Whippet – Breed Profile

The Poor Man’s Racehorse Whippet

An ancient and popular hunting dog, the gentle Whippet is agile and sleek and has today become a comfortable apartment dog as well, who may prefer his bed over the woods Slender, tall and muscular, the Whippet is a crossbreed belonging to the Sighthound family, which boasts of some majestic and graceful members such as the Italian Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki and Borzoi. With its sleek, athletic and racy build, the Whippet is a star on the field as well as off it.

Origin: A crossbreed between small Greyhounds and game Terriers such as Manchester Terriers, Whippets were developed as recently as the 1600s by English miners to participate in rabbit-luring contests and to hunt down game and vermin. Their tendency to snap up smaller creatures earned them the nickname ‘snap dogs’. Later on, English mill workers immigrated to the US and brought with them Whippets, which led to the rise of the breed in America. Soon they began to be used for sport in certain states of the US such as Maryland and Massachusetts, where they became popular as the ‘poor man’s racehorse’.

By the next century, Whippets began to be featured among royal circles, the most famous example being King Louis XV’s two Whippets Misse and Turlu, portrayed in a painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry. The slender and graceful breed became a popular art icon and was depicted in not only paintings but also statues, literature and films.

In 1888, Whippets were officially recognised as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the first dog registered was called Jack Dempsey. Today they rank 60th among the AKC-recognised most popular breeds.

Their growing popularity led to the foundation of the American Whippet Club in 1930. Modern purebred Whippets are said to be descendants of the 1889-born Zuber, the first UK Whippet Champion, who is known as ‘the father of the modern Whippet’.

Description: Like other members of the Sighthound family, Whippets are tall, statuesque and long-legged with a deep chest, possess great speed and sharp sight, which makes them excellent hunters of fast-moving prey. Among dogs of its size, Whippets are the fastest, running at a speed of up to 35 mph, which puts them in a league apart. While running, they use a double suspension gallop, meaning they use all four legs to land on the ground and to lift them off it, which creates an illusion of flying in the air.

Whippets coats come in various colours and are smooth and trim. Their muzzles are long and taper sharply towards the nose. The nose is usually black, but it can also be dark blue or dark brown. Their rose ears are small and folded and when excited, they perk up slightly. A Whippet’s neck is long, well-arched and muscular. Its tail is long, tapering and normally reaches up to the inside of the hock, with a slight upward curve at the tip.

Activity: Their long hunting history makes it evident that these agile dogs are born to run, jump, play and chase things. Taking him for a run around three to four times a day will ensure he stays active and healthy. But when outdoors, be careful to keep him on a leash since his true hunting nature will come to the fore and he will take off after anything that catches his interest. Ensure you have a high fence around your residence which will prevent him from jumping over and vanishing out of your sight. But Whippets are also known to be wonderful apartment creatures since they simply love to curl on your sofa and doze off.

Temperament: Whippets are perfect for families as they enjoy being a part of a pack and interacting with human beings, including children. Give him lots of attention and he will be yours forever. Ignore him and he will become sulky, timid, fidgety and even destructive. Their friendly nature extends to other dogs as well. However, do not keep them alone with smaller animals since they may perceive them as prey and cause harm to them. While Whippets are known to be excellent hunters, they are not cut out to be guard dogs since they quickly make friends with strangers, too.

Whippets don’t bark much and prefer quiet and peace. So if your house is a noisy one, get him accustomed to it when he is a pup itself so that he won’t be affected by noise as he grows older. The Whippet can’t tolerate cold temperatures, so avoid taking him out when the weather is cold and keep him warm and cosy at most times.

While Whippet pups are unruly and wild who love to chew, chase, dig and bark, they grow up to be calmer, quieter and more dignified adults. They can be house-trained, but their clever and independent nature does not make it easy for them to be trained. Once they become 10 to 12 weeks old, enrol them for obedience training or house-train them, otherwise, they will become experts at fooling you with their cunning nature. Positive reinforcement techniques used during training can achieve best results in making your dog obedient and respectful towards you.

Health: Whippets are susceptible to cutaneous hemangioma, skin disorders, cardiac disease, von Willebrand's Disease, deafness and a number of eye problems, including cataracts. They are sensitive to barbiturate anaesthetics such as thiopentone. Also keep stale food away from as they are prone to quick stomach upsets.

Grooming: Whippets are a no-fuss, low-maintenance breed as their coat does not require much care, except for an occasional rubdown with chamois. Avoid using harsh shampoos on them since their sensitive skin may face severe reactions due to the chemicals. Despite their trim coat, they are still prone to shedding, so be ready to find fur around your house. Trim their nails and clean their ears regularly to ensure they stay clean. Interesting Trivia: The sport of dog frisbee was popularised by a Whippet named Ashley Whippet, who was so good at it that at a 1974 Dodgers game, his owner Alex Stein ran along with him onto the field to showcase his talent to the world.

Although Alex was jailed and fined for it and nearly lost his dog, he was given Ashley’s ownership again and Ashley later made several appearances at Monday Night Football, Super Bowl XI, the White House, Wide World of Sports, MerGriffin, Tonight Show and World Frisbee Championship, becoming World Champion from 1975 to 1977. Today the Ashley Whippet Invitational competition continues to be held in the USA and Europe.

Wesminster Kennel Club dog show Monday, February 11, 2013. Whippet – “Tosh” Credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times NYTCREDIT: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

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