As I’m sure most of you know by now I have a tiger-striped whippet named Zaphod. People seemed to appreciate the snake f.a.q. I posted a few years ago, so I’ve decided to do a similar post about my dog. About bloody time too, I’ve only had him for 11 years…
When your dog happens to be of a slightly unusual breed (at least where I live it is) curious questions from the public are inevitable. Here are a select few:
“Why is he so skinny? Don’t you feed him?”
By far the most common remark. 95% of the people who ask this are just trying to be funny, and maybe it is funny, it’s just that I’ve heard it 5000 times by now. Please excuse me if I’m not dying with laughter any more. :P Then there’s the 5% who are serious and actually thinks he’s malnourished. For them the simple answer is: he is supposed to look like that.
A whippet in good condition have almost no body fat at all. Parts of the spine showing through the skin and protruding hip bones are perfectly normal.
Don’t worry, he eats all the dog food he wants (and sometimes people food, and bones, and sticks, and insects, and cat poo. Ugh).
“But why do they look like that?”
Most dogs are long-distance runners. Just like wolves they are built for stamina, allowing them to follow their prey for hours and days, until the poor deer or whatever can’t flee any more. The slower wolf/dog hunts down the faster deer by outlasting it. Like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies, who is always right behind you no matter how fast you run.
Sighthounds (like the whippet, the greyhound and a number of other breeds) on the other hand are built for speed.
They don’t stalk their prey – they outrun it. Instead of strength and stamina they have speed and agility.
Think about a cheetah compared to a lion, that’s the exact difference between a “normal” dog and a sighthound too.
“Is it a racing dog?”
Racing is a very popular activity among sighthound owners, and the whippet is the second most common breed on the tracks after greyhounds.
My particular individual isn’t a racer though. We tried it when he was younger but he didn’t seem to understand why he should chase dead objects, so we scrapped that idea. :P
“I’ve heard there are lots of issues with racing…”
Not a question, but a common remark.
I’m not involved in the racing world and can’t say much about it, but I know that it can be problematic in countries where lots of money is involved. I’ve heard about dogs being bred, raced and discarded at an appalling rate. Young dogs of only 2-3 years of age being put down, or thrown out on the streets, because they’re not winning enough.
In Sweden there isn’t much money in dog sports overall, so here racing is mainly a hobby activity. I personally haven’t heard any horror stories from around here, but again, I’m not involved and can’t really say.
The actual racing though – the bit about chasing after a piece of cloth – that’s amazing and lots of fun for the dog!
Most sighthounds have an extremely strong hunting instinct that compels them to chase after anything that moves, unfortunately though, the way they hunt and kill their prey makes them unsuitable for real hunting. In some parts of the world they’re still used as hunting dogs, but in most western countries it’s forbidden as it’s considered animal cruelty towards the prey. Just like with traditional fox hunting in the UK.
Through racing and lure-coursing (much more fun than racing imo) these dogs still have an outlet for their instincts, and every dog I’ve seen have LOVED it! Whenever I’ve visited a race it’s been evident that the dogs are super happy and super excited to get out there.
“Don’t they need extreme amounts of exercise?”
Well… yes. And no.
Whippets are super adaptable and are usually fine with whatever level of exercise you can provide, as long as they get to run free a few times a week to blow off steam.
Me and Zaphod go for regular walks everyday, but other than that our schedule shifts depending on mood, weather, time etc. Some days we go hiking in the woods for hours (well, maybe not hours these days as he’s getting old). Some days we barely step outside the door. Some days we do obedience training and other mental activities. Some days I just go to a field, unleash him, and then stand still in one spot while he runs in wide circles around me like an idiot.
They are built to run, but they’re not marathon runners and don’t need to do it for hours on end. And since running at full speed wears them out both physically AND mentally it’s really the main need you as an owner need to fulfill.
If you can allow them that + regular daily walks you will have a happy and healthy dog.
Funnily enough, whippets are also real couch potatoes. It’s hard to believe when you look at them, but these Formula 1 dogs can easily sleep 23 hours a day. When they’re not running, they’re sleeping. They love warmth and soft pillows and comfort. Whippets are the perfect snuggle buddies to keep you company while marathoning TV shows on rainy days.
“Why does your dog wear clothes?”
Well, that’s an unfortunate necessity when having a whippet in a Nordic climate…
Whippets have short, smooth, single-layered coats that doesn’t really protect them from harsh weather. They’re not THAT sensitive, but if it’s cold and wet they need to be clothed.
Personally I find this to be one of the downsides of owning a whippet. Because of their weird bodies none of the clothes in normal pet stores fit them, so I am limited to speciality stores or making the clothes myself.
I don’t particularly enjoy any of it and would very much prefer him to have “real” fur but, oh well… At least Zaphod doesn’t mind wearing clothes.
“I’ve heard they’re pretty stupid, can you train them?”
Of course you can! And they’re far from stupid! What they are though is independent and often impatient. Think about what they’re used for:
Sighthounds hunt with little to no assistance from anyone else. The dogs do all the chasing and, in some cases, also the killing by themselves. For that you need a dog that has no problem running off alone, leaving its human far behind. A dog that is able to think and act for themselves without hesitation.
They are just as smart as any other dog, but they have a will of their own and won’t bend over backwards just to make you happy. You have to really convince them that what you’re asking them to do is fun and rewarding. If they don’t see a good reason why they should do that thing you just asked, they just might refuse. Short training sessions with lots of positive reinforcement is key. Long hours at the obedience school, practicing the same thing over and over again, will bore them to death. There’s a reason why you hardly ever see sighthounds win obedience competitions, most of them just don’t have enough patience and will to please.
With that said, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to teach them all the basic stuff a modern dog needs to know. Sit, stay, come when called, drop etc. are essentials that any dog should know, and most whippets I’ve met have had no problem with it.
The biggest challenge is their strong hunting instinct which can make it difficult to have them off leash. Zaphod is unusually uninterested in hunting and because of that I’m able to have him unleashed in the forest without problem, but I know other whippet owners who only dare unleash their dogs in fenced areas.
I realize I just wrote half a novel, but let me just round it off with my own biased opinion: whippets (and sighthounds in general) are incredibly interesting animals and wonderful pets.
The downsides are the hunting instinct that might make them difficult to keep off leash, the thin fur that means they need clothes in cold climates, and their cat-like behaviour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s about it.
Whippets are notoriously healthy with very few breed related illnesses, and their nonexistent guarding instinct means they almost never bark.
The best thing about them imo is how all-round they are, easily tagging along with whatever you’re doing at the moment, going from super active to super calm and back again at the drop of a hat. And of course their gentleness. They have such a sweet disposition towards humans and other dogs and will avoid conflict at all costs, I’ve never even heard of an aggressive whippet.
Them being a bit weird looking put people off sometimes, lots of people take one look and go “ew, no thanks” without ever bothering to learn more about them, but if you give them a chance they might just melt your heart. :)