Day 21: Choosing A Whippet Puppy

EDIT: I realize now that the title makes it sound like I’m declaring this is how everyone should choose their whippet puppy. This, of course, isn’t true. This is how *I* would choose a pup for my lifestyle. Everyone’s needs and expectations are different.

Oh no, I’m not looking to add another dog, this just came up in a FB group and since I recently promised someone to write a post about it this sounds like a good time. Of course I only got to choose two puppies so far, but I have done a lot of thinking and researching these past five years, so I have some pretty strong opinions about it…

First and foremost I look for parents who have been tested and cleared for myostation mutation (in racing whippets), for heart and eye disease. I can hear you saying “But I thought Whippet was a healthy breed!” You are right, they are a pretty healthy breed, but:

The Kennel Club Survey of 2004 showed heart disease to be the most common cause of death in whippets after old age. The incidence across the whole breed is not really known but breeders are wisely beginning to test their dogs before breeding. –

This testing is much more common in USA, but I hope more breeders will start to look into it in Europe as well. I was very happy when I found Java’s litter and both parents had all three tests done!

Next I want parents who have solid temperaments (not spooky or aggressive) and have worked without major injuries (racing, coursing, agility, flyball…). I don’t care so much which sport they did (though sports with a handler are a plus for me 🙂 ), the thing that matters is that their structure was tested in the field and it held up to the rigors of training and competing. Yes, all whippets run and do crazy things and many get injured on walks even if they never compete in anything. If a dog competes for several years and doesn’t get injured this must count for something, right? For this reason I prefer older parents because they have been sound longer than young-and-upcoming hotshots. I also like for parents to be biddable (meaning they like to cooperate with people). Ruby turned out just fine even though he was the very opposite of biddable, but I would prefer to avoid all the hard work next time, thankyouverymuch (and yes, Java’s parents are biddable and so is she!).

I’m looking for good drive for food or toys in parents. Toy drive is difficult to asses in dogs who haven’t been played with as adults, so I prefer to get a dog from a breeder who does something with their dogs. I want them to have full range of motion in the rear when they run (some show dogs can have a problem here) and as much angle on the shoulder as possible.

Next I go to and I enter the parents in Testmating form. This will show me pedigree of the proposed litter. I check the grandparents and so on… then I click on Pedigree Analysis and it will show me the Coefficient of Inbreeding over 7 generations (I can choose up to 10). COI shows me how related the family lines are – the bigger the number, the more inbred is the litter (so lower numbers are better). For example, in Ruby’s pedigree (7 generations) many dogs appear several times. Nutshell of Nevedith appears 8 times, Pencloe Dutch Gold 9 times, Hillsdown Fergal 10 times and Siobhan of Hillsdown 11 times. His COI is 19%, which is a little less than it would be if we would breed brother and sister. Whoa, that’s quite inbred!

Here’s the COI we would get if breeding relatives:
Parent/offspring: 25%
Full sibling: 25%
Grandparent/grandchild: 12.5%
Half sibling: 12.5%
Great grandparents/great grandchild: 6.25%
First cousin: 6.25%

Please read this about inbreeding, genetic diversity and health problems:

For this reason I’m looking for very low COI – definitely less than 6%.

So let’s say I found a litter of two amazing parents who meet all of the above (I did! That was Java’s litter!). Then I choose (or let the breeder choose) a puppy of a balanced build and solid temperament. I like puppy testing, particularly watching puppies perform on visual and auditory startle tests – these tell us how resilient they are. I want a puppy who will show either great food or toy drive on the test. Java had a lot of food drive, but moderate toy drive which turned into amazing toy drive as she grew up (and she is still a foodie, too!). Also, the desire to be with humans.

It’s quite a list, I know! I wasn’t looking for a “black racing female” when I got Java. I was looking for a sound puppy from sound parents with lots of genetic diversity and lots of potential. She turned out to be a great choice, solid temperament, very driven and easy to train. While I would love to have my dream brindle-on-white whippet some day, color truly becomes immaterial when there are so many more important characteristics to look for.

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11 thoughts on “Day 21: Choosing A Whippet Puppy

  1. Danna Grace (twaddle)

    all relevant if you want a prey driven dog BUT surely for a family pet you do not require that nor want it ?Also you seem to be focusing on working dogs , what about show dogs , are they of lesser quality if they don’t work?

    • Hi Danna, thanks for commenting 🙂
      In short, I don’t think the show dogs are lesser quality if they don’t work. They just haven’t been tested. Besides, some show dogs do work.

      I wrote how I choose a puppy for my purposes – which means a puppy that is going to train and hopefully compete in agility and be an easy dog to live with. I don’t believe that if the dog trots beautifully in the show ring this is an indication of how well his body would take the rigors of competing in athletic events. One can see how the dog is built, but tendons and connective tissue have not been tested by trotting. It’s fine to get such a dog as a show prospect or as a pet, but I wouldn’t advise it for agility. I am not saying that show dogs cannot do agility. I am also not saying that I wouldn’t get a dog from a show litter. If I got the opportunity to get a great puppy from a show litter that would meet the criteria I wrote in the post you better believe I would take it! It would just have to mean that the parents would be competing in something besides showing, that they would be clear on health tests, have solid temperaments, good structure, good flexibility in the rear end, good toy/food drive and their litter would have COI less than 6%. It can be done.

      About dog being easy to live with: of course whippets are a very easy breed and I have no doubts that puppy (once grown up 😉 ) will be calm at home and active outside. But what happens once we get outside? I want a dog who will be interested in me even when out on walks and will be easy to teach recall to. I don’t ever want to work as hard again as I have to work with Ruby to maintain his recall. Many people wrongly assume that if a dog has enough prey drive to race then they will chase everything on walks and be impossible to recall. That is simply not true. Ruby (show bred) won’t chase a lure, but will chase every living critter. Java (race bred) will chase a lure like a maniac, but won’t chase animals. So which one would be easier to have as a pet? Which of course doesn’t mean that all show bred dogs are like Ruby or all race bred dogs are like Java. You have to look at each pup’s temperament.

      Even to people looking for a pet I would still advise to look at the parents and how they behave and then temperament test the litter to see which pups like to be with humans the most and have the most food/toy drive (or perhaps I would just focus on food drive exclusively for pets). The reason is that a dog that loves toys or food will be easy to train the most important thing in life – how to come when called regardless of what is going on. Also a stable temperament is just as important for a pet dog, because pet owners usually have less experience in dealing with fear and aggression issues.

  2. filip

    My English isn’t as good as yours by far, but I’ll try to make myself clear… Interesting topic and a lot to say about it. It is misunderstood that racebreds aren’t good housepets. In fact, I think they make the best housepets for several reasons. I’m going to get people on my back for the next, but in almost every breed, the reason of creating it, was work. That means, they were bred for very specific skills, both physically and mentally. So to maintaine those qualities, you need to work your whippets.
    People can say what they want, but the strogest, healthiest and the mentally most stabile dogs are workbred, weather you look at mechelaars, German sheperds, kelpies, huskies, whippets…It’s not a coïncidence at all.

    In racebreds, you have some who are more chasingwhippet and some are more playwhippet. It’s very hard to know which type it is. Of couse, the playwhippet is easyer for the owners. The attention of their whippet will be easyer to get, just because they like to have attention and to bring back a ball. Also showbreds need to play, so there’s no difference, only, the racebreds will do it with a little more effort, but they don’t want to play more than showbreds. That’s why racebreds are easyer to train. in general off course and certain lines.

    So, when I look for a good combination, I try to search for the playwhippet. I also try to find out as much as possible about the character of the (grand)parents.

    Like Andreja says, all whippets are sweet, also the racebreds. I believe, they are even sweeter, because they were bred to perform and so they are more stabile in character and they have more the off/on switch. The whippetcharacter is like it is, because of the physical and mental selection through the decades. Showbreds aren’t selected anymore – any dog can become champion en can breed – that’s why they get weaker every generation. Not only mentally, but also phycically. Not only heart, but really a lot of them have auto-immunedissease, weak stomach, artrose, wobbler, axieatyproblems (being left alone I mean) etc at very young age. You can’t test those things.

    Another major thing, but also the most difficult, is health. A low coi doesn’t mean anything/everything. You can put 2 heavily inbreds, of 2 different lines, together and get a very low coi. That doesn’t mean the puppies will be healthy, or have a lot of different genes. It’s better to look at ancesterloss. If the pedigrees are correct off course, wich isn’t always the cause. But only insiders know that kind of information.

    I have a book on real heartstudy (clinical cardiological parameters in whippets by Valérie Bavegems) of hearts from over 100 whippets. It’s conclusion is that the heart isn’t a problem. If your dog plays sports at a high level, there won’t be a problem, or the dog won’t be able to keep it up. Sport is the best selector. In whippethearts, there’s a slight systolic sound, a bigger vertebral heart size, a higher R-amplitude, or left ventrical dilatation, wich could wrongly be diagnosed as myocardfailor.

    So if you ask me, also as a housepet, people should choose a racebred. There are whippets that are very alive. You don’t want them in your house. But is every liter, there are puppies who are less into work. Those are goodoanes to keep a s a housepet. (when you don’t walk them a lot)

    However, there are households where some members of the family go jogging. They are also blessed with a racebred, because they will like to go run with you in all kinds of weather and they will keep up with you.

    The last sentence of Andreja’s reply is 100% correct. If the racebred gets on your nerves, you go to the garden and let him retrieve ball, or tug him. If you have behavrior-, or healthproblems, those are very difficult to solve.

    • Wow Filip, you get a ribbon for the longest comment ever!
      I like the term “playwhippet” 🙂 I don’t think I ever saw a “chasewhippet”, though. Only whippets who didn’t get a chance to play with humans throughout their puppyhood and now as adults don’t know what to do with a toy that a human is holding. I think any whippet who has a chase instinct can be enticed to play with a human and can become a “playwhippet”. One of the students in my class used the better part of the first year of her pup’s life in convincing her to play with the toy she’s holding. Now they play beautifully and she is able to reward behaviors with play.
      I don’t know enough racing whippets to make any sweeping generalizations about racing whippet temperament vs show whippet temperament. I can only talk about physical attributes and only about those that are readily observable.
      It would be foolish to think that either show breeders or racing dog breeders as a whole are breeding for stable temperament as a priority over the beauty / speed. There are breeders who will put temperament and health first and I tip my hat to them, but not all breeders do.
      I see that Clinical cardiological parameters in whippets is a dissertation. Is it written in English? It would be an interesting read.
      Yes, of course COI isn’t everything, ancestor loss is important and one does have to actually look at the dogs in the pedigree.

      • filip

        Yes, a lot of the breeders don’t go further than speed, or beauty and money. 😉 I’v’ had 1 showbred. He really liked to play and to run, but wasn’t very driven, or not as drivan as my racebreds. Although I could go jogging and retrievning baals with im any time. My first bitch was moer a ‘playwhippet’, my bitch now is more a chaser. She tugs like crazy and is very motivated to tug, to play frisbee, but is a little more chasing than the other bitch. But it’s a small difference between them. What I ask myself, is that I see some dogs having trouble to learn to go round the oval track. Later, they run really fast and win races. Off course I don’t know, but it seems they are more chasers, than naturally motivated. Butthat’s a guess.

        To few whippets in dogsports to really know. ;-).

        • How do you define drive? What is the observable difference between your showbred and racebreds that prompted you to say he has less drive?
          If it’s “how hard will he try to get it right”: Ruby and Java have same drive
          If it’s “how fast”: depends on which exercise, though I suspect with time Java will be faster in all of them
          If it’s “is he willing to work for almost any reinforcer”: then Java is more driven than Ruby

          When you talk about your “chaser” bitch are you referring to chasing dogs? I’m not sure I understand you here…

          • filip

            drive is hard to discribe. They all get exited, it’s the possibility to get the drive inti action I guess.
            chaser is a dog that gets exited in oval, or coursing and chase the lure. If they have to run flyball, or agility, he won’t run, because he needs something to chase.

            A ‘playwhippet’ 🙂 does the run in flyball and agility because he likes and wants to run just as hard, without a lure.

            I mean something like that.

  3. filip

    Clinical Cardiological Parameters in whippets
    Valérie Bavegems
    ISBN/EAN-number: 9789058641991!/Valerie.Bavegems?fref=ts
    It’s written in English. 😉

  4. Catherine Thomas

    This is an excellent piece on how to chose a puppy. You might be interested in learnings about Suzanne Clothier’s ( work on canine assessment: CARAT

    • Thanks, Catherine 🙂 I have read about CARAT. Unfortunately it seems that the only way to learn about it is in-person, so that limits its reach… especially for those not from North America. I wish there was an online course about it, even without certification.

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