It all started with rabbits. Too many rabbits. They can up and decide to descend upon your freshly planted seedlings overnight, feasting sumptuously until hundreds of dollars (and weeks of growth) is wasted.
We considered the idea of introducing a predator to keep a check on the feral wildlife at Birdsong. Rick researched what type of dog would not only take care of the bunnies, but also be low maintenance, safe to have around customers (because there’s always people coming and going here, collecting orders) and hopefully minimally destructive! Enter the whippet.
We read about how they don’t eat too much, spend a great deal of time sleeping, are very affectionate, LOVE chasing rabbits (they’re a sight hound, so anything that moves is fair game for a chase!) and how they tend to be couch commandos.
We didn’t actually meet anyone who owned a whippet however, until we were on holidays in NSW and the neighbour had two beautiful, older hounds. It was enough to confirm that this was the breed for us.
Our primary concern was that a sight hound may be high risk to coexist with our chickens and ducks…the fowl are in a fenced paddock, but a dog that is hard-wired to chase, may not be easy to train to respect our other pets!
Rick and I have bred all sorts of animals at Birdsong…sheep, pigs, chicken, ducks, guinea fowl…but never dogs. And with six children to help love and care for our animals, having a go at breeding dogs, in addition to just having our own as pets, seemed like a very realistic endeavour.
From a nutritional perspective, I was very curious as to how diet plays a role in a dog’s health, reproduction and offspring. I started looking at what the whippets could and couldn’t eat and was convinced that although kibble (dog biscuits) are super convenient, that kibble alone is neither a natural nor optimal diet for hounds.
I decided there would be fresh meat, vegetables, bones and eggs in our hound’s diet.
We considered organic kibble, which we may still try at some point, but the local organic bulk supplier only had organic kibble that was grain based, rather than meat/veg based.
It took a long time before we actually were able to welcome whippets into our home. The covid lockdowns were in place while we were on the whippet-hunt.
I had contacted a local breeder of show-quality whippets, and was gobsmacked at how many questions they asked about us and our property before they would even consider selling us a whippet! How high was our fence? Would someone be home most of the time for the whippets companionship, what did we plan to feed the whippet? Did we plan to breed them in the future?
There was seriously about 20 questions the breeder wanted answers to! At the time I thought it was a bit invasive, but after talking to others who have bred dogs or bought puppies and heard stories from breeders, I saw the very good sense in questioning potential buyers. Some people just don’t have a lifestyle that is compatible with these hounds, and it’s terribly unfair and sometimes even harsh on the dogs. Some just are not at all prepared for the work, training and ongoing needs of a pet dog. It can sound like a fun idea to own a dog, but research needs to be undertaken first, to see if it’s a realistic prospect.
One of our customers, with a wealth of experience with dogs and breeders, said she would keep an ear-out for any upcoming whippet litters. Sure enough, months later a contact of hers was expecting a litter. We put a deposit down on a female pup.
In the meantime, Rick hunted for an unrelated male whippet. Eventually he found a beautiful blue/grey boy, who we named Winston. He was all the way down near Canberra, so we hired dog movers to collect and escort him up to us, here in Queensland. He arrived at 4am one morning, absolutely adorable (and fed up with driving, I’d say!).
For the first month, Winston was our only dog. Fawn, the female we waited for, is a month younger than Winston, and wasn’t ready to move to her new home yet.
Winston quickly settled into large family life. He decided our couch existed for his unconditional use. Whippets appear to just adore being involved with their human’s life. They’re not the type of dog that you keep out in the back yard and just visit occasionally. They really identify as family members!
Now, a month of being the much-loved sole pooch at our place, meant that when Fawn arrived, there was some pecking-order issues to be established for Winston! Winston is definitely the more emotional hound, while Fawn is quiet, affectionate, polite…and was raised with many brothers, so was totally capable of rough play and defending herself when needed! We had such an amusing time, watching these two learn to become friends. But as you can see in the photos, they have bonded beautifully, and I don’t have the experience to know the difference between introducing a new dog when your original dog is a pup, or fully mature…but I think it’s unfolded quite nicely. I like that we got the toilet training and destructive phase over all at once, rather than being done with one puppy, and then starting all over with another! I also get the feeling these whippet pups weren’t as destructive as they could have been, because they had each other to play with. Boredom is apparently reason number one for destructive behaviour. The fact that there’s someone home to keep them company almost all the time likely made a substantial contribution to this also.
Although whippets spend a great deal of their day sleeping, when they experience a burst of energy, there’s no stopping them! Oh my goodness, they can run. And bound. I’d never seen anything like it, when Winston excitedly ‘bounded’ over our onion crop. I had no idea a dog could jump so high vertically! Not just leaping forward, but leaping straight up over a mature onion crop!
Digging: We had heard whippets don’t dig. Ours do. Not often, but they do. You should be aware of that potential if you’re looking at owning a whippet. It’s primarily happened when they have a bone they want to hide for later.
Poultry: I mentioned earlier that we were somewhat concerned about how we’d go raising poultry and sight hounds…who may not be able to resist those plump, feathery morsels. For months, while the whippets were pups, yes, they would try to chase the chickens or ducks if they got out. They have never killed one, but have removed a few tail feathers. Now it’s not an issue. Fawn can even come in the poultry yard with us, and she won’t chase a bird. She and Winston will sometimes watch them, but they know not to chase. So it is possible to train whippets to respect your poultry. I think the fact that our dogs have enough to amuse them helps. A bored whippet may be a different story.
Safe off-leash?: We had also been told that due to the nature of sight-hounds, you can’t let them off leash, or you may not retrieve them…if they see a bird or a bunny they want to chase, that could be it. They’ll run like an Olympian sprinter and be difficult to catch. We are now able to walk the dogs off-leash along our service road, without any trouble. We had one evening, months ago when Winston did chase a bunny through a couple of neighbours yards and we didn’t see him for about an hour! I prayed he’d come back (we couldn’t see him anywhere!), and he did. Phew. But now it’s fine, both hounds love to come along for an off-leash walk. BUT, there’s virtually no traffic on the service road and I don’t advise trying this on roads where there’s traffic to contend with. It’s also going to be high-risk if you try it somewhere that you know there will be other animals to deal with…like neighbours cats, or feral rabbits.
Ever owned a whippet? Let us know your experiences in the comments 🙂