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For several years Ive been looking for a specialist book about my favourite breed of dog. I wanted details about the breed standard (thats the written list of the characteristics which would make up the perfect dog), quirks of character, training needs and possible health problems. I was interested too in having some background to the development of the breed and some good pictures wouldnt go amiss.
The dogs which have my heart are Rhodesian Ridgebacks the lion hunters of Southern Africa. Theyre big dogs in every sense of the word, weighing in at about 35kg (the size of a small adult) and a heart, as the song says, as big as all outdoors. The first book on the breed which I bought was Stig Carlsons Pet Owners Guide to the Rhodesian Ridgeback which I found disappointing, but Im happier with Eileen M Baileys The Rhodesian Ridgeback. Its part of the An Owners Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet series of which 1.5 million copies have been sold. Its good but its not perfect.
Although this is sold as one book by Eileen Bailey its actually three books in one, with three different authors. The first and most substantial part of the book deals with the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog and is written by Ms. Bailey. Shes a breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks and lives in New York State, USA.
She begins with a description of the Ridgeback, complete with a diagram showing the names of all the different parts of the dog. This is very useful too many writers of books of this type forget that a lot of the people buying the book will be unfamiliar with some of the more technical terms. Its pointless saying that a dog should have a good stop if you dont explain that its the bit at the top of muzzle just below the eyes. She gives details of the breed standard and I was a little disappointed that she didnt allow for any deviation from the relatively strict requirements of the standard. One of my bitches, for instance, is 5kg heavier than the standard allows and is a couple of inches taller. Her vet feels that her weight/height ratio is correct. This would be a problem if I wanted to show her, but I want her as a pet and in a Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet I think this point should be made.
The development of the breed is well covered, with fact neatly separated from fiction. Its interesting, not over-long and leads us into a fascinating chapter entitled The World According to the Rhodesian Ridgeback. The love of the breed shines through here as she describes the quirks and characteristics which make the breed so special. I felt a tug at the heart as she talked of their bonding with one particular person. I can spend all day looking after our dogs feeding, grooming, walking them, but the moment my husband walks through the door they light up and come to life. He is their human. For anyone thinking of taking on a Ridgeback this chapter should be compulsory reading as it describes the good their loyalty and sense of humour, the bad their independent streak, and the ugly their destructive nature in adolescence. If you still want a Ridgeback after youve read this chapter then they are probably the dog for you.
The chapter on Bringing your Rhodesian Ridgeback Home is full of practical common sense, ranging through choosing a breeder, the equipment youll need, picking a vet and preparing the house and garden. Much of this would apply to any breed of dog, but its worth reading all the same. The chapter on feeding the Ridgeback is a little more breed-specific and gives some good suggestions. I discovered long ago that my Ridgebacks would eat trolley loads of raw fruit and vegetables and its suggested here that these should be used as treats rather than doggy junk food. My older dog will do anything for her ultimate treat a lettuce leaf.
Grooming your Rhodesian Ridgeback is short (rather like the dogs coat) and to the point. Frankly theyre the easiest dogs in the world to groom once they reach the point of realising that you are going to do it.
I had some problems with the chapter on keeping the Rhodesian Ridgeback healthy mainly because this is a book by an American and published in the USA. Laws are different, veterinary procedures vary and different vaccinations are required. A great deal of this part of the book simply doesnt apply in the UK. What I did like was the attitude that the most important thing you can do is get to know your dog well and note and investigate any changes. Its an attitude of mind which every dog owner should adopt.
Unfortunately what are common to the two countries are the majority of the health problems which a Ridgeback can encounter. These are carefully and sensibly explained but I was surprised that there was no mention of allergies which seem to bedevil the breed in the UK. It may be, of course, that the problem is not so extensive in the USA.
Ms Baileys input ends on page 97 of a 158 page book. As an introduction to the breed it works well. Allowance needs to be made for the health points I raised but this is otherwise the best book on the breed that Ive read. There are some excellent pictures of Ridgebacks and they cover all variations of the breed.
The next part of the book is on dog training and is written by Dr Ian Dunbar, an animal behaviourist. The training he recommends is reward-based and I can tell you from experience that it works well. Based on the principles of praising good behaviour, distracting from bad and ignoring what you can of the rest he lays out a simple training plan covering all basic commands. Its simply and clearly written and a pleasure to read.
The final part of the book is about being active with your dog and is written by Bardi McLennan. Im afraid I found this part of little use: its not breed-specific and all relates to the USA. It was a minor annoyance though in an otherwise good book.
Id have liked an index, but thats me being greedy. The books recommended, particularly to anyone considering taking on a Ridgeback for the first time.
Hardcover 158 pages (April 1, 2000)
Publisher: Howell Book House Inc., U.S.
Price: £8.50 but available on Amazon for £6.80 in February 2006