From Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, May, 1902
Thanks Yvonne Sovereign for sharing this great article with the whippet world.
THE SWIFTEST OF FOUR-FOOTED CREATURES
By LILLIAN C. MOERAN
To perhaps nine-tenths of magazine readers the name “Whippet” means nothing. Many people have heard the name applied to a human being, the tone suggesting that the term conveyed with it a strong tinge of reproach. “He’s a regular whippet of a fellow,” may be intended as a crushing sarcasm, yet it is extremely unlikely that the speaker rightly understands the meaning of the term he uses.
The true whippet is a dog—a cross-breed, yet having the best of blood on both sides. He is a game, swift and by no means unintelligent small chap, a pride and joy to his owner and an exceedingly interesting canine to those who understand him and his mission.
To put it briefly he is a bantam greyhound and what might be called the poor man’s coursing dog, not because only poor people have anything to do with him, but because he makes sport for a host of worthy people who are possessed of the sporting taste, yet lack the means of gratifying it in the more pretentious and exceedingly expensive direction of true coursing.
To the man of limited means the owning, training and running of even one high-class greyhound is rather a serious problem. To enter such an animal in a number of important fixtures, to get and keep him fit for the high-class company which he must meet, and the necessary traveling and other expenses, means an outlay of a considerable sum of money, which, of course, is thrown away unless the dog happens to win some important prizes. Then it is no common thing for the owner of but one good greyhound to capture an important fixture. Such a man is always in the position of the man with the single race horse—i. e. , if he happens to win a fat prize at the outset of his racing career, and the usual wagered money at good odds, he is able to go on and develop his horse’s possibilities on the money the animal has earned. Should, however, things go wrong during the first few attempts, the man, as the talent terms it, ” goes broke,” and has to sacrifice his good thing and all its future possibilities, owing to the prevalence in his immediate vicinity of that too common and exasperating disease diagnosed as a ” lack of the ready.”
The whippet is the safety valve of the man possessed of the coursing appetite and the walking income. The small dogs are cheap, the expenses connected with their training and running are trifling, while the sport they afford is full of that dash and go so necessary to satisfy the craving of those whose veins are full of sporting blood.
While the majority of whippet breeders and runners is apt to include those individuals who usually are classed as “the fancy, ” yet a healthy minority of the lovers of the small dogs are college men and well-bred fellows, whose sole lack is an elastic bank account. The parson ‘s and the doctor’s sons, etc., and not infrequently the professional gentlemen themselves breed their bantam fliers, match, back, and run them with all the keenness of the wealthy backers of candidates for the Blue Ribbon of the coursing world. And in justice to the dogs it is only fair to state that they have afforded many an exciting dash and thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly harmless bit of sport to men who otherwise would find scant measure of fun in the deadly routine of toil.
As was only natural, the whippet originated in Great Britain, where the man of limited means must make his training greyhounds and the securing of the absolutely necessary extensive area for their work is a problem which the people of this country of magnificent distances and vast unoccupied interspaces can hardly understand. Hence, while a few poor men can readily secure the control cm the short course required for the whippet’s racing, anything fit for greyhounds is a rather mastodonic proposition for such purses. To meet the conditions, expense, dog and course had to be dwarfed, and when this question had been solved—lo! The whippet and whippet racing.
There are whippets and whippets. A popular and excellent type is a bantam greyhound— a pocket edition of the true, graceful and amazingly swift hound. To get animals of the required small size, undersized greyhounds are sought for, and by careful selection the dwarfed progeny and progeny’s progeny produce the bantam. The cross with the small, delicate Italian greyhound, while it at once reduces the size, seldom is resorted to, owing to the fact that the Italian dog is merely a toy, lacking the wiry sinew and the stoutness of heart which a good whippet must possess.
Another method is to mate the smallest obtainable true-bred greyhound with the Irish terrier. Pat frequently is a leggy, wiry brute, stout of heart, intelligent and game to the last gasp. He can run a bit, too, and while of course lacking the A whippet whirlwind speed of the hound, he furnishes the strength, courage and hardiness which very small greyhounds are apt to lack.
While the breeding of the whippet is important, the real problem confronts the owner after his puppies have attained their full size and have become sufficiently strong to stand the ordeal of training. Before this all-important stage there are bound to be many disappointments. For the same reason that you cannot tell by the rings on a cat’s tail how far it can jump, you cannot tell by looking at a baby whippet how fast it ultimately will run. A puppy which at three months may look like a world beater may six weeks later be absolutely worthless except for a pet. A faint heart or some hitherto unsuspected fault of conformation may develop, or some at first trifling fault may increase to a serious importance, and so blast your fond expectations of future winnings. Only an animal modeled upon proper lines, and embracing within his small anatomy the best of bone and muscle, and having inside his narrow skull quite the proper amount of gray matter, can hope to outstrip the clever, stouthearted and wonderfully trained fliers which are certain to meet him.
The races are for canine gladiators, not for pets, for the frequently fancier are desperate struggles to be won only by a nose, backed by that wonderful last resolute effort which only a game man, horse and dog are capable of making. The usual course is 200 yards, and the small fliers cover this distance at an amazing rate. So fast do they go that their slim legs are merely a blur, and their narrow bodies hazy with speed.
The speed records in this country are unreliable. Even when the timing is carefully done, which seldom is the case, the coursing grounds here and in Canada never are officially or accurately measured. “About” 100 yards, or “about ” twice that distance is near enough for the ordinary whippet racer. The time is a matter of no importance, because only in a special race against time could it have any practical value. Hence, the owner of a whippet seldom bothers himself over a fraction of a second. So long as his dog leads the other dogs at the finish the owner is perfectly satisfied. The pace of the small fliers requires no evidence by stop watches. Perhaps no other four footed creature can run so fast for a short distance. Possibly, one of the small antelopes or gazelles might equal the electric dash of the racing whippet, but the ‘odds would be in favor of the dog. Even that king of all racing dogs, the greyhound, has no license to beat the whippet over the latter’s distance. The small fellow gets to the top of his speed so quickly that the much larger and really faster hound is beaten before he can get into his stride. Of course at any distance much greater than 200 yards the greyhound stands without a peer. The best of our sprinters do the 100 yards somewhere between nine and ten second’s, but the sprinting canine is able to do almost two yards to the athlete’s one. For example, Rosette Radnage, one of the fastest whippets that ever won the Crystal Palace Handicap, ran 200 yards in twelve and a half seconds, which means that she probably did the middle 100 in the phenomenal time of a trifle less than six seconds. About thirteen seconds is considered excellent going, but there are a dozen of the best whippet’s to-day which can consistently shave a fraction off that figure. In Canada the fastest authentic record is thirteen and three-fifth seconds, made at Toronto, in 1894.
The training includes a special diet of muscle-building food, along with carefully regulated exercise, perfect grooming and trials over the proper distance. What puzzles most people is why the dogs run so. What makes them race to their utmost effort? This incentive is furnished by the training. In the first place the trainer secures the confidence and affection of his young charge by kind treatment. He instills into the dog’s brain the idea that he (the trainer) is something closely akin to the dog’s god—somebody to be worshipped and implicitly obeyed—a superior being whose comradeship is the crowning honor of a dog’s life.
When the trainer has accomplished this much he proceeds to develop the dog’s racing qualities by means of what is termed “the rag.” This is a rag a bit of strong canvas or cloth—with which the puppy is encouraged to play. Being a puppy he requires scant inducement to make him seize the rag in his teeth and hang on and worry at it when an attempt is made to take it from him. Soon he will leap at it and hang on. When he shows wild eagerness for this sort of play his trainer shakes the rag in plain view, but a short distance from the dog, which in the meantime is held by an assistant. When the dog is frantic to get to his plaything, he is released and at once darts forward, grips the prize and begins to shake it. So far it is great fun, and the puppy is always keen for more. Then the trainer goes further and further away, by easy stages, until the puppy will dart at top speed for the rag from a distance of perhaps fifty yards.
After this the schooling rapidly progresses until the puppy will go 100 yards at top speed. Then the trainer starts from the 100-yard point, and shaking the rag with one hand runs as far as he can before the puppy overtakes him and seizes the prize. Then another and older dog is called into service, and the youngster and the veteran race in their chase of the rag.
When the two will go at top speed for 200 yards the puppy is fairly entered upon his career. These dogs, like race horses, soon get to love the sport, and will race desperately from end to end. When the young dog becomes too fast the older dog is given a handicap, which is increased as circumstances warrant, until the very best speed of the young one has been brought forth. With this training he is got into the pink of condition, and presently goes to a real race to measure speed with the best.
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