To the untrained eye, Greyhounds and Whippets look very similar. They are both tall and slender and are as fast as greased lightening, which are typical characteristics for sighthounds. This means that they specialise in chasing down prey such as rabbits, hare or deer, keeping it within their field of vision. Both Greyhounds and Whippets are very flexible; this, along with long legs, makes for a very long stride, aiding their speed. They both have deep chests, which support a large heart and incredibly efficient lungs.
Both breeds have a distinctively shaped head, commonly referred to as dolichocephalic; that is, a skull which is longer than it is wide. It’s a characteristic shared by some other breeds such as Afghan hounds, Borzois, and even wolves – it’s related to the need for the stereoscopic vision required for wild carnivores to hunt effectively.
Although there are many similarities, there are fundamental differences which mark them out as separate breeds. Let’s look at each one in turn:
More than anything, Greyhounds are noted for their speed, but this belies the character that these dogs possess. The breed is considered to be brave, intelligent and devoted to its master. They have a very laid back temperament, and can be very reserved towards strangers. However, a well socialised pet can prevent it being overly timid. Being prey oriented, many Greyhounds will be inclined to chase down and kill small animals, including cats. However, roughly ten per cent will have little or no prey drive, whilst around 70 per cent can be trained to leave other household pets alone. The remaining twenty per cent, mainly ex-racing dogs, are unable to overcome their instinct to hunt, and are not safe around small animals. However, they very seldom present trouble with other dogs.
They’re very good with children, but they do not like rough play, so would not be a good choice of pet for a young family. Being a racing dog, it’s reasonable to assume that they need lots of exercise, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re calm and relaxed to the point of being lazy. A fine balance has to be struck when training a Greyhound. They don’t respond well to a harsh tone of voice, and they will not obey their owner if they sense that they have a stronger will.
Typically, a male greyhound will measure 71 – 76 cm high and weigh 27-40 kg. A bitch will reach a height of 71 cm and a weight of 24 kg.
Similar to a Greyhound, Whippets will chase down small animals, and so it is recommended that they be kept on a leash at all times when in an unenclosed space. Having very little body fat and thin skin, both breeds are sensitive to the cold, and should be protected with a jacket when out in lower temperatures. Like Greyhounds, they have no real odour and need very little exercise – they’re adapted for sudden bursts of speed and not endurance – and so are well suited to apartment life. In fact, the only real difference that marks them out from Greyhounds is their size. An adult male whippet weighs between 6 – 14 kg, and can be as tall as 57 cm, whilst a female can measure 55 cm.
There’s a very good reason for the similarities between the two breeds: the Whippet is the result of cross-breeding Greyhounds and Italian Greyhounds around the end of the 19th century. They were bred as a track racer – in fact, they were known as “the poor man’s racehorse”, but the breed was officially recognised by the English Kennel Club in 1891.