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Breed of the Week: Whippet


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This week’s Breed of the Week is a dog that often gets confused with another breed entirely. We’re talking about the Whippet, which at a glance, is frequently thought to be a Greyhound. But this dog is an entirely different, if closely related, breed that has its own unique charms. You can consider the Whippet to be the miniaturized version of the Greyhound, though that is still not entirely accurate. These dogs are not the same as a Toy Poodle would be to a Standard Poodle; but it’s an easy way to help you remember which is which.

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Today’s Breed of the Week is, as usual, brought to you because of a dog that Janice, Leroy, and I met at the dog park. Last week during our regular visit, we ran into a small Whippet named Cadence, who was being trained to compete in lure coursing events. Naturally I had to ask the owner about the events, and that led to talking about Cadence herself. Whippets are uniquely suited for those sorts of agility and speed competitions, due to their size and athletic prowess. As I learned, that prowess has actually led to some frustration for her owner – but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s dive into what makes the Whippet so special, and you’ll find out why having such an athletic dog could be an issue.


The Whippet’s breeding history is why we know these dogs aren’t actually mini Greyhounds. While they come from the same ancestors, these dogs were not bred directly from Greyhounds. Instead, they were created by crossing various game terrier breeds, especially the Manchester Terrier, similar to the way the Greyhound was. There was certainly some cross breeding with small Greyhounds as well, but canine historians don’t attribute this breed to the Greyhound’s influence. Other breeds with similar breeding history include the Pharaoh Hound and the Saluki.

Whippets were originally bred by working-class men in England who wanted a fast dog to put in rat-catching and rabbit-catching competitions. The men would bet on how many of each rodent the dog could kill in a specific amount of time. Eventually this turned into plain racing events, and the dogs were brought to New England. In America, the Whippet was called the “Poor Man’s Greyhound”, and raced exclusively.

It wasn’t until 1888 that the Whippet was recognized by the AKC, and they still aren’t the most popular dog breed out there. Whippets fall somewhere in the middle of the list as far as breed popularity, so they aren’t exactly rare either. But even if you live in a dog-friendly area, you aren’t likely to see many Whippets unless racing is popular in your area, making a meeting with one exciting!


Whippets are medium-sized dogs that stand between 18 and 22 inches, and weigh between 25 and 40 pounds. These dogs have very streamlined, athletic bodies that carry no extra weight anywhere. Their legs and bodies are lean, and their heads are tapered to thin muzzles. They have very alert expressions with small ears that tend to stay folded back onto the head – again showing off that aerodynamic style that sets these dogs apart. They have long, thin tails that tend to stay tucked between the back legs when at rest.

The Whippet coat is short and smooth, and can come in a huge range of colors and markings. The AKC recognizes 18 colors and six marking patterns for this dog, including: black, blue, blue fawn, blue brindle, cream, fawn brindle, fawn, red brindle, white, red, white and blue, white and black, white and blue brindle, white and fawn, white and blue fawn, white and red, white and fawn brindle, and white and red brindle. Additionally, they may have markings such as a mask, water markings, white markings, and any combination thereof.


When I tell you that the Whippet is a very calm, yet affectionate dog, you may have a hard time understanding why my story opened with an owner who was a little frustrated with her Whippet, Cadence. It’s true that these dogs tend to be very relaxed. Much like the Greyhound, they actually prefer to be couch potatoes when they aren’t getting their exercise. Sometimes Whippets can be a little bit shy, but they all tend to have very sweet dispositions. A gentle nudge to get your attention so you’ll pet them will be a common occurrence if you live with a Whippet. They also tend to be quiet, and very clean.

However, here’s the other side: Whippets have very strong prey drives and they love to run when it’s time for exercise. This means that they tend to be very hard to train out of running off if something catches their eye. Additionally, although Whippets mature into this docile, easy-going dog that I described above, their puppy years are often a lot more active. If you get a Whippet very young, expect the first three years of their life to be full of running, digging, barking, chewing, and all done at super speed. These dogs tend to be easy to train, thankfully, but it won’t come naturally to them until they grow up.

Whippets can also be mischievous if they are comfortable in a house. They’ll open up drawers and cabinets, seek out hidden corners, and generally get into things without consistent training. They are great jumpers, so a fence around your yard may not be enough to stop them from going off after a cat or a rabbit if they are curious enough. Whippets are sight hounds, meaning they’ll be able to see prey at very long distances – so you may not even know why your dog has suddenly jumped the fence and taken off.

None of that necessarily makes the Whippet a bad dog. After all, they live for about 15 years. Get through those first three and you’ll have a fantastic companion for for many more years. Additionally, it helps if you can give this dog something to channel his energy into. That’s why Cadence was training for lure coursing events – to help her get her fill of running and chasing so that she would be more receptive when it was time to learn to stay in the fence at home.

One reason that Whippets must be contained is that they are often described as lacking “street smarts”. These dogs have never had a need to develop survival savvy, as they’ve always been pampered racing pooches and companions. When they run off away from the house, their goal will be to catch the prey or chase it. They may not understand, or they may ignore, any instinct that tells them they’ve gone too far or are in danger. This is why a good fence is essential for caring for a Whippet.

Care and Grooming

Whippets are very easy to groom. Because their coats are short and flat, they don’t need much. A rubber dog mitt like pet glove brush by PETSWI will keep any loose hairs from falling onto your furniture. Whippets are generally very clean dogs, so they don’t often need baths.


Using a nail clipper or grinder to keep their nails short will prevent injuries when they run. This is a good idea because Whippet nails are prone to cracking. Additionally, handling your dog’s feet on a regular basis ensures that it’s much easier to take them to a groomer or the vet should anything ever need examining.

Dental care is important in all dogs, and Whippets are no exception. Brush your dog’s teeth with a canine-safe toothpaste and toothbrush about once per week to keep them healthy. Dental issues can cause health issues throughout the entire body, so this is an important grooming habit to keep.


Whippets don’t tend to need any sort of special diet. Feed them a high-quality dog food following the recommended serving according to your vet. If your Whippet is very active (for example, if she competes in lure coursing events), she made need more calories than a more sedate dog. Remember that these dogs have naturally lean bodies, so don’t think that they are starving if they appear thin. Your vet can tell you whether your Whippet is getting enough calories.


Exercise is key to keeping a Whippet happy, but you’d be surprised how little you need compared to other highly athletic dogs. A daily play session that involves some sort of vigorous activity, such as fetching a disc, or a puppy play date in a safely fenced-in area, will be all your Whippet really needs. Walks are also good, but these dogs were bred for quick bursts of speed, not endurance, so letting them get out their excitement in short-but-intense sessions is more natural for them.

It’s important to note that if you are walking your Whippet in an unfenced area, you should always keep them on a leash. Even if you are confident that your Whippet will stay by your side, this breed is notorious for forgetting themselves and running off if they see something enticing.


Overall, Whippets tend to be healthy and robust dogs who don’t experience a lot of health problems. Like all purebred dogs, Whippets do have a few health concerns that the breed can experience more than others. These include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Corneal dystrophy
  • Congenital deafness
  • Retinal atrophy

Deafness is one of the main concerns for Whippets, because it can lead to a variety of behavioral issues. If buying from a breeder, be sure that the breeder has screened the parents and the puppies for markers of congenital deafness. You should also be aware that because of their low fat ratios, Whippets can be sensitive to anesthesia. If you intend to spay or neuter your Whippet, be sure that the vet has experience performing surgery on this breed.

Finally, Whippets can become obese very easily. This may be because owners see the slim bodies and fear that their dog looks too skinny, and then overfeed them. Follow recommended serving sizes and watch out for high-calorie treats.

Kids and Other Pets

Whippets prefer being part of a pack, so they will get along very well with other dogs. They have also been known to befriend cats if you have them in your household. Be aware that due to their instinctual prey drive, Whippets may not be the best dog to pair with a free-roaming rabbit or other small rodent pets.

With children, Whippets tend to be a product of their training. Most Whippets prefer to claim one person, and tolerate other people. They may not be very patient with young children who poke or pull. And a deaf Whippet should always be carefully observed around children, because they can spook easily. That being said, if a Whippet is socialized and trained properly, they can be sweet and affectionate with children as well. The best policy is to only pair a Whippet with a calm, mature child who understands boundaries, and to always supervise their playtime.

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The Final Word

The reason that Cadence’s owner was so frustrated was due to Cadence running off every chance she got. She was a very young dog, not quite two, and she still had all that young Whippet energy. But the owner was doing the right thing by helping Cadence channel her energy into lure coursing, rather than punishing her for acting out. I love seeing people who really give their dogs an answer, rather than just forcing them to ignore their instincts. With time, I think Cadence is going to turn into a lovely dog.

Most Whippets will make amazing pets due to their calm natures and affectionate snuggliness. They are perfect for people living alone who have time to get out for some fun exercise every day. They can work for calm families as well, especially if you’re willing to devote the time to training them properly. In my experience, Whippet owners become Whippet lovers very quickly, and almost never go back to any other breed again. There must be something special about these dogs!


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