The Thai Ridgeback: Thailand’s Distinguished Breed

The Thai Ridgeback is an independent dog breed hailing from Eastern Thailand. They come in eight colors and sport a unique ridge along their backs.

Jan 22, 2024By Michael C., BA Fisheries and Wildlife
the thai ridgeback thailands distinguished breed

The Thai Ridgeback is a dog like no other. Coming from Eastern Thailand (hence its namesake), this mostly unchanged breed has traits that distinguish it from other dogs. Read on to learn more about this loyal canine!

These Canines Come from Thailand

portrait of thai ridgeback
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The Thai Ridgeback is aptly named, as it originated from the tropical jungles of Eastern Thailand. Not much is known about this breed’s history, other than that it was bred for hunting, and it was geographically isolated from many other dog breeds.

As the environment the Thai Ridgeback comes from is almost virtually inaccessible through various modes of transportation, the breed itself has remained isolated from other dogs. This dog is believed to be an ancient breed, as artifacts and writings dating back hundreds of years ago depict dogs sporting traits that are very similar to the modern Thai Ridgebacks we see today.

This breed retains traits typically observed in other primitive dog breeds. It is strong-willed and has a strong survival instinct and was developed mostly through natural selection with little influence from humans. Though their origins are still mysterious, it is considered a pariah-type dog (which are breeds commonly observed as feral dogs in villages throughout Southern and Southeastern Asia).

Thai Ridgebacks Have Ridges

two dogs resting outside
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The Thai Ridgeback is named for the distinctive ridge of fur that lines its back. Only two other known dog breeds display this trait: the Rhodesian Ridgeback of Zimbabwe and the rare Phu Quoc Ridgeback of Vietnam. The ridge itself is caused by a mutation caused by two groups of dominant genes, and the ridge itself only appears if both genes are present (some dogs can be born without this distinctive ridge on their backs, believe it or not!). This causes an appearance that is essentially two large whorls, or crowns, of hair that grow in the opposite direction from the rest of its coat.

These same dominant genes are also observed in the Rhodesian Ridgeback, despite being an entire continent away from Thai Ridgebacks. There is genetic evidence to suggest that both breeds have descended from a common ancestor, which we will cover later in this article. The Thai Ridgeback also is believed to have some ancestry from the Phu Quoc Ridgeback from crossbreeding.

This Dog Was Kept for Hunting and Guarding

two ridgebacks in dog show
Image credit: Томасина/Wikimedia Commons

The Thai Ridgeback has been primarily used for hunting and guarding. This breed was used to hunt a wide variety of animals, ranging from mongooses and wild boar to even venomous snakes. It was used as pest control to keep households free from vermin.

Because of its use as a hunting dog, it retains a strong prey drive that is commonly seen in other hunting breeds. This canine is also very territorial, making them suitable guard dogs for homes, shops, and other establishments. They’ll even be protective of their owners. Besides being used as a hunting and watchdog, the Thai Ridgeback was sometimes used to pull carts as well, just like an ox or a mule would.

These traits are still retained in the modern-day breed. As this article will explain later, this breed is not for novice dog owners as both their high prey drive and territorial instincts can be very overwhelming to handle.

Thai Ridgebacks Have Ancient Origins

thai ridgeback on leash
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As the birthplace of the Thai Ridgeback was almost geographically inaccessible, there was very little crossbreeding with other dog breeds. Trade was difficult without motorized vehicles; therefore, the Thai Ridgeback remained isolated. As mentioned earlier, writings and artifacts from hundreds of years ago depict dogs with physical traits very similar to this breed.

The Thai Ridgeback is also considered a primitive breed, retaining both physical and behavioral traits often seen by other older dog breeds, like Basenjis. Such traits include pointy ears, smooth fur coats, self-sufficiency, and overall independence. It is considered by some to be a member of the pariah dog group, which contains landraces or breeds of often feral dogs typically seen in villages or towns. Though the breed has been believed to have developed around the 1600s (at least in the modern form), Thai Ridgebacks could date back further to the Middle Ages.

These Dogs Aren’t Like Other Breeds

ridgeback standing on grass
Image credit: SvennoFischer/Wikimedia Commons

Though the Thai ridgeback is an ancient breed overall, the relationships of this canine among other dog breeds are still unknown. As mentioned previously, this breed is considered a pariah dog, but no ancient records of when the breed existed have ever appeared. It is believed to have descended from the original ancestral “Thai dog” that was kept and bred by ancient Thai people thousands of years ago. These dogs were used mostly for hunting other animals.

There is some evidence to suggest that the Thai Ridgeback has connections to the ancient ancestors of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It is important to note, however, that the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback has major influences from other dog breeds, including mastiffs and other hounds. The ancestral dogs however may have been transported by Asian traders to Africa around 1000 A.D., with the mutations that cause its distinctive ridge to also tag along as well.

These Dogs Came to the U.S. in 1994

thai ridgeback walking in show
Image credit: Томасина/Wikimedia Commons

The Thai Ridgeback only made its debut in the United States in 1994, thanks to a man by the name of Jack Sterling. Jack himself discovered these dogs by pure chance while in Bangkok, Thailand, and even coined the breed’s current name. He managed to import the canines, and the rest is history (before this discovery, this dog was virtually unheard of outside of Thailand). He would later found the American Thai Ridgeback Association (ATRA), which would be the first official registry for this exotic breed.

Despite his prominent importance in establishing the breed, Jack Sterling has been surrounded by controversy, having allegations of animal abuse in his breeding facility in Chiang Mai (now defunct after his death). The author cannot confirm nor deny these claims as he doesn’t know much about this situation and is irrelevant to this article.

Thai Ridgebacks are considered a rare breed as only around 300 live in the U.S. This breed is both recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC).

Grooming Is Mostly a Breeze

thai ridgeback frolicking outside
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As the Thai Ridgeback has very short fur, only minimal brushing is needed to maintain its coat. You can brush your dog around once a week with a rubber curry brush to remove any loose hairs that may be shed. Shedding only occurs around once or twice a year, and the amount of fur produced is very light. As with other dogs, your Thai Ridgeback’s ears should be checked periodically, and their nails should also be trimmed every few weeks.

The Thai Ridgeback’s dental health is also straightforward. As their teeth don’t have any serious issues specific to the breed, dental hygiene for the Thai Ridgeback is very simple. Brushing their teeth daily is optimal, but twice or three times weekly can suffice. Giving your chew toys to bite on is also important to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Still, brushing your dog’s teeth is vital to keeping them clean and healthy!

Thai Ridgebacks Are Generally Healthy

thai ridgeback puppy on grass
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The Thai Ridgeback is a breed that shouldn’t have many health problems. However, there are a few important health ailments that the breed can be susceptible to.

One health issue that this canine can be prone to is a common skin condition known as dermoid sinus. This is a skin defect that can often be seen as a tubular growth that may expel discharge; it is mostly a problem in ridgeback breeds. If left untreated, these sinuses can lead to painful infections and other common health problems.

Other issues this breed may be prone to include hip dysplasia and heart problems, which could originate from crossbreeding with other dogs. It is important to have your canine examined annually by a veterinarian to catch signs early before they get worse. If symptoms of disorders such as dermoid sinus appear, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Thai Ridgebacks Are Very Protective

thai ridgeback on concrete
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The Thai Ridgeback is known for its exceptional ability to guard its owners and their properties, due to its highly protective and loyal nature. These dogs were often kept in shops to ward off thieves and other wrongdoers. Their loyalty is a very prominent trait of this breed and will protect their loved ones in the utmost regard.

However, this fierce trait of the Thai Ridgeback can have a few drawbacks. For instance, the Thai Ridgeback will be wary of unfamiliar strangers on its home turf. It may also be very overprotective of their owners, even among other friends and family. Resource guarding can also be an issue for this breed. It is important to socialize and train your dog very early to minimize these common behavioral problems.

This Breed Is Not for Beginners

thai ridgeback standing on patio
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The Thai Ridgeback is best left to the experts, as it has needs that cannot be ideally met by novice dog owners. This breed is highly energetic and active, needing lots of exercise and attention. Training should start very early during puppyhood to establish boundaries and to socialize them amongst others. Training the Thai Ridgeback requires lots of experience and patience, as they’re known to be highly intelligent yet stubborn.

Thai Ridgebacks may be prone to chasing smaller animals due to their high prey drive, and because of its history as a guard dog, it may be overprotective in its home or with its owners. This breed is also both an excellent jumper and climber; therefore, your dog will need an escape-proof yard and an active exercise routine. Devoting a large amount of time to training a Thai Ridgeback, from obedience training to socialization, is an absolute must for this breed.

Thai Ridgeback Ownership Comes with Special Considerations

closeup of red ridgeback
Image credit: Hundeo

Provided with the right mindset and handling, the Thai Ridgeback is a fiercely loyal companion for those looking for a protective breed for years to come; however, it is a huge responsibility to know what to expect before bringing one of these dogs home.

Michael C.
By Michael C.BA Fisheries and Wildlife

Michael holds a BS degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University. He formerly worked at a pet store as an animal care associate and is the former president of the MSU Herpetological Society. Michael currently owns three snakes (a corn snake, a Kenyan sand boa, and a checkered garter snake) and a leopard gecko. Interests include almost anything animal-related. Michael enjoys drawing, gaming, and having fun in his free time.