Whippets, which have been described as “the poor man’s greyhound”, are literally born to race.
The name derives from the obsolete English verb “whippet”, which by definition means to “move briskly”.
Whippets are sleep and aerodynamic, with a classic sighthound build – typically 25 – 40lbs of a lean, muscular frame with a deep chest, trim waist and a long arched neck.
Along with very little body fat, a healthy whippet has slim but sturdy legs, all attributes that make it a fleet-footed athlete.
Additionally, whippets were bred to compete and go for the prize, making them excellent racing dogs when they try to reach a goal ahead of their other participants.
So, are whippets good racing dogs? Let’s find out…
What Is A Racing Dog?
Dog racing in modern times is mostly synonymous with greyhound racing, though other breeds such as whippets also participate in approved races under various associations around the world.
A racing dog is one that has learned “coursing”, a medieval term for a sport that grew out over the ability of a dog to hunt by sight rather than by scent – a mechanical lure is often employed to give the dogs a target to chase.
So, a good racing dog will have a great burst of speed out the gate and is able to view a target by sight and try to outrun its competitors on the track without getting distracted.
Whippets Were Bred For Sprinting
Whippets were originally bred in 17th century England as a cheaper alternative to the greyhound, by cross-breeding them with terriers or cocker spaniels.
The first mention of the breed dates back to 1610.
There were two predominant breeds – the one common in the Midlands region of Old England, which includes the Lancashire and Yorkshire areas, has mostly contributed to the modern Whippet breed.
Whippets were bred to chase small prey at high speeds during a hunt, a classic sighthound activity.
The preys, such as hare, rabbits and squirrels, would typically burst out of a hiding spot and lope away at high speeds, the whippets thus needing to break into a sprint very quickly, catch the prey if possible and come to a rest. This characteristic has carried over to racing.
How Fast Can Whippets Run?
As described above, whippets were bred for short, intent bursts.
The modern-day whippet with a good breeding line is the fastest dog among all breeds of their race.
They literally burst out of the gate and can reach their top speeds of up to 35 miles per hour within a matter of seconds.
Are Whippets Used For Racing?
Whippets were taught to race from their very origins since they were bred as sighthounds – they could hunt prey at high speeds over open grounds, after starting from a standstill.
Whippets gained popularity as racing dogs in the 19th century especially among poorer sections of society who could not afford the breeding and upkeep of purebred greyhounds.
At first, they were “ragging”, that is, sprinting towards their owner(s) who were holding a rag at the finish line to attract their dog’s attention.
Over time, as the races became more widespread and structured, especially around Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Whippets were separated into classes – ones that chased hares, others that chased rabbits, and yet others who graduated from “ragging” to coursing, which essentially meant chasing a mechanical lure to the finish line.
As whippets began to be known as good racing dogs, they were exported elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, the UK and Australia.
There were many instances when crossbreeds with whippets began to be passed off as pure bloodlines as the sport grew in popularity.
Various associations began to certify whippets as a separate breed, specifying bloodlines for racing purposes, in the 20th century.
Currently, the US allows both Straight Races and Oval Races.
Straight races are administered under the auspices of the Whippet Racing Association (WRA) and the Continental Racing Association (CRA).
Whippets must show a bloodline approved by either the American Kennel Club (AKC) or Canadian Kennel Association.
So to answer your question of are whippets good racing dogs? Yes, whippets are excellent racing dogs thanks to their muscular build and whippets are definitely used as racing dogs.
The main difference between whippet and greyhound racing is that the former races are usually run for prestige and ribbons, without the cash prizes and wagering that is common in the latter.
What Makes Whippets Good Racing Dogs?
We have already answered this question from a bloodline standpoint. Whippets were born to run – they were also known as a “poor man’s racehorse” in Medieval England.
Their sleek, aerodynamic bodies, abilities to follow a lure (course) and lightning-fast speed that they can turn on at the drop of a hat make them naturals for racing.
Their high energy in short bursts and intense competitive ability makes them want to get to their goals faster.
In short, they have the genes and breeding to be a dedicated courser and racer.
In order to hone your whippet’s skills, you can enrol them in training and certification courses offered by the American Sighthound Association or the AKC.
Such a certificate allows them to run in Open competitions. Many owners will take their whippets for coursing training as a precursor to such a step.
If the dog is talented enough, an international body like an FCI can be approached to obtain a racing or coursing license for your whippet.
It is advisable to wait until your whippet is of age. Whippet puppies are high energy and can often get distracted or run into trouble.
Waiting till they are 10-12 months old is appropriate to start coursing and other training.
If they are good enough, you may want to wait till they are 3-4 years old before entering them into a series of strenuous Open races.
By then, their limbs, sinews and ligaments will have developed enough to withstand the rigours of racing.
Whippets are not only a delightful companion to have around, but they are bred to course and race.
They need some training, of course, which can be beneficial in many ways.
Whippets get bored and destructive unless they exercise vigorously a couple of times a day.
So, take your dog out for coursing, it will wear them out in a good way.
Along the road to learning how to race, you will have a contented pet who cuddles up in its spare time with no destructive behaviour – a classic win-win proposition!
Hopefully you now have a clear anwer to your question “are whippets good racing dogs?”, and have learned a thing or two in this post about this wonderful breed.