their purity other older breeds which were, otherwhere, lapsing into a state bordering on mongrelism. The dogworld owes much to the triangle between the Mersey, the Humber, and the Tyne. Therein dwell a hardy, homely race of sportsmen, whose humble sphere of sport was confined chiefly to rabbiting ; and it was to increase the speed of the terrier or “snap-dog," formerly used in this pursuit, that, some time in the 'Sixties, it is said, an out-cross with the Italian greyhound was resorted to; others ascribe the creation to a cross between a greyhound and a Manchester terrier.

It was an alliance of swiftness and grace with pluck and tenacity, and the blend "came away good.” In time, by judicious breeding, there was evolved an animal with the grit and staying powers of the working terrier, and the symmetry and speed of the aristocratic dog. No doubt at a later period greyhound blood filtered in, for there is a variation in the weight of the whippet inconsistent with a cross confined to the first two breeds only. But the terrier grit was maintained whilst the physical outline was gradually refined into closer harmony with the greyhound, until a perfect miniature of that breed was arrived at, only gifted with an improved character and mental capacity.

With its racing lines, with its racing speed, and with its tractability, a new vista opened out for this new breed of dog. I have no doubt the terrier intelligence it retained suggested the possibility of the purpose to which it was put. The whippet was a dog that could be trained to race without fur leading itno easy task when you come to try it, but amazingly fascinating when accomplished. Horse - racing is a sport which appeals irresistibly to the natives of these islands, whilst only a few can personally enjoy it. But racing with dogs, and such dogs, was a form of com

petition that came within the means of the poorest. The north countryman took to the idea with avidity ; the dog was bred more and more for speed ; there came “ professional trainers” to educate it and fit it for its duties; and in the course of a decade the “snap-dog" blossomed into a race-dog, and whippet-racing one of the most popular amusements of the miners and other sons of toil in Northumberland, Yorkshire, and the adjoining counties.

Whippet-racing is now a big business — quite a world of its own ; its rules and regulations are not germane to these pages ; but those who are interested in them may find all the information they need in a publication that deals with the subject at full length. Sufficient to say that the sport has been reduced to very exact lines, and the rigour with which it is legislated for and conducted is second to that of no other sporting code in the country. To the well-trained whippet the race alone is the thing. That it excites them almost as much as their masters is a fact capable of ocular proof at any meeting ; and the wholly innocent cause of that excitement contrasts pleasantly with other similar dog-diversions where praise for the prowess of the dog is qualified by pity for its victim. From a humanitarian point of view, the whippet, as a race-dog pure and simple, and one that can be excited to the greatest exertion without scent of blood or sight of fur, deserves popularity.

I have been so fortunate as to obtain the following contribution from Mr. J. R. Fothergill, the President of the Whippet Club, on the subject of whippet-racing, and although its inclusion extends this section beyond its allotted limits, I am sure all my readers interested in the breed will be glad to have a description of the sport from one so qualified to give it :

WHIPPET-RACING.-The whippet has often been called “the poor man's race-horse," but nevertheless it can also be the rich man's race-dog. It is true that, with a few exceptions, only working-men in England have ever attended to whippet-racing, but I shall endeavour to show that, although it is the cheapest form of sport, it is far from being the meanest.

Although whippet-racing finds its patrons amongst some of the narrowest intellects in England, there is no doubt that the simple miners and mill-hands of the North have a genius for the breed. ing, running, and educating of their dogs. I have visited Lanca. shire more than once, especially to investigate whippet-racing there, and have come away full of admiration for their scientific methods, their keenness and honesty,

The best racing-whippets are bred like race-horses, through a long line of winners. To be of any use the dog must begin its education very young. As soon as it has been weaned it is kept aloof from his fellow- puppies and other dogs. From this day forward it lives the life of a hermit, having no friends and no enemies. The reason for this is that the dog will have to do his racing unjockeyed, so to speak, over a 200 yards' course, and from the moment he leaves the “slipper's " hands he must never take his eyes off the “rag” which another man (the walker-up) has carried before him up to the end of the course. If, then, he has been in the habit of chiveying playmates, or fighting with strange dogs, there are ten chances to one he will prefer to indulge in these games up the course instead of honestly “running to the rag." If, on the contrary, he has never known the society of other dogs, it will rarely occur to a whippet to molest them. Those who turn out “slappers," as they are called, are useless for racing, as they will never run in front. At the first Lancashire whippet-race I attended a friend told me he was bringing out a whelp for the first time. It was twelve months old and had never run in company. I suggested it was a toss-up whether it would “run honest” or not, and he was quite surprised at my doubts. But the whelp turned neither to right nor to left, and in the company of five screaming dogs, and between some thousand onlookers, ran as straight as a line from start to rag.

During the first six months or year a puppy requires much attention and patience; he is generally, therefore, handed over to an experienced “walker," who, for two or three shillings a week, will keep and educate him. The puppy at once takes up his quarters in the man's kitchen and bedroom, where he plays and sleeps till his master has left work for the day, when he is taken

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsett »