A handful of breeds share a unique feature compared to other dogs - they have a ridge of fur that grows in the opposite direction along their backs. For some this ridge defines them. After all what would a Rhodesian Ridgeback be without one? Although, like coated dogs appearing in a hairless litter it happens. While this ridgelessness is considered a fault, their presence helps keep the gene pool stable. On the opposite side there are breeds where the ridge pops up only occasionally.
There are five breeds where the ridge occurs: the Rhodesian Ridgeback (South Africa), Thai Ridgeback (Thailand), Phu Quoc Ridgeback (Vietnam), Africanis (South Africa), and Combai (India). Of these five only the Rhodesian Ridgeback is recognized by all major kennel clubs although the Thai Ridgeback has Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognition. The Phu Quoc Ridgeback, Africanis, and Combai have yet to gain any large following outside their respective homelands.
So what causes the ridge and where did it begin? Like all other characteristics, these ridges are caused genetically. Dogs carry either one or two of the ridge genes and then pass it onto their offspring. This gene is dominant, and because the Rhodesian, Thai, and Phu Quoc Ridgebacks have been selectively bred for generations to have the ridge it is passed quite easily from one generation to the next. However, the Africanis and Combai have traditionally been bred for their working ability rather than appearance and over time this means fewer dogs are born with the ridge.
As for where it began that is a much trickier question. The Africanis, Thai and Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are considered ancient breeds, with little information on their origins. The Combai, although somewhat more ‘recent’ dates back to at least the 14th century, but with just as few records. Some authors believe (as with the hairless gene) that all these lineages must have crossed paths at one point or another. However, with even a minor of inspection this seems illogical. Aside from the Africanis and Rhodesian Ridgeback there are no clear ties between them. Geographically it is possible the Thai and Phu Quoc Ridgebacks shared some ancestor, but there are no records to support this theory.
What we know is that the Africanis descends from the indigenous dogs kept by the native tribes of South Africa. These pariah dogs were never purposefully bred by humans, reproducing without their influence, and left to natural selection. Even today some would consider them to be more of a land race than an actual breed. The AfriCanis Society of Southern Africa is attempting to preserve these dogs in their natural state while the Kennel Union of Southern Africa is working on standardizing them into a true breed.
While continuing in its original form the Africanis also left its mark on dogs brought by European settlers. Their own breeds had difficulty surviving in the harsh wilderness and were crossed with native dogs. Over time these matings developed into two specific types, no longer European, but distinct to the continent. One was larger, a protective guardian that would become today’s Boerboel. The other was lighter, with an agile build that kept their hunting ability (and the ridge) to become the Rhodesian Ridgeback. These hunters became invaluable for taking down big game, in particular Lions, giving them the alternative name of African Lion Hound.
Like the Rhodesian Ridgeback the Combai was used primarily to hunt large prey, in particular the Sloth Bear that was once found throughout India. Like the Africanis the Combai was kept by native tribes such as the Zaminders, and has existed before Europeans arrived in the region. Today the breed is rare and faces extinction due to imported breeds and disinterest. It lacks recognition even in its homeland, bringing it that much closer to being lost forever.
For the Thai Ridgeback, the outlook is brighter. It has been listed in the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service since 1997 and is recognized in most other countries. Cave paintings show dogs of a similar type dating back 3,000 years, however little is known regarding their history. Virtually unknown to the outside world until 1975, these dogs were originally kept as hunting dogs, with a secondary role as property guard. Known to take down a wide variety of prey, it is said they can kill a cobra in defense of their owner.
This leaves us with the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, which is perhaps the ridged dog with the biggest mystery. Hailing from an island in the Kien Giang Province that shares its name, it is unknown how or when these dogs arrived in their present location. Is it possible a common ancestor traveled some 500 miles from Thailand to Phu Quoc? Left by some long forgotten seafarer? This is a question we are likely to never have answered, and the modern Phu Quoc Ridgeback remains rare. Few dogs have been exported from their homeland and those that have carry a hefty price tag. They garnered media attention a few years ago when first bred in the United Kingdom and a few specimens have found their way to North America. It is too soon to see if either population will increase to secure their bloodlines outside Vietnam. However, they are not the first breed to have gained media attention due to their rarity and to have that attention save them - just ask anyone if they have heard of a Shar Pei.
See something you don’t agree with? Or have additional information? I would love to obtain more information and photos regarding the Africanis, Combai, and Phu Quoc in particular.
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