The Whippet


From "Dogs and All About Them" by Robert Leighton,
published by Cassell and Company, Ltd., London, 1910.

Early Race Whippet
"It took 5 men to minister to the needs of a prize racing whippet."

Photo and caption reprinted with permission from
the Glamorgan Walks web site,
http://www.glamorganwalks.com/index.html,
published by Bruce McDonald.

For elegance of style, cleanliness of habit, and graceful movement, few dogs can equal the Whippet, for which reason his popularity as a companion has increased very greatly within the past decade. No more affectionate creature is to be found, yet he possesses considerable determination and pluck, and on occasion will defend himself in his own way.

Too fragile in his anatomy for fighting, in the ordinary sense of the word, when molested, he will “snap” at his opponent with such celerity as to take even the most watchful by surprise; while his strength of jaw, combined with its comparatively great length, enables him to inflict severe punishment at the first grab. It was probably owing to this habit, which is common to all Whippets, that they were originally known as Snap-Dogs.

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.

This sport has been mainly confined to the working classes, the colliers of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland being particularly devoted to it. As a rule the contests are handicaps, the starting point of each competitor being regulated by its weight; but the winners of previous important events are penalised in addition, according to their presumed merit, by having a certain number of yards deducted from the start to which weight alone would otherwise have entitled them. Each dog is taken to its stipulated mark according to the handicap, and there laid hold of by the nape of the neck and hind-quarters; the real starter stands behind the lot, and after warning all to be ready, discharges a pistol, upon which each attendant swings his dog as far forward as he can possibly throw him, but always making sure that he alights on his feet. The distance covered in the race is generally 200 yards, minus the starts allotted, and some idea of the speed at which these very active little animals can travel may be gleaned from the fact that the full distance has been covered in rather under 12 seconds.

In order to induce each dog to do its best, the owner, or more probably the trainer stands beyond the winning post, and frantically waves a towel or very stout rag. Accompanied by a babel of noise, the race is started, and in less time than it takes to write it the competitors reach the goal, one and all as they finish taking a flying leap at their trainer’s towel, to which they hold on with such tenacity that they are swung round in the air. The speed at which they are travelling makes this movement necessary in many cases to enable the dog to avoid accident, particularly where the space beyond the winning mark is limited. For racing purposes there is a wide margin of size allowed to the dogs, anything from 8 lbs. to 23 lbs., or even more, being eligible; but in view of the handicap terms those dogs which possess speed, and scale 9 to 12 lbs. amongst the light-weights, and over 17 lbs. in the heavy ones, are considered to have the best chance.

Probably there is no locality where the pastime has maintained such a firm hold as in and around Oldham, one of the most famous tracks in the world being at Higginshaw, where not infrequently three hundred dogs are entered in one handicap. The Borough grounds at Oldham and the Wellington grounds at Bury are also noted centres for races. It is a remarkable but well recognised fact that bitches are faster than dogs, and in consequence the terms upon which they are handicapped are varied. The general custom is to allow a dog 2-1/2 to 3 yards advantage for every pound difference in weight between it and the gentle sex.

One of the fastest dogs that ever ran was Collier Lad, but he was almost a Greyhound as regards size. Whitefoot, whose owner challenged the world, and was considered to be quite unbeatable, was a Whippet in every sense of the word, and was a nice medium weight, though probably Capplebank’s time of 11-1/2 seconds stands alone. The best of the present-day racing dogs are Polly fro’ Astley (15 lbs.) and Dinah (11-1/2 lbs.), and of those which promise well for the future, Eva, whose weight is only 9-3/4 lbs., is most prominent.

" Colour in the Whippet is absolutely of no importance to a good judge . . . "
The training of Whippets is by no means easy work, and is more expensive than most people imagine. The very choicest food is deemed absolutely necessary, in fact a Whippet undergoing preparation for an important race is provided with the most wholesome fare. Choice mutton-chops, beef-steaks and similar dainties comprise their daily portion. Of course exercise is a necessity, but it is not considered good policy to allow a dog in training to gambol about either on the roads or in the fields. Indeed, all dogs which are undergoing preparation for a race are practically deprived of their freedom, in lieu of which they are walked along hard roads secured by a lead; and for fear of their picking up the least bit of refuse each is securely muzzled by a box-like leather arrangement which completely envelops the jaws, but which is freely perforated to permit proper breathing. Any distance between six and a dozen miles a day, according to the stamina and condition of the dog, is supposed to be the proper amount of exercise, and scales are brought into use every few days to gauge the effect which is being produced. In addition to this private trials are necessary in the presence of someone who is accustomed to timing races by the aid of a stop-watch—­a by no means easy task, considering that a slight particle of a second means so many yards, and the average speed working out at about 16 yards per second—­nearly twice as fast as the fastest pedestrian sprinter, and altogether beyond the power of the fleetest race-horse.

Colour in the Whippet is absolutely of no importance to a good judge, though possibly what is known as the peach fawn is the favourite among amateur fanciers. Red fawns, blue or slate coloured, black, brindled of various shades, and these colours intermingled with white, are most to be met with, however. In some quarters the idea is prevalent that Whippets are delicate in their constitution, but this is a popular error. Probably their disinclination to go out of doors on their own initiative when the weather is cold and wet may account for the opinion, but given the opportunity to roam about a house the Whippet will find a comfortable place, and will rarely ail anything. In scores of houses Whippets go to bed with the children, and are so clean that even scrupulous housewives take no objection to their finding their way under the clothes to the foot of the bed, thereby securing their own protection and serving as an excellent footwarmer in the winter months.

Probably in no other breed, except the Greyhound, do judges attach so little importance to the shape of the head; so long as the jaws are fairly long and the colour of the eyes somewhat in keeping with that of the body, very little else is looked for in front of the ears. As in the case of racing competitors, really good dogs for show purposes are much more difficult to find than bitches. The best of the males are not so classical in outline as the females, though some of them are as good in legs and feet—­points which are of the greatest importance. Though it is not quite in accordance with the standard laid down by the club, it will be found that most judges favour dogs which are about 17 lbs. weight, and bitches which are between 15 lbs. and 16 lbs., the 20 lbs. mentioned in the standard of points, without variation for sex being considered altogether too heavy. Appearances are sometimes deceptive, but these dogs are rarely weighed for exhibition purposes, the trained eye of the judge being sufficient guide to the size of the competitors according to his partiality for middle-size, big, or little animals.

The South Durham and Yorkshire Show at Darlington has the credit for first introducing classes for Whippets into the prize ring. Previous to this it had not long been generally recognised as a distinct breed, and it is within the last twenty years that the Kennel Club has placed the breed on its recognised list.

The following is the standard of points adopted by the Whippet Club:
HEAD—Long and lean, rather wide between the eyes and flat on the top; the jaw powerful yet cleanly cut; the teeth level and white.

EYES—Bright and fiery.

EARS—Small, fine in texture and rose shape.

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

SHOULDERS—Oblique and muscular.

CHEST—Deep and capacious.

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

FORE-LEGS—Rather long, well set under the dog, possessing a fair amount of bone.

HIND-QUARTERS—Strong and broad across stifles, well bent thighs, broad and muscular; hocks well let down.

FEET—Round, well split up, with strong soles.

COAT—Fine and close.

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

WEIGHT—Twenty pounds

"The Whippet" by Robert Leighton, an excerpt from
Dogs and All About Them by the author.
London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1910.

"Five men and a prize racing whippet" photo and caption
reprinted with permission from the Glamorgan Walks web site,
http://www.glamorganwalks.com/index.html,
published by Bruce McDonald.

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