by   David Hancock

Whenever I hear fanciers of Whippet-lurchers boast of certain show-dog kennels in their dogs' pedigree, I recall reading comments on the use of such blood by 'those who really know'. Some years ago, Ted Walshe, who was hugely knowledgeable about Whippets, and lurchers, wrote in the dog press: "A coursing dog should be judged on movement first, balance second, and make and shape last; if the first two are right, there shouldn't be much wrong with the third." He also expressed his dismay at some of the dogs presented in the show ring, stating that they 'couldn't catch a cat in a kitchen'. I share Ted Walshe's dismay. For those lurcher breeders who use the blood of show Whippets in their breeding programmes, there is more than a word of caution there. There is rather more, too, to a purebred Whippet, than a thin coat, a roach back, hyper-angulation in the hindlegs, a straight front and open feet, yet show dogs with such features seem to be able to qualify for Crufts - and, even sadder, win!.

These remarks are not intended just as a criticism of show Whippets, some of whom are accomplished hunters, or of their breeders, some of whom know a thing or two about breeding sporting dogs. Mrs DU McKay's Laguna Whippets have a remarkable field and bench reputation. KC-registered Whippets are regularly coursed, with a determined bunch of knowledgeable devotees behind them. They rather shame the show Greyhound fanciers who rarely test their breed in the field. I simply cannot see the point of admiring a hound, designed to catch game using sheer speed if you never wish it to do so. The purpose and the build of such a dog is that of a sprinting machine. A Whippet was once recorded as covering 150 yards in 8.6 seconds; such astounding pace is only achieved if the dog possesses the anatomy that facilitates such remarkable speed. Some racing Whippets still do. The coursing Whippets of the Banatay line were always 'built for the job'.

Writing in the Whippet Club's Jubilee Show catalogue in 1950, Lewis Renwick, the leading expert on the show Whippet, declared that: "Another important thing to remember is what the breed is bred for. Firstly, he is not a lady's pet dog, despite the fact that no more affectionate breed exists and no dog is happier than when living in the comfort of his master's home. He is first and last a Sporting Dog, his conformation being for great speed over short distances...anybody who has an eye for beauty of form and muscular development must admit there are few dogs so artistic to look upon." These are important words for any breeder of Whippet-lurchers to have in his mind. The Whippet is a canine athlete or it is nothing.

In their excellent publication The Working Whippet Yearbook – the 2007 edition,  Nigel Wallbank and Jeff Hutchings record an interview they had with renowned breeder Mike Brown in North Wales about the legendary dog Sooty Sam, the most famous working Whippet of modern times. They asked him how he started and he replied: “All the dogs I started with came to me secondhand, dogs that were too big for the show ring or racing, but ideal for me – I was looking for something a bit different than your average Whippet…I’ve called my dogs working Whippets because that’s what they do, you can be ready to call it a day out rabbiting, and they’ll look at you as if to say – Going home already!! With lurchers you’re lucky to get a few years of work out of them, my Whippets will run until they’re 10 years old plus and give 110%, they are honest little dogs.” These are words worth remembering; successful working dogs in any breed come from genuine breed enthusiasts like Mike Brown. They emerge from performance not appearance but can still look good. 

I am old enough to remember Whippets in British show rings in the 1960s and 1970s when I recall that firstly the quality was high and secondly show judges' critiques did not consist of endless faults. Are we entering an era when show breeders have little concept of what a sporting breed is, an animal designed to function? The perpetuation of the instinct to hunt at speed and the anatomy which allows the dog to succeed, matter enormously in such a breed. These are essential building blocks not passing whims. There can still be value from purebred Whippet blood in lurchers but such an infusion has to be based on the anatomy of the source (kennel or sire) not on the show-ring achievements of any show dogs used. I can still recall two or three truly outstanding show Whippets but I can recall even more distinctly, many that should never have been mated to other show Whippets, let alone to keen hunting dogs as some kind of 'improvement'!