The name "Hondsrug" would appear to be taken from the Dutch word for "dog" or "hound" (hond) and the word for a "back" or "ridge" (rug). However, it is more likely a bastardization of the older name Hunze-rug, coming from the name of the Hunze River, which flows through Drenthe and Groningen. Up until the 19th century the Hondsrug was also known as the Bisschopsrug, meaning "Bishop's Ridge".
The ridge has northwest-southeast orientation, which it shares with some less pronounced parallel ridges. These ridges are generally thought to be glacial landforms. It has been debated what kind of landform it should be, suggestions ranging from medial moraines to mega-flutes.