Whippet Fact #1: The Poor Man’s Racehorse

TheWhippet is a breed of dog from the “sighthound” family, which also includes the Greyhound, the Italian Greyhound, the Afghan Hound, the Borzoi, the Saluki and a few other breeds. What all sighthounds have in common is their physical appearance (long legs and head, thin frame, deep chest), but also their keen sense of sight, which enables them to spot and not lose sight of fast-moving prey. This, combined with their amazing speed and agility, makes sighthounds remarkable and versatile hunters.

 It is a proven fact that sighthounds go back as far as 6000 years. Images of greyhound-type dogs have been found depicted on ancient Egyptian tombs, vases and other artefacts dug up during archaeological explorations.

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The Whippet breed, however, is a lot more recent. The 1600s are often quoted as the period when the term ‘whippet’ was first used, and the 19th century is widely considered the ‘official’ beginning of the breed, with whippets being developed and bread for hare/rabbit hunting.

It’s origin is linked to Northern England and the mining industry. It is said that the miners, who loved racing and gambling but could not afford either horses or greyhounds, took it upon themselves to develop a new breed of dog that would become their own mini-racehorse.

There are three most popular theories about how whippets were developed. One argues that whippets came from breeding ‘runt’, smaller greyhounds repeatedly until smaller dogs were consistently obtained. The second theory promotes the idea that whippets came from crossing greyhounds with spaniels, whilst the third theory argues that they were born from Italian greyhounds (the smallest of the sighthounds) crossed with terriers.

As far as I know, the debate about which of these theories is true is still open, but I tend to favour the latter. This would explain the many similarities in temperament between George and his best buddy Ishoo (a Yorkshire Terrier), or between him and our next door neighbour’s Jack Russell. There is even a physical resemblance between Whippets and Jack Russell terriers, especially in their facial expression, which explains why my eyes are always drawn to the “Beware of the Jack Russell” sign for sale at the pet shop.

Although originally a cross-breed, Whippets have been recognised in the UK as a proper breed for a very long time. It all started with the very
first UK Whippet Champion, Zuber (born 1889). Pretty much every English purebred whippet can be traced back to him, which is why he is considered the father of the modern Whippet breed. With the help of the very well documented Whippet Archives (and a lot of patience), I was able to check my little George’s genealogy and was pleasantly surprised to find that he, too, is a descendant of the famous Zuber.

Whatever the original mix that’s running through their veins, whippets are beautiful creatures of many uses and skills, and I hope you will
enjoy discovering some of them in my next Whippet Fact posts.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Whippet Fact #1: The Poor Man’s Racehorse

  1. Zuber sounds like he was quite the stud! It’s cool that you took the time to research George’s connection to him. And for a recently “new” breed, whippets have still been around for a long time. This is interesting stuff, Didi, thanks for pulling it together for us.

    • I would have loved to see what Zuber looked like, but there don’t seem to be any photos of him…Shame, really. Thanks for your nice comment, I’m very pleased that you found the post interesting. I hope you’ll like the future ones, too 🙂

  2. Thank you for this info Didi. Dated back to 6000years!! wow.
    Isn’t terrier is the kind of dog with lots of fur? how come it becomes the hairless whippet,if based on third theory. Or I was wrong about terrier?

  3. I LOVE this! I’m hoping to have a PhD in Whippetology by the time this series is through! Should I call you Professor Didi? Or maybe Whippet Woman? Loved the little tidbit about Salukis, too, since there’s a football team – the Southern Illinois University Salukis, PLUS since the Salukis were around so long ago one of my dark horse theories for years has been that the controversial “Set” animal head is really a Saluki with its ears extended. .

    • 😀 😀 Phew, I’m glad I passed the first test! ‘Professor’ is too much, I think, I’m still a learner myself. I do like ‘Whippet Woman’, though…It’s not only cool, but it also matches my husband’s nickname that our dog-walking friends use, which is ‘the Whippet man’ (it’s true, I swear). 🙂
      I love Salukis, too. They’re lovely dogs, just a bit too tall for us (we can’t fit anything bigger than a whippet in our house). In the absence of a Whippet football team, it looks like the Illinois Salukis are my new favourites. I hope they win every game 😉
      I’m so happy you picked up on the ancient Egypt reference. You might not believe this, but I’ve got pretty much the same theory about the god Set. I almost mentioned it in the post, but then I wasn’t confident enough (as you know, the ‘jackal’ theory is by far more popular)…I do, however, like to think that’s a sighthound’s head he’s got on his shoulders 🙂

      • That is such a cool coincidence that we both thought Set’s head might really be a Saluki!

        Plus I wanted to say thanks! I’m thanking all of you whose feedback I respect for a new milestone. For October 8th I hit a new Single- Day high for hits at 12,577. This replaces my previous Single- Day high of 2,336 on a day in early January of this year.

        So thank you for reading and for offering feedback that helps me attract readers.

      • Cool concidence, indeed. Not surprising, though, you know what they say, great minds think alike 😉
        I’ve already said how impressed I am with how your blog is rocketing up the rankings. Well done, Ed.

  4. That’s really interesting, Didi. I had no idea Whippets are ‘that’ recent! And I was sure they’d be descended from small Greyhounds. Interesting about the terrier connection. I love terriers:) Looking forward to the next installment!

  5. I can most definitely see Jack Russell Terrier resemblances in your blog banner of George, which showcases his facial features. I can almost imagine a Jack Russell Terrier body attached to George’s head, as well! What a great history lesson—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait to share it with Whippet owners that we meet in Singapore (I’m going to keep this link handy) 😀

  6. Hi Didi, What a thorough and well-written post! How did you learn all of this about Whippets?

    The parts I liked most were your personal thoughts — such as when you shared which theories you preferred. 🙂

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    • Thanks, Melissa, you’re always so supportive. I don’t really know a lot about whippets, there’s so much more to learn. I guess one can never say they’ve learnt enough.
      If you liked this more factual post, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest, because they’re all going to be a lot more personal 🙂

  7. If you suspect that whippets share some terrier blood, i wonder if you’ll be sharing more specifics about George that remind you of terriers. And is he very prey oriented?

    Looking forward to learning more.

    • That is a very good suggestion, Pamela, and I’ll definitely add it to my list of future posts about whippets. Thank you.
      Whippets are, generally, very prey oriented. They are, after all, hunting dogs. However, I’d like to think we’ve curved George’s prey instinct to some extent, enough to ensure that he’s not out of control. When you live in the city, you can’t have your dog running off and chasing everything that moves like a raving lunatic!

  8. Kas

    This is awesome! Now I can test my whippet friends and see if they know about their quite historical breed. And too neat about Zuber being George’s great great .. grandad — he is royalty, after all! 🙂

  9. Very nice post Didi. It is nice to have someone like you to give us a lesson on Whippettry (sorry, I made that word up). It is so nice to know where Sia’s mom came from.

    • It will be interesting to see what you make of my next posts and how you can relate my ‘facts’ to Sia. I’d love to know how much of the whippet genes she’s retained 🙂

  10. I’ve always heard the terrier version of how whippets came to be. The others were new to me, but interesting possibilities. 🙂

  11. Sam

    You know, this post reminded me of a movie I saw years ago where the miners were looked down on for racing whippets, but they were super proud of their dogs. It’s going to bug me all day until I remember that movie!

    Sam

    • Yep, whippets seem to still be looked down by certain people, but the general perception has been changing. I don’t know if they’ll ever become the fashion (like chihuahua, for example), but who cares about that. You either love them or you don’t. I’d love to know what that film was called. Please, please remember! 🙂

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