My family is in love with a breed of dog called the Rhodesian Ridgeback. My parents currently have their second, Sashi, and third, Deka. Longtime dog owners, my parents constantly rave about how Ridgebacks are the smartest and best dogs they have ever owned. As for me, we had a poodle when I was a kid and got our first Ridgeback when I was 7. Prior to the infamous poodle (kindof a blip in the "Hamburg dog history"), my parents owned all cold-weather dogs... Samoyeds, Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. Ridgebacks are quite a different direction from the breeds my parents used to favor.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback takes it's name from both it's country of origin and most distinctive feature. The breed was originally developed in the south african county of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the late 1800's by mixing a local african dog with european immigrants. The african breed contributed a ridge of hair that runs the wrong way up the Ridgeback's spine. The hairs point towards the dog's head, not tail. During the original breeding of the dog, it was noticed that the dogs with ridges were better hunters and protectors, their main purpose in Africa. They were first accepted to the AKC under the "hound" group in 1955.
The rumours you have heard about this dog are not completely true. This dog was bred to hunt lions in africa and to protect the homsteads and children from predators. They don't kill lions. The Ridgebacks were used in packs of about 20 dogs each to corner and harass a lion until the hunters could then approach and kill the lion. Due to the ferocity of lions, this was an effective but not very efficient way of hunting -- quite a number of dogs from the pack would be killed on every hunt. They were also often put out with the children to protect them from cheetahs while playing.
Ridgebacks are extremely devoted to their "pack" of people and extremely intelligent. However, they tend to be a little aloof towards strangers. This is not one of those super waggy dogs that jumps all over everyone on the streets of NYC. More often than not, the little children complain "Why doesn't the doggy look at me?" Sashi has learnt to tolerate the audacity of New Yorkers to pet anything that walks by without asking permission. Deka is yet to experience New York City... we'll see how she does.
This breed also known for adjusting itself well to the lifestyle of the family. If every member of your family runs marathons, you will have ridgebacks that run marathons. The dogs can do it, come home and look at you as if to say, "When do we go again?" Alternatively, if you have a "lazy" family such as mine, you get lazy Ridgebacks who sleep on the bed all day. I took my lazy Sashi for a run once... I don't think her nose even broke a sweat after 4 miles.
Overall, I am as in love with this breed as my parents. I chase down Ridgebacks when I see them in New York City -- within a block. Similarly, I have had people chase me for much more than a single block just to meet mine! Huge stamp of approval.