No, whippets were not introduced by the ’80s group Devo in the wake of their hit record “Whip It,” though I think these dogs could’ve adorably donned flower pots on their heads in the name of music video art. Whippets, while less familiar to the American public than greyhounds, make excellent pets due to their patient temperaments and playful but gentle natures. Whippets trace their history to Britain, where aggressive mixing of regular greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, and several terriers created the distinct whippet breed for use as working-class sport dogs and recreational racers. Whippets are swift sight hounds, sometimes selected as school mascots because of their sleek, speedy gait and their punctuated poise. Ultimately, whippets are like greyhounds – but different.
What Do Whippets Look Like?
The American Kennel Club gives a specific, near-rapturous description of the ideal whippet appearance, saying the dogs “should convey an impression of beautifully balanced muscular power and strength, combined with great elegance and grace of outline.” But even if a whippet does not flawlessly meet stiff AKC expectations, s/he’ll still be a lovely, loyal pet. The average whippet stands about 20 inches tall when measured from the high point between the shoulder blades (the withers), with males being slightly taller than females. Average weight is between 30 and 40 pounds, making the dog substantial but not massive or meaty. Consider the whippet a slightly oversized lapdog, about half or two-thirds the weight of a regular greyhound.
Whippets vary so widely in color that even the AKC officially considers it “immaterial” when judging show dogs. Their short coats can be white, brown, grey-blue, and even black, though the majority of whippets seem to be generally one color with color splotches, especially on their backs and heads. It should be noted that whippets are not “hypo-allergenic” and they do shed, even though it may be less noticeable.
Whippets as Pets: Similarities to Greyhounds
In many ways, whippets are like greyhounds: they’re gentle and relatively quiet, Whippets don’t bark frequently, and though they are alert, they aren’t usually suspicious of new people or outdoor noise. Due to their thin skin, whippets are also sensitive to cold and hard surfaces, much like their greyhound cousins. Whippets should never be kept outdoors; they are indoor pets who require soft bedding and love lounging on furniture. They may be speedy, but they’re not necessarily hardy enough for tough love. Like greyhounds, whippets are docile creatures, rarely snapping or showing aggression to people or other dogs (unless they are seriously and repetitively provoked).
Whippets as Pets: Differences from Greyhounds
Although they share many similarities with greyhounds, whippets are different in notable ways. First, while former racing greyhounds are used to being handled my multiple people (thus quashing one-person loyalty), whippets very seriously take to the notion of a specific “master.” It’s not that whippets will not obey or show affection to other family members. In fact, they are known as nosy followers who like to tail everyone, pun intended. But whippets do seem to possess a strong, wagging loyalty. They’ll want to sleep with you, particularly on soft beds and couches. They’ll pester you a bit when you’re eating (unless you train them otherwise). They’re even inclined to follow you into tight spaces like closets, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. If you want the utmost in doggie attachment, pick a whippet as a pet.
In terms of activity level, greyhounds and whippets are both speedy dogs who love to sprint, but the former breed tends to tire more quickly. Whippets are more animated and playful, requiring a smidge more exercise and lasting a bit longer in romp sessions. Large amounts of indoor space are not necessary, however, as long as you are able to take a whippet on walks or occasionally to a park for running. Whippets are not jogging companions, though, as they don’t have the endurance. All in all, they’re less active than other breeds but more active than greyhounds.
Rescuing a Whippet
A number of organizations offer whippet rescue, meaning that they look for whippets who have been surrendered to animal shelters by owners (or taken by authorities) and provide foster care for the dogs until permanent adoptive owners can be found. While whippets are raced in the United States, the racing is usually recreational and non-commercial, pursued by owners who keep the whippets as pets. As a result, there are rarely any whippets to rescue directly from a track, as is the case with thousands of greyhounds. For information on whippet adoption, there are several groups who’d be happy to oblige: visit WRAP at http://www.whippet-rescue.com or the American Whippet Club http://www.americanwhippetclub.net.