Book 'Em: Must-haves for your Ridgeback library

If only life -- or dog breeding, for that matter -- came with a manual.

But you won’t find "Rhodesian Ridgeback Breeding for Dummies" on the shelf at your local Barnes & Noble. Nor would you want to. Breeding is an art, not a self-help regimen. Still, there are a handful of books that are useful, if not indispensable, for the Ridgeback fancier.

Every newcomer to the breed seeks out what is unarguably its Bible: Major T.C. Hawley's "The Rhodesian Ridgeback: The Origin, History and Standard of the Breed." If Francis Barnes, who wrote the original Ridgeback standard in 1922, is the breed’s George Washington, then Hawley is its Abraham Lincoln. And his simply titled book is the first modern dissertation on the breed.

Admittedly, some of the book's dictates are outdated to modern eyes: For example, Hawley advocates vigorously for culling kinked tails, a legacy of the bulldog crosses used to create the breed and a recessive fault, he writes, "as tenacious as old mamma bulldog herself."

But nowhere will the serious student of the Ridgeback find more thoughtful ruminations on the breed that pass the ultimate test -- that of the passage of time. In the almost-half-century-old text, Hawley lays out nuanced positions on such modern breed bugaboos as white. "… We must at all costs avoid a fetish that white is a taboo," goes the oft-quoted sentence that is actually a fragment. To read it in context -- not of just the rest of the sentence but the entire paragraph -- offers an explanation as eloquent as any about how white should be gauged in the breed.

Judges who complain about the seemingly scattershot "styles" of Ridgebacks in their ring would do well to page through Hawley's photos of founding dogs. There they will find the same variety of outlines and heads, ranging from cobbier to rangier, that repeat themselves generation after generation, a necessity for reaching that elusive middle ground.

Another important work in the Ridgeback oeuvre is Canadian breeder David H. Helgesen's "The Definitive Rhodesian Ridgeback." Arguably, regional preferences creep into the text (Helgesen is much less tolerant of white than Hawley). But the value in "The Definitive Rhodesian Ridgeback" is in its exhaustively researched breed history. The Boer farmers and Rhodesian big-game hunters who nurtured the breed in its infancy did not have time to document their progress; for that, Helgesen turns to the huge body of period literature, from the memoirs of Victorian hunters to early breed accounts in Bulawayo newspapers.

And nowhere will one find a more complete profile -- not to mention a photograph -- of Cornelius van Rooyen, whose breeding program formally created the famous "African lion dog" to satisfy the hunting needs of his pack.

The best books about the breed used to be the most difficult to find. I bought my copies of both Hawley and Helgesen electronically, on auction sites such as eBay and rare-book sellers such as

But Hawley and Helgesen's books have recently been reprinted, and are available at very affordable prices:

"The Rhodesian Ridgeback: The Origin, History and Standard of the Breed"
by Maj. T.C. Hawley. Available from Natalie Carlton, (520) 743-3117 or email

"The Definitive Rhodesian Ridgeback"
by David Helgesen. Available for $33 from Rosalie Sterner, 18548 S.E. 245th Place., Kent, WA 98042.

“Rhodesian Ridgeback Pioneers"
by Linda Costa. Available from the author at