HISTORY OF THE BREED
Without doubt, the Whippett´s rise in popularity took place with the advent of Whippet racing circa 1860. Most of the industrial towns in England and Wales had Whippet tracks,
And enthusiasts would meet on a Sunday morning to race, and in the afternoon they would retire to the local hostelry to debate the pros and cons of their respective charges. The sportsmanship of some of these owners may have been debatable, but the honesty of their little dogs had no equal. The charms of the Whippet have melted many a heart, and once you have fallen for this breed, you will want no other.
For its sheer elegance and grace, this great member of the canine race is unmatched - and the sight of a Whippet in full flight is truly awe-inspiring. This small sighthound has an amazing turn of speed, and even as the dog displays such quickness of foot, it is calculating twists and turns, and how long it takes to come to a stop. All this is done in a flash - the Whippet, seemingly, in perpetual motion.
There are many theories regarding the genealogical history of the Whippet. Most authorities agree that the Greyhound type is very much to the fore in their make-up. There are theories of the Greyhound being crossed with a terrier and a Italian Greyhound, and of the small Greyhound kept by the Greeks and Romans. Romantic as they sound, I believe the Whippet is more likely to be Celtic in origin. The Celtic tribes in Ireland, who eventually came to Britain, kept all types on hunting and mastiff-type dogs. These great warriors, who were renowned as great tacticians on the battlefield. This ability was probably learned from watching their hounds take down a quarry on the hunting field. Some of the most beautiful Celtic brooches depict these hunting hounds killing hare and small deer - and all this took place five hundred years before a Roman set foot in England. I personally think that this small hound has come through the centuries, changing and developing, but basically this is the Whippet as we know it today.
Just to put the record straight, there is no doubt that the Greeks and Roman had a small Greyhound. The Greek Pollux, the protector of the hunt, is represented on numerous amphoras (dating from the 6th century BC) with his small Greyhound on some frescos of the classical age. There are also representations of rich Athenians lying on individual couches for communal drinking bouts, and under each couch ii tied a dog of the small Greyhound type, wearing a wide, ornate collar.
The Romans also had a great love of the hunting hound. The great Oppian (200 AD),
Whose work, Cynegetics, was to earn him payment of twenty thousand pieces of gold from two Emperors, favours the smaller dog that can run small game to earth. The "vestigator"he says had not the speed of the "vertagus" (little Greyhound). Arrian wrote: "The Gauls of the Cumbri and Celtic tribes have used their hunting dogs from the time of the Canis Palustris (Peat Dog), and they (the Gauls) have never ceased to treat them with understanding, gratitude, and friendship".
Indubitably, the Celts and Gauls were masters of what may be called "the canine sport".
The quest for meat was no longer the primary aim; this type of hunting was pursued for pleasure. Favourite pastimes were to hunt the stag until it was exhausted, or to capture a hare by letting loose two small Greyhound at the same moment. "The Gauls", wrote Arrian. "do not hunt in order to capture the game, but to watch their dogs perform with ability and speed. If the hare should escape their pursuit, they recall their dogs and rejpice sincerely in the luck or superiority of the adversary".
The chieftains of Gaul took pains to send the best examples from their packs to their conquerors. For example, Bituit, King of Arverne offered his own small Greyhounds as gifts to the Consul Domitius in 122 BC. So no-one could deny that ancient Gaul had a spirit of generosity and pride in sport - and fifteen hundred years later, hunters and huntsmen of Britain and France still continue this tradition.
It has been suggested that the Whippet´s name came from the word "whip" - to stop or crack like a whip - and that the sharp, quick character of the dogs led to the use of the name "Whippet" or little whip. However, in the Sportsman´s Repository of 1826 there are several mentions of a breed called a "wappit", although the descriptions of the breed are very Spartan. For example: "Sporting dog, of witch doubtless every farmer desires to possess some, the useful pack upon a farm consists of sheepdogs, rough terriers, vermin curs, and wappits, before all the best guard". Another reference states: "Perhaps a large yard dog should have an attendant of the smaller kind, whence would arise a double security - or a cry of a couple or two of wappits, make an excellent guard, running from place to place and encouraging each other to give tongue and tattle on the approach of a stranger, that they might at the same time well earn their daily bread at the country house as vermin killers."
How easily this could be the Whippet!