The Whippet is a medium sized, short-haired sighthound breed that originated in England. It was bred to hunt by sight, coursing small game in open areas at high speeds. Whippets are the fastest domesticated animals of their weight, reaching speeds of up to 56 km/h (35 miles/h).
Whippets have a graceful appearance and elegant outline combined with muscular power and strength. They are gentle, affectionate, and adaptable and therefore ideal companions, but their hunting instinct must always be taken into account. With their short coat, without an undercoat, and low body fat, they need to wear a doggie coat to stay warm in cold weather.
Whippets are sprinters, i.e. they must regularly have the opportunity to run and romp about in a safe area, but they are not long-distance runners or endurance athletes. At home, they like to make themselves comfortable on the sofa and love to cuddle, so future owners should be prepared to share their couch (or even their bed).
Whippets vary in appearance depending on whether they are more of the racing or show line. As puppies they are little whirlwinds and as young dogs they are lightning-swift bundles of energy, but most of them become much calmer after two or three years, sometimes almost a bit boring and can turn into little prima donnas.
The exact origins of the breed are unknown, but small, compact greyhound-like hounds appear in many ancient paintings and sculptures. The modern Whippet was probably developed by the miners of Victorian North Eastern England – maybe by crossing small Greyhounds with fast, long-legged terriers.
The miners began racing their dogs in “rag races” where dogs chased after rags which were dragged down straight tracks or just waved from the far end of the track. This earned the breed such colourful nicknames such as “lightning rag dog” or “poor man’s racehorse.”
It is believed that Whippets were first brought to America in the 1900s by English textile mill operators of Massachusetts, which was the center of Whippet racing in North America for many years. Nowadays Whippet racing and coursing are still quite popular as a hobby, but the Whippet with its elegant appearance has also successfully conquered the show ring and enjoys great popularity as a family dog.
There are different theories concerning the origin of the name “Whippet”. One theory says that the name is derived from an early 17th century word meaning “to move briskly”, another that it derives from the antique word “whappet” (or “wappet”) that means “a small dog that yaps”. A third theory is that the name has its origins in the word “whip it”, an old English phrase meaning to move quickly, specifically referring to applying the whip to a horse to make it move faster.
Whippets are generally a healthy breed, which is mostly free of physical exaggerations that can lead to health problems. However, like other sighthounds, they have an intolerance to barbiturate anaesthetics due to their low concentration of body fat. Furthermore, their extremely high speeds when running can lead to minor injuries or even dangerous running accidents.
Some Whippet clubs recommend their breeders to check all their breeding dogs for health conditions like heart disease, deafness and eye diseases. In some breeding lines diseases such as Myoglobinuria/Rhabdomyolysis, Myostatin mutation (bully-gene) or Cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) may occur.