The Whippet is a medium-sized sighthound native to the United Kingdom. Although commonly thought of as a smaller version of the closely-related Greyhound, the Whippet is in fact its own unique breed. The Whippet was originally bred to hunt down small animals such as rabbits and hairs, and is still used for lure coursing and dog racing. In terms of body size to speed ratio, the Whippet is the fastest breed of dog in the world, although several larger breeds have faster top speeds. Whippets are known for being extremely affectionate companion animals.
The Whippet’s history begins with that of the larger Greyhound from which it descended. A native of England, the Greyhound is an ancient breed, and was already well-established in England by 1014 when King Canute made it a crime for any common person to own one of these dogs. Because the Greyhound was created in an era when little to nothing was written about dog breeding, or anything else for that matter, much of its ancestry is unknown.
There are depictions of sighthounds which resemble the Greyhound on Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts which date from between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago. For many years it was believed that these dogs became the modern day Saluki and Ibizan Hound which were then spread across the Ancient World, giving rise to all other sighthound breeds. This theory holds that the Greyhound either came to England as cargo of Phoenician traders or as the hunting companion of Roman conquerors. However, in recent years this traditional story has been called into question. Recently revealed Soviet Studies indicate that the Afghan Hound and closely related Taigan were the original Asiatic scent hounds.
Additionally, several recent genetic studies have indicated several things about the Greyhound. One is that it is not as ancient as previously thought. Another is that the breed is probably more closely related to herding breeds such as Collies than it is to most other sighthounds such as the Saluki, implying that the Greyhound was developed locally in England from herding breed stock. Finally, these same tests showed that the Greyhound and Whippet are indeed very closely related. All of these genetic tests are somewhat controversial, and may have been misinterpreted. It is possible that the Greyhound is descended from other sighthounds and has been so frequently bred with other British breeds that its original ancestry has been obscured.
Whatever the true ancestry of the Greyhound, the breed was long held in high regard in both England and Scotland. Hare coursing with Greyhounds was long a popular sport of the nobility, who for centuries were the only British citizens allowed to own these dogs. For many years, Greyhounds were one of the few breeds allowed inside of castles. Eventually, British social rules and laws changed and evolved. Eventually, restrictions on commoners owning Greyhounds were lifted and by the end of the 1700’s, a large number of Greyhounds were owned by the British lower classes. They were popular as they provided entertainment in the form of coursing, as well as additional meals in the form of rabbits and hares. Around this time, major changes were happening throughout British society.
The enclosure movement had begun in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Enclosure ended the communal land rights of British farmers. Many of them were driven from their ancestral land into the cities. This movement reached its height from about 1760 to 1820. It was also about this time that the Industrial Revolution began in full swing across England. Rural farmers were becoming industrial factory workers in increasing numbers. Standards of living were dramatically decreased as was the average workers living space. However, these factory workers needed some form of entertainment, and they began to race their Greyhounds against each other in order to find it. Gambling dramatically increased the popularity of these races, as did the fact that many participants owned their own Greyhounds giving them a personal stake.
Greyhounds are large dogs with substantial care requirements. They were quite expensive for a British working class family to afford. Additionally, Greyhounds require comparatively large tracks on which to race due to their size. The factory workers would need a smaller breed to meet their new living situation. Breeders in northern England began to breed the smallest examples of the Greyhound breed, and also added in blood from other dogs as well. It is known that the Italian Greyhound factored prominently into the early breeding of these small Greyhounds. The Italian Greyhound is a toy-sized breed which has long been popular among the European nobility due to its grace and beauty. It is also known that several other dogs were added in as well.
Terrier blood was certainly added, but there is dispute as to which breed or breeds. Some say the Bedlington Terrier, which makes sense as the breed is a native of Northern England and relatively long-legged for a terrier. Many say that a now-extinct long legged terrier breed was used as well. It is also quite probable that the terriers used were either random-bred or mix-breeds. Although rarely mentioned, it is almost certain that Lurchers were used in the creation of the Whippet. A Lurcher is not a breed but a type of dog. Lurchers are a cross between a sighthound and any non-sighthound. These dogs were used by poachers to hunt rabbits and other game, and remain quite common in the United Kingdom. Most Lurchers are crosses between sighthounds and herding breeds such as Collies, creating a dog with great speed and intelligence.
Small sighthounds had long been known as Whippets or Snapdogs in England. This term has been found dating back to at least 1610, but it did not apply to the modern breed. The word Whippet comes from the word whip, applied to these small sighthounds because they were as fast as whips. At some point in the 1800’s, Whippet ceased being used to describe any small sighthound and came to mean specifically the Whippet breed. It is unclear as to when this first happened, but it was likely sometime after 1788 as the Encyclopedia Brittanica of that year makes no mention of the Whippet in its list of dog breeds.
As the 19th Century wore on and an increasingly high percentage of England’s population became urbanized, Whippet racing became the most popular sport among Britain’s working classes. Whippets became known as either the, “Poor Man’s Greyhound,” or the “Poor Man’s Racehorse.” Speed is partially determined by stride length, so a large breed such as a Greyhound or Saluki is able to reach the highest actual speed. However, for their body size, Whippets are the world’s fastest dog breed, and are capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Whippets were known not only for their speed, but also for their ability to make incredibly sharp turns without significant loss of speed, a trait they may have inherited from Collies/Lurchers. Not only was Whippet racing extremely popular for its entertainment value, a huge amount of money changed hands as a result of gambling.
During this time a prized racing Whippet was often one of the most valuable possessions a family could own as the dog not only provided the family with entertainment and possibly income, but were also quite skilled at capturing rabbits and hares for the dinner table. It was also during this time that Whippets were bred almost exclusively for speed, although hunting ability and friendliness were also selected for. Whippets of the 1800’s look somewhat different from those of today. They were definitely less refined as a breed, and in fact appeared rather mutt-like. Some early Whippets clearly show their terrier ancestry. These early Whippets clearly show that this is not merely a small Greyhound, but a clearly distinct breed. Many early Whippets would probably no longer be considered a Whippet, but either a Lurcher or a Longdog (a term used to describe a cross between two different sighthound breeds).
Eventually, the British upper class came to appreciate Whippet racing and the Whippet breed. At the time, dog breeding and dog shows were soaring to new levels of popularity. These upper class Whippet fanciers, along with other breeders who wanted to imitate the upper class, began to selectively breed Whippets for appearance as well. Their goal was to create a breed which looked like a small Greyhound, and so they bred accordingly. Over time, residual non-sighthound characteristics began to disappear from the breed. The result was the modern Whippet, which is a considerably more refined and stable breed than its 19th Century progenitors. Whippets were first recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1891. Since then, they have long been popular in the show ring due to their grace and elegance.
The first Whippets to arrive in America did so in the 1800’s. These first Whippets were brought by mill operators in Massachusetts in the hope that Whippet racing would entertain American factory workers in the same way it had entertained their English counterparts. Although the sport never caught on in America to anywhere near the extent it had in England, it did gain a substantial following. For a number of years Massachusetts was the center of American Whippet racing, although the sport later became most popular in Maryland, particularly Baltimore. The Whippet was actually first registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888, three years before the English Kennel Club. The earliest records of the American Whippet Club (AWC) date from 1930, although it is likely that the club was founded informally some time before this date. The club is dedicated to the promotion and protection of the Whippet breed and is the official breed parent club of the Whippet for the AKC. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed the AKC’s lead in 1935, first recognizing Whippets in that year.
Whippets are known for being the most versatile of all sighthounds, and one of the most versatile of all breeds. This breed excels at a number of popular canine tasks. Whippet Racing has fallen out of favor in the United Kingdom and United States in recent years due to a number of factors, primarily due to the growing popularity of other sports such as soccer, but also to animal rights issues. However, a large number of Whippets around the world are still primarily racing and lure coursing animals. While hunting with Whippets is now rare, the breed is still very capable of being a hunter and a small number of Whippets are still used for this purpose, mainly illegally since hunting animals with dogs was banned in England, Scotland, and Wales; a process that started during the 1970’s. Additionally, Whippets are perhaps the most popular breed to use in the creation of Lurchers, due to their medium size and versatility. Whippets are very popular in the show ring because they are not only beautiful and elegant, but also require far less grooming than most show dogs. It has been said that the Whippet is an ideal breed for beginning show handlers due to their coat and temperament.
Although not known for being an exceptionally trainable breed, recently popular reward-based training methods have led to a number of Whippets becoming obedience champions. This athletic breed is also exceptional at agility competitions. The Whippet is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, of all breeds at the new sport of flyball. Although not commonly used for these purposes, Whippets have been known to make excellent Frisbee dogs, and even capably herding dogs. Despite these many potential uses, the majority of American Whippets are companion dogs, a job which these good-natured, gentle, and sweet dogs are perhaps most suited for. The Whippet has a very stable population in America. Although not a particularly common dog, the breed has a sizable number of fanciers. In 2010, the Whippet ranked 60th out of 167 registered breeds with the AKC, having ranked 63rd in 2000.
The Whippet was bred to look like a medium-sized Greyhound, and that is exactly what the breed looks like. Everything about the Whippet gives the impression of speed and grace. Breed standards do not allow for any exaggeration or feature which could compromise speed. This is the epitome of a medium-sized dog. Male Whippets are between 19 and 22 inches tall at the shoulder, while the slightly smaller females are typically between 18 and 21 tall at the shoulder. Although breed standards do not specify the ideal weight for this breed, most Whippets weigh between 15 and 30 pounds, with males tending to be somewhat heavier.
Whippets are quite thin for a dog of this size. The ribs of most Whippets are clearly visible, leaving many who are unfamiliar with this breed to assume that they are starving. This breed is known for having very little body fat. Despite its thin body, the Whippet is quite well-muscled. This breed has quite long legs for its body size. The curves of a Whippet’s body are clearly defined, and the breed has a noticeable if slight curve in the back. The Whippet’s tail is quite long, thin, tapers towards the end, and is typically carried low.
The head of the Whippet is very similar to those of other sighthounds. The breed has a long and narrow face and snout, which both reduces drag while running and gives the breed an elegant and gentle appearance. The narrow muzzle has a strong underjaw and ends in a black nose. The ears of a Whippet should be rose-shaped, small, thin, and elegant. When the Whippet is not alert, the ears are typically held back and against the head. As a result of their terrier ancestry Whippets will occasionally be born with upright ears, this is considered a serious fault or disqualification in the show ring. As a sighthound, the Whippet has large eyes which cannot be obscured in any way. These eyes should be a dark brown, and both should be the same color.
The Whippet has a very short coat. This coat is comprised of smooth hair that is largely uniform over the animal’s entire body. Many fanciers claim that occasionally a Whippet will be born with either long or wiry coat, but these dogs cannot be shown. Other fanciers claim that such Whippets are actually a mix-breed. The breed’s short coat makes scars and other injuries more easily seen. However, this should not impact the dog in the show ring. Whippet breeders have long been primarily concerned with speed, and color has no impact whatsoever on how fast a Whippet runs. As a result, Whippets can come in any color or pattern. This breed exhibits possibly the greatest range of colors and patterns found in any breed. Some of the most common colors include grey with white patches, black, white with tan patches, and brindle.
Whippets tend to vary more in terms of temperament from one dog to the next than most breeds, but the Whippet is known for being an exceptionally affectionate and gentle companion. These dogs love to be in the company of their masters. This breed is a known snuggler, and enjoys nothing more than curling right up under the covers with their favorite people. This breed is less independent than most sighthounds and prefers the company of humans. Whippets do not enjoy rough-housing, however, and will not enjoy that sort of play. Whippets make excellent family companions. This breed is known for being good with children, but does not like to be handled roughly. Unlike many breeds, the Whippet is much more likely to respond to play it considers inappropriate by fleeing the situation rather than biting.
Socialization is very important to the Whippet. When properly socialized, the Whippet tends to be very polite with strangers, if not quite friendly. Whippets which have not been properly socialized are often timid and nervous around strangers. While some Whippets will remain polite with everyone including their masters, a number of these dogs will excitedly and affectionately greet those who they know well. Because the Whippet is such a gentle breed, they make excellent companions for senior citizens and certain disabled individuals provided that their exercise requirements are met. This breed does tend to be very emotionally sensitive and may be unhappy in homes with a great deal of stress.
Whippets have long been used as racing dogs, and had to compete against other dogs without aggression. Hunting with Whippets also typically uses multiple dogs who are not supposed to fight over any captured animal. As a result, this breed tends to be very polite with other dogs. When properly trained and socialized, Whippets make excellent companions for other canines and are not typically dominant or aggressive. Whippets are also not generally territorial or possessive. However, this breed does not crave canine companionship in the way which some hound breeds do. Whippets which have not been properly socialized may mistake very small breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers as prey to be pursued.
Although the Whippet is almost universally polite and good-natured with people and other dogs, the same does not apply to small animals. The Whippet has an incredibly strong prey drive, and will pursue almost any non-canine smaller than itself, and some which are significantly larger. Although this breed appears very slight, they are incredibly tenacious when they have captured their quarry. This breed can dispatch a rabbit in a matter of seconds. Unless a Whippet has been incredibly well-trained and socialized, no small animal will be safe around it, and Whippets should never be left unsupervised with them. Whippets can be socialized to accept cats, although this process should begin at a very young age. Always remember that a Whippet which will cuddle on a sofa with a cat it has known its entire life may still pursue and kill a neighbor’s cat. When walking Whippets, be prepared for them to dart after any squirrels or rabbits which enter their vision.
Whippets are regarded as being the most trainable of the sighthounds other than the Borzoi. With the proper training methods, Whippets are able to perform complex tasks such as herding sheep, and have excelled at obedience competitions. However, this breed does not learn or obey simply because their masters want them to. Whippets are known for being somewhat stubborn and independent. If you are used to training breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, a Whippet may frustrate you. Rough or harsh training methods should never be used with Whippets as they will not respond to them and may become nervous or flighty. Whippets respond well to training methods that involve a heavy amount of treats and positive reinforcements. If you want to train a Whippet, be prepared to invest in the dog’s favorite snack. Be aware that even the most well-trained Whippets will occasionally be willful and use selective listening. Whippets as a breed are quite variable on the quickness which they are housebroken. Some dogs housebreak almost on their own, while others take many months of crating.
Surprisingly, Whippets are not known for being high energy dogs. While Whippet puppies are no less bouncy and excited than those of any other breed, adult Whippets are infamous couch potatoes. When indoors, Whippets are almost always found on the sofa or the bed, often buried underneath the covers. These dogs enjoy nothing more than relaxing with their family. However, Whippets must be properly exercised, and there is one form of exercise that Whippets love above all others, running. Whippets love to get out and run, preferably in a safely enclosed area where they can run off-leash. However, this breed does not require the large amount of vigorous exercise that many breeds do, and adapts well to life with less-active families. Whippets which have not had their exercise needs met have a tendency to become excitable, nervous, and destructive.
Whippets should always be kept on leash unless in a secure enclosure. This breed has a very high prey drive and keen senses. They will likely chase any small animal they see and ignore anything else going on, whether that is an owner’s call to return or a car speeding towards them. Once on a chase, it is almost impossible to get a Whippet to return until the chase ends, as this breed not only refuses calls to return but is also much, much faster than any owner who decided to chase after their dog.
Whippets are known for being considerably more adapted to urban and suburban life than most breeds of their size. Besides being inactive indoors, this breed is also very quiet and rarely barks. Additionally, the Whippet is known for being an extremely clean dog, and has been described as cat-like in that regard. This breed is also known for having less of a doggy smell than most breeds. Owners must be aware, the Whippet is an infamous counter-surfer, and will find any food that has been left out.
The Whippet does have some special care requirements that prospective owners must be aware of. These dogs have very short hair and little body fat. That makes them very susceptible to the cold. Whippets fair very poorly in cold weather and should probably wear a sweater and booties. Whippets also have no cushioning and are very uncomfortable on the bare floor. This breed should be let on the furniture or at the very least be provided with well-cushioned beds. Whippets love to cover themselves with blankets where they will not suffocate, despite the fears of some owners. As can be inferred, Whippets make poor kennel dogs, and should never be kept outside.
The Whippet is a generally healthy breed. Their life expectancy is between 12 and 15 years, very high for a breed of this size. This breed has been bred to be a successful racing dog for over two hundred years. Unhealthy or structurally unsound animals would not have been bred. In particular, hip dysplasia is virtually unknown among Whippets. Additionally, Whippets have a large genetic base, and have not gone through periods of rapid population growth or decline. Whippet fanciers have created the Whippet Health Foundation which is dedicated to conducting health studies on the Whippet breed. Breeders are making concerted efforts to find and eradicate potential genetic conditions in the Whippet breed. However, the Whippet is subject to a number of genetic disorders.
The most serious condition which Whippets are susceptible is anesthetic sensitivity. Like most scenthounds, Whippets have less fat to absorb anesthesia and can be seriously injured or killed by an amount which would be safe for other breeds of the same weight. It is important to make sure that your veterinarian is aware of this before performing any procedure on a Whippet.
Whippets have an apparently irregular heartbeat when at rest. It is often alarming to new Whippet owners or veterinarians who are unfamiliar with the breed. However, this may be an adaptation to the Whippets extremely athletic nature. When Whippets are exercising, their heartbeat is normal. While cardiac problems are one of the leading causes of Whippet death, it is unclear if this is due to their irregular heartbeat or a lack of other common health problems.
Whippets are known to suffer from a unique genetic mutation which to this point has only been identified in Whippets. Some Whippets have a myostatin mutation which impacts their athletic ability. Those Whippets with one copy of this mutation are unusually athletic. Whippets with two copies of this mutation have double musculature. The resulting dogs are known as Bully Whippets because they look like a hyper-muscular cross between a Whippet and either a Pit Bull or a Bulldog.
The Whippet also has some special care requirements that prospective owners must be aware of. These dogs have very short hair and little body fat. That makes them very susceptible to the cold. Whippets fair very poorly in cold weather and should probably wear a sweater and booties. Whippets also have no cushioning and are very uncomfortable on the bare floor. This breed should be let on the furniture or at the very least be provided with well-cushioned beds. Whippets love to cover themselves with blankets where they will not suffocate, despite the fears of some owners. As can be inferred, Whippets make poor kennel dogs, and should never be kept outside.
Other health issues reported to effect the Whippet include: