With or without Ridge....
To Ridge or not to Ridge – or where does the journey of Standard Fetishism end?
The debate is not new, but fortunately there are now more and more breeders who deal extensively with this topic and for whom the health of our breed is close to their heart, closer than the Ridge itself.
In 1922, when the standard of the Rhodesian Ridgeback was established, the Ridge was an important part right from the beginning, since he was also part of the breed’s name. People claimed that the dogs with the Ridge had a particularly strong hunting instinct.
Therefore, they began to breed with these ridged dogs, to consolidate the mutation “Ridge”. The Ridge is nothing more than a mutation, we need to be aware of this! Along with the Ridge there was, also from the beginning, another, related mutation - the Dermoid Sinus. This is also documented. The Ridge itself is a purely cosmetic feature; sadly the Dermoid Sinus is not. I really doubt that the ridged dogs actually have a more pronounced hunting instinct, because I know a number of ridgeless Ridgebacks who are great hunters and in no way inferior to their relatives with a ridge. But that is not our problem. Our problem is the mutation that came with the Ridge - the Dermoid Sinus.
Unfortunately, there is still not much known about the heredity of the Dermoid Sinus. For the inheritance of the Ridge we assume a monogenic inheritance with a dominant gene R and a recessive gene r, forming three basic genotypes: RR with a Ridge and two dominant genes for it, Rr with a Ridge and one dominant and one recessive gene and rr without Ridge with two recessive genes.
Depending on which types we breed, we get the following different results:
RR x RR : all puppies RR – 100% with Ridge
RR x Rr : 50% RR and 50% Rr – all with Ridge
RR x rr : 100% Rr –100% with Ridge
Rr x Rr : 25% RR and 50% Rr (75% with ridge), 25% rr ridgeless (statistical mean)
Rr x rr : 50% Rr with ridge and 50% rr ridgeless
rr x rr : all puppies rr – 100% ridgeless
All the legends about a mating of two ridgeless dogs producing ridged puppies turned out to be unfounded rumours. One litter out of two ridgeless parents that I could examine produced only ridgeless puppies, as expected. So if we wanted to breed ridgeless Ridgebacks, we could do that easily. But this is not what we want! We want to breed Ridgebacks with a Ridge, but we want to keep the risk for Dermoid Sinus as low as possible.
On the basis of knowledge available today, we have to assume that a Dermoid Sinus only develops in Ridgebacks with the gene variant RR, the two dominant Ridge genes, and should not be possible in ridgeless Ridgebacks with the gene variant rr. Again and again there are rumour about ridgeless Ridgebacks with Dermoid Sinus, but this are still only rumours. We don’t know of a single, medically documented case anywhere in the world where a Dermoid Sinus was removed from a ridgeless RR, clearly identified as such and assigned to the Ridgeback in question without a doubt via DNA analysis.
Some people are confused by the fact that we can find ridged puppies with Dermoid Sinus and ridgeless puppies in the same litter. Looking at the model above this can be explained easily: This phenomenon can occur when we breed Rr x Rr. There are three combinations that should NEVER produce puppies with Dermoid Sinus:
rr x rr : all puppies rr – 100% ridgeless and without DS
rr x Rr : 50% rr ridgeless and without DS + 50% Rr with Ridge but without DS
rr x RR : all puppies Rr – 100% with Ridge and 100% without DS
Precisely this last option was the basis for the breeding program in Club ELSA carried out, authorized by our Kennel Club VDH. The first two litters we bred in our club showed exactly this result: all puppies with Ridge and no DS.
The genetic test for the Ridge has been available for some time, but this test does not seem to be advanced enough yet. Recently, a litter was born for which both parents were tested previously to the mating. Both (according to the test result) are dominant Ridge carriers and, nevertheless, there were ridgeless puppies in the litter.
But is it really so important whether a Ridgeback is homozygous for the mutation Ridge? Aren’t we reducing our dogs to just a single characteristic this way and what does this mean for our breeding?
Is it really so terrible to have ridgeless puppies in a litter? Is it not important for the ego of breeders and stud dog owners alone? Do we really consciously take the risk of breeding puppies with DS into account, which may be perfect on the outside, but need surgery to get the chance to live a long, healthy life? A ridgeless puppy can have this without surgery, provided it is not killed immediately after birth. Unfortunately this is still the case in many countries, and they do the same to puppies with Dermoid Sinus. They are also often euthanized immediately after birth, when the Dermoid Sinus was detected early enough.
So, what is our intention to include ridgeless Ridgebacks in our breeding program you may ask?
Quite a few breeders think that this attempt is nonsense, because we have enough Ridgebacks with a Ridge for breeding. But that is not the point. The point is that we unfortunately also have enough Ridgebacks with a Ridge and Dermoid Sinus in our litters!
Behind the test breeding of ridgeless with ridged dogs is the theory, that from these combinations we should never get puppies with a Ridge and Dermoid Sinus, as has been explained in detail. Also in the next generation (mating of two dogs with Ridge) the risk should be much lower and possibly no Dermoid Sinus should occur if we assume, that the inheritance of the DS is much more complex than “simple Mendelian" and involves more than just one gene.
Of course this is just a theory at the moment, but the attempt to prove this theory doesn’t hurt anyone, least of all the dogs! Why do people get upset about the fact that we try to breed healthy dogs that do not require surgery?
Looking at the numerous health problems our breed is struggling with aside from the Dermoid Sinus, generally banning ridgeless dogs from breeding is madness from a breeding point of view, not to mention the still practised killing of those puppies. Is it really better to kill ridgeless puppies when these dogs could prove to be very valuable factors in a breeding program? They are healthy dogs which only miss a mutation, namely the Ridge – a mutation that we owe the gene defect Dermoid Sinus to! And is it really better to kill puppies with Dermoid Sinus instead of trying to no longer breed Ridgebacks with the defect in the first place? This is the question that the opponents of this breeding experiment have to ask themselves.
Standard fetishism over health? This cannot and must not be, and the Ridgeback would not be the first breed that was ruined this way. We are breeders and have a big responsibility for our breed. It must be our aim and our duty to breed healthy dogs!
As a breeder, who actively deals with this topic, I am of the opinion that we come a little closer to reach that aim, if we use ridgeless dogs in our breeding program.