Much more than just a dog with an interesting cowlick, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has a breed history intertwined with the British colonization of Africa.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback traces his lineage back to a blending of local hunting dogs in South Africa and European imports. The early British settlers of the Cape Colony (some say it was in Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe) in South Africa crossed their dogs with the local hunting dogs of the Khoikhoi which had the distinctive ridge.
The Boer farmers used the dogs they had brought with them from Holland and the UK; Great Danes, Greyhounds, Bloodhounds, Mastiffs to cross with the local ridge backed hunting dogs.
They continued to finesse the early Rhodesian Ridgeback to be an all-around hunting dog, guard dog, and family friend. These dogs also had to be able to withstand the heat and survive droughts.
Then it was discovered these dogs were able to hunt lions and keep them at bay until the hunters caught up. This opened up a whole new aspect to the Ridgeback's usefulness to the colonists.
Throughout its breed history, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was called a variety of names: Van Rooyen’s Lion Dog, the African Lion Hound or African Lion Dog—Simba Inja in Ndebele, Shumba Imbwa in Shona in honor of its lion hunting prowess.
Note: While I personally do not condone hunting lions, I felt it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the basis of this regal breed's origin.
All About Those Rhodesian Ridgeback Facts
The Rhodesian Ridgeback’s distinguishing feature is the ridge of hair along its back, running in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called “crowns”) and tapers from immediately behind the shoulders down to the level of the hips. The ridge is usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in width at its widest point.
It is believed to originate from the dog used by the original African dog population, which had a similar ridge. The first depiction of a Ridgeback is a wall painting describing the life of the Boers, housed in South Africa in the Voortrekker Monument. From Wikipedia.