The Whippet

Once a rabbit hunter, today’s Whippet is at home on the couch and in the coursing field


The Whippet is a dog of unusual and generally contradictory traits: he is a couch potato at home and a whiz on the track or agility course.

Bred by working class families in England’s mining districts to hunt rabbits for the stewpot and provide entertainment at weekend races, the elegant Whippet is the youngest of the sighthound breeds. Thought to be the result of crossing small Greyhounds with smooth and rough-coated terriers, the miners’ dogs were coarser in appearance than today’s svelte dog. When the breed drew the attention of British fanciers, Italian Greyhounds were added to the gene pool to produce the clean, graceful lines of the modern Whippet.

After a brief career as a “snap dog” used to catch and kill rabbits in an enclosed space, the Whippet’s speed and Britain’s growing disgust with animal baiting contests led fanciers to concentrate on sprint racing, a sport still popular among owners.

The Whippet traveled to the US with English mill operators in the mid-1800s, and the Massachusetts mill towns of Lawrence and Lowell became the center of Whippet racing in this country.

The American Kennel Club registered its first Whippet in 1888, and in 2000, the breed was 63rd in individual registrations with 1914 dogs and 73rd in litter registrations with 457 litters. Both numbers were up slightly from 1999 when 1869 dogs and 417 litters were logged in.

Form, function, and appearance

The Whippet is a sighthound, a subset of the hound group that traces its history back to the days of the Pharaohs in Egypt and the nomadic tribes of the Middle East. Greyhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Ibizan Hounds, Borzoi, Salukis, Afghan Hounds and others share this common background and were of unparalleled value to their owners in the early centuries of civilization. Sighthounds hunt by scanning for movement, not tracking by scent, and so have keen eyesight to catch even the slightest disturbance in their surroundings. Once the game is sighted, all else pales into insignificance as the dog concentrates on the chase.

Sighthound structure is the key to both speed and stamina. Although the dog is slender in appearance, it must have well-laid-back shoulder blades, space between the withers to aid in shock absorption, well-sprung ribs for lung-power that allows endurance, and a well-muscled body for propulsion. The well-built Whippet may well be the fastest animal of its size; it can reach 35 miles per hour and cover 16 yards per second at full speed.

The AKC breed standard uses these phrases in describing the breed: “... the appearance of elegance and fitness”; “... covers a maximum of distance with a minimum of lost motion”; “power and balance without coarseness”; and “Symmetry of outline, muscular development and powerful gait are the main considerations.” The Whippet puts it all together in a package ranging from 18-22 inches at the withers and 25-35 pounds on the scale. As with many breeds, bitches are smaller than dogs.

The clean lines that give the breed its lovely profile are critical to its speed. The arched loin and the well-muscled rear contribute to the powerful drive that propels the dog forward into its ground-eating double-suspension gallop, a leaping gait that finds the dog completely off the ground at two points in the gallop sequence. A well-formed, muscular front end then pushes the dog into the second half of the gait cycle.

The Whippet head is long and lean with large, dark eyes and small, fine ears that tip over at the tip. Erect ears are undesirable. The arched neck is long and muscular, the tail is long and tapering. The coat is smooth and very short, and a variety of colors and patterns are acceptable. Whippets can be solid black or white or can be patched or brindled in red, fawn, blue, or cream.

The Whippet as pet

Elegance isn’t the only trait that endears the Whippet to its owners, for this is an affectionate, mild-mannered dog that is generally good with other dogs and cats, is quiet in the house, and needs little daily care. This gentle dog may bark at strangers but is normally friendly with visitors, and should be watched around small household pets such as rats, ferrets, or guinea pigs. The Whippet’s favorite indoor pastime is curling up next to a person on a couch or in a bed.

If the Whippet has a drawback, it is the need for vigilance to prevent escape. A loose Whippet is a long-gone Whippet, for the breed loves to run and will indulge itself when given the opportunity. However, a fenced-in back yard, plenty of play sessions, and frequent walks on a leash should provide enough exercise for this athletic dog.

Whippets also do well in obedience training, agility, lure coursing, flyball, Frisbee®, and racing.

A relatively long-lived breed, the Whippet often reaches 15 years of age. Generally healthy, he may be sensitive to drugs and anesthesias, has thin skin that tears easily, and may be susceptible to cold temperatures. The American Whippet Club suggests that breeders test for eye disease, but hip dysplasia is not considered a problem in the breed.

The short coat makes the Whippet easy to groom – an occasional wiping with a washcloth, an occasional bath, and regular nail trimming are about all that are needed.

For more information about the Whippet, visit the American Whippet Club website at

Whippet sports

Whippets love to run, so racing is right up their alley

Whippets can participate in two types of racing: lure coursing and track racing.

Lure Coursing

Lure coursing simulates a rabbit hunt and is open to all sighthound breeds. In this competition, a lure machine pulls a white plastic trash bag along a wire set on a course close to the ground.

Most courses cover distances of 600-1000 yards and include several turns and straight legs. Hounds are scored for speed, agility, endurance, enthusiasm, and willingness to follow the lure and work with running mates. Dogs run in two heats and their scores are averaged for placements at the end of the day.

Dogs must be conditioned to run and trained to follow the lure. Heats at trials are done in groups of two or three hounds, so all lure coursing dogs must also be accustomed to running with other dogs. Dogs that show aggression to running mates are disqualified. Each dog wears a blanket of a different color for identification.

Lure coursing trials are sponsored by the American Sighthound Field Association and the American Kennel Club. ASFA awards its Field Championship title to successful competitors and its Lure Courser of Merit title to top coursers. AKC Junior Coursers are dogs that demonstrate a desire to chase the lure; Senior Coursers are dogs that run four times in competition without being disqualified; Master Coursers are those that qualify 25 times, and Field Champions are the top AKC coursing competitors.

Spayed and neutered hounds can compete in lure coursing, but dogs with disqualifying faults for their breeds are ineligible. Disqualifying faults in Whippets are: more than one half inch above or below the height standard; blue or wall (whitish) eyes; jaw that is undershot or overshot by one-quarter inch or more; and any coat that is not short, close, smooth, and firm in texture.

For more information about lure coursing, see the AKC website ( or the ASFA website (

Track Racing

Whippet racing resembles Greyhound racing with two major differences: the Whippets that participate are pets first and competition dogs second, and there’s no gambling or profit involved.

The racing Whippet chases a lure, but unlike coursing, the competition is judged purely on the speed of the dog. Winning dogs earn ribbons and, if they are fast enough, may become a Whippet Racing Champion.

Dogs run in groups of five or six over a 200-yard straight course or in groups of three to five on a U-shaped or oval track with an inner rail and a distance of 220-400 yards. Dogs run four heats with others of similar ability and record and are graded for future races based on performances in their last three race meets.

Whippet race meets are sponsored by the Whippet Racing Association, the North American Whippet Racing Association, and the Continental Whippet Association. All participating Whippets must be registered with the AKC or the Canadian Kennel Club. For more information, browse the following websites:;; or

Norma Bennett Woolf

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