Sunday, December 20, 2009

On choosing Ridgebacks


            There are no answers that fit everyone.  When someone is new, I always suggest that the person should choose a breed most suited to her situation.  In some cases the person already has a dog so that advice might seem moot, but dogs die and there will most likely be a next time for most of us -- unless we die first.  The advice is still good.  Seek the breed that is most suited to your situation.

            Interestingly, my wife's "situation" included a certain idea of beauty.  She had a need to have the most beautiful dog she could get.  Prior to marrying me she knew almost nothing about pure-bred dogs and she did go along with me somewhat in agreeing to letting me buy her one, but it had to be one that met her requirements and she worried not in the least about a dog being too strong for her.  If she got what she wanted she would do whatever was necessary to make that dog work out.  It was a difficult journey for her – not so much for me since I like a lot of different breeds – but she had to struggle to learn and to get the proper training so she could handle a Rhodesian Ridgeback the way her father handled his Rottweiler – and she succeeded with Trooper. 

            We lived in a condo in Garden Grove at the time, with a tiny backyard; so there was no possibility of a Ridgeback getting adequate exercise from the yard and Susan.   It seems very like what a Ridgeback might be confronted with in a large city – no chance for adequate exercise.  However, I resolved to give her Ridgeback his exercise and most evenings would take him out for a jog.   I searched for good jogging routes, would put the dogs in the back seat and off we'd go.  I'd park and then we'd head off on a jog.  When we got back to the car I'd give them water and we'd drive home.

            While I was at work, Susan would take Trooper with her when she went on errands.  She would always include a chance to walk with him, but she wouldn't cover the distances we did on our jogs.  

            Susan's health is such that she can no longer handle a Ridgeback.  She wanted to and entered Ginger in an agility class when Ginger was young, and Ginger did well.  She seemed to learn more quickly than almost all the others in the class, but Ginger would find opportunities after completing an exercise to rush off and visit one of the other dogs.  The instructor finally banished Ginger and Susan and told Susan to bring Ginger back after she had received some obedience training.  Susan wanted to do that with Ginger but her health failed once again.  So Ginger and then Sage received only the obedience training that I have given them. . .  .

            One can perhaps see that all my tales of hikes and late-night walks on farm roads are but subplots to Susan's desire to have Ridgebacks in her life.  For her the Ridgeback is the perfect breed.  Even though her health was such that she wouldn't be working with or exercising the second dog we got after Ginger.  I had wanted a smaller dog at the time -- an Irish Terrier, but she talked me into getting a second Ridgeback, and that is how we got Sage. 

            And now for me also the Ridgeback seems a perfect match, but mightn't that just be that I have adapted?  I have earlier experiences with other breeds and they all seemed good matches at the time; so I suspect the seeming inalterability of my present attachment to Ridgebacks.  It is tied to my attachment to Susan in a way I don't fully understand.

            As to small breeds misbehaving because large men "muscle them" rather than train them, I have read something different.  The small breeds (whether all or just some I don't recall), I read, were developed because women, perhaps middle-aged women, wanted dogs to keep them company, to be in their laps and be, in a way, like the children they had raised.  Some small breeds even have a non-dog-like head that resembles a baby's head.   In watching Cesar Milan's program it seems as though a high percentage of the problem dogs are dogs of that sort.  The woman wanted to baby the dog and the dog ended up thinking it was the dominate being in the household.  I never saw a case where Cesar had to correct a large man for muscling his small dog down the street. . .   Do they really have large men being held to a standstill by Chihuahuas in NYC?  "Large Cities" are a kind of experiment when you look at the whole sweep of human development.  I tend to think that experiment might one day be declared a failure.

            And if truth be told, my own "situation" is one in which I am very used to and comfortable with Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  My son who has Airedales predicts that when the time comes, that is, after I lose one of my girls, I'll get another Ridgeback.  Perhaps he is right but I would prefer – at least most of the time I think I would prefer -- at least one dog of a different smaller breed.  Susan is no longer capable of doing anything with the Ridgebacks; so she wouldn't object if I got something different next time.  It might be an Irish Terrier, or an Airedale.  I have been considering a Thai Ridgeback recently.  There is a breeder about 100 miles from me that breeds large Thais – males up to 75 pounds.  That may be large for a Thai Ridgeback but it is small compared to what I am used to.  But someone else told me that his Blue-coated Thais have skin allergies and perhaps shouldn't spend a lot of time in the sun.  And that is one of the things we do a lot of: spend time in the sun.

            As to Ridgebacks not needing as much exercise as some other breeds, I'm not sure that is true.  In fact I suspect it isn't.  Ridgebacks won't bug you as much as some other breeds, but they need as much exercise as they can get if they are going to be truly healthy.  They were designed to work all day hunting and most of our Ridgebacks couldn't manage that today.  When we go to the river, my girls chase rabbits and each other in the sand which strikes me as very good exercise, but we are almost never down there longer than an hour and a half.  Once we get home they crash.  How would they be if they had to hunt a lion all day?  I do my best but I don't have them up to that level of conditioning. 

            "Large enough Airedale"?  If I were going to get an Airedale, there are two breeders I would consider.  One breeds "working Airedales" and a male from him might weigh 75 pounds.  If I chose one of these I would be doing so because I was convinced his "working Airedales" were healthier than the "show Airedales" I might consider. But there is another breeder, a long-term breeder who claims that even though her Airedales are show quality, they are very healthy and her "line" doesn't have the diseases in it that other lines do.  A male from her would weigh 45 pounds and a female 40 pounds.  If I were recommending an Airedale as a smaller alternative to a small woman, I would of course have the smaller variety in mind.

            As to smaller terriers requiring more exercise, some of them manage a lot of exercise on their own.  I have a fair-sized back yard but it isn't enough for my Ridgeback girls to get up a good head of steam.  But it might be enough for an Irish Terrier to do so.  I would never mean a yard to be the only source of exercise, but it would help in a pinch, say if I got the swine flu and were laid up for awhile. 

            An Australian Cattle Dog was indeed bred to herd Australian Cattle which they probably don't have an abundance of in NYC.  My list would have been much shorter if I were intending it to suit someone living in NYC.  In fact I would probably have difficulty adding most of the dogs we've been discussing to it.  My imagination may not be up to the job.

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