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The Whippet

Whippet in Lure Coursing.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, August 2020 issue.


The Whippet

It is an exciting time to be a Whippet fancier. The breed is enjoying unprecedented success and popularity in so many areas of competition. As breeders we have always emphasized the versatility of the Whippet, and labeled it a well-kept secret. Now, for better or worse, the secret is out, and Whippets are setting records at the highest levels in the show ring, and dog sports as varied as agility, dock diving, flyball, lure coursing, and barn hunt, not to mention Whippet racing, which is actually the breed’s original purpose and forte. The Whippet, not the Greyhound, was the original breed of dog designed to compete on the racetrack, as well as serving other purposes in his humble history.

The origin of the Whippet remains somewhat debatable. Clearly there were medium-sized sighthound type companions and hunting dogs portrayed in early Roman sculpture and artwork. The ancient Greeks depicted small Greyhound type dogs on pottery and sculpture as well. And, of course, there are many early tapestries that show hunting dogs of a Greyhound style, many larger, but some smaller, in their coursing and hunting scenes. All of these throw the original descendants of the breed into question.

It is ironic that the Whippet as he is regarded today has a reputation as a cultured companion, because the origin of the breed in its modern incarnation was extremely humble and that of the lower and working classes of British society. There is no doubt that this smaller racing dog and all-purpose utility dog was established with the miners of the northern counties of England. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, a quick and hardy, smallish and streamlined hound was prized by the colliers and was considered the “poor man’s racehorse.” J. Wentworth Day, in his volume The Dog In Sport (1938) writes, “They were bred originally for rabbit coursing, and it is generally reckoned that the bitches are faster than the dogs. To-day no miner in the North of England considers himself properly equipped if he is not the owner or part-owner of a Whippet. Apart from rabbit coursing in the open, a great deal of Whippet-racing goes on in industrial and mining districts, and in a good many country villages all over England. Racing is generally known as ‘straight running.’ The dogs race down a series of lanes or tracks divided from one another by string. The ‘lure’ is a handkerchief or colored rag which the owner waves frantically at the end of the track.

©Lorie Crain

The truth is that Whippets—not Greyhounds—were the original racing dogs, and the weekend race meetings were a means by which the often impoverished citizens of Northumberland and Durham could add a few shillings to the family coffers. In addition, the dogs served a useful purpose in poaching rabbits for the stewpot, and ridding the pantry of vermin. A versatile and accomplished Whippet was an important part of the collier’s family and enjoyed his prized role serving as household companion and excellent foot warmer in addition to his other duties.

These duties required an efficient dog of great speed, quickness, and sprinting ability. There is no doubt that some terrier blood is part of the Whippet’s development, which added gameness and courage. He hunted more closely to his master than any other sighthound. To hunt far afield would have been a likely death sentence for both the poacher and his dog. Thus, we have a dog that was bred for at least two centuries to be an efficient small game and sometimes vermin killer, an incomparable sprinter, and one that is affectionate and utterly devoted to his human family.

©Craig Jefferds

This dichotomy of character is one of the most appealing aspects of the breed, and all good breeders of Whippets share a great admiration for his versatility, and they breed to preserve all of these desirable traits. As breeders, we consider it vital to respect the origin and purpose of this elegant, sound, and especially athletic hound.

The Whippet Standard does an excellent job of describing the essentials of the breed. The American Whippet Club also has an Illustrated Standard, available on the AWC website, which can help aspiring judges to grasp and understand these priorities. Around the world the Whippet Standard may have some variation, but the “non-negotiable” aspects of the breed, that of a medium-sized, very fit, elegant athlete, with smooth yet muscular curves, and low but not exaggerated side gait, are universal.

Submitted by Donna Lynch

To further expand upon the Standard and to provide some insight to aspiring judges, I have compiled some commentary from a number of Whippet breeder-judges. Their responses are both illuminating and consistent, and I suggest that anyone who judges the breed, or wishes to judge the breed, take these comments to heart. All of the judges I have requested commentary from have enjoyed great success not only in conformation, but also in many of the performance events that Whippets compete in: racing, coursing, agility, obedience, rally, barn hunt, dock diving, and others. Their experience in the breed cumulatively totals more than 250 years, and they are all AWC approved mentors.

The list includes:

  • Mary Beth Arthur (Marial)
  • Gail Boyd (Ableaim)
  • Lisa Costello, Tracy Hite (Tivio)
  • va Kimmelman (Merci Isle)
  • Donna Lynch (Hamrya)
  • David Samuelson (Dashing)
  • Cindy Scott (Brookwood)
  • Harold “Red” Tatro (Redglen)
  • Denise Tatro (Redglen)

Here Are Some of Their Comments With Regard to Judging the Whippet:

1. Do you think that the Standard adequately describes the Whippet?

“I think our General Appearance section says it all. I refer to it first when someone I am mentoring asks me about Whippets.”

“Yes. It defines the key characteristics, medium size, elegant and fit…a graceful outline balanced with muscle, powerful gait and elegance is the Whippet. The best line: ‘all forms of exaggeration should be avoided.’”

“When educating judges or judging the breed myself, the general appearance of the Whippet Standard is always at the top of my mind. Great thought is given to the three main considerations:

‘Symmetry of outline, muscular development and powerful gait are the main considerations; the dog being built for speed and work, all forms of exaggeration should be avoided.’”

“Since the publication of our Illustrated Standard, I have heard many compliments from non-Whippet people that it is outstanding and I agree. It really spells out what a Whippet should be.”

Submitted by David Samuelson

2. Would you add anything to the Standard?

“In my opinion, I think it’s fine as it currently reads…I do wish there was an easy way to drive home the phrase, ‘form follows function.’”

“I would address the correct head shape and eye. I would change words. I do not like the wording about ‘barely perceptible stop.’ This has allowed for fill between the eyes and some almost downfaced Whippets to be viewed as correct.”

Submitted by Iva Kimmelman

3. Please comment on your priorities when judging.

“My priorities while judging/breeding for our breed is foremost: type, shape, and balance. Athletes! Our Standard describes a ‘medium-sized athlete.’ I then look at conformation and structure. All of these aspects will lead to whether or not the dog is sound and how he will carry himself on the move. While moving, I want to see the shape of the dog to remain present with a correct topline. The side gait should be easy, without big effort, showing reach and drive. The head is the last thing I consider…I do love a beautiful expression and face with a long strong neck, but barring any faults, I will not put a pretty face over a better dog. And color is immaterial. No preference to color or markings. My priorities: Shape/Type, Balance, Athleticism, Soundness.”

“I prioritize traits that make the breed a beautiful athlete. My ideal has its parts fitting together in a harmonious way, not looking like they were put together by a committee. My ideal has a smooth outline in profile, from above, and from head on. It has a flexible topline that does not drop off steeply or have an accentuated arch. There is depth of body with a pronounced curve of underline, a fit body with adequate length of loin; broad thighs in profile that carry down the second thigh; true moving down and back with low, effortless and balanced side gait, but not TRAD.” [ed. Note: TRAD = “tremendous reach and drive.”]

“First look is for correct outline as without this the dog is not a good Whippet. Then I look for overall fitness and athleticism…overweight, soft and flabby is the only thing I have ever withheld a ribbon for! Movement is easy to assess as there is no coat…but there may be color and markings that create illusions. Soundness with reach and drive that is not overdone is what I want. Finally, I look for the ‘icing’ features: a good head, nicely made with a strong underjaw; large forward-placed eyes (dark eyes are pleasant, but one must learn about eye color of the dilutes as well); a broader backskull and a nicely-set, crisp rose ear. I also want a good, sound foot as this is a running hound and foundation is critical. Thus overly long or splayed, flat toes (or conversely) a very small cat foot is not desirable. Since ‘all forms of exaggeration should be avoided,’ I desire a foot in between a cat foot and a hare foot. One feature I ‘split hairs’ with is tail carriage on the move. Whippets with higher tailsets will often carry their tail too high, breaking the horizontal plane of the topline—this distorts the outline that I desire in a Whippet.”

“For me, my priorities when judging the Whippet is shape, which includes topline and bottom line, continual flow from a well arched neck, smooth neck into shoulder, a flexible loin, and finished off with a powerful rear. Not correct is the one that peaks in the middle of the back and falls off fast. At first glance, the Whippet should impress the judge as an athlete. On the move, wasted motion would alert that there will be a reduction in speed.”

“I look for a moderate package with correct outline/underline, properly conditioned. A Whippet should move effortlessly, without wasted motion. Not always easy to find…”

“Conditioning is very important to me and I carefully evaluate muscle when judging.”

“For me, the Whippet is an athlete first and foremost…when it comes to structure, I look for those traits that will contribute to a functional, running dog. The overall body shape is the essence of the Whippet. Correctly placed curves in both topline and underline allow full body extension and flexion in the double suspension gallop. Muscle width and length through the loin is the ‘engine’ of the running dog. The arch in the topline should be placed over the loin, not in the middle of the back and not over the rump. There should be a gentle slope through the croup, not round, not flat. Too much or too little topline can result in poor extension and/or inefficient stride recovery leading to less speed and agility. Shoulder assembly and how it is attached to the body is also very important. Although we do not have the 90 degree angle desirable in some breeds, there should be moderate angulation, good layback of shoulder and length of upper arm paired with bend of pastern. I also look for moderate rear angulation, not too straight, and especially not excessive (overangulation) which is counterproductive to speed. I look for a strong rear with shorter hocks that can drive from the hip, and a front with reach that extends from the shoulder and not the elbow.”

Submitted by Iva Kimmelman

4. Are there any particular concerns with Whippets today?

“Two things: One, over-angulated hindquarters created by an excessive length of second thigh. A second thigh longer than the upper thigh is a detriment to the Whippet’s speed. Second, the Whippet’s underline is just as important as the topline. In profile, the deep brisket should extend back from the elbow, then curve upward to the tuckup.”

“In comparison to many breeds, I feel our breed is in pretty good shape. I guess my biggest concern for our breed would be shape: we are getting a lot of long bodied dogs with short legs. This is not conducive to what they are made for and what the basis of our breed is.”

“I think like all breeds, the fronts on Whippets are the area that needs improvement. While we may not have a breed with a 90 degree angle in shoulder, I think we are seeing many upright shoulders and shorter upper arms that restrict the reach of the dog. We don’t see as many over-angulated rears anymore, but there are still some that are sickle-hocked and shuffle in the rear and don’t have the powerful drive the breed should have. Many breeders prefer the longer-bodied Whippets, but those run the risk of being flatter in topline; but they typically have big sidegait which often blinds some judges!”

“Straight pasterns and an overwhelming abundance of flat backs or incorrect toplines (the rise beginning too soon).”

“Unfortunately, we have some of the same issues many breeds do: straight fronts with shorter upper arms; lack of return of upper arm; straight pasterns; and cathedral fronts. We also tend to see longer rears and over-angulation that makes for extended sidegait. While the Standard states powerful gait as a main consideration, this does not mean TRAD, or moving like a GSD. Some lines have tall hocks—this kills rear drive. We also continue to have a color prejudice in the breed (parti-color and white), particularly under all-rounder judges.”

“One thing concerning to me is the number of Whippets I’m seeing with an actual pro-sternum. Understanding the difference in front fill and pro-sternum is important. Front fill comes naturally with well-placed shoulders and return of upper arm, while pro-sternum gives the appearance of heaviness and reduces speed.”

“The heads especially concern me. I am also concerned about loss of body shape as well as extreme side gait. This is what I consider to be the ‘drag of the breed’ right now.”

“Today I think there is too much emphasis on baiting and it drives me crazy! I like to see them as natural as possible and I stress that to other judges.”

5. What is most important for a person wanting to judge Whippets to focus on?

“The General Appearance section should be the start and it is very good…I also encourage attendance at coursing and racing events.”

“Outline and movement, and, in a perfect world, a prospective judge should attend a field trial to truly get a feeling for the importance of the Whippet structure and standard. They need to see how the Whippet utilizes its body (and especially its pasterns) in the field.”

“Too many judges don’t understand the curves or the underline, and that needs to be said over and over.” “I believe those wanting to judge Whippets need to understand that it is not an easy breed to judge. Understanding anatomy—the rise over the loin—requires one to know what and where the loin is. Do not judge on ears, and Whippets should not have TRAD!”

“Learn to see the correct outline of the Whippet both standing and moving. Learn to appreciate the Whippet that is fit and firm both to the touch and when moving. Understand that the U.S. Whippet Standard has a large range in height from top to bottom and all are equally acceptable. We have no preferred height if it’s within the Standard. Forget about the flash and dash of perfectly marked colors, or the dog that stands like a statue with pretty ears up for hours staring at bait!”

“I think some of the hardest things for new judges to understand are the variations they will see in shape and size. I think many judges think Whippets should be small even though our size description and limit hasn’t changed in over 50 years. When mentoring, I am regularly asked whether the longer—or shorter—cast dogs are correct. I then discuss how both can be correct as long as the dogs have balance and shape. Do the dogs move with rhythm and smoothness, and do they maintain shape and hold their topline? The Standard allows square to slightly rectangular, so it can vary. Also, since color is immaterial, the judge should look at a dog from both sides, especially if the markings are random, which may give false impressions.”

“A judge of Whippets should focus on balance, both standing and moving. There should be coordination of action and symmetry of stride between the front and rear when moving. When standing, balance means all the parts appear as one unit, fitting neatly into one another. Remember, a Whippet should not be faulted for being too big or too small if it measures within the breed Standard. Attributes that are detrimental to running ability are to be faulted. The dog should be fit and hard to the touch. Well-conditioned muscles should not be faulted. Well-conditioned muscles will have good development and definition. However, coarseness or excessive bulginess should be faulted.”

“The Whippet is a series of smooth S-curves. As you first approach the dog, step back from the ramp/ground and look with your eyes, from the nose to the tip of the tail. If your eye stops, go back and figure out why. Remember that while color is immaterial, markings can be deceiving. Now put your hands on the dog. Please do not reward a Whippet that is stressed or panting (unless the weather is hot) or one that obviously doesn’t want to be there. You can make some allowance for a puppy, but nervousness is not correct Whippet temperament. Whippets are mostly an ownerhandled breed, so don’t dismiss a good dog that is not stacked well. Many times the dog will transform off the ramp or table. Examine on the ramp/table, but judge on the ground! Please don’t focus on ears. If the dog uses its ears once, that’s sufficient. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. They don’t run on their ears! Color is immaterial—we mean that! You should not care what color they are. A flashy dog might catch your eye, but it is not necessarily the best dog. Don’t get hung upon the ‘chrome’—flashy colors don’t help to catch the prey.”

“For new judges, and especially those coming from non-sighthound breeds, the shape and topline of the Whippet is often difficult to grasp and feel comfortable judging. Shape defines the Whippet, so please reach out to AWC approved mentors or those on the judges committee for help to understand this part of our breed. Remember, the color is immaterial and every dog in your ring should be considered regardless of color and markings. I strongly recommend attending a racing or coursing event so that you can fully appreciate the Whippet as an athlete and understand their intense desire to do what they were bred for. This is a lovely breed to judge and we have a great group of owners and handlers, and the majority of our breed is breeder- and/or owner-handled. Examine details on the table or ramp, but judge on the ground. Remember, you will never see these words in our Standard: ‘dainty, meek, fragile, porcelain statue.’ Please judge the Whippet as the athlete it is meant to be.”

In summary, the Whippet is not an ornamental breed. He is a medium-sized dog of very modest heritage that was developed to serve a functional purpose. He has no other reason for being. His outline is unique to him. He is smooth and curvaceous with an “S” curved topline and complimentary underline, but these curves must be balanced and flowing and muscular. He is, above all, an athlete, a sprinting dog with no equal. His signature make and shape are punctuated by fitness and athletic ability.

If judges would prioritize the features of the breed as described by the experts above and pay much less attention to color, flash and dash, showmanship, baiting, the unnecessary constant use of ears, and racing around the ring, they would go a long way toward understanding what the Whippet is all about, and what we, as preservation breeders, hold so dear.