Whippets are a medium-size dog averaging in weight from 15 to 30 lb (6.8–14 kg), with height (under the FCI standard) of 18.5 - 20 inches (47 - 51 cm) for males and 17.5–18.5 inches (44–47 cm) for females. Whippets tend to be somewhat larger in the United States and Canada with their population in show, coursing and some race whippets required to be within the AKC standard of 18.5 to 22.5 inches (47 to 57 cm) for males, and 17.5 to 21.5 inches (44 to 55 cm) for females. Because colour is considered immaterial in judging Whippets, they come in a wide variety of colours and marking patterns, everything from solid black to solid white, with red, fawn, brindle, blue, or cream. All manner of spots and blazes and patches are seen, sometimes all in the same litter.
Whippets regularly compete in dog shows, lure coursing and racing. They are among the fastest of dogs running a course at 36 mph (58 km/h) and can run 200 yards in under 12 seconds.
Whippets are generally quiet and gentle dogs, and may be content to spend much of the day resting. They are loyal and friendly. Because of this, whippets are known to have been used in aged care facilities. They may bark or jump at strangers and animals and may protect their owner if threatened.
Whippet sleeping in the position characteristic of sighthounds .Whippets are not well-adapted for living in a kennel, or as outside dogs. Their short coats do not provide insulation to withstand prolonged periods in cold temperatures. Their social nature makes them suitable indoor companions. Whippets are quiet and thus well suited to apartment life, but require regular exercise and the chance to run free. Care should be taken with whippets on the street as it is difficult to instill any sort of traffic sense into some of them.
Whippets have been called a "poor man's racehorse." As their heritage would suggest, whippets are outstanding running dogs and are top competitors in lure coursing, straight racing, and oval track racing. Typically in these events, a temporary track and lure system is set up. The lure is usually a white plastic bin bag, sometimes in conjunction with a "squawker" to simulate a sort of prey sound or with a small piece of animal pelt. With the advent of new methods in motivational obedience training being used, whippets are becoming successful obedience dogs. Many enjoy flyball and agility.
A May 7, 2007 article in Science Daily reported on a genetic mutation that may account for the abnormally high athletic ability of whippets. The appearance and ease of grooming whippets have made the breed somewhat popular in the sport of conformation showing. Whippets are known for their loving nature and big "smile".
Many whippets course, work and race and they have been bred for these jobs for many years. This has kept them a structurally sound breed which is predominantly free from the physical exaggerations that can lead to certain health problems.
The Kennel Club's so called vital criteria of "fit for function" is normally applicable to the Whippet.
Given proper nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care, most whippets live for 12 to 15 years. UK breed survey puts the median lifespan at 12 years 10 months. They are generally healthy, and are not prone to the frequent ear infections, skin allergies, or digestive problems that can afflict other breeds. Genetic eye defects, though quite rare, have been noted in the breed. Because of this, the American Whippet Club recommends that all breeders test for this defect in their breeding stock. Hip dysplasia is unknown in whippets. Undescended testicles are common in the breed. The heart of a whippet is large and slow beating, often being arrhythmic or even intermittent when the animal is at rest. This sometimes causes concern to the owner, or to the vet not experienced with the breed. Whippets will, however, demonstrate a regular heartbeat during exercise. In a health survey conducted by The Kennel Club (UK) cardiac problems were shown to be the second leading cause of mortality in Whippets. It is not clear, however, whether this is at all related to the breed's somewhat unusual heart function. See athletic heart syndrome.
A 2007 study identified a myostatin mutation particular to whippets that is significantly associated with their athletic performance. Whippets with a single copy of this mutation are generally very fast; those with two copies have disproportionately large musculature and are known as "bully whippets" although their temperament is not affected by this.
Whippets are, just like other sighthounds, intolerant of barbiturate anaesthetics. This is in part due to their low concentration of body fat and their liver's inability to metabolize the anaesthetics.
Whippets were bred to hunt by sight, coursing game in open areas at high speeds. One can find numerous representations of small greyhound-like hounds in art dating back to Roman times but the first written English use of the word "whippet" with regard to a type of dog was in 1610. There is a picture by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755) of "Misse", one of two English whippets presented to Louis XV, in the Washington National Gallery and another, with her companion, "Turlu", by the same artist in the Musée National de Fontainebleau. However, some French sources, notably the Ministry of Culture, use the word "levrette" to describe Misse and Turlu. Levrette describes small greyhound type dogs like the whippet or the Italian greyhound. In the nineteenth century, whippet racing was a national sport in England, more popular than football. It is only beginning with this period that the existence of the whippet as a distinct breed can be stated with certainty. The age of the modern whippet dawned in 1890 when the English Kennel Club granted the breed official recognition, thus making the whippet eligible for competition in dog shows, and commencing the recording of their pedigrees. In the United States, the whippet was recognized in 1888 by the American Kennel Club. Early specimens were taken from the race track by dog fanciers of the time and exported all over the world. The whippet's versatility as a hunting, racing, exhibition or companion dog soon made it one of the most popular of the sighthound breeds.
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