This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
The whippet, or snap dog, as he is also called, is a great favourite with workmen in Durham and other northern counties, and the Darlington Show never fails to bring together a large collection of them.
It is not, however, for the show bench, but the race ground that he is bred, where they are matched against each other for speed and for their superiority in rabbit coursing. I cannot describe them better than by saying they are a greyhound on a small scale with a dash of terrier.
An account of the dog racing for which these whippets or snap dogs are used, and which is so popular with the working classes in many parts of the north, will be interesting.
The dogs are handicapped according to their known performances, etc, and the distance run is two hundred yards. They are entered as "Thomson's Rose, 19½lb.," as the case may be, and the weight appears on the handicap card. Dogs are weighed in an hour before the time set for the first heat, and are allowed four ounces over the declared weight. The winner of the heat is weighed again immediately the heat is run. For the second heat eight ounces are allowed. For the final race additional extra weight is allowed, that being run on the following Saturday. The dog generally gets a light meal - half a pigeon, or a chop, or piece of steak - after running his second trial heat on the second Saturday; so he weighs a bit heavier the second time of scaling. The modus operandi will be best illustrated by the following description of a race meeting recently held at Farnworth Recreation Grounds, near Bolton. There were sixty odd heats of three dogs. The course is a perfectly level path of twelve yards in width. The dogs are stripped and put on their marks, each being held by his owner, or a man for him, and the starter goes behind them with the pistol.
Meanwhile a man the dog knows starts off in front of him, carrying a big piece of linen rag, or some conspicuous object, sometimes a big tuft of grass or a pigeon's wing; and every now and then, as he runs up the course, he will turn round and "Hi" to the dog, at the same time waving the cloth up and down. When these runners up have got pretty near the finish, the pistol is fired and the dogs are released. The runners up must then get over the ten-yard mark, beyond the finish line, and the dogs, running right on, snatch the cloth with their teeth and hang to it like grim death. Each dog has a piece of ribbon round his neck, according to his station - red, white, or blue; and the judge or referee, as he is called, holds up a flag of the winning colour to show which has won. The cloth is called "bait," and "live bait" is forbidden.
The following is a copy of rules in force at a number of racing grounds in the Manchester district, which will make the working of this popular pastime clear:
1. All dogs that have never run at these grounds must be entered in their real owner's name and residence, also the town or place in which they are kept, or they will lose all claim in any handicap, and will be subject to inspection at the scales; and no person will be allowed to run with live bait.
2. Any person objecting to a dog on the mark, that heat shall be postponed. The objector and owner shall stake in the hands of the handi-capper or referee £1 each at the time of objection, which must be made into £5 each before the last heat is run. If it cannot be proved on the day of objection, the dog will run under protest. The person who owns the dog shall leave it with the proprietor or handicapper until the objection is proved right or wrong - if it is proved wrong the money to be paid to the objector; but if not proved the money to be paid to the owner of the said dog.
3. In any case of running-up for a wrong dog, both the owner, the "runner," and the dog will be disqualified. They will be expelled from the grounds for twelve months, and will not be allowed to enter any handicap during that time. Their names will also be published in the sporting papers.
4. Any owner of dogs attempting to weigh, or sending any other person to weigh a wrong dog, both owner and dog shall be excluded from the grounds for twelve months.
5. If a dog be disqualified after running, the second dog in the heat shall be placed first, and if it is not possible to tell the second dog, all the dogs in the heat shall run again, except the one disqualified. All bets void on the heat.
6. Should the dogs go when the cap is fired, and not the shot, they shall run again in all cases; and any dog slipped before the cap or shot is fired, shall forfeit all claim to the handicap, except all the dogs go, then it shall be a race.
7. Only one runner-up allowed with each dog. Any one not at the mark when the previous heat is over will be disqualified in any part of the race. The runners to be ten or fifteen yards over the mark, according to the rules of the ground, when the dogs finish, or the dogs they represent will be disqualified. In all heats dogs must start at their respective marks.
8. All bets stand whether the dogs run or not, excepting bets on heats, when backers must have a race for their money.
9. That entries for dog handicaps shall close on Saturdays (Monday morning's post in time); and no entries will be taken after Monday morning on any account. This rule applies only to handicaps run on two succeeding Saturdays; when run on other days it will be subject to alteration as announced in bills.
10. If the proprietors and handicappers at any of these grounds make a mistake in a dog's start, and, not detecting it, allow any dog to run the first day, it shall not be disqualified through the handicapper having made a mistake in the start, and all bets must stand.
11. Any dog entered " old " and not over five years old will be disqualified in any part of the race, and lose all claim to bets or stakes. No age will be taken after eight months old.
12. Final Heat. - All dogs in the final heat shall be subject to weighing and inspection. In weighing, they will be allowed 6oz. in addition to the usual allowance; and anyone taking his dog off the course before the referee declares "All right," shall forfeit all claim to stakes and bets.
All disputes to be settled by the referee.