Before we got Rigby, I did (an excessive amount of) breed research. As a first-time dog owner, I wanted to be sure that I didn’t over-commit with a breed that was high energy, overly stubborn, or dog aggressive.
I finally landed on whippets, and I’ll admit it: at first, I hesitated. I thought they looked like skinny aliens.
Now, I’m hard-pressed to recommend any other breed! Here’s why:
Whippets are a great beginner breed. Many people assume whippets are high-energy, but they’re secretly couch potatoes! All it takes is a few good off-lead sprints to get Rigby good and tired. Combine that with a couple of daily walks and brain-games, and she does fine in our small apartment.
Like most sighthounds, whippets can be independent, but their background makes them more biddable than their fellow pointy-snoots. Rigby responds especially well to clicker training (though she’ll move to the carpet if I ask her to “sit” on hardwood).
One of the best things about this breed is their general health and structure. Whippets avoid the breathing issues of brachycephalic (squishy-nose) breeds, the ear infections of many scenthounds, and the skin issues of wrinkly dogs.
They aren’t prone to the hip dysplasia that plagues heavier breeds, either, or the patellar luxation common in toy breeds.
Genetic eye defects and cardiac disease have been noted in whippets, so reputable breeders will always test their dogs for these issues to keep them at bay.
Whippets are just the right size — not too big, not too small. At 26lbs, Rigby is pretty tiny for an American whippet (some of her friends are closer to 45lbs!)
We can carry her when needed, we spend less money on food, and we’re less worried about size restrictions set by some apartments and hotels. On the other hand, she can hold her own in the “big dog” side of the park and keep up on longer hikes.
This breed is super easy when it comes to grooming. No drool to worry about, no wrinkles to clean, no hair to trim or mat. Whippets have short, single coats, which means less shedding (with no undercoat to blow) and little to no brushing required.
Like all dogs, they do need to have their teeth brushed and nails trimmed regularly. I only have anecdotal evidence to support this, but whippet nails grow FAST, so be prepared!
Of course, every breed has its drawbacks. Whippets were bred to chase and hunt small game, which means two things:
- Iffy recall. Whippets generally can’t be trusted off-leash like a retriever; once they’re in a sprint, there’s no snapping them out of it. We only let Rigby off-lead in fully fenced areas, or in remote places far from any roads.
- Prey drive. While some whippets can form bonds with small animals if raised alongside them, most will not distinguish between a squirrel, a stray cat, or your pet guinea pig — they’re all things that must be killed!
If you don’t like the idea of pets on the furniture, or will be embarrassed putting a sweater on your dog, whippets probably aren’t for you, either. Rigby is attracted to warmth and soft surfaces like a moth to flame.
Whippet puppies are also notoriously destructive little sharks, but then again, so are most puppies. There’s a reason they’re so cute!
Where do whippets come from?
The origin of the whippet, like most breeds, is murky. One theory traces back to the Middle Ages, when English nobility used greyhounds to hunt stags. Dogs that were too small for the task were returned to their peasant breeders, who bred them to each other. The resulting dogs were excellent at snapping up rats, rabbits, and hares.
By the 1800s, smaller sighthounds crossed with terriers had become popular among the working class, and the whippet as we know it was born. In “snap-dog coursing,” owners gambled on whose dog could kill the most rabbits in an enclosure. Eventually, the live rabbits were replaced by fluttering rags, and speedy whippets raced each other down alleyways.
In 1891, the “poor man’s racehorse” was officially recognized as its own breed.
What do whippets do today?
Unlike greyhounds, whippets are not involved in commercial dog racing. While some are still used for hunting and ratting, many others compete in recreational dog sports.
In lure coursing, a mechanical lure is dragged around a series of pulleys, mimicking the unpredictability of live game. Oval and straight track racing remove the sharp turns, so dogs can reach maximum speed.
Whippets are also becoming more common in agility, flyball, and other dog sports!
How fast are they?
Whippets can reach speeds of about 35mph. They’re the fastest domesticated animal of their weight, and the fastest accelerating land animal in the world!
They can claim this title because of their slim builds, deep chests, flexible spines, and most importantly, their gait. When whippets run, they are fully airborne at two separate points — this is called a double-suspension gallop, and it’s amazing to watch!
What are the pros and cons of your favorite breed? Would you recommend them for a first-time owner? Share in the comments below!