critically, it is one which arose and achieved morphological stability within a period of a few hundred years. With evolution having hundreds of millions of years to work with, the observable establishment of new information in the anatomy within a few hundred of those leaves lots and lots and lots of time for things like the sea cucumber to eventually end up being things like the wombat and the porcupine and the lowland gorilla. Oh, and, naturally, the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

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