The Whippet is one of the most popular of the hunting dogs. A member of the sighthound class of hunting dogs, it is bred to hunt by sight. The Whippet's keen wide range of vision gives it the ability to zero in on its prey, whereupon it breaks into a fast run to apprehend it. What makes this breed truly outstanding is its particular affection for humans. Athletic and enthusiastic while at exercise or play, the Whippet is docile and tranquil at home, and especially patient with children and friendly with guests.
The Whippet possesses a lean body with long legs, enabling it to run at a very high pace to cover a lot of ground within a very short time with the smallest amount of energy expended. They have a low to the ground pace that is free-moving and vigorous. Their double-suspension gallop and flexible body language enable them to run easily at a speed that is much faster than any other breed. In full motion, the Whippet's body is fully extended, with all four feet off the ground. Indeed, this type of suspension gait enables the Whippet to virtually fly over land.
Standing at an ideal height of 18-22 inches, the Whippet has a medium-sized, clear curved body, which is square-proportioned, with a slightly tucked in waist, and a bit longer than taller. The neck is long and muscular, supporting a long, slender skull and muzzle. These are the essential physical characteristics of the Whippet. Highly agile, these dogs can quickly change direction as needed. Always alert, Whippets have a very keen expression to their face, an effect that is quite pleasing. The coat is close to the body, accentuating its elegant and proud carriage. The Whippet's short coat and skin type make it a good fit for people with mild allergies. This breed produces a light oil on its skin, resulting in less dander and minimal shedding.
The Whippet is one of the more obedient breeds, known for its ease in adapting to home life. Ease of training, gentle temperament, and a friendly nature make the Whippet an ideal companion dog. Best suited for energetic families who can make the time to play with them regularly, the Whippet repays this attention with affection and a high degree of faithfulness to their masters. Whippets quite enjoy a quite evening relaxing at the foot of their masters, as well as being in the company of vivacious, though not overly rambunctious, children. Running outdoors freely is one of the Whippet's favorite activities, but care must be taken to protect them from areas that are open to street thoroughfares.
Whippets do not require a great deal of maintenance. However, as an athletic breed, they do need to be taken out for exercise regularly, with a combination of running and walking. Because they are natural sprinters, they cannot run for prolonged distances, but they thrive when they are able to run with some freedom and space to get to their top speeds. These dogs love to play in the snow but cannot stand cold weather for a long time and cannot be kept as outdoor pets owing to their short coats and lack of heat retaining body fats. The main part of their time should be in a warm environment, with an access to a soft bed inside the house. Regular grooming should be part of overall care, though Whippets do not tend have the typical body odor that is associated with dogs, again owing to their short, fine coat.
Whippets generally have a life-span of about 12 to 15 years. Like many sighthounds, they are sensitive, and prone to barbiturate anesthesia and lacerations. Some of the problems that can occasionally be seen in this breed are eye defects and deafness. Eye problems are a major health concern for this breed. Hence, eye tests should be part of their regular health screenings
The most popular of the English sighthounds, the Whippet is also hallmarked as a true racer. However, they have failed to reach the level of popularity the Greyhounds have in the field of racing. Having a keen eye, developed sense of smell, and flexible body, the Whippet can easily track its target, run it down, and deliver it safely to its master.
Whippets are directly related to the Greyhound, and are though to be a crossing of Greyhound and various hunting terriers. Their development is thought to have begun in earnest in the mid to late 1800s, when the demand for a breed with the abilities of a Greyhound became more pronounced. Most working class families could not afford to keep Greyhounds, however, so the smaller, less demanding Whippet filled that need.
The Whippet quickly proved itself useful to the family larder. Expert at coursing (hunting) for rabbits and other small game, the Whippet grew in popularity, and the breed was fine tuned over the years, gaining breed recognition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888, and The Kennel Club of England in 1891. For a time Whippets were also employed for entertainment purposes, especially after the public's fancy with the more barbaric sports of bull baiting and dog fighting passed. Their sight and speed made them sporting fun for enclosed hunting games, whereby peasants competed for the largest number of rabbits that could be snapped up by their Whippets within a closed area. Called "snap dog" contests, even this relatively composed sport drew the ire of animal protectionists, who felt that it was unsporting to enclose the rabbits for hunting, giving them no hope for escape.
During the historical Industrial Revolution the Whippet began to be bred in larger numbers. This was mainly due to the fact that rural workers who were moving to the industrialized areas needed a mode of entertainment for themselves. Referred to as the poor man's race horse, Whippets were used for "rag racing" contests by coal miners and factory workers. Over time, they came to be more commonly kept by families as companion dogs rather than solely for entertainment.