As it is with any great hero's origin story, the beginnings of the Whippet are tautly enveloped in a dusky shroud of mystery. Many historians believe the breed has an ancestry that spans back to the days of the ancient pharaohs, but others have traced the Whippet's heritage to the early Greeks, pointing to depictions of small, Greyhound-like dogs featured in the era's art as evidence. Further complicating the story is the fact that the first recorded use of the word Whippet as a dog descriptor was in reference to a Greyhound-Spaniel mix unrelated to the modern Whippet.
One popular theory asserts that the modern Whippet comes from a methodical mix of Greyhounds, Terriers, and Italian Greyhounds. However, other experts believe that today's Whippets likely come from miniature Greyhounds produced in England for the purposes of rat catching and rabbit hunting, with breeders taking the runts of each Greyhound litter and creating increasingly smaller versions of the dog. Medieval English peasants preferred the smaller version since Greyhound ownership was restricted to families of nobility, and any peasant-owned Greyhound found by authorities was often mutilated—either by slicing a tendon in the leg or maiming a paw—to prevent it from hunting in the king's royal forest. The harsh regulations, known as forest law, continued throughout the Middle Ages, and miniature Greyhounds became invaluable to many poachers for their swiftness, relatively diminutive stature (making them less noticeable to the authorities), and natural aptitude for hunting. The Whippet even gained the moniker of snap dog among admirers for his instinctive ability to chase down and snap up smaller creatures.
The breed was first officially recognized in England and the U.S. toward the end of the nineteenth century. A Whippet was awarded best in show at the Westminster Dog Show in 1964, and two other Whippets received best in show awards at Crufts in 1992 and 2004. Some of today's Whippet owners still enter their dogs in coursing events to chase after rabbits and hares, but there are also many others who train their dogs to engage in less violent sports, such as lure coursing, track racing, and flyball.
Want to learn more about the Whippet? Click here for the full breed standard.