As a breed, whippets possess many common characteristics that should be considered when you’re deciding whether this is the breed for you. Dogs are, after all, not generic, and a whippet is very, very different to live with than a setter or a shepherd. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions about whippets. Dogs, of course, are all individuals and there are exceptions to any rule, but the answers to these questions will give you a good overall impression of a whippet.
No, but whippets trace their oots to greyhounds. The whippet originated in England in the 1800s. Its ancestors probably include the greyhound, the Italian greyhound, and the Bedlington, Manchester, and English White terriers. Whippets were once called snapdogs, because of their ability to snap up and kill rats and hares. They were also referred to as the “poor man’s race horse,” as they were often kept by coal miners who raced them for sport and perhaps used them in poaching small game. These early whippets were often the most valuable thing the working man owned, and they lived in their owners’ houses, sleeping by the fire or curled up in bed with their people. Many were said to be fed better than the miners’ own families. The whippet is 18″ to 22″ at the shoulder, and generally weighs between 25-35 pounds. The coat is short and close, requiring little grooming, but whippets do shed as much as any other dog. Greyhounds are much taller and weigh 60-70 pounds; and the Italian greyhound, a toy breed that also looks much like a whippet, is only 13-15 inches tall at the shoulder.
First of all…close! They may look cat-like and aloof, but most of these dogs are real snugglers. They like being with their people all the time and will want to share your bed as well as the sofa if you’ll allow it. A whippet is not a dog you can expect to lie quietly on the floor at your feet…he’ll be curled up next to you on your chair. They’re sometimes referred to as “Velcro dogs.” With a whippet in the house, you may have more company than you want in the bathroom, and if you go out to the mailbox, you might be greeted just as enthusiastically upon your return as you would be after a two-week absence. This is not the breed for you if you need a little more distance between you and the dog. Occasionally you may encounter an aloof whippet, but that’s not true of most of them. Whippets are playful but gentle dogs. In addition to being one of the most affectionate breeds, whippets are also funny, clever, and playful. They’re mischievous (especially as puppies) and often have their own agendas, which they’ll try to put ahead of yours! As born athletes, they’re capable of leaping onto kitchen counters and “surfing” for snacks, jumping onto chairs and tables to reach things they’d like to play with or eat, and balancing on the back of the sofa to look out the window.
Somewhat, but whippets are more active. Both have lots of prey drive (the instinct to chase and kill fast-moving prey). Both have periods of energetic play and running and then collapse into “couch potato” mode. But a whippet is more liable to follow you from room to room, to jump up on the furniture, and in general, be more active during the day than a greyhound.
If you’re really fussy about your furniture, you might want to consider choosing a different breed. Whippets in good condition have very little natural padding. Hard surfaces are uncomfortable for them, and whippets do love their comfort! Though some people manage to teach their whippets to stay off the furniture, most just give up and allow it. Fortunately most whippets have no doggy odor; however, they do shed, and you might want to get a couch that matches your whippet (or vice versa!).
Shedding and allergic reactions to dogs are not really related. People who are allergic to dogs are sensitive to the dog’s dander, not the fur. All dogs shed except for the hairless, breeds. Some breeds are promoted as hypo-allergenic and they do seem to cause fewer problems than other breeds. These dogs usually have dense, curly coats that keep the dander, as well as the fur, on the dog until it’s brushed out or clipped. Whippets are not considered hypo-allergenic. Since they have short coats, they don’t leave wads of hair around the house, but they definitely shed as much as any other dog. This is usually most noticeable in the spring and fall. If you brush your whippet thoroughly once a week, you’ll minimize the amount of fur you find around the house.
This is not generally a very vocal breed, and some hardly ever bark at all. The most common reason for a whippet to bark is that he has learned that he gets what he wants by barking. There are exceptions, however, and many of them do bark a lot when they’re playing. Also, a whippet left alone too much may well voice his displeasure by barking and whining.
Most bored dogs can be destructive, and whippets are no exception. Adult whippets are no more destructive than any other breed. Whippet puppies are pretty mischievous and
energetic, and because they are extremely agile, they can manage to get in a lot of trouble! A puppy should always be crated when you’re not supervising. He needs toys and lots of things to chew and play with to keep him occupied. Keep in mind that the whippet is more athletic than other breeds…it’s not hard for him to climb or jump out of pens or over puppy gates, even as a pup. So while he may be no more destructive than any other young, unsupervised dog, he is able to reach more trouble than other breeds! Whippets seem to “mellow out” around two years of age and the older ones–five years and up–are exceptionally easy to live with!
Crate training is always a good idea. A crate-trained dog is less upset when left at the vet or kennel and at home, the crate provides a safe place to leave your dog while you’re away. Also, the only really safe place for a dog riding in a car is inside a crate.
Most are crate trained without much trouble. However, the desire to be around people makes some whippets hard to crate successfully; some howl, scream, and moan in their crates even if they were properly crate-trained as puppies. Sometimes this behavior is connected with claustrophobia and/or separation anxiety; sometimes it’s just a spoiled whippet! Many whippets who pitch fits in a crate alone will do fine if paired with another whippet in the same (large) crate for company.
A dog with separation anxiety shows signs of distress when he does not have access to his owner. He will panic when his owner leaves the house for any length of time and sometimes when he is simply put into a room alone with the door closed. He may pant, drool, shiver, scratch frantically at the door, and sometimes destroy household furnishings in his panic. He can even injure himself trying to escape from a crate or the house itself. Separation anxiety is discussed as a breed problem in whippets, but as in many other breeds, it is over-diagnosed. Whippets who are unhappy with their living arrangements tend to let you know about it. We’ve heard about more than one whippet with “severe separation anxiety” who, when placed in a home where he receives more attention, has had “separation anxiety” disappear magically. It’s just not in the breed’s nature to spend lots of time alone and not complain about it. This breed does seem to do better in a two- or multi-dog household. Hounds are pack animals, even more so than other types of dogs, and most whippets like doggy company as well as human company. This is an important point especially if the humans are away during the day.
Most whippets seem to have a natural affinity for kids. These dogs are not nearly as delicate as they appear and are usually excellent with gentle children. As long as a child is old enough to know how to treat him and is taught how to play with dogs, a whippet is a good choice for a child. However, a young child should never be left alone with a dog of any breed. This is important! Interaction between a child and a dog must be closely supervised, for the protection of both. All dogs will bite in some circumstances, and a whippet is no different. Keep children away from dogs who are eating or sleeping. Any dog who is sleeping when a child’s foot lands on his ribcage or tail can bite before he knows what’s going on.
No, whippets are house dogs. They are not psychologically or physically suited to being kept in a yard. They certainly enjoy (and need) a daily romp in the yard or an hour or so spent stretched out in the sun, but you should not plan to leave your whippet in the yard indefinitely. Because of the low percentage of body fat they carry, these dogs have very little natural insulation against the elements. They overheat rather easily and they suffer terribly from the cold. If you don’t plan on keeping your dog in the house, you should choose a dog more suited to outdoor life.
Mostly not. Many whippets are friendly with just about everyone. Most of the other sighthound breeds are rather reserved, but not most whippets. In addition, they are too small to be very useful for actual protection and many will not even warn you of someone at the door. If you need a dog primarily for protection, this is not a good choice.
Whippets were originally bred to course and kill rabbits — small furry prey that runs. Though most whippets are not used for that purpose today, they are still bred with that instinct in mind, and the ones who are coursed and raced are bred specifically for this prey drive. Very few whippets are born without it. Even if your dog is raised with your cat and loves and plays gently with it, if he ever sees the cat running outside, it may not be his beloved Muffy he sees, but prey.
Some owners do keep them together successfully, but if you try, you must never let down your guard. Don’t leave your whippet and the cat loose in the house while
you’re away and be sure they are never outside together. The prey drive instinct is “hard-wired” into these dogs and even the best training cannot be guaranteed to control basic instinct. If you do have a whippet and a cat, we suggest never leaving them alone together unsupervised, and certainly you should never put the two outside at the same time.
A whippet isn’t going to make you famous in the obedience ring, but he is eager to please, and with patience, you can teach a whippet nearly anything! Rough corrections, however, are worse than useless. Hurt your whippet’s feelings or try to force him, and he’ll quit on you in a hurry. You’ll get the best training results with lots of patience, treats, and praise. Whippets are sighthounds, bred to hunt without commands from the hunter. While generally not stubborn, they’re independent and not the easiest breed to train. Don’t let that discourage you: They are very intelligent and all can learn house manners easily, like sit, down, and stay. Some do well with more advanced obedience, including obedience competition. Many excel at lure coursing (chasing a plastic bag pulled by a string) and racing and are also talented in agility and flyball competition.
A whippet’s desire to please and to be clean make him one of the easier breeds to housetrain. Using a crate will make your job much easier. A new home can be stressful at first so even a housetrained adult can make mistakes early on and some males may ‘mark’ (lift a leg on) walls, furniture, etc., indoors. This usually happens only if there are other males
in the household. You should always treat a newly adopted adult as if he were a puppy. Take him out often, praise him for “performing” outside, and crate him when you leave.
Not in most cases. A whippet needs lots of exercise, and this means a free run in a fenced area daily. This is not one of the small breeds that can spend its entire life inside, and he’ll need to get out even in unpleasant weather. Keeping an athletic dog in an apartment means no matter how cold or hot the weather is, no matter how tired or sick you might be, the dog must be exercised several times a day and allowed a free run at least once a day. A whippet without enough exercise can not only get into a lot of mischief, but his muscles will not develop properly.
They don’t require much more exercise than dogs of a similar size, but whippets do need a daily chance to run. A large fenced yard (say at least 100′ long) is fine. If you don’t have that, a small fenced yard will work if you can visit a neighborhood tennis court or other large fenced area three or more times a week. Whippets are usually calm in the house but most have spells of running and leaping about in play a few times a day. These ‘tears’ are rarely destructive; whippets are not given to bodyslamming the bookcase or clearing the coffee table with a sweep of the tail. But if your whippet does not get enough exercise, he can become destructive or hyperactive in the house.
All dogs should be taught to obey, whether on or off a leash. But remember that a whippet is bred to chase. Something (a cat, a squirrel, a child) may catch his eye and he’ll be gone, at up to 35 miles-per-hour. Other breeds that run off will usually come back in no more than a few hours if they don’t get hit by a car. At the speed a whippet runs, he may be miles away by the time he stops chasing and by then, he may be quite lost. Of course all dogs should be taught to COME when called, but very few whippets ever reach 100% reliability, especially when tempted by the prospect of a chase. Again, it’s training versus instinct. A whippet should be either leashed or in a securely fenced yard every time he’s out.
Security is critical. It is amazing how quickly the worst can happen, and the first time a sighthound gets away from you can easily be the last. It’s easy to become casual about it when your whippet is generally obedient and calm. Remember that if he’s okay off-lead 99 times out of 100, that 100th time could be the day you lose your best friend.
Most whippets are not jumpers or climbers, but there are always exceptions. A five-foot fence is usually enough, but if you adopt an adult whippet, be sure to ask whether he has escaped fences before. Some do dig, but it’s not a common problem.
These are not recommended for whippets. Remember prey drive? If your whippet sees something outside his yard that he wants to chase, he’ll run right through the electronic field before he remembers he’ll be shocked by it. Invisible fences also leave dogs vulnerable to attack by loose dogs in the neighborhood. If the only fence you are able to have is an invisible fence, a whippet is not a good choice for you.
Though all breeds have some genetic defects, none have been proven to be a serious problem in whippets thus far. Some isolated incidents of deafness and some genetic eye defects have been reported, but they are rare so far. There is some evidence that heart problems are on the rise in this breed, and there have been a few reports of a bleeding disorder called von Willebrands. Many breeders do test for those problems and screen for eye and hearing disorders.
Whippets are one of the healthiest breeds. They require the same routine care as any dog: trimming toenails, cleaning of ears and teeth, occasional baths. To keep shedding minimal, a light daily brushing is recommended. Dogs must be kept up to date on shots, free of heartworms and fleas, and checked for intestinal parasites regularly.
Unlike the heavily coated breeds, a whippet is not well protected from nicks, scrapes, and tears to the skin. As this breed is very active and athletic, it’s not uncommon for a whippet to require stitches several times in his life to repair accidental wounds.
A special note: Sighthounds are very sensitive to anesthesia and other medications. Partly because of their low percentage of body fat, these dogs are extremely sensitive to some very common drugs; what may seem like a normal dose for a dog of his weight could easily kill a sighthound. Thisis certainly not to say that whippets cannot be safely anesthetized or that they should not take prescribed medicines; just be sure that your vet is aware of sighthounds’ special requirements and that he knows which anesthetics are safe.
In general, an owner who is involved with his dog, who considers his dog part of the family, and who has an easygoing nature himself is happiest with a whippet. This isn’t usually a dog that likes to wrestle and play rough-and-tough games with the boys. A whippet prefers a relatively quiet household. He’s sensitive to human emotions; lots of shouting and door-slamming may make him nervous. He likes to run and enjoys life with a physically active person, but he also loves to snuggle and, as long as his exercise needs are met, does just fine with a largely sedentary lifestyle. Whippets are an excellent choice for people looking to explore various activities with their dogs. They excel at agility, flyball, lure coursing, and straight and oval racing. Due to their affectionate and gentle natures, they are the very best therapy dogs as well as psychiatric service dogs.
Whippets are versatile and adaptable. You find them happy in rural settings and in New York apartments, with large families and single people who live alone. They live in mansions or shacks, go to racing events and shows or stay home on the couch. A whippet is company for a lonely senior citizen or a handicapped child. He goes to Little League games with his family or stays home with a bedridden owner. There’s no one lifestyle that’s right for a whippet.
Whippets are not right for everyone…but they’re the only breed for some! And remember, whippet owners say they’re like potato chips…you can’t have just one!