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Posts Tagged ‘whippet’

sartorius small greyhound

As a result of my recent experiences with a whippet, I’ve been thinking a lot about how a breed can evolve such a strong bond with its special human.

Some of this strong social bond has some roots in their origins as sighthounds. Most sighthound breeds are somewhat more primitive in their development compared to more derived breeds.

With whippets, though, this devotion to just a select handful of people borders on separation anxiety.

It seems that the evolution of this trait has to do with the development of the whippet as a commoner’s dog.  The origins of the whippet come from the larger greyhound, which have been bred in the British Isles for centuries for the pursuit of deer and hares.  Coursing was mostly a pursuit of the wealthy, especially in the Middle Ages, but within greyhound kennels, there would be born smaller individuals that obviously could not handle a deer.

So these dogs were either killed or given to the commoners. Commoners had to have their dogs “expeditated” to prevent the dogs from bothering deer. This procedure involved cutting off two of the toes on the front feet, so the dog could not run a deer at all.

The commoners had an incentive to breed for smaller size. Smaller dogs eat less food, and a smaller dog would not get the attention of authorities that might lead to a dog being confiscated.

Further, there was a selection pressure placed upon a commoner’s greyhound that would select for dogs with a stronger tendency to bond to one owner or family. Dogs that wandered in the forests would be killed, but dogs that stayed at home had a much stronger tendency to pass on their genes.

As time progressed and the poaching became a way of survival in much of rural England, the need for a dog intensely bonded to its owner became even more of a necessity.  Any dog that ran off and got lost would either be killed by the gamekeeper or offed by the fierce “night dogs” or mastiffs that would be patrolling the estates.

So the evolution of the whippet as a commoner’s greyhound forced the breed to evolve a tendency to bond to just a handful of people.

Now, these thoughts could be entirely wrong, but breed temperament often follows its history. The super social temperament of golden and Labrador retrievers has to do with their use as retrievers on shoots where lots of strange people would be wandering about.  Livestock guardians have been selected for a very strong distrust of strange dogs, while pack hounds have been selected for super tolerance of other dogs living near them.

So it is very possible that the whippet’s strong devotion to just a select few people has to do with its evolution as a breed among the working class of England.

 

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Meeting a whippet

 

zoom whippet

My experience with sighthounds is limited.  There really isn’t much of a culture of them in my part of the country, except that we do have greyhound racing.

But I spent last week helping a friend of mine move from Florida to Ohio, and among the creatures I spent time with during this adventure was a whippet named Zoom.

The extent of my knowledge on whippets goes as follows:

They are extensively used for racing in parts of Northern England, and I associate them heavily with the actor Robert Hardy. Most people associate him with Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter series, but to me he will always be Siegfried Farnon, the senior partner of James Herriot’s semi-fictional Yorkshire veterinary practice. Hardy’s character was always wearing a green cap and walking with a whippet. I did not know when I saw the series that the whippet in the series was actually Hardy’s own personal dog named Christie.

I’ve see footage whippets assisting in ferreting, catching runaways that bolted from the warrens and didn’t get caught in the nets, and I’ve seen footage of them ratting like terriers.

And that’s what I knew about whippets.

I didn’t know exactly what devoted creatures they are.  Zoom has one concern in life, and that concern is the well-being of his human. If she is sad, he trying to make her feel better. If she is happy, he is charming and playful.

These dogs have very small “circles of trust.” They just don’t run off with anyone, but within just a few days, Zoom included me in his circle. He even slept with me a few nights, and when I went into a Walmart alone and he and his human were forced to wait on me, he kept examining every male human coming out of the store.

The only other dogs I’ve been around that have this sort of devotion are terriers and dachshunds, but unlike those breeds, he’s totally docile. He does not snap at strangers. He doesn’t enjoy a good fight with another dog.

He’s a just a devoted English country squire of a dog, a special creature, always thinking and feeling. He is a sort of quiet intellectual that gives his devotion to few, but once he has given it, he is truly a truly friend.

He stands like a fine piece of art, which he can fold into the cushions and the background, but then he can launch those muscles into a speed approaching 30 miles per hour.

He is truly a special being.

He’s certainly won me over.

I now know the whippet, and I can see why Robert Hardy loved them so.

 

 

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