Are You or Aren’t You?

There really are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who love Ridgebacks – and everybody else.

When you fall in love with a breed of dog, it’s impossible to sum up in words exactly what the attraction is, anymore than you can pinpoint what it was that made you fall in love with your wife, or exactly what it is about your best friend that makes her earn that adjective. It’s a combination of physical presence, personality, character and someother indefinable quality, some spark.

I don’t remember when the Rhodesian Ridgeback first entered my consciousness as a breed, but I do remember the day I first met one.

It was high summer in a parking lot in Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island – The End, as the locals like to call it; head east and the next land mass you hit is Portugal. He was sitting in the shade of his owner’s hot-dog truck. I think his name was Monty. He was the oversized, black-masked, red-wheaten Ridgeback cliché every novice owner wants. I know now that he wasn’t terribly well bred. But he was, nonetheless, majestic. And he granted my husband and me an audience in that sand-strewn oceanside lot with equal amounts dignity and dispassion.

Admire me, caress me, he said. But do not expect me to reciprocate, for we hardly know each other. A Labrador retriever I am not.

This was the breed’s trademark reserve with strangers, important enough that it is noted twice in the standard. Born of intelligence and a strong sense of self, it belies the wickedly funny, cloyingly sweet, rabidly affectionate creatures Ridgebacks can be with those they know and love.

Once you get to know the breed, as with any person, you see that other side, and find that new level of depth and connection. The awe that I felt that day – What is going on behind those dark brown eyes? Could I handle this big brown package of brawn and determination? – has been replaced by a familiarity that is comforting and easy. Like an old married couple, it’s automatic and intuitive – with the occasional curve ball thrown in, just to make things interesting.

But I still remember that feeling of newness, of wanting to know everything about this aristocratic and vibrant breed, of not wanting to make a mistake in raising my first one, of wishing I had a Rosetta Stone that would tell me what to expect, what to worry about and what not to.

Of course, this book is not intended to be the locus of all knowledge and information about the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. There is no one way to do anything, and if there was, the world would be a poorer place for it. Your experiences and opinions may vary from mine, and that’s perfectly fine. Above all, hold your breeder’s guidance and opinion in high regard: If she is a true breeder, she knows her line and she is an expert on her dogs.

But what this book is, is a breed-specific guide written by someone who knows the breed. (You’d be surprised how many mass-produced breed books aren’t.) It is as specific to Ridgebacks as that telltale stripe of hair up their back. It is a celebration and exploration of Ridgebackness, which is so hard to define, but so intuitively obvious to anyone who has taken the time to know and cherish the breed.

This is the book I wish I had when I got my first Ridgeback puppy.

— Excerpted from Your Rhodesian Ridgeback Puppy

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