The sweet-faced, calm and friendly Whippet has become one of America’s favourite dogs.
They have been described as a smaller Greyhound. Standing less than two feet at the shoulder, Whippets have the “inverted S” lines of the sighthound.
A deep chest, trim waist, a lean head sitting on a long, arched neck – it’s a classic look packed within 20-42 lbs. of muscle and sinew.
The streamlining of the body, along with its slim but sturdy legs, complete the picture of an agile, fleet-footed athlete.
Whippets were originally bred in Medieval England as a sighthound – dogs that could hunt by sight by pursuing game in open spaces at high speeds.
The earliest records of English Whippets are found as far back as 1610. Two breeds of Whippets persisted over the next 200 years.
The one popular in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands gained popularity as a racing dog in the 19th century – this was the forebear of the modern Whippet.
As Whippet racing grew in popularity, breeding dogs were exported from England to the rest of the world, including the US.
The latter was a big step since Whippets could now be entered in dog competitions including races.
While Whippets share many characteristics with the Greyhounds, they are a unique breed that are great house pets – provided they get adequate exercise. Read on!
The Speed of Whippets
To understand the sprinting capability of species, it’s important to understand how the Whippet, a cross between the Greyhound and the terrier or spaniel, was bred for racing – more on that under the section on Racing below.
Perhaps their speed can best be summed up by their name itself, the word “whippet” is an obsolete English word from the early 17th century which meant “move briskly” in its verb form.
Whippets have been described as “the poor man’s racehorse”. They are the fastest dog among all breeds of their race – and among the fastest among all canines.
Lightning-fast whippets are capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 miles an hour.
They are generally considered to be the fastest in terms of their ability to accelerate.
All in all, they were bred to race, and as such, you will find your whippet raring to go if you were to get it to stretch its legs.
Can Whippets Run Long Distances?
Whippets are built for short, intense bursts. They are more likely to explode out the gate, and then run out of gas unless they have some form of stamina training.
This poses two problems if you take them running beside you.
First, they will tend to run ahead of you continuously, reach the end of the leash if they are on one, and then circle back impatiently while you struggle to keep up.
This problem may be less if you are biking, but their 35 miles per hour speed is probably far faster than you can go.
Incidentally, this habit of bolting is a problem even when you take your Whippet off for a walk, they will keep going off on wild chases – potentially exposing themselves to risks of injury and certainly causing you some discomfort.
The second problem is endurance, it may be difficult to get a Whippet to persist in running beyond a distance of 2 or 3 miles unless he/she has been endurance trained.
Unless they are well trained, they may simply lose interest and start ambling around aimlessly and sniffing around, waiting for you to slow down as well.
One critical thing to realise is that it may not be a problem of distance per se, but time.
For example, getting a Whippet to run 5 or 6 miles in 30 minutes may be easy if you have the proper track and lure, but once it’s expended its burst of speed and chase, the Whippet will simply tend to give up.
Whippets are Used for Racing
The Whippet’s natural ability to pursue pray, such as hare, over open land soon led to the dogs being able to race if they were sufficiently induced.
Initial Whippet races were known for “ragging” – owners would entice their pets towards themselves by waving a rag at the finish line.
Over time, Whippet races became more structured. Separate races were run for dogs who hunted rabbit, those who hunted hare, those that ragged and then finally ones trained to chase a mechanical lure similar to greyhounds.
As the sport grew, competitions sprung up across England, as well as other British Dominion countries such as Australia.
Whippet racing evolved over the second half of the 20th century through efforts made by the British Whippet Racing Association in 1967 and then the Whippet Club Racing Association a year later.
Standard protocol now is to check bloodlines to ensure that a racer is indeed a Whippet.
Whippet racing looks a lot like Greyhound racing, except that the races are for prestige and standing (i.e. ribbons and titles) and not for gambling or money.
Races include Straight Racing and Oval Racing, which function exactly as their names suggest.
Straight races in the US are run by the Whippet Racing Association (WRA) and the Continental Whippet Association (CWA).
Dogs being entered must have either an AKC or a Canadian Kennel Association (CKC) certification.
If you’re up for it, go ahead. The training hours add up, but your dog will love it.
What Decides How Far My Whippet Will Run?
Whippets are described as gentle, friendly dogs that can easily live in a house. In fact, they tend to sleep 18-20 hours a day on average, giving the appearance of lethargy. But do not be fooled.
Whippets will stay subdued and calm only when they get their exercise, be it in your back yard, the neighbourhood park, a long trail or training to hone their coursing skills.
Left without exercise, Whippets do tend to become antsy and destructive – you have to work them out regularly to get the best out of this normally friendly breed.
As an extension to the above, the distance your Whippet can run will depend on a number of factors – principally, it being mature enough (perhaps 4+ years of age) to be mellow and follow along in your footsteps, and more importantly, having adequate training to build up its stamina and sustain itself over long distances.
Weather conditions may also play a part, Whippets do not take kindly to extreme heat, cold, rain or other adverse weather conditions.
More on the above points are mentioned in the section below.
How Can I Get My Whippet Fit (To Run Long Distances)?
Take your Whippet out for regular walks, then runs, to help build up its endurance. Pay attention to a few things.
First, since puppies tend to be hyperactive, you may want to wait till your dog is a little older, and mellower – remember you are attempting to teach pacing and endurance, as opposed to bolting off for a short chase and then getting completely knackered, as pups are wont to do.
Waiting till they are over 4 years of age will also minimize ligament or tendon problems.
Second, though it may sound counterintuitive, you have to ensure that your Whippet is well coddled.
Carry water with you in warm weather, Whippets do not react well to getting overheated. And if it’s cold out, invest in a dog sweater, your Whippet will love it.
The problem is simple – Whippets were never bred to be a working dog that could brave the elements and continue to perform.
They had one or two specific purposes, hunt prey with flashing short bursts of speed or race.
At other times, they can demonstrate a remarkable lack of energy. So, you will need to be super patient.
Then there is training. Your Whippet has the genes and breeding to be a dedicated courser and racer.
They can be trained to chase lure from a very early age. If you are interested, try to get your dog certified by either the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) or the American Kennel Association (AKC).
These certifications will now enable your Whippet to compete in an Open competition.
If your dog is good enough, and you are interested, to compete internationally, you can obtain a racing or coursing license under a body like the FCI (English translation: World Canine Organisation).
Having your Whippet register and train regularly through the AKA or ASFA and entering them for races under the WRA or CWA will certainly help improve their fitness.
However, since Whippet races are meant to maximise their ability to course and chase lure over short distances, as opposed to building up their endurance for long runs, you may still need to resort to other means to get your Whippet ready for long hauls.
Fitness and endurance are good for your Whippet. Besides the fact that they get bored and destructive if they don’t get adequate exercise, stamina and endurance training would also be good for the lungs.
This may be a critical benefit – given that the only serious disease that affects Whippets is arrhythmia.
That condition improves significantly if your dog takes long walks or runs on a regular basis.
Whippets are lightning-fast, capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 miles an hour with super-fast acceleration.
They were bred to race, and as such, you will find your whippet raring to go if you were to get it to stretch its legs.
However, they tend to lose interest once they expend a burst of energy. If you want your Whippet to go the distance, literally, train them to improve their endurance over a period of time.
The benefits would be far-reaching, not only in terms of you getting a running companion but your dog in terms of their long-term health.