Aza the Ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback…

Swirling the ice around in my drink and catching up with old friends at a recent party, struck up a funny yet therapeutic conversation about our pet dogs.  Anyone who has pets knows that funny moments are inevitable with animals that hold human-like personalities, but this conversation was a little like, “Here let me put my drink down, lie across the psychologist’s couch and vent to you about issues relating to my dog”.

Aza, pronounced just like it looks “A-zah”, a South African name (meaning courageous), given to my South African Lion Hound of a dog also known as Rhodesian Ridgebacks, also known as Razor Backs and also known for their unique marking of a strip of fur along their spine that grows in the opposite direction, let’s just say Aza, is also known as Aza, the Ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback, because she lacks this distinct ridge.  We’ve never told her about this lacking feature, but somehow I think she’s figured it out.

Not many people may write about their pets (I don’t think), but I had to do this as a therapy session for myself on a better way on how to handle and view this poor Ridgeless creature that has self esteem issues relating from O.C.D. to psychological issues that I am nowhere near educated on to give it a name.  Nor do I want to label my dog as anything less then her beautiful self, but for purposes of this blog and my own healing… I’m desperate for help on how to handle her, advice from a pro, Cesar Millan…anything.

As a family we spent 2 years researching and looking for the best dog to enhance our family.  Still tossing the idea around of a small, medium or large size dog, we came across Tracy, a gorgeous 2 year old Ridgeback at our local ice cream stand.  After speaking with the owner about this breed, I remembered that my good friend owned 2 of these dogs – between this owner, my friend with 2, as well as my husband and excitement in both my girls… all confirmed that this was our breed.  We spent months locating a local breeder and on December 26th, welcomed home our 11 week old Ridgeless Rideback… discounted for obvious reasons, with open arms.  We spent countless hours training, crate training and professional trained this young, exuberant dog, with high energy.

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Fast forward 4 years and a svelt 85 lbs. later, this beautiful dog has become a close member of our family.  With still much attention to her needs as if she were a brand new pup, some issues have popped up along the way, that have been needless to say… irritating.  I’m not quite sure where to begin but to get a clear picture, it all started with her spaying at the vets office.  All dogs go through a series of tests before going under the knife so to speak, and Aza’s test came back with a high white blood cell count.  After much testing, her numbers eventually went down, but never “normal” down and in the end doctors brushed it off that her high numbers, were Aza’s “norm”.  Not so bad. Moving on…anyone who has a dog, knows that at times a dog will scoot it’s bottom across the floor….. yes, eeewwwww!  Well, Aza doesn’t just scoot her bottom, she goes as far as scooting her vulva across the floor.  Is this normal?  I don’t think so.  Back to the vet… “Oh, yes, well you see her vulva is kind of situated low in the back, so she probably doesn’t feel as clean when she pees.”  Great.  So, we added baby wipes to her cleaning regime.   Back to the vet again… okay Doc, now she’s licking herself to death… literally sometimes to the bone.  Familiar with hot spots?  We’re talking licking on anything her tongue can reach…. between her webbed feet, her forearms, her belly, the infamous offset vulva and anything in between.  Topical skin tests ruled out anything likes fleas, ticks or worms.  Allergies you say?  Well, we never actually checked her medically for allergies, but like any dog, I’m sure she’s allergic to something… aren’t we all?  I figured if she was seasonally allergic, there wasn’t much I could do to prevent the change of seasons, so we ruled that out.  If she were allergic to something in the house… well I wasn’t about to stress over making my house any cleaner than it was, so we ruled that out too.  The only other alternative was food related.  You name it, we tried it over a year and half period…..  holistic, organic, allergy tested food, expensive food… doctor tested, dog approved…. but the licking continued.  We weren’t about to invest in daily or weekly allergy shots, so I guess we’re moving on…. oh, I didn’t even get to the ear infections yet.  Yes, poor Aza deals with chronic ear infections.  With special creams, cleansers, ointments and q-tips, that we added to her already growing cleaning routine, her ears have to be cleaned regularly…. even when they already look clean.  Big floppy ears weighing down the possibility of any air getting in, she ends up with infections that are SO annoying, it’s hard to bear.  This is what you hear every night at bed time… “scratch, scratch, scratch…shake, shake, shake, scratch, shake”.  The sound of her ears literally slapping like whips against her head are sounds you hear in the night, and ALL day long when she gets infected.  Okay so now we’ve got just a few issues, I mentioned… add that to restless nights when she roams the house.  If she’s restless, she roams from bedroom to bedroom, but in between the bedrooms she pauses between footsteps…. scoot, scoot… stop, shake the ears, scratch, scratch, scratch… scooooot, stop, repeat, and because she’s O.C. D…. repeat again.  We ended up putting her back in the crate at night, so she feels more safe and that works great.  Putting aside those annoyances, we have a whole other entity at large.  Going potty.  We call it “hurry up”.  I never liked those words hurry up, it was a phrase that the breeder had already started training her on, so with plans to change it when we got her home, fell through, because as frustrated as we were training her to go potty, you really did just want her to HURRY UP!  So I’m going to try to describe this as best I can in words, because at this party surrounded by friends… I felt the need to physically act out this skit for all to get a clear picture.  Aza you see, was trained to ring a bell when she needs to go potty.  This bell hangs from our back door and when she needs to go, Swipe!  She rings the dangling bell.  Clever, huh?  You’d think, that is until the door opens.  So there is my dog, she just rang the bell, you open the door and Aza stares at the open doorway, looks up at you and then stares outside again, sometimes even backing away from the door.  I can telepathically hear the thoughts running in her head…. “Oh, gee, did I ring the bell?  Umm, no I don’t think I want to got out there.”  Okay… close the door.  Two seconds later, she rings the bell with more force.  “Okay ma, I’m ready to go again, I think I can do it this time.. I’m really gonna try…” door opens, “um, did I say I was going to try?… I mean, try later, yeah, yeah much later.” We shove her out the door and onto the deck while her 85lb. frame is resisting the whole time.  “Okay, I made it out here, now what?” Aza, get down and go hurry up we tell her.  You can repeat this till you’re blue in the face and she’s just frozen with fear.  Now let me back up a tad before I go further.  Lot’s of dogs don’t like wet on their feet, I get that, so we decided to make a deluxe peeing/pooping ground that any other dog would be jealous to have.  We carved out a very spacious fenced in area, close to the deck and layered it in those pine nugget wood chip thingys.  Thinking this would make her trips outside better than if she had to step on wet grass or mud, but noooooooo!  Aza, get down!  “Oh, no ma, I really can’t go down there today, lemme just turn around and go back inside.” Like her case of O.C. D. you find yourself repeating and repeating the same lines over.  After shoving her tail end so hard her hind legs almost flip over her head, she reluctantly gets down.  “Hmmm, ewww, maybe if I just stand here and pretend to go, she’ll leave me alone.” Anyone see the movie Happy Feet?  “I’ll just squat a little and step my feet from side to side and make it look like I’m going, but oh, I really do have to go… maybe if I just walk a little over here….. um, no a little over there…. squat….maybe here?” Happy feet, step dance back and forth.  “I’ll just squat a little, but no here might be better….. but yet over here smells better.” Happy feet continues into the moon walk backwards and after she covers most of the area repeatedly, “ah yes, that’s it, oh that feels Sooooo good to re-leave myself right here, oh my gosh, what was the big deal, I don’t know what I was thinking, this isn’t so bad.” Aza’s look is now that of a depressed dog, with ears looking like they weigh half a ton each, as she glances up at me with sad eyes, like “Uh, I can’t believe you’re watching me, how embarrassing ma.” You have to watch her though, she’s “pretended” to go before, leaving you repeating the same sequence over, like she’s trying to get you in her O.C.D. league of dogs.

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So with our daily potty breaks that can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, the all day licking, scooting of the misshapen vulva, the occasional slap of the ears and scratching, I haven’t even touched upon the eating tissues in the garbage, the “No Aza”, “Stop it Aza” and “That’s gross Aza”…. she’s our dog.  Sprawled out next to me on her bed as I write this, she’s deep in snore heaven, waking up with the occasional itch, get up to circle, lie down and repeat slumber.  Although she’s our dysfunctional dog, the good have always out weighed the bad, but we are curious if anyone has any input whatsoever to give us.  With repeats of the Dog Whisperer embedded in our brains, E-Collars, Extensive Training, special diets, daily exercise and good old fashioned love, we long for maybe not a cure, but a creative way to handle such a unique family member as we continue to play this repeated episode for years to come.

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20 thoughts on “Aza the Ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback…

  1. I can relate to your dog’s story. We had a Golden Retriever who we loved very much but she was more than a handful.

    Very long story short – we finally found a veterinary office that offered both standard veterinary care and holistic care. I loved our old vet and had been going there for years but he didn’t have any answers or solutions to the problems my dog had. I felt guilty when I changed vets but after seeing the results, it was the best for my dogs.

    The holistic vet’s office ran tests no one had done before (including a urinalysis) and found out she had several internal conditions and infections that were affecting her personality and her life. They gave her antibiotics to treat her girl parts and holistic herbs to treat the rest of her. It did not get rid of her OCD and but it greatly reduced her constant licking, shaking, itching and she was so much happier. They tested her “energy” what ever that means and found out her diet was the biggest issue. She was nearly allergic to carbs so after getting that under control, she finally started to act better.

    We also found a gentle, understanding dog trainer who gave me some simple ways to adjust her behavior. The trainer we found actually spends an hour each week at a gourmet pet food store answering questions for free.
    She told me to do little things like when she starts licking a hole in the carpet distract her with a toy to play with. Giving her things to do like pushing a ball full of kibble (pet shops have these) around the house seemed to get her mind off of licking her bottom. You really need to find a compassionate, gentle dog trainer who can help you with these behavior issues. Don’t be afraid to try several until you find one that works and go with one who believes in taking it slow and gentle.

    Our dog unexpectedly passed away in October (she was only 8) and we miss her terribly. We did adopt another adult dog – with issues like ear infections, flaky skin, eye problems, gas (unlike anything you have ever smelled) and he is scared of men, to the point he will bite them – and are now going through similar training and nutrition. He’s only been with us a few months but the transformation is amazing.

    Remember, Aza is so lucky to have found you. You are giving her a great life even if some days you want to throw in the towel.

  2. Thanks so much for your insight and especially for letting me know I’m not the only one out there with an O.C.D. dog!
    I will keep you posted!

  3. Really enjoyed reading this 🙂
    Just joined and finished my first post so Im kinda unsure of how this place works.
    Aza has beautiful eyes by the way!

  4. Food allergies, food allergies, FOOD ALLERGIES!

    We have a ridgeless Ridgeback too. He is 9.5 now but had so may annoying habits (licking himself everywhere, rubbing his head against the carpet, flapping his ears, scratching, diarrhea) that we were at wit’s end.

    Had labwork (including allergy testing) and he is allergic to beef, pork, lamb, soy, peas, carrots, peanuts! What is amazing is that the puppy food we gave him had NONE of these ingredients (what a coincidence!). When we switched him to adult dog food our problems began, though we didn’t catch the correlation.

    Check her for food allergies, it made a huge difference for us!

  5. Shaya thanks so much for sharing! I think we will definitely look into those food allergies again. May I ask what food you feed him now? Just curious because we did try several different foods in the past.

  6. We have gone back and forth between a few – basically anything that is chicken and rice and little else. We used Canidae for a long time but they changed their formula and put peas and carrots in so we switched. We have used Dick Van Patten’s food too – duck and rice I think.

    Right now he is on good old Purina One and seems to do well. We also squirt salmon oil on his food, particulary when he is itchy.

    At least for Zeke there are SO many allergies that, until we got him tested, I don’t think we had a chance of avoiding all of them. It is nice also that when he was tested they printed out a list of foods and treats he should be able to tolerate.

  7. I have 2 ridged ridgebacks and their issues are a combination of your dogs! Fun reading. My vet is building a new clinic and our name will be on the cornerstone as we are such great customers!!!

  8. Hi, my 3 year old Ridgeback “GUS’ could be his sister. He has all the same “annoying habits” but I do really feel for him and would like to solve his issues. We have had him at the vet so many times that they are at a loss except they do acknowledge that I should change his food. I have done that but cannot find the right one to help him.

    His most endearing habit is that he can open door handles (both lift and push and lift and pull … in other words both let himself in and let himself out of a room)

    I love him so dearly and have had many dogs but never one with a character like his. He sleeps and snores anywhere and loves to wake me up with a big lick, just when he starts to shake his head and then I have a hard time getting back to sleep with the sound of flap, flap flap.. then he will lick his paws for a while….then he lies on his side…big stretch….then snore loudly!!!

    Any help with ideas for foods would be greatly appreciated!! I forgot to mention…he is 160 lbs and does not overeat… We have had his thyroid tested but vet keeps telling me it is normal.

  9. I’m relieved to see that I am not the only one flustered with my daughters choice to have this dog. I promised the child a dog when we purchased our first home. Fast forward 1 year after being in the home, we purchase this wonderful stunningly beautiful dog we’ve named Zimbi for his Zimbabwee roots! We love him, but at the same time loathe him as his habits are so annoying! All of the above previous comments and then some! Worst of all is his utter defiance! He will not come when called to if no treat are involved and at times even when a treat is involved he simply looks at you with a taunting look! The dog is 6 months and i’m at the brink of selling him due to my frustration! Any advise? or even better anyone want a rhodesian/ german shepard mix? !!!

  10. @ iesharidgeback – Beware the eyes and cute face are how they captivate you!! All Ridgebacks are gorgeous we get compliments on him everytime we take him out. THe lesson i’ve learned here is to do proper research before making such grand decisions, and just as i’d never select a mate based on his eyes and cute face I shouldnt have done it here!!! Im teaching my daughter this now!!

  11. I love this! My dog’s name is also Aza, although she is a Lab she shares so many character items as your Aza does.

  12. For Sandy, I once had a Ridgeback/Dane mix, she has since passed from bone cancer. I currently have a Lab, Chow mix, and Rat Terrier. All but the chow I have raised since puppyhood, what I’ve learned is that 6 months (especially with the larger dogs) is the beginning of the toughest phase. They are strong and they love to test your limits. Your best bet is to stick to your guns, remain calm, and don’t give up! In 6 months or so he will be right on and you will be so glad you stayed in the game. Aza (Lab) was 6 mo last Thanksgiving, my mother watched her for me, when I went to get her my mom asked me to never bring her back. I didn’t listen and at Easter she watched her again, I asked how she did and my mom said she was no problem. Its just a matter of getting them out of those “teen” years. My friend has a great book on Ridgebacks that helped them completely turn their dog around. I can find the title if your interested

  13. Great insight – we rescued a ridgeless rhodesian, Kandi – she is sooo awesome, but has some of the same peculiar mannerisms…..it appears her paws are itching -think it may be a food allergy. I’m trying to get info from other owners regarding this issue:)

    Wendy

  14. You should check out this new web-based animal reality show called Animal Movers. It is about a pet transportation company that moves animals all around the world. They move many different types of animals. The first episode was about moving Rhodesian Ridgebacks to Hawaii. It was very interesting and family friendly. You can find it at http://www.animalmovers.tv

  15. I have so much to say, I can’t type it all here… But I have a 2yr male RR who went through the same thing. We finally found relief after spending a serious fortune and seeing so many specialists. In the end an old-school old fasioned vet known for working with Rudgebacks (Dr. Judy in El Cajon CA) found a solution for us. It is sooo straightforward. Not expensive, etc. just requires persistance. Please email me if you’d like to hear our story. Also, a food called Thrive by The Honest Kitchen (a brand made by a RR owner) has been amazing for our dog’s issues. Best of Luck!!

  16. Just read this story, love your blog! I just put my 15 year old RR (Rita) down and also have a 3 year old (Rosie). Both of them have all of the same symptoms as you described. Rita never had ear infections, but had urinary leakage problems. So annoying. Rosie has horrible ear infections, licks her feet constantly, paces in the night…the list goes on. We just changed dog food, so we will see if that helps. I love this breed though, even with all of the annoyances. Great family pet. I will have them forever. Thanks so much for sharing the blog. It was soo funny to read and relate to!

  17. I have a ridgeback and grew up with them. So sorry to hear your dog has chronic ear infections. Mine gets them too. We have gone to a maintenance fluid we put in her ears once a week, and put cotton balls in her ears with vasaline when we bath her. Also, my dog also looks at me like I’m crazy sometimes after she has whined to go outside. Although…I never just let her back into the house, if she wines to go out, she goes out. With ridgebacks the key is structure, you must adhere to your own rules at all times. Crying wolf gets on every ones nerves. I have noticed she does it much less since it is a given she will be going outside. Have you tried a small treat to reward her for going potty immediately? Or for going outside? My pup is very food driven and if food is involved she will do just about anything. I chop up apples very small and give her just enough for a wonderful taste and leads to helping with other commands. Although when I take her out to construction with me she does like to go poop quietly in the woods without me. I guess just like people they like private time. But at home she poops in front of me because I won’t let her back in until she does. eat + 15 minutes, out you go for a poo. I also feed her a limited food diet (lamb and brown rice) and give her vitamins every morning. My favorite is NuVet, they do not upset her stomach and her coat is amazing. She also had a tendency to chew her feet, so I have taken to going on much longer walks to help with her energy, and I put her in dog daycare one day a week, and it has seemed to help by leaps and bounds. Good luck, and although they are a lot of work ridgies are awesome dogs.

  18. Hi Mary Jo, Sorry for the super late response! Thank you for writing in and for your comments too! So sorry to hear about Rita… I can’t imagine after 15 years 😦 Rosie sounds adorable. I wish you the best of luck with her!

  19. Hi Erin, We must love our Ridgebacks to put up with all this crazy nonsense! 🙂 Thank you for some of your tips. Aza has been so much better when it comes to going “hurry up”. We’ve realized that most of her foot biting and licking comes from mere boredom! I’m thinking such large dogs need tons of exercise which is hard with our household being so busy. When we can’t walk her, we stock up on those HUGE meaty bones that she loves and keeps her very busy…. well at least for a week and then she gets tired of the taste and wants a fresh one! Good luck!

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