Halle – ©Swiftlea from an original photo by Pedini.
By Rae Mitchelson
(this article appeared in the VCA magazine Jan 2006, and also in National Dog Magazine June 2009)
Whippets have been described as the perfect “all purpose dog.” They make wonderful house dogs because of their very fine soft coat and dog free odour. The Whippet is classed as a medium size dog but much of the height is due to their length of leg. Their bodies are relatively small, females weighing approx. 8 to 12 kilos and males 11 to 15 kilos. This, along with their gentle affectionate nature makes them an ideal breed to bring up with small children. They are more unlikely to accidentally knock a small child over as a larger breed of dog.
Although the Whippet may look somewhat delicate, it is a true canine athlete, with a hardy constitution. It requires considerable galloping exercise to keep it in top show or racing condition. Having said that, the Whippet will fit in with whatever the family is doing. If it’s too cold and wet for you to go walking, the Whippet is happy to forgo a walk for one day and like you, would sooner be home curled up by the fire. The main thing of course is that as long as he is with his family he is happy. Whippets are a very loyal and bonding breed, first and foremost, they like to be by your side.
As is the case with almost all the other breeds of dog, there is much speculation on the origins and the science of the breeding of the Whippet. One theory supports a breed of dog that dates to ancient Rome and Egypt. There is evidence found in paintings, statues, pottery, tapestries and artifacts that support the existence of a small type of Greyhound, with the Whippet’s particularly rose shaped ear. The British Museum possesses paintings that date from 1350 that show a dog that remarkably resembles a Whippet. So for those people who believe that the Whippet is an ancient breed of dog, there is quite a lot of evidence to support that theory.
The second theory is that the Whippet evolved during the 18th and 19th centuries in Northern England. During this period of time in English history, and in that region of the country, to make a living, the average citizen was either a coal miner, a tenant farmer, or worked in the mills. The wealthy owned vast estates, and it is known that these estates possessed kennels and among the dogs kept in those kennels were Greyhounds.
Being large dogs and expensive to keep and maintain, Greyhounds were simply not an option for the average person. It is thought that the Whippet resulted from some English coal miners crossing small Greyhounds with terriers. The result from these crosses was a tough, rugged, agile little sight hound. The breed’s distinct advantages in its swiftness, quietness and earlier small size did not go unnoticed by poachers who would hide the Whippet under their coats away from the warden’s suspicious eye and then sneak them onto the private grounds to hunt.
Some miners thought that crossing a Greyhound with terriers was a good idea because the working class needed a coursing (hunting) and racing dog. A popular pastime for the working class men was what was called “Snap-dog Coursing”. This wagering event took place within an enclosure where rabbits, and sometimes rats were turned loose. A number of Whippets were placed in the same enclosure and the dog that snapped up the most number of rabbits, or rats, was the winner, and the owner collected on the bets. Humane societies worked very hard to get these contests outlawed and eventually were successful.
After rabbit coursing was banned because of its cruelty, track racing then became very popular and the Whippet became known as “the poor man’s race horse”. With a need for entertainment when not working, miners found that their dogs would eagerly chase a waving rag and ‘rag racing’ became a popular pastime of the coal miners. Many people raced their family pet as a way to earn extra money. An entire week’s wages might ride on the speed of the family hearth dog. A fast dog then was money in the pocket and special pride to the one who owned it. Whippets were considered one of the family, they hunted small game, mostly rabbit for the family table and often shared dinner and a bed with them.
These men didn’t have fancy oval tracks, and had to arrange their races in back alleys and empty lots. The Whippet became a straight-away sprinter indicating they were more than capable of excelling in this new sport. The tracks used were both grass and cinder, with cinder tracks preferred by the owners because faster times were achieved. Handicapping was introduced when Whippets raced on straight courses.
The Whippet is an amazing athlete and its acceleration ability gives it jack-rabbit starts, covering 200 yards in 12 seconds and being clocked at up to 37mph.
The Whippet rose to popularity in Australia and other countries during the 20s and 30s not only as a status symbol, but as a competitive track dog. Professional racing ended during the latter part of this era and has not been revived. Though the Whippet slowly faded from the public’s eye during the 40s, it is once again back in popularity. The increasing awareness of its versatility and easy care in the home has brought it back into public eye as the “all purpose dog”. In Australia as well as all around the world, Whippets excel in racing (now just for the love of it), as well as obedience and associated disciplines. Due to their gentle, even disposition, they are also being used widely as therapy dogs in retirement and aged care facilities. They’re recently being introduced into the pre-school and primary school education programmes, educating future generations on how to love and care for their family dog. What better an ambassador could we ask for than our Whippet?
Care and Maintenance
Whippets are generally very quiet, well behaved, and easy to groom and care for in the house. Grooming is minimal and the Whippet’s smooth, silky, fine, short-haired coat is easy to maintain. A regular rub all over with a damp chamois will keep the coat gleaming. Brush with a firm bristle brush, and bathe only when necessary. The coat of the Whippet is virtually free of doggie odour and generally only sheds twice a year at change of seasons. They are very sensitive to flea bites, so these parasites must be controlled, preferably eliminated.
Their nails will need trimming, and as with any breed, teeth and ears checked on a regular basis.
Whippets do not adapt well to being relegated to kennels or as outside dogs. Their natural attachment to people makes them happiest when kept as house pets and the Whippet’s sweet personality makes it an excellent companion dog. This breed is sensitive to the cold, as their coats do not provide enough insulation for them to withstand prolonged periods of exposure to the cold. Wearing a coat is a must in the winter.
An important consideration for new owners of a Whippet is to be aware that this breed has skin that can tear rather easily. Being ‘thin-skinned’, with no thick dense coat as additional protection, can lead to nasty cuts which in other dogs would amount to nothing, but for a Whippet could be serious, however Whippets do heal amazingly quickly. They are very sensitive to flea bites, so these parasites must be eliminated. Not only do fleas propose a health risk to your dog but also to members of the household too.
You don’t need to spend a lot on food to keep your whippet in peak condition. As juveniles they should have a premium quality dry puppy food supplemented with some fresh meat. Chicken necks are excellent for small puppies because the bones are so small they can be swallowed readily without doing your young dog any harm. They are also great for the young puppy’s oral care, helping to loosen the milk teeth. As your Whippet gets older you can gradually change him onto a “growth” or “active” dry food and include meaty bones at least twice a week to keep his teeth and gums clean and in good condition. It is the action of tearing on the meat and sinew on the bone that actually cleans the teeth. Remove the bone after your dog has tired of it so he doesn’t get the chance to swallow too much bone, which could cause a blockage in the stomach or bowel. There are also many good quality hard biscuits and dog chews available now which will also help in oral care. If your dog is participating in a lot of ‘action’ sports such as racing or agility, he will continue to thrive on the “active” dry foods but as he gets older you may find that he needs transferring onto a “light” dry food to keep his weight under control. Like humans, the metabolism of each dog differs, and you will need to experiment with different quantities of food and possibly different brands until you have your Whippet looking in perfect condition.
As premier canine athletes, Whippets require short periods of vigorous exercise, daily if possible, and do best where they can either run in a safely fenced yard, or be taken on leash to a secure park or field for play sessions with balls and frisbees. A ten-minute gallop around a fenced oval is better than nothing at all. But of course if you have hours to spare they will walk or run beside you for as long as you have the stamina. Whippets, like all other sight hounds, are visually oriented and love to chase objects (like rabbits) which they may see at a distance. This means that they are vulnerable to being hit by cars. They are keen hunters and will run into busy roads if they see something interesting to chase, often oblivious to the calls of their owners. For this reason, you should never have your Whippet unleashed unless it is completely safe to do so, right away from any roads. At times, when they have “something” in their sight nothing else matters and it is then that they will most likely run through a fence or into an object that is in their path. This is where all your patient but necessary training comes into for. If you are in “control” of the situation you should be able to call them “off” the chase and stop a nasty accident from occurring. There is a fine line between controlled and out of control running.
Blessed with a gentle and affectionate nature, the Whippet is anxious to please its owner and easy to train. Whippets are independent thinkers, and some of them find obedience training to be somewhat beneath them although those who do enjoy it have excelled at it. As most will find, Whippets don’t particularly like the “sit” position because of the structure of their tail set, but with persuasion, perseverance and repetition the muscles in the back legs and hind quarters will gradually re-adjust and adapt to this position. So don’t let your Whippet try to pull the wool over your eyes. They can do it!!!! The Whippet’s natural athletic gifts and quick mind can also be put to use in agility and flyball.
As might be expected, Whippets excel at coursing and racing. Unlike Greyhound racing, Whippet racing is purely for sport and not for gambling or prize money. An amazing experience for the novice owner is to spend a day at a race meeting. Whippets are “Dr Jeckle, Mr Hyde” dogs. Once they hear the sound of that lure they turn into screaming “demons”. To chase a piece of “lamb skin on a stick” seems to be a natural born instinct in many. But as soon as they are home again it’s back to the sweet natured, “butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth” couch potatoe that we are all know so well.
A true sporting hound, the Whippet was bred for speed and is the fastest domesticated animal of its weight, capable of up to 60 kilometres per hour.
Today the Whippet is predominantly a much-loved gentle pet for all age groups. Not only is the Whippet a quiet, dignified, unobtrusive, creature of beauty and elegance in the household, with its agility and swiftness it also excels at catching rats and other vermin. But his true purpose in life is to be a loyal and devoted companion with the added bonus of being a wonderful living “hot water bottle” at the end of the bed. If you are working full time with no one home during the day your Whippet will become very lonely. They love you first and foremost but next to that they love each other’s company. Consider taking on another Whippet if your dog is left alone a lot. Two Whippets don’t take up much more room or eat much more than one. After all, it is well known they come in two’s. We call them the “potatoe chip” dog; you can’t stop at one.
The Whippet looks like a small Greyhound. It is graceful and slender, but actually quite hardy and very muscular. The fine dense coat comes in many colours. The muzzle is long and slender and the overall impression is one of streamlined elegance. The Whippet is basically built for speed and as they say, is able to turn on a “sixpence”. This “miniature” Greyhound has small rose-shaped ears, bright oval eyes set towards the front of its head, an elegantly arched neck, a deep chest with plenty of heart room, and its back is long and broad and arched over the loin. The abdomen is retracted, and the tail is long and carried low but is also used a rudder when the Whippet is in action. The Whippet is a picture of “S’s”. No sharp corners, just lovely long flowing ‘S’ curves.
The Whippet is the ultimate sprinter, unsurpassed by any other breed in its ability to accelerate to top speed and to twist and turn with matchless dexterity and although it may appear fragile, the Whippet’s looks are deceiving. Tough would be a more accurate description, for the Whippet is still a strongly competitive breed that can take to the field at a moment’s notice and handle the most rugged terrain with little effort. Far from being nervous, the Whippet instead shows an unusual cool and often aloof manner in most circumstances. In the home the Whippet stands out for its quietness with normal backyard vocalizing of the average dog, non-existent. Although if there is an unexpected intruder or anything else suspicious occurs it will let you know, but then let you deal with “it” and go back to lying on the couch.
The Whippet is intelligent, lively, affectionate, sweet and docile, as well as a devoted companion. This breed should never be roughly trained as they are extremely sensitive both physically and mentally. Be sure to introduce plenty of variety when training this breed. The best results will be achieved by including games and running but remember, although they are very intelligent and will learn quickly, you may never achieve “perfect” obedience from this breed due to their independent nature.
Whippets are good with children of all ages because they are not prone to snapping. But of course, as with any breed of dog, small children should not be left unattended at any time. Many whippets are enthusiastic greeters and when their owners return from long absences (of 10 minutes or more!) they may be greeted by wild displays of exuberance, so be careful if very young children are around as they may accidentally get knocked over. Whippets are really suited best to a calm quiet family and don’t take kindly to too much rough and tumble. They will soon take themselves off to somewhere quieter if this occurs.
Quiet and calm indoors, they are content to spend much of the day sleeping on the couch and they cope well with apartment living if they are sufficiently exercised twice a day if possible.
Outside, particularly when they are racing or lure coursing, they demonstrate their superb athletic skills and will pursue their “quarry” (even when it is an artificial lure) with the heart of a lion. To see these dogs in full stride, undertaking the “double suspension gallop” is a breathtaking sight to behold!
They are not generally aggressive with other animals, and although especially attached to their owners, they are usually friendly to visitors. They are not suited as guard dogs due to their trusting and unsuspicious nature but put to the test with their loyalty and devotion, the outcome may surprise you!
Male or Female?
Unlike many other breeds, the males are as easy to housebreak, and no more aggressive than bitches. Both sexes make excellent pets. Males tend to be slightly more loyal and enjoy repetitive play. Females can be a little more complex, aloof and strong-willed, but are equally devoted to their owners.
Given proper nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care, most Whippets live for 12 to 15 years. They are generally healthy, and are not prone to the frequent ear infections, skin allergies, or digestive problems that afflict other breeds. Whippets can become very easily over weight, which can put pressure on their back and limbs not to mention other associated health problems as well. People forget that a Whippet’s stomach is very small if you compare it to the size of its body. The deep chest and long legs can be very deceiving. Whippets need to eat surprisingly little to keep them in good condition. A good indication for perfect “condition” is being able to see the three top vertebrae on the curve of the back and just slightly, the two hip bones. If you can’t see vertebrae or rib at all, your Whippet is overweight.
This paragraph may surprise you, as up until now there were no “drawbacks”. To the enthusiast, the following probably wouldn’t even be considered drawbacks as such.
Firstly trimming nails is a fact of life with Whippets. If you are squeamish about trimming nails regularly (at least once a month but preferable every two weeks) please be prepared to take your Whippet to a dog ‘beauty parlor’ or Vet to have this done for you. A Whippet’s body is not heavy enough to help wear the nails down with regular exercise even on concrete or asphalt. If you trim your puppy’s nails regularly from a tiny baby, they soon become accustomed to this procedure and it will simply become a part of the regular grooming routine.
Next, if you want a dog that is built like a “Labrador”, consider another breed. Whippets should be streamline in every sense of the word.
Remember that Whippets don’t have a dense overcoat to keep them warm so they do feel the cold immensely. Simply rug them if they are exposed for any length of time to the cold. Preferably, a bed in front of the fire, or snuggled under your doona is a suitable alternative.
Lastly, Whippets LOVE companionship. A loyal and loving breed like this begs to be a part of your family. If you leave him outside in a lonely backyard he will simply look for a way to “escape” to try and find a better place to live.
The Whippet Association of Victoria was formed in 1986 by a loyal and dedicated band of enthusiasts, some of which are still with us today. Two years later the Association held their first Championship Show and the Club has continued to grow from strength to strength. During year 2004, in conjunction with the states of NSW and SA we formed the National Whippet Breed Council and held our first National Show in conjunction with the 4th International Whippet Congress. These two events were hosted by The Whippet Association of Vic Inc. At present we have almost 200 active members participating in the show scene, obedience and associated disciplines, racing, therapy and school education, as well as the “fun events” which we hold throughout the year especially to give something back to our many “pet” owners. We are very proud of our achievements to date. These have only been possible by the great team effort of everyone associated with the Club over those years.
- Whippet page on Wikipedia
- The Whippet Association of Victoria
- Whippet and Greyhound Club of South Australia
- Whippet Club of Queensland
- Whippet Club of NSW