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.
With, I believe few exceptions, the whippet or snap dog has not been included as a distinct variety in any book on English dogs. Still, it is now, and has been for some time, quite a variety of itself, and amongst the colliers and other working men in the north of England, including Lancashire and Yorkshire, none is so popular or provides so much amusement.
Originally the "whippet' was a small dog - a cross between the Italian greyhound and some terrier or other, partaking in general appearance more of the greyhound cross than of the terrier. Thus, in many parts of the north, the dog is still called an "Hitalian," the local pronunciation of the name of that country from which it is supposed the fragile toy dog first came. He is also known as a "running" dog, the reason for which will be obvious, and is likewise called a "snap" dog because of his ability to snap or hold quickly and smartly a rabbit or any other small animal.
The whippet in perfection is a miniature greyhound, built on the lines of a Fullerton or of a Bab at the Bowster, but smaller in size. It is kept specially for running races and for coursing rabbits on enclosed grounds arranged for the purpose, and for which it undergoes a course of training suitable to the circumstances. These coursing and running matches may be considered the popular pastime amongst a very large class in the mining and manufacturing districts northwards in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, in Durham, Lancashire, and Yorkshire especially.
Several attempts have recently been made to extend the popularisation of the whippet, especially so far as its running powers are concerned. The Kennel Club, for the first time in 1892, gave it an entry in the Stud Book, and classes have been provided for it at several south country shows. Such had repeatedly appeared in the catalogues at Darlington and elsewhere in the north, but they seldom filled satisfactorily, and as a "bench dog" I need scarcely say the whippet is not likely to be any greater success than the greyhound. The entries made in the Stud Book are few, and most of the dogs there are minus a leading part of their history - namely, their pedigrees.
About the time the Kennel Club acknowledged the whippet, attempts were made to form clubs with more or less "tone" about them to encourage dog racing, but none of them got beyond an initial stage, although they were no doubt considerably assisted by the publication by Mr. L. U. Gill, of Freeman Lloyd's "Whippet or Race Dog," a very complete compendium of all that appertained to that dog and its sport. Then at the Ladies' Kennel Association show in 1895, held in the Ranelagh Club grounds, whippet racing formed one of the attractions (?). It, however, fell flat, and generally the attempt to popularise this sport with the better class of people in the south of England has, to say the least, not been a success. Its surroundings have not, as a rule, been of the highest in the social scale, nor have the rabbit coursing matches and tests of speed always been conducted by its owners in the fairest way possible. Various tricks are tried by the unscrupulous to prevent an opponent's dog winning, and a trainer or his friend has to be a sharp man in his line, to run successfully the gauntlet of all that is placed in his way during a match for money where such dogs compete. And it must be confessed that, notwithstanding the fairness, honesty, and firmness of the owners of the enclosed grounds where dog races and coursing take place, and of the umpires and referees, the general spirit of the sport is not the most wholesome in the world. Of course, these remarks are not applicable to all owners of whippets - many of whom are as straightforward and good sportsmen as ever owned a dog - but there can be no doubt that the popularity of the variety has been kept back and will continue to be so by those "black sheep" to whom allusion is made.
As I have said, the whippet ought not to be a big dog, weighing, from 12lb. to, say, about 251b. when in training. However, some of them are much heavier than this, and many of the so-called champion rabbit coursers reach 401b. in weight or even more. I have known a thoroughbred greyhound take part in one of the big handicaps that are held during the season in the neighbourhood of Manchester and elsewhere. It scarcely remains for me to say that these bigger dogs are the direct cross with the greyhound, and some of them are built on such lines, and contain so much grey hound blood, as to be scarcely distinguishable from the real article.
Such animals are fast, clever with their teeth, and oftener than not run straight into their rabbit, "holding" it without a turn, the one that does so winning the trial, irrespective of the capacity it shows for working, turning, or making the points as in coursing hares. The law allowed varies from anything between 30 and 70 yards, and directly the rabbit is dropped the dogs are slipped, the latter being done by a skilful man, specially appointed for the purpose. Handicaps are made according to the weight or height of the dog; in Newcastle-on-Tyne and the surrounding districts, the latter being the custom - the dog being measured from the top of the shoulder blade to the pad of the foot - whilst in Lancashire and Yorkshire handicap by weight is preferred. In all cases a dog has to allow a bitch three yards start. These customs or rules likewise apply to dog racing, as dealt with later on. In some of the more important handicaps, each couple of dogs, as they are drawn together, have to compete the best out of five or even more courses. In minor affairs, one rabbit for each trial is made to suffice.
Private matches between two dogs are frequently run, and such often enough create as much interest as the handicaps, notably when two "cracks" are competing. Here the conditions may vary somewhat, the start given the rabbit being specially named, and the number of courses being usually the best of twenty-one, or, perhaps, of thirty-one; a certain interval, generally five minutes, being allowed between each trial.