The Whippet is a sighthound that descends from small greyhounds and was originally used for hunting rabbits, hares, and other small animals. It is a medium-sized dog, very versatile, sleek, and elegant. The Whippet is the fastest dog among breeds the same weight with an ability to accelerate very quickly, making energetic twists and turns, and therefore, excelling in dog sports.
Despite its independent attitude, the Whippet is a sweet and friendly dog, very attached to its owners to whom it is very affectionate, and getting along well with other people and dogs. However, due to its powerful chasing instinct, it may prey cats, ignoring all commands from its owner. Whippets are lively dogs, but when at home, they are quiet and calm, always looking for the softest and fluffiest spot to curl up.
About & History
Records of the first Whippets go back to Ancient Egypt, with representations of Whippet-like dogs dating to those times. These small Greyhounds were bred for hunting purposes and it is thought they are among the ancestors of the Whippet we know today.
The development of the breed goes back to the 18th century in England. The name derives from “whip it”, which is related to its ability to move very quickly. It is believed that the Whippet is an English Greyhound that was too small for hunting and was therefore returned to their original breeders, usually peasants, after being mutilated, so that they could not perform hunting tasks. Regardless, their breeders kept breeding them and used them to catch rats and hunting small prey. These dogs became known as “snap dogs”, for their method of killing prey, or the “poor man’s Greyhound”.
In the 19th century, this miniature Greyhound became quite popular among working men when they found it could chase waving rags, and this game later developed into Whippet racing. This was a major sport by the end of the 19th century, and two types of Whippets became known – a smooth-coated Whippet and a rough-coated Whippet, known as the “rabbit dog”. By then, the Whippet also started to be bred as a companion animal and the breed expanded outside of England, reaching all parts of the world.
The breed was refined by crossing it with Italian Greyhounds and terriers and the official recognition of the Whippet as a breed took place in 1888 and 1891, in the United States and England, respectively, with its acceptance by the Kennel Clubs. Whippets were brought to the United States by English mill operators, establishing themselves as a breed in the East Coast.
Whippets may have a variety of different colours and marking patterns, as colour is not an important attribute for pedigree requirements. Whippets may be:
- Black with red
- Black with fawn
- Black with brindle
- White with red
- White with fawn
- White with brindle
Male whippets generally measure 47 to 51 cm (18.5-20 inches) in height, while females are 44 to 47cm (17.5-18.5 inches). American Whippets may be taller than other Whippets.
Their weight may vary from 9 to 19kg (20-42 pounds) and they have small ears, folded along the neck. Eye colour varies with coating.
Character & Temperament
Whippets are devoted pets, very smart and docile, and like to be close to their owners. They are good with children, acting as friendly and playful mates. They are clearly an indoors pet, ideal for living in an apartment. They are well-behaved when they are inside, and they are able to stay calm, but owners must provide them with opportunities to run outside, as they are active dogs with a need for releasing their energy. Other than this, they are quite undemanding pets.
They are very alert pets, which makes them good watchdogs, although they rarely bark, which sometimes may limit this ability. They are quite independent in its temperament, but still they make good house pets and they love to sit next to their owners. Because they may suffer from separation anxiety, it is important to have another dog to keep it company. They tend to look for cushions and soft beds and they are also known for getting up on furniture. They do not like the cold and they do get cold quite easily, which is why they should wear a sweater when the weather gets chillier.
They have a strong chasing instinct, related to the initial hunting purpose for which it was bred, which means it may chase other pets, especially cats. Although they may get along well with cats that were raised close to them from an early age, it is paramount that all interactions with cats are supervised, because Whippets may act unpredictably. Due to this reason, they should never walk off the leash. When they see a potential prey, they ignore all commands from their owner, they ignore fences and any other obstacle that prevents it from catching its prey. Early socialization is extremely important in order to prevent this kind of behaviour and control their prey drive.
They are very sensitive, both physically and mentally, and may sometimes overreact when someone touches it unexpectedly. They are clean pets, practically odour-free, which is a desirable feature. Whippets are athletic, muscular, yet graceful. They run extraordinarily fast, moving quickly and effortlessly. They are excellent race dogs and are good in competitions such as agility, obedience, flyball, lure coursing, and rally. Whippets also make good therapy dogs.
Whippets are easily trained, as they are quite intelligent dogs, but because they are also independent, food rewards are important to positively reinforce them. Their socialization should start at a young age, so they become familiar with other animals, pets, and people. Becoming acquainted with other pets, and especially cats, will make Whippets less prone to chase them shall the opportunity arise. Nevertheless, Whippets should never be allowed to roam free, because regardless of their training, their hunting instinct will prevail.
Whippets live around 12 to 15 years and they are generally healthy, but there are some diseases and conditions they are more prone to develop, as follows:
- Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia – This condition occurs when a dog starts producing antibodies against its body’s own red blood cells, leading to their destruction and therefore to a decrease in the total number of these blood cells. Signs of anaemia that owners should be aware of include weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, fainting, intolerance to exercise, and rapid heart rate.
- Epilepsy – Epilepsy is a cause of seizures that may occur in Whippets. It is related to a chemical imbalance of the dog’s neurotransmitters that leads to an uncoordinated behaviour of its nerves, thus causing a seizure. Although it may be emotionally stressful for owners to handle a dog with epilepsy, the condition is controlled with medication.
- Cancer – Cancer is becoming increasingly common in elderly dogs, regardless of their breed. Still, it is a reason of concern in Whippets, being among one of the most frequent causes of death in this breed, although it is not currently an area of interest in genetic research.
- Cataracts – A cataract is an opacity in a part of the eye called the lens. This opacity may be small, not interfering with the animal’s vision, but it usually ends up affecting the entire lens, causing blurred vision and loss of vision. Owners may notice their dog starts bumping into walls and furniture, which is a sign of vision impairment. The treatment is surgical and very effective in restoring a dog’s total vision.
- Allergies – Whippets are extremely sensitive and may have more allergies than other dog breeds. Signs often include an itchy skin, which may turn red, moist, or scabbed, and increased scratching.
- Sensitivity to anaesthetic drugs – Due to having little body fat, like other dogs of the Sighthound group of breeds, Whippets are more prone to adverse reactions following anaesthesia, since there is not enough fat to absorb the anaesthetic drug. Whippets require the use of a special Greyhound Anaesthesia Protocol.
- Heart disease – Heart disease in Whippets is a research area under current investigation. Some Whippets are born with congenital heart murmurs that later progress to mitral valve disease, which in turn may lead to congestive heart failure.
Other diseases that are uncommon but may also occur in Whippets are:
- Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when there is a decrease in the thyroid hormones that are produced. Clinical signs include lethargy or mental dullness, hair loss, and weight gain.
- Congenital deafness – Deafness may occur in Whippet puppies with large areas of white on their head, since the blindness gene is related to the white hair pigmentation. Due to increased concern from breeders, this condition is nowadays quite rare.
Exercise and Activity Levels
The Whippet is an active breed that needs to run and exercise. Although they have quite low energy levels when at home, they should have opportunities to run in a fenced yard, besides their daily walks. They are runners and jumpers and when they are not allowed to release their high energy they may become destructive around the house, and behavioural issues may also start to develop.
Whippets are very easy maintenance and odourless. With their short, silky coat, Whippets do not require much brushing since they shed little. A weekly brushing using a rubber glove will do to keep its coat free of dead hair and other impurities. Ears should also be checked for signs of inflammation or discharge, as part of the animal’s grooming routine.
Nail trimming should be done every week, as a general rule to maintain their feet healthy and free of any discomfort, which could lead to lameness. Brushing the dog’s teeth is also a good routine that should be performed in order to prevent tartar from building up. Chewing on toys or even plastic bottles is also an alternative that helps keeping a Whippet’s teeth and gums healthy.
One famous Whippet was the angel character from the animation film “All Dogs Go to Heaven, I (1989) and II (1996).
Whippets may be cross bred with other dog breeds, resulting in new cross-breeds, such as:
- Lurcher – Cross between a Whippet and a Collie or Terrier
- Pippit – Cross between a Whippet and a Pit Bull