Your Rhodesian Ridgeback is not a Labrador retriever, and she will not respond to the same training techniques. Labs and Goldens and most other sporting breeds are reflexively obedient; they want to please, and they get enjoyment from obeying their owners. Your Ridgeback has been bred for generations to do just the opposite: To think for himself and act accordingly. He will want to please you, but to a limit. Like a human, he will find the request to sit over and over again to be stupid.


Because they are so independent and bore so easily, Ridgebacks do not take well to monotonous or heavy-handed training techniques. They work well with positive motivation, lots of food and lots of variety. If you think the class is boring, your Ridgeback will, too.

You want to keep your training sessions short and interesting. It does not matter that you only do half of a class, as long as your dog ends the class enthusiastic.


Many suburban dog trainers have had little experience with independent breeds such as hounds. They often mistake intelligence for obstinance and even stupidity. Inquire about how many “non-traditional” obedience breeds the instructor has worked with. If he starts telling you how dumb and headstrong Rhodesians are, this is not the instructor for you.


Heavy-handed tactics can ruin a Ridgeback. You cannot force a Ridgeback to do what he does not want to do. Instead, you find a way to motivate him to do it. Forcing a Ridgeback to do something with which he is not comfortable will result in the Ridgeback “shutting down” – i.e. staring at you blankly -- or, in extreme cases, prompt a “fight or flight” reaction. Your dog needs to trust you and your judgment. Be fair and consistent with him, and he will return the favor.


Here is an example of “thinking outside the box” in a training class. When my Ridgeback starts ignoring me and sniffing the floor, ignoring my treats and me, I simply give him a cue, “That’s it, you blew it,” and he gets put back in his crate. Then I start working with another dog, right in front of him, cooing and praising the other dog profusely. Jealousy is a powerful motivator in this breed; use it to your advantage.


You can certainly correct your Ridgeback, with this caveat: The Ridgeback must understand why he is being corrected. If so, he will accept the correction. If he does not understand why he is being corrected, or if he is receiving the correction from someone he does not know or trust, that is not a good thing.


Before you join any obedience class, visit without your puppy and watch what is going on:


Are the dogs praised profusely? Is food being used as a motivator and a reward? Are the dogs allowed to quit on a positive note? Do the instructors note breed differences and train accordingly? (All good things.)


Or do you see a lot of jerking of collars and harsh physical corrections? Does the instructor seem rigid and harsh? Instead of respecting and working with breed differences, does the instructor dismiss certain independent breeds as “dumb” or “difficult”? (All bad things.)

Clicker Training



In the last several years, a new kind of training has emerged called clicker training. It works exceptionally well for Ridgebacks. If you cannot find a clicker class near you, ask the obedience instructor if you can use the clicker in your regular class, provided the noise of the clicker does not bother other owners. (If you have trouble finding a clicker class, or a clicker-friendly instructor, call me.)


Here is how clicker training works:


1. You buy a little handheld child’s clicker, and you spend several days teaching your dog that a click=a treat. You click, you give the dog a treat. You click again, treat again. (No rat-a-tat-tat clicks: The rule is every click gets a treat.)


2. Once the dog understands click=treat, he'll get very excited when you pick up the clicker. Now you decide what you want to teach. I like to start out with "Watch me." The second the dog makes eye contact with you, you click, and then treat. Don't say anything, just click and treat. You're timing is very important with the clicker, and if you don't click just as he looks at you, you'll click his looking away. (Even if you make a timing mistake, he gets the treat anyway.) It may take a while, and he may not understand why he's being clicked, but eventually you will see a big lightbulb go off over his head, and he will sit and stare at you in the hopes of inducing a click.


3. Once he understands the behavior and starts to offer it with regularity, only THEN do you give it a name, like "Watch." And then he is clicked only when you ask for the behavior, and he gives it.


4. Eventually, the clicker is "faded" from the command; that is, you don't need it anymore, since the purpose of the clicker is only to teach a command. It's not a remote control (a popular misconception). You use it to say, "Yes! That! The thing you did right then!" Once the dog understand what "that" is, the clicker has done its job.


The whole point behind clicker training is -- you don't make the dog do something; you wait until he does it, then click it. This makes the dog think it's HIS idea, not yours, that somehow he is in control too, that he is making YOU click. And the enthusiasm level is awesome.


If I sit on the living room couch with my clicker and a bag of treats, my dogs will sit in front of me and literally go through the entire repertoire of things they know, trying to figure out how to get me to click. It's amazing to watch them **think.**


Another advantage of the clicker is it allows you to pinpoint specific behavior. The second you click -- that is the thing being rewarded. There is no doubt in the dog's mind about what he did right. It also allows you to teach things you couldn't possibly do with a traditional approach. Diva, for example, always plasters her ears to the side of her head in the show ring. I taught the command "Ears" by always clicking her when she was alert and her ears were set nicely forward.


I also used the clicker to teach Diva the seesaw at agility class. She hated the loud BOOM it made, didn't want to go near it. So at first I clicked her looking at it. Then I clicked her going toward it. Then I clicked her putting one foot on it while I lured her toward it with some food. Then I clicked two feet, etc, etc. Now, given a choice of a whole ring full of agility equipment, she gravitates toward the seesaw because she associates it with such positive things.


Here are some articles about clicker training and the concepts behind it. You can buy clickers at, as well as books and videos on clicker training.