The Whippet

Chapter IX from "British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation", by W. D. Drury,
published by L.U. Gill (London) and Charles Scribner's Sons (New York), 1903.

Though it is not until recent years that the Whippet, or Snap-dog, has come into such prominence as to warrant its recognition by the Kennel Club as a variety, yet for many decades the animal has been known to the miners and other workers in the North of England. More than thirty years ago at least the name Whippet was bestowed upon a dog built very much on the lines that to-day find favour. It is, however, only some ten or twelve years since the effort to popularise the dog in the South of England was attempted. Somehow, straight-running, as the sport for which the Whippet is chiefly used is called, did not catch on in the South as it already had in the North, and the efforts of those who provided an opportunity for the public to see how the sport was conducted did not meet with much success.

Prior to the appearance of the First Edition of this work, no mention of the variety as such had been made by any previous writer. To-day no work upon the dog could be regarded as complete that did not deal fully with the Whippet. Moreover, the variety is one of the few that can now boast a handbook devoted to its uses, breeding, training, and general management. ("The Whippet and Race-dog," by Freeman Lloyd. London: L. Upcott Gill.) How the name Whippet came to be given is not with certainty known. The probability is that it is a provincial one, expressive at once of the diminutive size of the dogs and the quick action they display in the sports in which they are used, especially that of rabbit-coursing - or, rather, running rabbits, for the laws of coursing are not followed, but the dog that soonest reaches and kills, or snaps, the rabbit, wins; hence the appellation of Snap-dog, a name by which they used to be known at the Darlington Show, where, in years gone by, good classes of them were annually found. The Whippet was originally produced from a cross between the Greyhound and the Terrier; but today it breeds as true to type as any other variety. In conformation it is Greyhound-like; in fact, it may be most truthfully described as a small edition of the Greyhound. There are two kinds of Whippets, distinguished respectively by a rough and a smooth coat, the latter being the favourite and the one usually seen.

Whippets are kept in great numbers throughout the counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, and the northern districts of the Midlands, but for sporting rather than for show purposes.

First with regard to the racing for which these dogs are used, and which is so popular with the working classes in many parts of the North. And here it may be well to state that as a sprinter there is no dog that can touch the Whippet for pace. The race-dog may be anything from 9lb. to 24lb., the latter being the maximum. The dogs are handicapped according to their known performances, etc., the distance run being 200yds. They are entered as "Thomson's Rose, 19½ b.," etc., as the case may be, the weight appearing on the handicap card. Dogs are weighed out an hour before the time set for the first heat, and are allowed 4oz. over the declared weight. The winners of the heats are weighed again immediately the heats are run. If the meeting extends over one day an allowance is made of 8oz., provided, of course, the dog has run on the first day. In the final heat dogs are generally allowed 6oz. in addition, making 14oz. in all. This allowance should, however, only be made when a handicap that commences one week is finished the next. The dogs generally get a light meal - half a pigeon, or a chop, or a piece of steak - after running the second trial heats, and so weigh a bit heavier the second time of scaling.

The modus operandi will be best illustrated by the following description of a race meeting held at Farnworth Recreation Grounds, near Bolton, when there were sixty odd heats of three dogs. The course is a perfectly level path of 12yds. in width. The dogs are stripped and put on their marks, each being held by his owner, or a man for him, and the starter goes behind them with the pistol. Meanwhile, a man the dog knows starts off in front of him, carrying a big piece of linen rag, a handkerchief, or some conspicuous object; and every now and then, as he runs up the course, the man will turn round and " Hi" to the dog, at the same time waving the cloth up and down. When these runners-up have got pretty near the finish, the pistol is fired, and the dogs are started on their journey. There is a good deal in the slipping of the dogs, and an expert man at the game will score considerably over a novice. The dogs are pushed or even thrown into their stride, and to do this work nicely and to get the best results requires plenty of skill and not a little practice. With a view to obviate any unfairness in slipping a Starting Box has been invented and has been successfully used at some meetings. The runners-up must then get over the 10yds. mark, beyond the finish line. Each dog has a piece of ribbon round his neck - according to his station, red, white, or blue - and the judge, or referee, as he is called, holds up a flag of the winning colour to show which has won. The cloth carried by the men who run before and encourage the dogs is called "bait," and "live bait" is prohibited. The accompanying diagram (Fig. 33) shows an ideal Whippet track. The following rules governing straight-running with Whippets will serve to show those interested in the sport the chief points to be observed:

An Ideal Whippet Track
Fig. 33. - An Ideal Whippet Track.

1. No Whippet shall be qualified to run unless duly entered for the race.

2. The name of any Whippet qualified to run in a race must be notified as a starter to the Clerk of the Scales at the time appointed for weighing in.

3. In weighing the Clerk of the Scales shall allow 8ozs. over and above the weight the Whippet is entered to run at.

4. No Whippet shall run unless it has been weighed out and passed by the Clerk of the Scales.

5. The Starter shall give all orders necessary for securing a fair start. Whippets must be started with fore feet behind the mark.

6. Any slipper wilfully throwing his Whippet against another, or starting before the report of the pistol, or being guilty of any other misconduct or disobedience while under the Starter's orders, shall be reported to the Stewards of the meeting, and the Whippet shall be liable to disqualification.

7. The runners-up to be 10 yards over the trigg mark before the pistol is fired, the Judge to signal to pistol firer when the runners-up are in their place. Any runner-up moving in front of trigg mark after once having taken his place, shall cause the Whippet for which he is runner-up to be disqualified. No person shall be allowed to run with live bait.

8. Any Whippet wilfully slipped before the pistol is fired shall forfeit all claim to the handicap.

9. Each Whippet must run with the right coloured ribbon round its neck or it will be disqualified.

10. The Judge must announce his decision immediately, which decision shall be final unless an objection to the winner or the placed Whippets be made and sustained. This rule shall not prevent the Judge from correcting a mistake.

11. If a winning dog be disqualified after running, the second dog in the heat shall be placed first, and if impossible to tell the second dog, all in the heat shall run again with the exception of the disqualified dog.

12. If an objection be made to a dog, the winner in the final, such objection shall be in writing and signed by the owner of some Whippet engaged in the race or by his deputed agent, and must be made to one of the Stewards, the Judge, or the Clerk of the Scales. The objector shall, at the time of lodging same, deposit £1, which, in the event of the objection being declared to be frivolous or vexatious, shall be forfeited to the funds of the meeting; or if otherwise, returned to the objector.

13. All disputes to be settled by the Stewards, of which there must be not less than three, whose decision shall be final, subject only to an appeal to the Committee of the Whippet Club.

The following information was contributed to the First Edition of this work by the late Mr. Angus Sutherland, of Accrington, well known as a writer on dogs, coursing, and other sports, and who had exceptional experience of this breed of dog and every phase of the sports in which it is used:

"These dogs, which are kept in large numbers by the working classes in the northern counties of England, may be called the Poor Man's Greyhounds, being similar in form, and having to undergo the same preparation for work, by severe training and a prescribed diet, as Greyhounds, and, like them, require to be protected from the effects of severe weather by the use of thick woollen covers, both breeds being very susceptible to chills in the sudden changes of our fickle climate.

These remarks specially refer to the smooth-coated sort, which form an immense majority of those kept in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands; but amongst the pitmen of Durham and Northumberland are found a great many rough-haired ones, many of which are the result of crossing with the Bedlington Terrier, and these are naturally hardier.

The breed is kept for the sport termed straight-running, and also for rabbit-coursing. The fastest dogs have been produced by a first cross from the Greyhound; but those used for rabbit-coursing have generally an infusion of Bull-terrier, or some other game blood, calculated to give them staying powers; for to run thirty-one courses in one day is not only a trying test of condition, but also a severe trial of gameness.

The fleetness of the modern Whippet is not generally known to the outside world; but, considering their weight, these dogs may be termed the speediest four-legged animals known. As an illustration, I will adduce Mr. William Whittaker's red bitch Nettle. This bitch was not only the handsomest, but about the fastest, ever bred; her running weight was 19lb. She will be known to many from her show-bench career, having, when exhibited by Messrs. William Whittaker and Abraham Boulton, won a great number of first prizes; in fact, in this line she had an unbeaten record. But it is to her extraordinary fleetness I wish particularly to refer. Upon a favourable day, and given a good course, she could traverse 200yds. in 12sec, which gives a speed of 16⅓yds. per second, her stride, when thoroughly extended, as measured from toes to toes, being a trifle over 15ft.; such cannot but be considered astounding when performed by a 19lb. animal. By way of comparison, I will take the fastest celebrity in the annals of the equine race, Colonel Townley's Kettledrum, who, strange to say, sprang from the same town as the bitch Nettle - viz. Burnley, in Lancashire. He traversed the Derby course, Epsom (1½ miles in extent), in 2min. 43sec. or at the rate of 16⅓yds. per second; consequently, the rate of speed is in favour of the canine heroine."

The parallel here drawn by Mr. Sutherland is scarcely fair to the horse, as his average is taken on a distance more than thirteen times that covered by the dog.

Up to the present the handicap is the only form of racing in vogue; but there is no reason why this should be so, for, as Mr. Tatham in a most interesting series of papers that he contributes to the Dog World points out, the possibilities of this sport, if not endless, are at least great. He says that:

"When the sport obtains the support it is entitled to, I have no doubt whatever races other than handicaps will crop up. They cannot be introduced too soon, for obvious reasons. Moreover, numbers of persons ignorant of the niceties of dog-racing, yet anxious to own and run dogs, hold back through being lost amid the intricacies of handicaps. The class of race I allude to would initiate them into the mysteries of yards and pounds in a very short time, and they would then know what mark their dogs would have just as readily as an owner of racehorses knows what weight his animal will have to carry in a weight-for-age race.

"To put forth a race, say, for dogs and bitches any weight, yards or pounds, bitches allowing dogs three yards to the pound, would be, of course, a foregone conclusion, and there would be very few starters. But a person putting forth a programme of a meeting is supposed to know what conditions to make in order to provide good sport, and by the insertion of those conditions quite a new complexion is put on the matter, the race at the same time being essentially according to the scale of yards for pounds. By such means high-class dogs will be meeting high-class dogs, and in races meant for them; the moderate ones also would find races suitable for them, and the handicap would still remain for any class of animal.

Again, no more interesting race could be inaugurated than one for dogs whelped in the spring of one year and entered for a yards-for-pounds race to be run in the spring of the following year. Equally interesting would be a similar race for bitches, and more interesting still would be one for dogs and bitches run some months after, say in the autumn. The difficulty as to time of whelping would be no greater than it is in coursing or time of foaling in horse-racing. In fact, there are no difficulties in dog-racing greater than those found in coursing and horse-racing, and they can be overcome by the same means as the National Coursing Club and the Jockey Club employ in overcoming their difficulties."

Mr. Sutherland next refers to the Whippet as used for rabbit-coursing, as follows:

"The matches in connection with rabbit-coursing invariably take place in enclosed grounds set apart for that and other sports. These matches are ruled by what is termed the "60yds. Law" - that is, the rabbits are allowed 60yds. start of the competing dogs. The slipper, who is selected for his known impartiality, grasps the competitors by the napes of their necks, despatching them as evenly as possible the instant the rabbit is dropped at the stipulated mark by the judge, who immediately takes up a favourable position to view the course, and decides in favour of the dog first seizing and holding bunny.

"It will thus be seen that the duties of judge are not so intricate as those of the Greyhound judge, who is called upon to decide the knotty points of pace, the working turns, go-byes, and merits of the kill.

"The weight of the dogs is generally the guide in match-making, the heavier dog having to give his opponent a certain number of dead rabbits; but height in some districts rules the handicap. In rabbit-coursing, however, as in straight-running, there are at all times a few dogs more proficient than others; these are handicapped by dead rabbits, according to merit; and, as in the latter sport, bitches, being considered greater adepts at the game, are handicapped accordingly. A good weight for a Snap-dog is from 22lb. to 25lb."

The Whippet for straight-running needs to be trained much upon the same lines as his near relative the Greyhound. Upon this subject Mr. Freeman Lloyd has a good deal to say in his monograph. Suffice it for the purpose here to refer to his directions in a condensed form. Sharp walking is advocated, the actual distance depending upon the individual dog's feeding and constitution.

These the owner will know all about. If the dog be a heavy feeder, he will need to be galloped oftener than a less hearty one. He should be taken on to a piece of level grass and allowed to play and to gallop himself into form, getting over a lot of ground, and at the same time doing some sharp work, which latter is very important. If long walking exercise be indulged in, the Whippet not only gets slow but also loses dash at the finish. In commencing to train, care must be taken to avoid galloping a dog too often before he is fit enough to sprint the distance without showing signs of tiring; this makes an animal finish badly and grow false. Puppies should not be galloped too far. Fifty yards will be quite a sufficient distance for youngsters, increasing the run as the dog conditions. It is also a bad plan to keep on trying them. If there be a promising one, he should be tried with one that he can beat. He should not be tried against an animal far his superior in pace, or it will take the dash out of him.

A Type of Show Whippet.
Fig. 34. - A Type of Show Whippet.

In feeding, wholesome and plain food must be the order of the day. Fatty scraps must always be avoided. Sheep's heads well boiled (and once or twice a week an onion and a parsnip may be boiled with these and afterwards mashed) will prove beneficial. Brown bread a fortnight old should be well covered with the broth from the heads, and a new-laid egg be beaten in with it. This dietary will suffice for a few days, when beef, boiled to "rags" or else cooked in the Dutch oven to such a condition that when cut the gravy follows the knife, should be given. If the Whippet be a bad feeder and somewhat delicate, he may have an egg beaten up and given with a little toast before taking him out for the morning's work. In the last few days before running a cut out of the middle of a leg of mutton, nicely stewed, with some toast made from a brown loaf, a little of the broth, just a sprinkling of the vegetables already named, and an egg beaten in the broth, are advocated. All stimulants should be avoided.

As a companion the Whippet has many superiors, though to some he has his good points - not the least attractive of which are his conformation, speed, the fact that he occupies but a very small space indoors, and has no long coat to lick up the mud. Nor as a sporting dog is he without his admirers, though the possession of a brace, it must be confessed, is not unfrequently regarded with suspicion by farmers and game-preservers. For rabbit-catching the rough-haired variety is more fancied, such a coat standing them in better stead than the smooth one. When employed for rabbit-catching it is usual to work a brace of Whippets with a smart terrier.

As a show dog the Whippet does not meet with a large share of support, though there is no reason why so easily kept a variety should not. For this purpose one from 16lb. to 20lb. is about the correct weight; but to win the dog must be built upon the lines of the Greyhound, and look all over like a racer. He must be shown in good, hard condition, but not so finely trained as if he were intended for straight-running. Exercise behind a trap or a cycle, if judiciously given, combined with good grooming on return, in which there is plenty of hand-rubbing employed, will soon bring a typical Whippet into really excellent show form.

The following is the description of the Whippet as drawn up by the Whippet Club:


Long and lean, rather wide between the eyes, and flat at the top. The jaw powerful yet clearly cut. Teeth level and white.


Bright and fiery.


Small, fine in texture, and rose shape.


Long and muscular, elegantly arched, and free from throatiness.


Oblique and muscular.


Deep and capacious.


Broad and square, rather long, and slightly arched over loin, which should be strong and powerful.

Fore Legs

Rather long, well set under dog, possessing fair amount of bone.


Strong and broad across, stifles well bent, thighs broad and muscular, hocks well let down.


Round, well split up, with strong soles.


Long, tapering, and nicely carried.


Fine and close.


Black, red, white, brindle, fawn, blue, and the various mixtures of each.



In selecting a Whippet, practically the same rules hold good as in the case of a Greyhound.

"The Whippet" by W. D. Drury,
Chapter IX from "British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation" by the author,
published by L.U. Gill (London) and Charles Scribner's Sons (New York), 1903.

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