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.
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.