Excluding the very obvious size difference, are Greyhounds and Whippets basically the same dog? Is the whippet simply a ‘mini-me’ version of the greyhound or can appearances be deceiving?
Greyhounds are well-known for their incredible speed across land (only beaten by the cheetah) but what about the whippet? Could a whippet catch a greyhound in a race?
Greyhound and Whippet Origins
Greyhounds have one of the oldest known origin stories amongst canines, with depictions of greyhound-like dogs dating back to 6,000 BC in the temples of the Egyptians. As most drawings were only ever made of royalty or higher sociality, these dogs must have had a noble significance to the leaders of the ancient world.
Over the millennia, today’s greyhounds have not changed much in appearance, unlike some other domestic dogs. This could be because when these descendants of wolves, with their streamlined, athletic builds, started to integrate with nomads, the nomads noted their hunting ability, speed and exceptional sight for prey and kept them away from the scavengers and mongrels that stayed close to the campsite in hopes of scraps.
They did not want to lose the greyhound’s exceptional hunting skills through interbreeding. There is a good reason why whippets look so similar to greyhounds.
They are direct descendants! Whippets were first introduced to Victorian England in the mid-1800s when countrymen wanted a fast sighthound for hunting and racing but could not afford the expense of a large breed greyhound.
It is believed that they took the smallest of the English greyhounds and bred them with long-legged terriers. They did a good job as the result was the fastest of all small breed canines – the Whippet.
Not quite matching the speed of a greyhound, which stands at an outstanding 45mph, the whippet can reach speeds of 35mph. But not to be outdone by the greyhound either, whippets are typically able to reach their top speed quicker than their forerunner.
So who would win in a race… the Greyhound, of course! Although the whippet might get off to a better start.
Interestingly, to reach such incredible speeds, both dogs possess a unique running style called a double-suspension gallop. This means that there are two phases where all four feet are off the ground at once.
The first time is when all of the legs are contracted together underneath them, like that of a horse’s galloping stride. But unlike a horse, they have a second full air suspension when all of the legs are extended.
The most exemplary case of double-suspension gallop is displayed by the cheetah, reaching top speeds of 70 mph.
Greyhound and Whippet Appearance
Both the greyhound and the whippet have slender, athletic frames with narrow faces containing small eyes, protruding snouts and leaf-shaped ears. They are striking in appearance and have a graceful air about them.
The most notable difference in appearance is the size of these breeds. The greyhound typically stands at 30 inches tall and weighs in at around 65-70lbs.
The much smaller whippet has an average height of 20 inches and weighs in between 25-35lbs. As with all breeds, there are the dogs that top the scales and some that barely touch them.
Greyhounds tend to have a more muscular physique, especially those that have been trained for the tracks. Their hindquarters are built for powering up to the speeds that they can reach.
Their chests are wide and their necks are incredibly thick with muscles. In fact, their necks are wider than their heads, needing a special type of collar to prevent them from becoming loose.
Whilst the whippet is also fast, they have smaller muscles but not insignificant to their size. These guys are small but mighty.
The greyhound’s larger frame makes their superior muscles seem much larger than the whippets. But whippets also have a higher than average muscle-to-fat ratio. Just one that is far less noticeable on a smaller breed.
This is an area where greyhounds and whippets are extremely alike. Both have very short, smooth coats with little to no hair on the underbelly.
They do still shed and regular brushing will keep a coat healthy but they are fairly low maintenance and, best of all, quick-drying. They have quite thin skin which is exposed, particularly on the lower half of their bodies.
This means that they can pick up nicks and scratches pretty easily. It also means that they are more susceptible to differing weather conditions, becoming both hot and cold quickly.
Cooling jackets in the summer and warm coats for the winter are essential for these breeds. When it comes to colour, both breeds have a wide range of colourings.
The American Kennel Club lists the recognised coat colours as below:
These coat colours can be accompanied by various markings – mask, ticks, solid or watermarked.
As they do not carry much fat and padding, both greyhounds and whippets need soft bedding for a comfortable spot to relax and sleep. Their bony limbs and lack of furry protection means that they tend to stand wherever you go until a blanket is laid down for them.
Tails, Ears and Eyes
The tails of greyhounds and whippets are thin but powerful and are used as rudders to steer them when running at great speeds and maintain balance as they slow down. In a relaxed position, they have an s-shaped bend to them and often sit between their legs, making them look nervous.
The ears and eyes are important features of any sighthound. Sighthounds will use their hearing and vision over their scent when it comes to hunting for prey.
Like all dogs, their smell is far greater than ours and they can smell a small animal on the wind but it is their ears and eyes which allow them to pick up a rabbit or squirrel moving at a great distance.
Greyhounds have stereoscopic vision which gives them a far greater perception of depth and allows them to see how quickly prey is moving and at what point they should catch it. Wow! How good is that!
They both have rose-shaped ears. They sit upright, much higher on the head than most dogs and flop forward.
Unless that is, they are alert and listening out for prey. The added bonus of this ear placement means they catch the sounds more. The whole ear works as a sound collector when standing straight upright.
It is well known that greyhounds and whippets are quite timid dogs when it comes to people and other dogs that they are not familiar with. They are gentle souls that are extremely affectionate and loving towards their families.
With such similar temperaments, it would be easy to think that only size tells them apart. However, there are subtle differences that could make either of them more suited to a particular lifestyle and family.
Greyhounds are sweet-natured and very tolerant but can be sensitive to touch and scare easily in unfamiliar surroundings, especially when it comes to loud noises. They are playful but they are sprinters and not built for endurance so may decide to take off to a quiet place to lay down even if you want to continue playing.
Whippets tend to be a little more energetic day-to-day. While neither breed needs huge amounts of exercise, you are likely to get a little bit more playtime from a whippet. They are friendly, engaging dogs but do need to be socialised properly as they tend to become overwhelmed and nervous in public if not.
Both breeds rarely bark, so would not make for a good guard dog but they can be big whiners if ground rules are not set early on. They love to be in the company of others at all times and will often whine when separated.
Learnt behaviours catch on quickly with all dogs so responding to whining with attention will only exacerbate this problem. It’s hard to be firm when it comes to greyhounds and whippets because they are such sensitive animals but stamping out whining early on is a must.
Greyhounds coming fresh off the track can have extremely high prey drives still and will need some time to adjust to domestic life. Our first adopted greyhound, Tipps, did not know how to get up the stairs, was startled and fascinated by the TV and had no basic training such as sit or wait. However, the one thing they do know is how to hunt prey.
Prey instinct in both breeds is strong and most will enjoy nothing better than chasing after a small animal but this should not put you off. These dogs can be trained to “leave” the chase or be directed to something else such as a tennis ball.
However, some will have stronger instincts than others and any new owners should consider that they may need to spend time working on this with them. Greyhounds and whippets enjoy the company of others so multi-animal households are great for these breeds, especially when they are brought in from puppyhood.
If adopting, temperament checks towards cats will be conducted and those with a keen prey sense will not be given to households with cats.
Whether you prefer a greyhound or a whippet, both breeds will undoubtedly make fantastic family pets. Their good nature and gentle demeanour make them amazing companions for children, couples and the elderly alike.
They are low maintenance dogs, needing moderate exercise, little grooming and just a soft place to lay their heads.