Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Which of These Two Strong Active Guard Dogs Is Right For You?

The German Shepherd is the second most popular dog breed in the United States. This is a dog breed most people recognize and can name on sight – even if they aren’t “dog people!”

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is not as well known outside of canine circles.

However, in its native homeland of Africa, this dog is revered as the royals’ tracker of lions, a dog fierce enough to send the likes of baboons and leopards running for cover.

Suffice it to say, when comparing the Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd, you truly are comparing two premier dog breeds.

Both are expert guard dogs, as loyal as they come and extremely devoted to “their” people.

But there are some important differences to keep in mind as well. And it is a big commitment to bring a new dog into your family.

This comprehensive article digs down deep to give you the information and knowledge you need to choose between the Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd with confidence.


Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: A Brief History of Each Breed

One of the most interesting and informative aspects of choosing a new dog is learning about the breed’s history. However, this is the part many new aspiring dog owners skip over!

Learning about the dog breed history will tell you what work or purpose a breed was developed for and how the breed is innately wired.

So let’s take a look at the Rhodesian Ridgeback and then the German Shepherd dog breed history.

Rhodesian Ridgeback breed history

In the introduction here you learned that the Rhodesian Ridgeback hails from Africa.

As the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out, these dogs were first bred and developed in Southern Africa in an area called Rhodesia which is now part of Zimbabwe.

Early Rhodesian Ridgebacks (then called African Lion Dogs) were crossbred with native dogs called KhoiKhois as well as with various terriers and also with Greyhounds.

This tells you that these dogs are incredibly fast runners! They are also stalwart, courageous, and tireless.

The KhoiKhoi African dog also has a unique resiliency to certain African insects, including the tsetse fly. They were first brought to the United States and bred by a Hollywood movie star, Errol Flynn.

Today, the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog is the 41st most popular purebred dog breed registered through the AKC (out of 195 dog breeds).


German Shepherd breed history

The German Shepherd dog is quite literally a breed apart.

As the 2nd most popular AKC-registered purebred dog breed – just behind the unbeatable Labrador Retriever – the German Shepherd has a place just about everywhere in modern life.

This is the iconic guard dog breed, also famous for their work in military and police duty, service and therapy, canine athletics and search-and-rescue, herding and livestock defense and so many more roles besides.

These dogs are also popular for their movie roles – Rin Tin Tin being perhaps the best known of all German Shepherd movie stars.

The GSD, as breeders and keepers have nicknamed this breed, originally hail from a German herding dog breed called Deutsche Schäferhund.

As the American Kennel Club (AKC) explains, the modern GSD was developed by a man named Captain Max von Stephanitz, who was an officer in the German cavalry.

The good Captain was nearly singlehandedly responsible for developing, establishing, and gaining credibility for his new dog breed.

His 35 years of work paid off as today the German Shepherd dog is known around the world.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: A Fair Comparison

This helpful video from YouTube highlights some important similarities and differences between both breeds side by side.

If you are in a hurry or are more of a visual learner, you may find this video is just what you are looking for.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Personality and Temperament

Personality and temperament are by far the most important consideration when choosing a new dog breed to bring into your life.

When you choose a dog breed with a personality and temperament that matches what you have to offer a dog, this is the best predictor of a successful life together!

So let’s take a much closer look at the personality and temperament of each dog breed.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has the nickname of “Renaissance hound” because they are a hound of many talents. They are extraordinary athletes and keenly intelligent.

However, these same talents also combine to give the Rhodesian Ridgeback an insanely strong prey drive (drive to chase and hunt) and an independent spirit.

If you have ever met a dog that seems to have a “mind of their own,” this perfectly describes the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog.

When with “their” people, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is single-mindedly devoted, loyal, loving, and great with kids of all ages.

German Shepherds, like Rhodesian Ridgebacks, are extraordinary athletes. They can do it all and often do!

Well trained and socialized German Shepherds don’t flaunt their strength and might, however.

They are aloof towards strangers and intensely affectionate towards and protective of “their” people, including kids of all ages.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Height, Weight, and Size

One area where both dog breeds are particularly similar is in height, weight, and size, in that both are clearly in the large dog breed category.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback typically stands 24 to 27 inches tall (paw pad to shoulder) and weighs 75 to 80 pounds. Females tend to be slightly lighter and shorter than males.

The German Shepherd typically stands 22 to 26 inches tall (paw pad to shoulder) and weighs 65 to 90 pounds. Females tend to be slightly lighter and shorter than males.

So as you can see, the Rhodesian Ridgeback tends to be lighter in weight yet taller than the GSD.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Coat Type, Shedding and Grooming

Another question that can be very important to ask is how much grooming and maintenance your new dog will require.

If you or anyone in your family has a pet allergy, the amount of shedding can also be something good to research in advance.

Let’s see how the Rhodesian Ridgeback and German Shepherd stack up in these areas.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback gets its breed name in part from the famous “ridge” of fur along the length of the spine.

However, elsewhere these dogs have a short coat that is a single layer. The coat will shed somewhat year-round and more heavily seasonally.

However, regular weekly brushing will go a long way to keeping shedding under control.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are clean dogs naturally and will do just fine with the occasional bath.

German Shepherds have a thick, medium-length fur coat that is double layered. The upper layer is coarser fur that has water-resistant properties.

The lower layer is a softer downy undercoat with insulating properties.

German Shepherds do shed year-round and can shed profusely with the seasonal shifts. This is called “coat blow” and it is something GSD owners are often unprepared for.

You will want to make time for weekly brushing and keep a vacuum cleaner handy during the coat blow season. Otherwise, these are very neat, clean dogs overall and will do just fine with an occasional bath.


Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Intense Training and Exercise Needs

Now let’s turn our attention to the training and exercise needs of these two superior canine athletes.

As you will soon notice, this is another area where the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the GSD tend to be more alike than different.

Because the Rhodesian Ridgeback has such an intense need to run and chase (called a “prey drive”) these dogs always need to be on a leash when you are outside your home and yard.

You will need to make sure your fence and gate are escape-proof, which includes digging, jumping, and opening the gate latch.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback needs daily exercise opportunities and plenty of playtimes.

They will bond with you and want to be with you, so this isn’t a dog to choose if you are not home much during the day or enjoy a more sedentary lifestyle.

Because the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a breed developed to independently track and hunt game like lions, they need strong and consistent training right from puppyhood.

As well, because these dogs have such a strong guarding and protecting the drive, they need to learn early in life how to cope with strange people and animals.

The GSD has very similar exercise and activity needs. These dogs have been bred to do a job for hours upon hours every day.

They do best when they have “work” to do, be it to accompany you for a long hike or run or to be a service or therapy dog.

The GSD will bond strongly with you and needs to be involved in your life. Don’t get a German Shepherd if you have a sedentary life or won’t be home much.

Getting your dog another dog won’t be enough because these dogs want to live with people.

Your German Shepherd will need to learn early on in puppyhood how to manage their intense need to guard and protect. This will be key to helping your dog successfully live as a companion canine.


Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Longevity and Health Concerns

As with many large breed dogs, both the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the German Shepherd have shorter lifespans.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback has an average life expectancy of around 10 years.

Healthwise, the Rhodesian Ridgeback has several known genetic health issues. The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database states that breeders should pre-test parent dogs for these issues:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Eye issues
  • Cardiac issues
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Congenital deafness

The German Shepherd has an average life expectancy of seven to 10 years.

Healthwise, the German Shepherd has several known genetic health issues. The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database states that breeders should pre-test parent dogs for these issues:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Eye issues
  • Cardiac issues
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Temperament test
  • Degenerative myelopathy

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Good with Kids and Families

If your household includes families with young children, you may be especially concerned about bringing a big dog into your family.

A properly socialized and well-trained Rhodesian Ridgeback will be protective of and gentle with family members of all ages, including young children.

However, making sure your Rhodesian Ridgeback is sufficiently well trained and socialized is not a challenge to be taken lightly.

It will be up to you to make sure your dog learns the life skills necessary to adjust well to family life in a community.

These dogs are generally not recommended for first-time dog owners for this reason.

GSDs are incredibly loyal and loving with their people and with kids of all ages.

But here again, it will be up to you to ensure your dog is properly trained and socialized to learn how to be gentle and appropriate with young children and people of all ages.

Rhodesian Ridgeback vs German Shepherd: Which Is the Right Dog For You?

Now you have the information you need to decide which of these two amazing dogs is best for your family! 

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