The term 'ridgeback' is most commonly associated with the Rhodesian ridgeback. However, this breed is not alone in bearing this curious dorsal ridge.
Another ridgebacked dog is the Thai ridgeback. Two more Asian ridgebacked dogs are the Phu Quoc dog from Vietnam and the Cambodian Razorback Dog. A fifth, less documented breed, is the Mha Kon Klab from Thailand.

While geographical closeness may explain the appearance of the four Asian ridgebacked dogs, they relationship to the Rhodesian ridgeback remains a matter of controversy.
a blue Thai Ridgeback
Photo by Brian J. Orr

The occurrence of the ridge trait on two continents divided by an ocean remains an enigma.

Some researchers believe that it were the Phu Quoc dogs or their ancestors which were transported from India and Thailand to the southern African mainland and formed the basis for a ridgebacked breed on the African continent. Ancient Indian dogs may have accompanied the earliest Indian trade vessels and interbred with the early Khoi dogs on the African mainland.
Rhodesian Ridgeback from the backside showing the beautiful ridge on the back
Photo: Nancy Dressel
Ridgebacked Dogs
(Ridgeback dog breeds,
Dog breeds with a ridge on their back)
Other cynologists believe that the Ridgeback is indigenous to Africa but was taken to Vietnam, either by the Arabs trading with China, or by the Portugese and Dutch, trading in ivory and gold between Africa and the East from the 15th to the 18th century.

In that case the Khoi dog may have transmitted the ridge feature, not only to the Rhodesian ridgeback, but also to the Asian ridgebacked dogs, even if indirectly. The fact the some Khoi dogs inhabited sparsely populated areas where contact with other dog groups was limited, explains why this spontaneous genetic mutation became fixed in this breed.

While we may conclude that African ridged dogs are indigenous to Africa, it does seem that the Phu Quoc dog and Rhodesian Ridgeback originate from the same basic pariah stock common to southern Asia and Africa.

The Rodhesion ridgeback is the only of the five ridgebacked dogs that was granted championship status, in 1954.
Appearance of the Ridge

The ridge is the hallmark of these breeds. It is a ridge of hair along the spine growing in the reverse direction from the rest of the coat. It usually starts immediately behind the shoulders and continues up to the haunch bones and should be clearly defined, symmetrical and tapering. The ridge can have different shapes according to the breed (see further).

Ridgebacked Breeds

Rhodesian ridgeback:
Wheaten in color varying from light to rich red. A little white on the chest or toes is acceptable. The ridge forms a double-edged sword with two crowns. See: Rhodesian ridgeback >>

Phu Quoc dog:
saddle-shaped ridge, rather unlike the sharp double-edged sword of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. The hair on the ridge is much longer, harder and darker than the rest of its coat. See: Phu Quoc dog >>

Thai ridgeback: most common patterns are the arrow and lute patterns, but the ridge can be of 8 different patterns. See : Thai ridgeback >>
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Cambodian Razorback dog
Photo courtesy of Christian Berger
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More information:
Books including a short section about the Rhodesian ridgeback, Thai ridgeback and the Phu Quoc dog::
Dogs by Desmond Morris
Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds
by Desmond Morris

More information:
For the overall appearance please refer to the individual breed descriptions: Rhodesian ridgeback, Thai ridgeback, Phu Quoc dog.

See also:
Rhodesian ridgeback
Thai ridgeback
Primitive dogs
Guard dogs

Futher reading:
In quest of the sabre and the two crowns - Sian Hall
Phu Quoc dog
Photo courtesy of Laura Tedesco
It is true that much sea traffic passed Phu Quoc in historical times, so this theory is entirely plausible.
Canine Lexicon
Cambodian Razorback dog: larger and broader-headed than a Phu Quoc Dog, the Cambodian Razorback dog is a long-haired, usually particolored dog with white and black, blue, brown and fawn as common colors.  They also come in solid colors without white.  The tail should be "bushy" and the ridge on the back well defined. More about the Cambodian Razorback dog.

Mha Kon Klab: also a ridgebacked dog, but more like a Chow Chow than like the other ridgebacked dogs, with a blue
tongue and a curled tail. (now probably extinct)