Sighthounds and Pariah Dog Breeds
Some old, some primitive, these dog breeds can make great pets for the pet dog owner that has done his…
Developed in England to hunt by sight, the Whippet was bred down from the Greyhound (and several other breeds) by working class folk. Known as the “poor man’s racehorse,” the breed was introduced to North America by Lancashire textile workers who came to work in the New England mills. The Whippet hunted game and had energy left to race, entertaining his owners. The breed became popular as a coursing hound, used first on rabbit, later on artificial lures.
Although the Whippet may be rather challenging to train, a patient owner with a pocket of treats can accomplish much. A natural athlete, Whippets enjoy lure coursing, agility, or simply racing around the yard. The Whippet needs regular exercise, but prefers sprints to long endurance activities. If given a daily chance to run, he can even adapt to an apartment.
Most Whippets are too friendly for guard duty. A sensitive breed, Whippets are affectionate with respectful children, but may be overwhelmed by very young or rambunctious children. The Whippet isn’t the best companion for small animals such as cats, but he’s usually polite and friendly with other dogs.
Faster than a speeding bullet
Should I Get a Whippet?
Terrific for a person who:
Thinks couch cuddle-times are well worth a little hair on the furniture.
Takes delight in a sighthound’s speed, but doesn’t have room for a large dog.
Appreciates a calm housedog that transforms into an exuberant outdoor dog.
Think twice if you’re a person who:
Is looking for fame and fortune in the obedience show ring.
Guesses with some solid training, his dog can safely be left off-lead or loose.
Feels queasy at the thought of a dog bringing home small prey.
Care and maintenance of the Whippet
Short, single layer easy-care coat requires regular brushing. The breed is sensitive to temperature extremes.
The Whippet Standard Look
The Whippet is slender and hardy with a fine, shorthaired coat that may be any color or combination of colors. Males measure 19 to 22 inches at the shoulder with females 1 inch less.
Possible Whippet health concerns
Having little body fat, this dog breed is sensitive to temperature extremes, medications and anesthesia.
Few sights captivate like a Whippet in motion — running an agility course, jumping hurdles in flyball, leaping for a Frisbee, trotting around a show ring. And no sight endears like a Whippet stretched languidly on a sofa with its paws in the air, coursing into dreamland.
Can the jock and the couch potato be the same dog? Yes. Their love and affection are as powerful as their physical prowess.
Great with children and unerringly loyal, a Whippet wants to be by its owner’s side every waking — and sleeping — moment. “I call them Velcro dogs,” says Peggy Bush, rescue chairman for the American Whippet Club in Dallas and former Whippet breeder. “They want to be with people or at least with another Whippet all the time.”
Although they sometimes bond to a favorite person, Whippets thrive on family life. “They are gentle and devoted with kids and very ecumenical in a family,” says Harriet Nash Lee, member of the American Whippet Club and a Whippet breeder in Charlottesville, Va. “I just sold a Whippet puppy to a family in Maryland, and the little boy calls the Whippet his ‘little brother.’ Whippets will sleep with kids, they’re in heaven if a child wants to sit and pet the dog, and I have seen children put doll clothes on them. Whippets don’t mind at all; they just sit there,” Lee says.
This dog breed’s sleek, muscular and aerodynamic body and long, powerful muzzle serve many purposes, from lightning — quick getaways to catching rabbits on the fly. But its real forte is its double-suspension-style gallop. A strong, flexible back and powerful hindquarters allow acceleration to top speed in seconds.
Whippets come in a variety of color and marking patterns — all acceptable in the show ring. In fact, a single litter can sport many colors and patterns. “A Whippet could be purple with green stripes and we’d consider it just fine,” Bush says.
They excel in the show ring because of their elegant lines and look-at-me attitudes. “Most Whippets love to show because they want everyone to notice them,” Bush says. “Whippets think everybody who came to the show came just to see them.”
Whippet-like dogs appear in 14th-, 15th- and 18th-century European paintings, and small sighthounds resembling Whippets in size, shape and even expression and stance are represented on the pottery of the ancient Greeks and in Greco-Roman paintings. However, most Whippet historians agree the modern Whippet probably resulted from crossing Greyhounds with any of several Terriers for hunting and sport racing in 19th-century Northern England.
During this time, Whippets were popular with the British working class because they supplied families with small game as well as racing entertainment at a time when Greyhound coursing and even Greyhound ownership were forbidden to them. And at 18 to 22 inches tall and 20 to 40 pounds, “the poor man’s racehorse’’ was sturdy and robust but small enough to hide inside the coats of poachers looking for a free meal on rich landowners’ acreage.
Today’s Whippets spend much of their free time sleeping rather than procuring the family dinner but are no less versatile. Because of their athleticism, owners can introduce Whippets to canine sports such as flyball, a fast-paced relay in which dog teams jump hurdles to retrieve tennis balls from spring-loaded boxes, and agility, a sport where dogs win points by maneuvering through an obstacle course.
Whippets also race — for entertainment, not for gambling — on straight or oval tracks. Their speedy pursuit is breathtaking. “Whippets can reach 35 mph in 15 seconds,” Bush says. “They are the fastest dog, across the board, on the sprint.” Only a Greyhound can outrun a Whippet and only if the race is at a longer distance.
This dog breed also hunts by sight, making it ideal for lure coursing. Dogs chase a lure — usually a white plastic garbage bag — dragged by an operator along a rope and pulley system around curves, bends and straightaways. Judges rate them on their speed and endurance.
Some consider Whippets and other sighthounds for obedience, but new training methods have changed peoples’ minds. Alert, intelligent and eager to please, Whippets always have had obedience potential. “Sighthounds — especially Whippets — shut down when you use negative training methods and used to be terrible obedience dogs,” says Patience Renzulli, a Whippet owner in Elkton, Md. “Now with more positive training methods, Whippets are wonderful in obedience, so sensitive to your moods.”
Easy, Breezy, Beautiful
Anyone who enjoys lounging around will find a Whippet a willing, even eager companion. Perfect for small homes and apartments (as long as these dogs get good daily walks and occasional runs in large, fenced areas), Whippets enjoy curling up with you beneath the covers. “Within two weeks of bringing my girl home, she was under the covers with my husband and me, where she is to this day — and she’s 7 years old,” says Renzulli, who had once forbade dogs on furniture.
Grooming Whippets is a breeze. An occasional brushing (a vigorous brushing with a curry brush when it sheds), regular nail trimming and tooth care do the trick. “We call Whippets the ‘wash and wear’ dogs because you can wash them, put them in the car and they’re ready for the [dog] show,” Lee says. “I’ve had mine run out in the rain and get muddy, then come back in and clean themselves. In 30 minutes, they were completely clean. They are so fastidious!”
The Whippet also is remarkably healthy and free from genetic problems, except for a slight incidence of eye problems such as progressive retinal atrophy in some lines. Responsible Whippet breeders sell only dogs certified free of PRA.
Need for Speed
If you aren’t a bundle of energy, beware the puppies. “Whippet puppies are hell on wheels,” Bush says. “I received an e-mail from an older woman who was considering a Whippet. I says, “Great, but don’t get a puppy.'”
Whippets can take two to four years to mature, and one that isn’t crated can tear apart your home. “It’s not that they are hyperactive,” Feldman says. “They are in a constant state of, ‘Now what can I do?’ ”
If you’re considering a Whippet:
Prepare to spend a lot of time and emotional energy. “Whippets give so much but require a lot, too,” Renzulli says. “You have to be willing to give them what they need.” If you want an independent dog that hangs out in the back yard, consider another dog breed.
Don’t expect a guard dog. Whippets love people, even strangers. “They’d watch a burglar take whatever he wanted and probably help him out!” Bush says.
Lee’s New York apartment was robbed while she and her Whippets were in it. “My Whippets were in the bedroom with me and they never said a word,” Lee says.
Take precautions in care. With little body fat, this dog breed is sensitive to temperature extremes, medications and anesthesia. Your veterinarian can explain possible dangers and recommend medication dosages. Don’t be shy about outfitting your Whippet with sweaters and jackets when the weather turns cold. “Whippets are sun-seekers,” Lee says. “Whenever I can’t find mine, I know they are somewhere basking.”
Never let a Whippet off lead in an unfenced area. “I don’t care if you have the high-end obedience trial champion of the world,” Feldman says. “If a bunny or a cat comes running out of the bushes, these dogs are sighthounds and have that instinct to chase. And they’re so fast you can’t catch them.” Single-minded in their pursuit, a loose Whippet may run into traffic and be hit by a car.
However, the breed’s companionship outweighs its youthful indiscretions. A Whippet gets into your heart and stays there. “I think the essence of this dog breed is its beautiful outline, a sweeping curve from end to tail, the gentleness, the almost catlike sense of personal hygiene,” Lee says.
Renzulli loves the dogs’ versatility. “They are so athletic — given the right training, there is no limit to their athletic abilities.” Yet there is nowhere a Whippet would rather be than draped over your furniture. Renzulli added a caveat: You can’t stop at one Whippet. Few have.
“I did the research, found my Whippet breeder and found my dog,” Renzulli says. “‘You’ll be back,’ the breeder told me. I says, ‘Oh no, I just want my one little heart-and-soul dog.’ The breeder laughs at me now because I’m always holding six leads.”
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Short, close and smooth.
Brush as needed. Regular nail trimming and dental cleaning.