Whippets are medium-sized dogs who closely resemble a smaller version of the Greyhound. However, they are a distinct breed with unique qualities and characteristics. Owners in search of a playful family dog who will readily race after a ball at the park, then curl up on the couch for a quiet afternoon, may find the Whippet to be a perfect companion.
Breed History and Origin
Images of dogs that resemble Whippets or Greyhounds in oil painting date back to the Middle Ages. However, the modern Whippet can be traced back to Great Britain in the 18th century. These dogs were originally bred to hunt and chase rabbits -- known as coursing -- which is how they developed their quick speed. This skill led to the breed earning the nickname "snap-dog," because they participated in competitions that involved snapping up as many rabbits as possible within an area.
Whippets were cheaper to keep compared to larger Greyhounds, so they were dubbed the "poor man's Greyhound." Whippets made their way to the United States in the 1800s, where they continued racing and made their mark as show dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1888. Today, Whippets are triumphant in dog shows and sporting events.
Characteristics of the Whippet
While Whippets may look like small Greyhounds, they have some unique physical characteristics and personality traits.
Whippets are medium-sized dogs, weighing in between 25 and 40 pounds on average. Female dogs stand 18 to 21 inches tall at the shoulder, whereas males are around 19 to 22 inches in height. As sighthounds, Whippets share similar characteristics to other members of the group. They have a svelte body structure with slender, long legs, a lengthy neck, deep chest, and an obvious tucked waist. Although they are slim, these dogs aren't frail, and have a toned physique.
Whippets have a slender head and long snout. Their ears are defined as "rose-shaped," which means they are erect but the ear flaps fold to the sides. The breed holds their slender tail quite low. It's not unusual for a Whippet to hold their tail between their legs -- this isn't always an indication that they are frightened, and may just mean that the tail is in a relaxed position.
The Whippet coat is short and smooth. It comes in several color varieties, including black, fawn, brindle, red, white, silver, blue, or combinations of colors, such as white and black, white and blue, white and fawn, or white and brindle. Various markings are also seen, such as a black mask or white markings.
Whippets are agile and playful dogs with happy demeanors. These dogs can reach top speeds outside, but within the home they tend to be quiet and relaxed. When their exercise requirements are met, they are rather undemanding companions. Although they may be slightly too large to serve as lap dogs, they'll readily lounge on the couch with you for most of the day. Affectionate and loyal, Whippets make great additions to most households.
Whippets are known to be gentle with children and are a great fit for a family lifestyle. However, given their natural tendency to chase prey, these dogs may be inclined to chase moving objects, so they may not do well in a household with cats or small pets. They generally get along well with other dogs if socialized properly.
Whippets are athletic dogs who require quite a bit of physical activity. They need at least 45 to 60 minutes of exercise each day. Plan to take your Whippet for daily walks, runs, hikes, off-leash play, or engage in dog sports to fulfill these needs. If you're hoping to enroll in dog sports with your Whippet, know that these dogs excel in many different areas. Their speed, athleticism, and intelligence allow them to compete in lure coursing, racing sports including rally, agility, flyball, and disc dog, among others.
After this breed has stretched their long legs and burned off extra energy, they'll gladly snooze on the couch for the rest of the day. However, if they aren't properly exercised, they can become destructive within the home.
Early socializing and training are important for every dog, and the Whippet is no different. This breed can be mischievous, which makes obedience training and the recall command so critical. While they're independent and confident, Whippets can also be sensitive, so positive reinforcement is recommended over harsh scolding or punishment. These dogs are very intelligent and should learn cues quickly with consistent and patient training, though they may not be ideal for first-time dog owners.
Whippets are a relatively healthy breed with minimal inherited diseases. Some of the most common conditions seen in members of the breed include:
- Eye conditions: Whippets are at risk for eye problems, such as progressive rental atrophy (PRA) and cataracts.
- Cardiac disease: These dogs are prone to mitral valve disease and congestive heart failure. However, it's possible for athletic breeds like the Whippet to have an innocent heart murmur without any evidence of disease. The prevalence of these innocent murmurs in Whippets is as high as 58 percent.
- Deafness: Some Whippet bloodlines may be prone to genetic deafness. Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing can be performed to evaluate hearing in dogs.
- Hypothyroidism: These dogs may be prone to hypothyroidism, a reduction in thyroid hormone production.
- Anesthesia sensitivity: Sighthounds including the Whippet may be sensitive to certain anesthetic drugs. Veterinarians have special medication protocols for these dogs to make anesthesia as safe as possible.
- Musculoskeletal injuries: With their slender limbs and aptness for speed, Whippets can sustain injuries like broken toes, strained muscles, or lacerations.
The life expectancy of a Whippet is typically 12 to 15 years. However, the oldest known dog of this breed lived to be 21.
Whippets have a very smooth and short coat, but they do shed mildly. Their shedding occurs throughout the year rather than during a specific season. Owners should plan to brush their Whippet at least once each week to remove loose hair. This will also keep their skin stimulated and healthy. You can bathe them once every three months or as needed if they become soiled. Don't forget daily toothbrushing and routine nail trims.
Fun Facts About the Whippet
- The Whippet can run up to 35 miles per hour, which is nearly as fast as the Greyhound's 45 miles per hour.
- A Whippet named Reas was dubbed the Fastest Dog in America in 2021.
- These dogs don't wear sweaters just to be fashionable: Their low body fat means they get cold very easily, so layers are a must.
- Like most Sighthounds, this breed benefits from a wide martingale collar to protect their long neck and avoid slipping out.
- The canine archangel, Annabelle, in the film All Dogs Go to Heaven is a Whippet.
Where to Buy or Adopt a Whippet
Individuals or families ready to bring a Whippet into their home have several places to look for the perfect pup. The American Whippet Club offers prospective owners a breeder directory. In order to be considered for the directory, breeders must be members of the association, uphold their code of ethics, and pay a fee for their listing. There are several regional Whippet clubs around the United States that may also assist with breeder referrals.
The AKC Marketplace also lists available Whippet puppies for purchase. Finding an ethical and responsible breeder is the key to obtaining a healthy puppy that will serve as your companion for many years to come. A well-bred Whippet puppy will cost anywhere from $850 to $1,500 or more.
Alternatively, you may wish to adopt a Whippet in need of a home. Whippet Rescue and Placement (WRAP) is the largest Whippet-specific organization that works to place homeless Whippets. Sighthound rescues also exist that may have available Whippets as well as other members of the Hound Group. These include Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption, Greyhound Friends for Life, and Senior Sighthound Sanctuary.
Is the Whippet the Right Breed for You?
For the family or individual that can dedicate the time for training and exercising the playful Whippet, this breed may be a perfect fit. Prospective owners should complete research to find a responsible breeder. With a powerful, athletic body and lively personality, the Whippet has a combination of many desirable traits.