Celebrate the Whippet Breed

The Origin of the Whippet

From The Whippet Yearbook 1971

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE WHIPPET

The origin of our breed is shrouded in the mists of history. For years there has been an argument over whether, as a breed, Whippets are two hundred years old or much older. For a long time, the most popular theory was that the breed was between one hundred fifty years old and two hundred years old, and had been bred dawn from Greyhounds with Terrier blood. In the first edition of Mr. Frederick Freeman Lloyd's book, The Whippet and Race Dog, published in 1894, he states that the Whippet "was originally produced by a cross between the Greyhound and Terrier"; in the old days of rabbit coursing in the north of England , English and the other Terriers were used for this pastime. B. S. Fitter, in his book, The Show and Working Whippet, published in 1947, states that miners of Northumberland and Durham produced the Whippet for racing pur­ poses. Fitter claims that the Terrier blood gives the Whippet his gameness and tenacity, the Greyhound blood his speed, stamina and beautiful conformation.

However, as far back as 1907, there was suspicion that the Whippet breed was far older than a few hundred years. In an article by F. C. Hignett on Whippets in The New Book of the Dog, published in 1907, he states that Whippet racing "has been mainly confined to the working classes, the colliers of Lan­ cashire, Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland". But he also states that "the Whippet existed as a separate breed long before dog shows were thought of, and at a time when records of pedigrees were not officially preserved; but it is very certain that the Greyhound had a share in his genealogical history, for not only should his appearance be precisely that of a Greyhound in miniature, but the purpose for which he was bred is very similar to that for which his larger prototype is still used, the only difference being that rabbits were coursed by Whippets, and hares by Greyhounds.

W. Lewis Renwick wrote in 1956 on the theory of the Greyhound and Terrier cross, "I do not think that this evidence is strong enough to establish this claim; it seems such an easy way to get the answer, for it is obvious that a Whippet is of Greyhound type (it is just as obvious that the Italian Greyhound is of Greyhound type too), but I can see nothing in the Whippet that points to a Terrier's conformation". He feels that Whippets and Italian Greyhounds are simply reduced Greyhounds. He goes on to say that dogs of the Greyhound type have been depicted by artists for thousands of years and that he is "forced to the conclusion that the only real evidence we have of the origin of our Whippets is to be found in these old works of art."

C. H. Douglas Todd builds on this evidence in his book, The Popular Whip­ pet, published in 1961. He states that "Greeks depicted Greyhound-type dogs on pottery and statues. The smaller type of these dogs were very like the Whippet in size and shape and, indeed, many of them seem to have the typical Whippet rose ear. There is little doubt that the Graeco-Roman 'Group of Dogs' (now in the British Museum), found at Monte Cagnolo near Laneivum, is a beautiful work of art depicting two dogs more like Whippets than any other. Other works of art showing Whippet type dogs are 'Joachim with the Shepards' by Giotto 1350, 'The Light of the World' by Menline 1450, and the 'Vision of St. Hubert' by Darer. He also brings up the very interesting question of why there are never any Terrier throwbacks.

From what I know of the history of dogs, it is a fact that Romans brought Greyhound type dogs to England when they conquered the Celts. The celts, famed for their love of coursing, already had a fine coursing dog. Crosses, planned and unplanned, no doubt took place. I suspect that the Whippet in England grew out of these crosses. Terrier blood might have been introduced very sparingly much later to add gameness under pressure to the breed.

A fact that I find very interesting is that Whippets seem to be getting bigger as a breed. In F. C. Hignett's article, he states that the best weight for a show dog is 17 pounds and for show bitches is 15-16 pounds. For racing purposes, he thinks that dogs between 9-12 pounds and over 17 pounds have the best chance. The October 1937 edition of National Geographic, in the article on Whippets, states that weights vary from 10-23 pounds. The best running weight is 16 pounds, and 16 inches is the height of the ideal show specimen. In the third edition of Freeman Lloyd's book, he feels that racing dogs should be 16-24 pounds; show dogs should stand 18 1/2 inches and weigh 21 pounds; and show bitches should stand 171 inches and weigh 20 pounds. The standard ap­ proved by AKC on July 11, 1944, states that dogs should stand between 19-22 inches and bitches should stand between 18-21 inches. It seems that our breed is continuing to evolve.

Have you ever wondered why the Whippet is called a Whippet, or why he is called a snap dog? I have uncovered two answers to each question. The name Whippet may have its origins in the words "whip it". This is English slang meaning to move quickly. "To whip it up" often refers to applying the whip to a horse to encourage it to move faster. Whippet may also be a misspelling of wappet meaning a small yelping cur. We all know that Whippets are very noisy while waiting impatiently for their turn to race. F. C. Hignett has a very good answer to the second question. He states that a Whippet being "too frag­ ile in his anatomy for fighting, will "snap" at his opponent with such celeri­ ty as to take by surprise even the most watchful; while the strength of his jaw, combined with its comparatively great length, enables him to inflict se­ vere punishment at the first grab. It is owing to this habit, which is common to all Whippets, that they were originally known as snap dogs".

Freeman Lloyd states in his book that the name snap-dog refers to a dog "that can catch quickly, and snap at his game. It holds good, too, with his larger brother, the Greyhound, for it is well known that the latter is not a wonderful dog to hold if he gets mixed in a battle, his game being to snap and bite sharply; and this is the case with the Whippet, who, however, will hold on to a towel or cloth with the same firmness as a Greyhound does to a hare".

It would be impossible to write about our breed without a single mention about the Whippet as a companion. He is an incredibly fast race dog, a wilely courser, and beautiful show dog, but he stars as a companion. Whatever else he is, he is certainly a "people dog". He grabs pens away from you while you are trying to write; he helps himself to your dinner (who wants dog food); he curls up on your lap wherever you are (not just one but every Whippet in the house piles on); they all sleep in the same bed with you (under the covers with their heads on your pillow); they pull the covers off you when they are cold; they pull the covers off the bed when they are too hot; they chew their bones all over the house. They are happy clowns when you are happy; and they try their best to cheer you when the world crashes around you. Best of all, they love you for what you are. What more can you possibly ask for?

 

References

Todd, C. H. D., The Popular Whippet, Arco Publishing Company, New York, 1961.

Freeman-Lloyd, F. and B. S. Fitter, The Whippet or Race Dog, third edition, David McKay Company, Philadelphia.

Hignett, F. C. The New Book of the Dog, Cassell and Company, London, Paris, New York , Toronto and Melbourne, 1907.

Renwick, L., The Whippet Handbook, Nicholson and Watson, London, 1956. The Modern Dog Encyclopedia, The Telegraph Press, 1953.