This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
However, if the whippet is to become generally popular, it will not be by means of an ability to kill rabbits. The dog racing by him will be more likely to find favour with the public. Those who are not connected with the sport will be surprised to find the hold it has obtained amongst the working classes in the north. There are repeatedly from one hundred and fifty to over three hundred such dogs entered at one competition, the trial heats of which, three dogs taking part in each heat, being run as a rule one Saturday, the finals the Saturday following. This day is a half-holiday with the miners and workpeople, hence its selection, but other meetings are held on the recognised Bank holidays, and sometimes on the Monday.
Dogs of all sizes compete in the same stake, they being handicapped according to height or weight, if unknown; otherwise according to their performances, weight, etc, of course, likewise being taken info consideration. The most useful size of the whippet is, probably, a dog scaling about 2olb. or so, and the pace such an one can go for a comparatively short distance is extraordinary. 200 yards having been covered in 12½ seconds. It is generally considered that a dog about 151b. is the speediest animal in proportion to its weight.
Before these dogs have attained sufficient proficiency to take part in a handicap or match, they must undergo a certain tuition, during which they come to run at their greatest speed. All preliminaries being arranged, the dog makes an appearance at one of the many "running" grounds. Here a course is laid out on the cinder path, the distance usually being 200 yards. At one end the various handicaps are marked out, three dogs start in a heat, and each, as in ordinary pedestrianism, has a side allotted to it by draw or otherwise. The starter is behind the dogs, pistol in hand. A friend of the owner holds his dog on the mark, the owners or trainers run in front of their dogs up the course calling to them, and dangling something attractive - a chicken's or pigeon's wing, perhaps, or a piece of rag, a towel or an old shirt; rabbits and live stock are not allowed. These owners or trainers having reached the limit of the course, the pistol is fired, the dogs are slipped, and at their full pace urge on to the goal where their trainers await them. Near there the judge is placed, who quickly and promptly pronounces which dog wins, and so the fun goes on. The rules are stringent to a degree, as all rules ought to be (subject even to no appeal in a court of law), and any man slipping his dog before the pistol is fired is disqualified, not only for that heat, but for the whole stake. The sport is exciting enough, and if it does not attract the thousands that gather to see the "final" of a Sheffield handicap, the attendance is usually quite large enough to be pleasant. I need scarcely say that the training of these running dogs is made a "profession," and a skilled man is well paid for his work.
There are dogs that will not run these races to the best of their ability, some preferring to have a growl or fight with an opponent; others, more kindly disposed, seeking to romp and play. To guard against such canine breach of discipline, an arrangement can be made by erecting long strips of canvas, and between each strip a dog runs, thus quite out of sight of its opponent, until the judge and goal are reached. This plan is frequently adopted, as some of the very best animals, after competing repeatedly under the ordinary system, become either careless or quarrelsome, and refuse to " try," contenting themselves by running alongside an antagonist, and losing the race by a head, and the owner's weekly wage and more at the same time.
Some time ago, Mr. T. Marples wrote an exhaustive article on coursing and running by whippets. He says that "at times, especially in winter, when snow has to be cleared from the ground which is harder than usual, many of these dogs run in what are called 'stoppers' - leather gloves that are placed over the claws of the fore feet, the latter being apt to be injured by the suddenness with which the dogs stop at the end of the race." These are, of course, only required where the racing is done on a cinder-path, and would be quite out of place on grass during rabbit coursing.
As to handicapping, the same writer tells us that . as a rule a dog 151b. weight is taken as the basis of the handicap, and he is given or takes three yards, according to size, irrespective of the allowance for sex alluded to earlier on. However, when the dogs "reach about 271b. in weight, they are pretty much equalised, just as an increase is given to small dogs down to about 81b. in weight. For instance, a dog of 151b. would give one of 141b. three yards start; but one of 131b. would receive seven yards from the 151b. dog, and in all likelihood a 10lb. dog would receive from eighteen to twenty yards in the two hundred. Then, in turn, the 151b. dog would receive three yards from the 161b animal, and from one up to 2olb. the 151b dog would receive ten or twelve yards start," irrespective, of course, of penalties for previous successes. Novices are usually given an advantage of about 2lb.
The above seems a somewhat complicated arrangement, but it is thoroughly understood by the handicappers.
I need scarcely say that these whippets when in training are fed on the best food that can be provided; they are kept warm, sleep in the house in a cosy corner, and are muzzled and sheeted when outside. Their owners are for the most part working men, and instances are not isolated where their wives and children have gone with empty stomachs, whilst the dogs and their masters regale on rump steaks and chops cut from a leg of mutton.
Perhaps it may be mentioned that during the past twenty years or so the sport with "running dogs" and "rabbit coursers," as conducted in the north, has flourished amazingly, and personally I regret that it has done so to the detriment of the more manly pedestrian exercises, wrestling, and the clever game of knur and spell.
The points and general description of the whippet are, excepting so far as size is concerned, identical with those of the greyhound as they appear on a preceding page, though occasionally comparatively rough coated or wire-haired whippets are met with. Such, of course, show breeding back to the wire-haired terrier, or perhaps to some cross-bred "lurcher," a few of which are still kept for poaching purposes in various parts of the country. Need I mention that for rabbit coursing staying power as well as pace is required in a whippet, whilst for racing speed alone is the desideratum.