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The Whippet








For elegance of style, cleanliness of habit, and graceful movement,
few dogs can equal the Whippet, for which reason his popularity as
a companion has increased very greatly within the past decade. No
more affectionate creature is to be found, yet he possesses
considerable determination and pluck, and on occasion will defend
himself in his own way.

Too fragile in his anatomy for fighting, in the ordinary sense of
the word, when molested, he will snap at his opponent with such
celerity as to take even the most watchful by surprise; while his
strength of jaw, combined with its comparatively great length, enables
him to inflict severe punishment at the first grab. It was probably
owing to this habit, which is common to all Whippets, that they were
originally known as Snap-Dogs.

The Whippet existed as a separate breed long before dog shows were
thought of, and at a time when records of pedigrees were not
officially preserved; but it is very certain that the Greyhound had
a share in his genealogical history, for not only should his
appearance be precisely that of a Greyhound in miniature, but the
purpose for which he was bred is very similar to that for which his
larger prototype is still used, the only difference being that rabbits
were coursed by Whippets, and hares by Greyhounds.

This sport has been mainly confined to the working classes, the
colliers of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland being
particularly devoted to it. As a rule the contests are handicaps,
the starting point of each competitor being regulated by its weight;
but the winners of previous important events are penalised in
addition, according to their presumed merit, by having a certain
number of yards deducted from the start to which weight alone would
otherwise have entitled them. Each dog is taken to its stipulated
mark according to the handicap, and there laid hold of by the nape
of the neck and hind-quarters; the real starter stands behind the
lot, and after warning all to be ready, discharges a pistol, upon
which each attendant swings his dog as far forward as he can possibly
throw him, but always making sure that he alights on his feet. The
distance covered in the race is generally 200 yards, minus the starts
allotted, and some idea of the speed at which these very active little
animals can travel may be gleaned from the fact that the full distance
has been covered in rather under 12 seconds.

In order to induce each dog to do its best, the owner, or more
probably the trainer stands beyond the winning post, and frantically
waves a towel or very stout rag. Accompanied by a babel of noise,
the race is started, and in less time than it takes to write it the
competitors reach the goal, one and all as they finish taking a flying
leap at their trainer's towel, to which they hold on with such
tenacity that they are swung round in the air. The speed at which
they are travelling makes this movement necessary in many cases to
enable the dog to avoid accident, particularly where the space beyond
the winning mark is limited. For racing purposes there is a wide
margin of size allowed to the dogs, anything from 8 lbs. to 23 lbs.,
or even more, being eligible; but in view of the handicap terms those
dogs which possess speed, and scale 9 to 12 lbs. amongst the
light-weights, and over 17 lbs. in the heavy ones, are considered
to have the best chance.

Probably there is no locality where the pastime has maintained such
a firm hold as in and around Oldham, one of the most famous tracks
in the world being at Higginshaw, where not infrequently three hundred
dogs are entered in one handicap. The Borough grounds at Oldham and
the Wellington grounds at Bury are also noted centres for races. It
is a remarkable but well recognised fact that bitches are faster than
dogs, and in consequence the terms upon which they are handicapped
are varied. The general custom is to allow a dog 2-1/2 to 3 yards
advantage for every pound difference in weight between it and the
gentle sex.

One of the fastest dogs that ever ran was Collier Lad, but he was
almost a Greyhound as regards size. Whitefoot, whose owner challenged
the world, and was considered to be quite unbeatable, was a Whippet
in every sense of the word, and was a nice medium weight, though
probably Capplebank's time of 11-1/2 seconds stands alone. The best
of the present-day racing dogs are Polly fro' Astley (15 lbs.) and
Dinah (11-1/2 lbs.), and of those which promise well for the future,
Eva, whose weight is only 9-3/4 lbs., is most prominent.

The training of Whippets is by no means easy work, and is more
expensive than most people imagine. The very choicest food is deemed
absolutely necessary, in fact a Whippet undergoing preparation for
an important race is provided with the most wholesome fare. Choice
mutton-chops, beef-steaks and similar dainties comprise their daily
portion. Of course exercise is a necessity, but it is not considered
good policy to allow a dog in training to gambol about either on the
roads or in the fields. Indeed, all dogs which are undergoing
preparation for a race are practically deprived of their freedom,
in lieu of which they are walked along hard roads secured by a lead;
and for fear of their picking up the least bit of refuse each is
securely muzzled by a box-like leather arrangement which completely
envelops the jaws, but which is freely perforated to permit proper
breathing. Any distance between six and a dozen miles a day, according
to the stamina and condition of the dog, is supposed to be the proper
amount of exercise, and scales are brought into use every few days
to gauge the effect which is being produced. In addition to this
private trials are necessary in the presence of someone who is
accustomed to timing races by the aid of a stop-watch--a by no means
easy task, considering that a slight particle of a second means so
many yards, and the average speed working out at about 16 yards per
second--nearly twice as fast as the fastest pedestrian sprinter, and
altogether beyond the power of the fleetest race-horse.

Colour in the Whippet is absolutely of no importance to a good judge,
though possibly what is known as the peach fawn is the favourite among
amateur fanciers. Red fawns, blue or slate coloured, black, brindled
of various shades, and these colours intermingled with white, are
most to be met with, however. In some quarters the idea is prevalent
that Whippets are delicate in their constitution, but this is a
popular error. Probably their disinclination to go out of doors on
their own initiative when the weather is cold and wet may account
for the opinion, but given the opportunity to roam about a house the
Whippet will find a comfortable place, and will rarely ail anything.
In scores of houses Whippets go to bed with the children, and are
so clean that even scrupulous housewives take no objection to their
finding their way under the clothes to the foot of the bed, thereby
securing their own protection and serving as an excellent footwarmer
in the winter months.

Probably in no other breed, except the Greyhound, do judges attach
so little importance to the shape of the head; so long as the jaws
are fairly long and the colour of the eyes somewhat in keeping with
that of the body, very little else is looked for in front of the ears.
As in the case of racing competitors, really good dogs for show
purposes are much more difficult to find than bitches. The best of
the males are not so classical in outline as the females, though some
of them are as good in legs and feet--points which are of the greatest
importance. Though it is not quite in accordance with the standard
laid down by the club, it will be found that most judges favour dogs
which are about 17 lbs. weight, and bitches which are between 15 lbs.
and 16 lbs., the 20 lbs. mentioned in the standard of points, without
variation for sex being considered altogether too heavy. Appearances
are sometimes deceptive, but these dogs are rarely weighed for
exhibition purposes, the trained eye of the judge being sufficient
guide to the size of the competitors according to his partiality for
middle-size, big, or little animals.

The South Durham and Yorkshire Show at Darlington has the credit for
first introducing classes for Whippets into the prize ring. Previous
to this it had not long been generally recognised as a distinct breed,
and it is within the last twenty years that the Kennel Club has placed
the breed on its recognised list.

The following is the standard of points adopted by the Whippet Club:--

* * * * *

HEAD--Long and lean, rather wide between the eyes and flat on
the top; the jaw powerful yet cleanly cut; the teeth level and
white. EYES--Bright and fiery. EARS--Small, fine in texture and
rose shape. NECK--Long and muscular, elegantly arched and free from
throatiness. SHOULDERS--Oblique and muscular. CHEST--Deep and
capacious. BACK--Broad and square, rather long and slightly arched
over the loin, which should be strong and powerful. FORE-LEGS--Rather
long, well set under the dog, possessing a fair amount of bone.
HIND-QUARTERS--Strong and broad across stifles, well bent thighs,
broad and muscular; hocks well let down. FEET--Round, well split up,
with strong soles. COAT--Fine and close. COLOUR--Black, red, white,
brindle, fawn, blue, and the various mixtures of each. WEIGHT--Twenty
pounds.





Next: The Foxhound

Previous: The Greyhound



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