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The Whippet

Appearance

The whippet is the middle-sized one of the three greyhound-type breeds. Smallest is the Italian Greyhound, a toy dog, and the largest is the well-known greyhound. The whippet is 18" to 22" at the shoulder, and generally weighs between 25-35 pounds. The coat is short and close, requiring little grooming, but they do shed as much as any other dog.

History

The whippet is a relatively young breed, originating in England in the 1800s. Most commonly listed as its ancestors are the Greyhound, the Italian Greyhound, and the Bedlington, Manchester, and English White Terriers. Whippets were once called Snapdogs, because of their ability to snap up and kill rats and hares. They were also referred to as the "poor man's Greyhound," as they were often kept by coal miners who raced them for sport. These early whippets were often the most valuable thing the working man owned, and they lived in their owners' houses, sleeping by the fire or curled up in bed with their people. Many were said to be fed better than the miners' own families.

Housing

True to their history, whippets are house dogs. They are not psychologically or physically suited to being kept in a yard and they are not usually happy as kennel dogs. They certainly enjoy (and need) a daily romp in the yard or an hour or so spent stretched out in the sun, but you should not plan to leave your whippet in the yard while you are gone all day. Because of the low percentage of body fat they carry, these dogs have very little natural insulation against the elements. They overheat rather easily and they suffer terribly from the cold. In the winter a coat or sweater should be provided. If you don't plan on keeping your dog in the house, you should choose a dog more suited to outdoor life.

Children

Whippets are not nearly as delicate as they appear and are usually excellent with gentle children . As long as a child is old enough to know how to treat them and is taught how to play with dogs a whippet is a good choice for a child. A very young child should never be left alone with a dog of any breed and interaction between a child and a puppy must be closely supervised, for the protection of both.

Cats

Whippets were originally bred to course and kill rabbits -- small furry prey that runs. Though most whippets are not used for that purpose today, they are still bred with that instinct in mind, and the ones who are coursed and raced are bred specifically for this prey drive. Very few whippets are born without it. Even if your dog is raised with your cat and loves and plays gently with it, if he ever sees the cat running outside, it won't be his beloved Muffy, but prey.

The same advice applies to small dogs. Whippets play roughly with other dogs, and part of their play is to chase and grab. A small, fast-moving dog is not really a good companion

Training

Whippets are sighthounds, bred to hunt without commands from the hunter. While generally not stubborn, they're independent and not the easiest breed to train. Don't let that discourage you: They are very intelligent and all can learn house manners easily, like sit, down, and stay. Some do well with more advanced obedience, including obedience competition. Most excel at lure coursing (chasing a plastic bag pulled by a string) and racing and are also talented in agility and flyball competition. But if you are looking for a dog to make your name in the competitive obedience world, get a Border Collie!

Housebreaking

A whippet's desire to please and to be clean make him one of the easier breeds to housetrain. Using a crate will make your job much easier. A new home can be stressful at first so even a housetrained adult can make mistakes early on and some males may 'mark' (lift a leg on) walls, furniture, etc., indoors. This usually happens only if there are other males in the household. Neutering helps most of these guys.

The Loose Whippet

Many dogs will stay around your home nearly all the time if you let them out, but not your whippet. Something (a cat, a squirrel, a child ...) will catch his eye and he'll be gone, at up to 35 miles-per-hour. Other breeds that run off will usually come back in no more than a few hours if they don't get hit by a car. Probably not your whippet: he has a relatively poor sense of direction and once he's off your property, he'll soon be lost.

Most dogs can be taught to COME when called but very few whippets ever get 100% reliable. Again, it's training versus instinct. Your whippet must be either leashed or in a securely fenced yard every time he's out for his whole life. A 4' fence is usually enough if a whippet is not a jumper or climber. Some do dig, but it's not too common a problem.

Security is critical. We don't even walk a whippet from the house to the car without a leash. It is amazing how quickly the worst can happen, and the first time a sighthound gets away from you can easily be the last. It's easy to become casual about it when your whippet is generally obedient and calm. Remember that if he's okay off-lead 99 times out of 100, that 100th time could be the day you lose your best friend. Nearly every week on the internet there is a whippet reported missing, and too often these stories end sadly.

If your whippet does get away from you, don't chase him. There's no way you'll catch him. If at all possible, get his attention. (This is nearly impossible if he is chasing something, however.) Then fall on the ground and begin laughing and shrieking. He will come back just to see why in the world you are acting so strangely. Don't grab at him. Calmly take his collar and vow never to let go of him again.

Health

Whippets are one of the healthiest breeds. They require the same routine care as any dog: trimming toenails, cleaning of ears and teeth, occasional baths. They have to be kept up to date on shots, free of heartworms and fleas, and checked for intestinal parasites regularly. Though all breeds have some genetic defects, none have been proven to be a serious problem in whippets thus far.

Sighthounds are very sensitive to anesthesia and other medications. Partly because of their low percentage of body fat, these dogs are extremely sensitive to some very common drugs; what may seem like a normal dose for a dog of his weight could easily kill a sighthound. This is certainly not to say that whippets cannot be safely anesthetized or that they should not take prescribed medicines; just be sure that your vet is aware of sighthounds' special requirements and that he knows which anesthetics are safe.

Finally, Whippet skin is thin, rather tightly stretched, and poorly protected by the scant coat. What would be a small cut on another breed can become an ugly tear on your whip. Unless blood is actually spurting out this is not an emergency but may require a vet to stitch him up so the injury will heal.

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