About Whippets

A Whippet is a medium-sized sighthound–a group of dogs that includes the Greyhound, Borzoi, Irish Wolfhound, Pharaoh Hound, Afghan Hound, Saluki and others. These dogs were bred to hunt by sight, coursing game in open areas at high speeds. Although one can find numerous representations of small Greyhound-like hounds in art dating back to Roman times, the modern Whippet was created by working-class people of northern England by crossing Greyhounds with several other breeds, including the Italian Greyhound and a now-extinct long-legged terrier. These small coursing hounds were cheaper to feed and house than Greyhounds, but very handy at providing rabbits for the pot. They also were used to provide sport on non-working days as their owners enjoyed racing them against each other. The modern look of the breed was created by upper-class English dog fanciers, who bought the best-looking Whippets and bred them selectively to appear most similar to a "Greyhound in miniature.” A more detailed article on the history of the Whippet breed can be found on our History of the Whippet page.

Because color is considered "immaterial" in judging Whippets, they come in the widest variety of color and marking patterns of any breed–everything from solid black to solid white, with red, fawn, brindle, blue and cream colorings. In addition, all manner of spots and blazes and patches are seen–sometimes all in the same litter!

Whippets, like any other dog, require a good quality feed and plenty of fresh water. Whippets are not generally prone to food allergies or sensitivities, but some individuals do much better on particular foods or feeding schemes. Most Whippet owners feed either once or twice a day. Free-feeding is not recommended because Whippets which have access to food at all times tend to either pick at it throughout the day and become thin, or eat too much and become obese. Whippet breeders have achieved success with all manner of commercially-available feeds, such as raw, premium kibble, higher-end grocery store brand kibbles, and home-cooked diets.  Recently, there are increased concerns about a connection between Dilated Cardiomyopathy and high-end boutique Grain Free feeds.  Some of these young dogs who developed this very serious problem or even died from it were being fed restricted ingredient grain free diets and were found to be highly deficient in Taurine, an amino acid that is very important to heart health. While the research is still incomplete, many Whippet breeders do not recommend feeding grain-free kibble until more becomes known about this problem. The important thing is to find a complete and balanced food your Whippet likes and feed the appropriate amount! The Whippet frame is not well suited to carrying excessive weight.

The Whippet is considered one of the healthier breeds, but like any other breed or mix of dog, there are health concerns to be aware of for new owners and breeders. Normal lifespan is 10-15 years of age with an average of 12-14 for those who do not suffer premature death from accidents or trauma. More information about genetic and environmental health aspects of the breed can be found on our Whippet Health page.

Grooming is minimal for this breed, which is one of the great advantages of Whippet ownership: cutting their nails regularly, bathing as needed and keeping them free of parasites. In between baths (which they may need infrequently if they tend to stay mostly on grass), you can wash their feet or wipe off minor mud and dirt with a damp towel. Whippet ears are not prone to infections, and generally stay clean and dry on their own. Anal glands are seldom a problem. So, many of the maintenance tasks that require routine attention in other breeds and mixes are not a concern with most Whippets.

Whippets are not well adapted for living in an unheated kennel or as outside dogs. Their coats do not provide the insulation for them to withstand prolonged periods of exposure to the cold. Their natural attachment to people makes them happiest when kept as house pets. They need soft bedding on which to sleep, regular exercise and routine veterinary care. The most important thing you can do to care for your Whippet is to protect him from being hit by a car, or attacked by aggressive dogs. Whippets generally get the worst of any dog fight, so buried electric fences are not recommended. In addition, the speed at which a Whippet can run towards something enticing can cause them to find themselves on the wrong side of an electric fence before they realize they have been shocked.

So, to prevent the #1 cause of preventable death in young Whippets—that of being hit by a car–protect your Whippet with a safely fenced yard or by walking him on leash. Puppies can be chewers and may chew things that are dangerous or toxic, as well as expensive to replace, so crating is recommended when you are not able to supervise their activities. Obedience training will make your Whippet a better canine citizen. Whippets are smart and learn quickly with positive methods of training.

There are many activities open to a Whippet that has been purchased as a companion, and then spayed/ neutered. Whippets do well in rally obedience, agility, 4-H, and many of them make especially fine therapy dogs. Any well-socialized Whippet with a people-loving personality will make a good candidate for the above activities. Whippets which are not outside the standard height can participate in all forms of straight track racing and lure coursing, and over- or under-height Whippets are welcomed to the sport of Oval Track Racing. More information on Whippet activities can be found in our Whippet Activities pages.

One question that often comes up is if there is a longhaired or coated variety of Whippet. There are dogs that have been referred to in the past as "long-haired Whippets," but it is the opinion of the American Kennel Club and the American Whippet Club that these dogs were actually mixed-breeds in origin. They are not recognized by AKC at this time, and while they may at some point become a recognized breed for the purposes of AKC competition, they are a mixture of the Whippet and other breeds such as the Shetland Sheepdog, therefore, their appearance and personality will not be the same as a purebred AKC Whippet. They are interesting in their own right, but if any breeder of small coated sighthounds claims that they have discovered a long-lost gene in the purebred Whippet gene pool, run the other way, as this is dishonest. The so-called Longhaired Whippet is not a Whippet with long hair. It is a new breed or strain under development and does carry traits not found in the purebred Whippet gene pool.  Recently, the organization which originally called their breed in development "Longhaired Whippets" changed the name of the breed to the Windsprite, which honors the kennel name of the first breeder who claimed to have produced a coated variety of Whippet.  While the original Windsprite claim was not upheld, the dogs caught on with a segment of the fancy and are now more properly named.  Additionally, the Silken Windhound, a newer breed developed with a combination of Whippet, Borzoi, and Windsprite blood, is a larger coated sighthound which appears intermediate between the size and type of the Whippet and the Borzoi.  These dogs were never promoted as a longhaired genetic variant of the Whippet breed by the breed originators or the current breeders and fanciers. 

To learn more about Whippets, there are a number of excellent publications in print that you can find by checking our Whippet Bibliography page. You can also plan to see Whippets and learn more about them at a local dog show, lure trial or race meet. It is best to approach the exhibitors at a show after they have finished showing for the day. They should be delighted to talk with you about their favorite subject–their beloved Whippets! Whippets at a race meet or lure trial are usually quite excited for their turn to run, and bear little resemblance to the quiet couch potatoes they will become on Monday morning after their weekend’s excitement is over, but it is thrilling to see them display the athletic side of the breed.

--Marc Stumbo photo (axisimaging.com)

Perhaps the best idea for the would-be Whippet owner is to schedule a visit to the home of a breeder, where you can see Whippets of all ages and colors in a relaxed home setting. A home visit can help you to determine if the Whippet is right for you, and for a responsible breeder to determine if you are the right home for a Whippet.

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