The sleek, sweet-faced Whippet, the ‘Poor Man’s Racehorse,’ is lightning quick. He is an amiable, dignified, and gentle soul, but give him something to chase and he’s all business. The name Whippet is synonymous with streamlined grace.
At somewhere between 18 and 22 inches at the shoulder, the Whippet looks like a Greyhound, but smaller. The Whippet exhibits the classic ‘inverted S’ lines of the sighthound. The deep chest and trim waist; a lean head supported by a long, arched neck; and slim but sturdy legs combine in a picture of an agile, fleet-footed athlete. Between bursts of intense pursuit, Whippets love to stretch out and relax for long hours, enjoying the role of a loving, and loved, companion. Whippets like a fenced yard to run in, but they do nicely in cozy apartments too’as long as they are exercised properly. Another plus for city dwellers: Whippets rarely bark. Despite the breed’s elegant looks, the Whippet is a robust, low-maintenance dog.
For thousands of years the Greyhound has been the template for later sighthounds, and the mild-mannered Whippet is a highly successful member of this clan of lightning-fast sprinters.
The Whippet’s story begins in Victorian England. North-country coal miners enjoyed the sports of dog racing and rabbit hunting on their days off. But they couldn’t afford to feed and kennel large athletes like Greyhounds, nor did they have the space to properly exercise them. The miners’ practical solution was to breed a smaller version of the Greyhound. Though it is uncertain which breeds were utilized to create the Whippet, the miners plainly did their work well. Their handiwork, the Whippet, is the fastest breed of its size, reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
In its formative days, the Whippet breed had such colorful nicknames as the “Poor Man’s Racehorse” and the “Lightning Rag Dog” (they would chase a rag dragged along a straight course in an early version of lure coursing). The name Whippet seems to derive from “whappet,” an antique word that means “a small dog that yaps.”
By the turn of the 20th century, textile workers from Lancashire were emigrating to New England. Among the touches of home they brought to the New World were their Whippets. The Whippet was an instant success in America, and Whippet racing—for money or just for fun—caught on with people from all walks of life, just as it had in England. The AKC registered its first Whippet in 1888. These days, lure coursing provides an excellent outlet for the Whippet’s need for speed.
Temperament: Calm / Affectionate / Playful
Height: 18-22 inches
Weight: 25-40 pounds
Life expectancy: 12-15 years
The Whippet frame is not well suited to carrying excessive weight. While young Whippets may appear gangly and have difficulty keeping their ribs covered when they are in the period of rapid growth, a mature adult should not appear ribby but should have two to four visible vertebrae, and the hipbones should not appear sunk into dimples of fat. A Whippet at a healthy weight will likely appear ‘skinny’ to those accustomed to heavier-bodied, less fleet breeds, but maintaining your Whippet at the correct weight through lifelong portion control will extend his life and avoid many of the orthopedic problems that are both painful and expensive to repair. Responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as cardiac disease, deafness, and eye disorders.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- BAER Testing
- Cardiac Exam
The Whippet’s short, smooth coat needs little maintenance beyond regular weekly grooming with a brush and the occasional bath. The ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the nails should be trimmed often if not worn down naturally, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort.
Whippets are sprinters by nature, and adequate exercise could take the form of several vigorous retrieving sessions a week with ball or flying disc, regular walks, or play sessions with another dog in a safely fenced area. Always keep your Whippet on lead when not in a fenced area. Organized activities such as lure-coursing and agility also provide healthy outlets for the breed’s energy and athleticism.
Whippets are calm in the house, preserving their energy for explosive bursts of running’”ideally in a large, securely fenced area. Young Whippets are smart, agile, and mischievous, and they can jump and climb, so confining them safely while not under supervision is a must. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help to ensure that the dog grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
The Whippet should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.