Bully Whippets

Mary, Patrick, Matt, and Reid all tipped me to this fascinating NYT science piece on so- called “bully whippets”. Thses stout over- muscled dogs are what happens when you inbreed too much seeking a single character, in this case speed. When the whippets are heterozygous for a certain gene they are fast, but when they have two copies they are rather monstrous.

This stirred up me (and Matt, and Dr. Hypercube) into some off- web discussion. It hit two of my pet peeves: that such pursuits as racing and lure coursing are as good for dogs as hunting, and that pure “blood” and closed studbooks are somehow desirable (Patrick always has plenty to say about this too).

Matt stated the first problem clearly: “… what it takes to catch a rabbit with a dog is not ONLY speed, but brains and stamina and much else besides. So never before in the sighthounds has there been an attempt to breed for speed alone as an abstract trait, and as measured by a mechanical device. That’s new, and maybe that’s what lead us to this problem.”

As for the second, look at the article:

“When mutant, muscle-bound puppies started showing up in litters of champion racing whippets, the breeders of the normally sleek dogs invited scientists to take DNA samples at race meets here and across the country. They hoped to find a genetic cause for the condition and a way to purge it from the breed.

“It worked. “Bully whippets,” as the heavyset dogs are known, turn out to have a genetic mutation that enhances muscle development. And breeders may not want to eliminate the “bully” gene after all. The scientists found that the same mutation that pumps up some whippets makes others among the fastest dogs on the track.

“With a DNA screening test on the way, “We’re going to keep the speed and lose the bullies,” Helena James, a a whippet breeder in Vancouver, British Columbia, said.”


“It was not exactly news to breeders that speed is an inherited trait: whippets were developed in the late 1800s specifically for racing. But knowing that one of her dogs was sired by a carrier of the gene, said Jen Jensen, a whippet owner in Fair Oaks, Calif., makes its championships seem “less earned.” Ms. Jensen’s suggestion that a DNA test be required for all dogs and that the fastest ones without the mutation be judged and raced separately, however, has not gone over well.

“At a recent race here in southern New Jersey, some whippet owners wanted the mutation eliminated altogether, even if that meant fewer fast dogs. But as the dogs pounded after a lure at 35 miles per hour, several owners allowed that they would prefer a whippet with the gene for speed.

““It’s more fun having fast dogs than slow dogs,” said Libby Kirchner, of Glassboro, N.J.”

But such “purity” comes at a steep cost: reduced genetic diversity. Also, genes do not exist and act in a vacuum; their effects are intimately linked. I think that is what this fellow is getting at, though the reporter didn’t elucidate his exact reasons:

“Many breeders hope this new effort to corral nature will weed out the numerous recessive diseases that plague purebred dogs after generations of human-imposed inbreeding. But some question the wisdom of escalating intervention. Mark Derr, an author who has written about the history of dog breeding, urges everyone to reconsider the goal of genetic purity.

“I always use dogs as the example of why we don’t want to be mucking around with our own genome,” Mr. Derr said. “These people are trying to use DNA tests to solve problems of their own making.” “

My take on both questions, as related to Dr. H. (slightly edited as I do go on in early AM emails!):

“Racing and lure coursing are ersatz tests– hunting is the real thing. Even competitive open field coursing introduces an element of artificiality. Hunting selects for intelligence and intangibles.

“All working breeds AT LEAST should have ways of bringing in new genes. Ideally I’d like to see it like pigeons where the result in appearance or performance is all that matters and breeding is irrelevant.

“This will never happen. Purebred dogs and shows started in Victorian times and picked up a lot of baggage there. Breed people buy in to all sorts of mysticism about it (show saluki people with their pure Arab breed myths are among the worst– see below) and make up absurd creation myths. Also the AKC pedigree machine is Big Business and we all know what that means.

“The saluki type is what John Burchard calls a “landrace” and behaves rather like a species, maintaining itself with plenty of genetic buffering and little need for pedigrees. The west split off one small Arab population, mostly from Iraq, and called it saluki, and took an even smaller group from Afghanistan and made of it the absurd modern show Afghan. The Russians, extending our idiocy, now count those two plus taigan, aboriginal Afghan, tazi, and even a longer- coated tazi variant called Khalag tazi. In “nature”, all blend into one another and keep plenty of diversity. You can see all types plus smooths in Afghanistan, and John tells me you could see all but the heaviest – coated in the Arabian peninsula 20 years ago.

“Pedigree dogs have diminishing genetic pools and they are getting worse all the time, aided and abetted by the AKC. The saluki is the ONLY AKC breed with a mechanism for bringing in new “blood” and even that is cumbersome, partially because of Arabist romanticism and the myth of the “pure” (hurr) Bedu, saluki, Arab horse, and saker. The Arabs certainly hold a higher place for salukis than “dogs” (or at least did until the recent rise in rabid Salafism, which also affects the Afghans) but the dogs still came down from Asia. Don’t know yet when my dogs will be officially accepted. Not that they care.”

16 thoughts on “Bully Whippets”

  1. I’d like to clarify for those readers who will find my comments (and maybe Steve’s) about the supremacy of hunting in evaluating sighthounds as snobbish.

    Of course, I am a hunting snob. But I certainly do not oppose racing and lure coursing, which are fun and useful activities for people and dogs both.

    In fact, I would say (for what it’s worth–not much!) I like racing and lure coursing better than the OFC concept of a hunt, which combines real prey with a point system—something I find to be an awful mix.

    At least with the LC, everyone agrees it is a game; points and standing and artifice are acceptable components of games. Hunting is…different.

    Where I criticize the speed games for contributing to the “bully whippet” phenomenon is that this mutation seems to me the outer edge of a virtue (speed) made too abstract, or set at too high a standard.

    After all, competing against an electric motor effectively removes the ceiling on a whippet’s need for speed. The speed in mph has become the stanmdard of success, and that standard now has no limit.

    Well, maybe bully whippets show us there is a limit after all.

  2. Years ago I read an article in an ag mag about cows that were “double-muscled” like these bully whippets. The effort had been to put more meat on an already blocky animal. I can’t remember what the fatal drawback was (maybe the cows were too musclebound to walk), but I suspect truthfully that the cows just weirded everyone out.

    Prairie Mary

  3. Steve, et al – I’m not 100% positive about this, but the subject of “bully whippets” came up on another couple of lists recently and according to those sources, the dogs are the result of a mutant gene … A similar thing occurred in Quarter Horses being bred for extreme muscling when a mutation happened which caused a disease – again memory fails – which manifested in severe muscle tremors and spasms – often resulting in death under a year of age in foals which carried the double gene. I’m actually smarter about genetics than the above statement would indicate, but it is late at night, and my memory shuts down at 9pm.

    In addition, this is the Summer Solstice, and I’m much more inclined to travel to the outdoors and light a little fire, or a candle or perhaps just a stick or two of incense. Just me and my black dogs. Dancing by the light of the moon. 🙂

  4. Quote:
    “these monsters are made by back yard breeders like this one
    # posted by Anonymous : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007
    home of the bully whippets
    # posted by Anonymous : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007″

    I guess it’s always easy to bash people when staying anonymous… you don’t have to have the courage to stand behind what you stated because no one will come back after you for explanations… they can’t know you said that!

    I can say for a fact that Poeta Whippets is NOT a backyard breeder. These dogs can do it all, and very well: straight racing, oval racing, lure coursing, agility, obedience, rally-o and conformation.

    From: Proud owner of a Poeta puppy!

  5. This is an unfair attack on a legitimate breeder . The Poeta whippets are health tested , and
    lovingly cared for . I have been in whippets since 1976 , and have not found a more consientious breeder . How dare you slam her for
    a genetic mutation that NO ONE knows who the carriers are . Its easy to hide behind an anonomous post , albeit cowardly . Do your home work , DM whippets have been around much longer than Poeta whippets
    Wendy Strickland
    Proud owner of 2 Poeta bred dogs !!

  6. I find it more then cowardly for an obviously uninformed person to bash a caring, responsible breeder. I also want to say the double muscled Whippets are not monsters! They are very sweet dogs who are the result of a myostatin mutation. That mutation was just discovered just this year. That discovery was made possible by concerned and responsible breeders like this one. I think it’s too bad that “Anonymous” doesn’t know what they are talking about

  7. Congratulations Anonymous, “these monsters are made by backyard breeders like this one” and “home of the bully whippets”, on having the courage to post your real name on what amounts to a personal attack on a breeder. Either you are completely uninformed or just plain jealous of someone else’s accomplishments.

    Sensational media reports make for entertainng reading, heated discussions and quick judgements, which are often incorrect. If you really want to understand what is going on, why not go to the source, i.e. the scientific report that created all this buzz in the first place. http://genetics.plosjournals.org/archive/1553-7404/3/5/pdf/10.1371_journal.pgen.0030079-S.pdf

    Not all of the fastest whippets are carriers for the DM gene.

    It is also my understanding that some DM whippets have severe muscle cramping and that is the only reason why they would be put down as puppies. Many DM whippets are spayed/neutured and living wonderful lives as much loved pets.

  8. poeta whippets are the home of the bullys there is not one ch. in the program Poeta got his only point by beating his over standard bully son in the ring with no other dogs. They have no field titles. Bully mutes can only run straight. All the breeding line have defaults that are enough for a DQ in any akc event

  9. Ok Jeff clearly someone is feeding you half information. Yep there is not bench champian Poeta whippet. The breed is split north america only 4 dogs have both racing & show champianships so the number of kennels who have both can be counted on the fingers of one hand, might as well call the show kennels backyard breeders because they produce no race winners. IN FACT a dog with a breed DQ CANNOT get a strait RACING champianship ALL dogs are checked before every meet. many of the top dogs I would not care to measure in standing on a piece of paper but in fact they MUST measure in every time (so much for oversize)- as someone on east coast inspection commitees I resent the charge that dogs I passed through are DQed
    And by the way in fact the son Poet was shown against is rather lightly built definaly not a bully (carrier maybe, nobody knows)… AND I HAVE seen the mother of one of the bullies (a proven carrier) lure course with my own two eyes and I belive she open field hunts too (I have not seen it since it is illegal in much of the eastern US (as it is now in England)- so much for the carriers can only strait race.
    SO do you feel silly now?

  10. Yes silly for trying to show the light to narrow minded people like you. Racing dogs are far from the standards of the breed. Long fur on the hind legs, head of a pit bull, no lower jaw etc… I have seen the the wickets and the roll calls. It really depends on who your friends are to get a over limit dog in. Example panthers was exactly at the height limit at 8 months of age. So tell me that a dog stops growig at 8 months. A 3 year old can tell a whippet apart from the mosters Jeff

  11. Clearly, Jeff/anonymous has no clue. And apparently a lot of time on his hands to be worrying about the Poeta whippets. What dogs do you own Jeff and are they worthy??? Lets hear about your dogs.

    I don’t find merit in someone who just likes to bash other people’s dogs, it makes me think they are the ones that have inferior dogs and just want to make themselves feel superior (when they really ARE NOT). Get a life.

  12. my purebred son of champions is twice his standard, and resists losing weight, despite our serious efforts.. he’s always been stocky. he’s a pet, not a competitor, but he’s athletic, extremely playful and i’m afraid he’ll have a stroke or heart attack from his weight. is there a modified expression of a bully gene, scientists?
    i’m anonymous because this subject is threatening to breeders, not wishing their line of dogs to be branded as inferior. Both sides of this issue are hotly defensive.

  13. Obviously “Jeff” is an idiot. The “over standard bully son” he refers to has in fact been tested “NORMAL” for the DM gene. He’s not a bully and he’s not even a carrier of the gene. He’s just a normal, fast whippet. And he has been measured by redeemed judge Bo Bengston at an AWC Specialy and measured IN.
    As for the lack of field titles, I suspect you mean lure coursing. The same dog has only lure coursed once in his life and when he did, he won Best of Breed.
    Crawl back under the rock you came from “Jeff”.


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