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What is a Whipper-In?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A whipper-in is someone who assists the huntsman during a hunt for foxes and other quarry. The whippers-in are responsible for helping the huntsman to keep the hounds organized and focused while out in the field, and they may also help to care for the hounds in the kennels, depending on the organizational structure of the hunt in question. This position may be professional, or volunteer, again depending on the hunt.

While a hunt is in the field, the huntsman is responsible for handling the hounds. He or she gives the hounds orders, encourages them to pursue particular quarry, and stays attuned to the activities of the hounds as they travel across the countryside. However, a big pack of hounds can be difficult to manage, and this is where a whipper-in, or several, come in.

A whipper-in walks or rides along the side of the hunt, ensuring that hounds who try to split off will not wander too far. He or she also discourages the hounds from unacceptable quarry, and communicates with the huntsman about the movements of the hounds. To control the hounds, the whipper-in carries a large bullwhip, which he or she cracks near the hounds to get their attention. Some whippers-in also carry rifles or shotguns to handle emergencies and to get the attention of the hounds if they become too unfocused.

When the hunt returns from the field, the whipper-in helps the huntsman to count the hounds in and check on their condition as they are loaded into the kennels or traveling crates to return to their kennels. He or she will also inform the huntsman about any unusual activities that the hounds engaged in, and any signs of unsoundness or distress on the part of members of the pack.

At the kennels, a whipper-in may help to choose hounds for a particular hunt, and to care more generally for the animals, providing food and water and cleaning the kennels along with offering basic medical care and keeping an eye on the social structure of the pack. Whippers-in may not have the same status as the huntsman and the Master of Hounds, but their views are often respected, because they get to know the hounds very well. It is also typical for people who are interested in a career as a huntsman to start as a whipper-in, so some may ask a great deal of questions or try to get more involved in the activities of the hunt to build up knowledge about the sport.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon330977 — On Apr 19, 2013

I am a whipper-in and every staff member I know, in all the clubs I know of or have hunted with, lavish attention on the hounds. Retired hounds are sent home with members or staff. From the time a hound is born it is cared for, well trained and fed, and is handled and given attention daily. Someone is at the kennel every day; cleaning the kennel and paying attention to the hounds. Hounds are walked out daily outside of the hunting season. They get plenty of exercise, they get to play in ponds when it is hot out, and afterwards we pet them and rub their bellies, just like folks do with their pet dogs.

The whip is used as a noise maker. Scent hounds tend to be very single minded and will get so focused on the scent that you have to make a loud noise to get their attention. The whip does that. It makes a cracking sound. A pet owner might clap his hands or make a loud noise to his dog for the same reason: to get his attention. The whip is used because it can be heard for a longer distance, and the hound may be many yards away. You never touch them with the whip unless it is a life threatening emergency. Our hounds come when they are called, they are happy to see us each day, we give them lots of attention and they give it right back to us. We work with them every day of their lives - and when it is time for them to retire, we find them a home with a big couch. If they develop a severe illness or are too arthritic, they are euthanized by a veterinarian. But until that day - they are happy, healthy, well adjusted working dogs and they are very much loved. And that's the Lord's honest truth from someone who devotes her entire life to hounds.

By anon313857 — On Jan 14, 2013

You have to remember that hunts which use whippers are pack oriented hunts. These dogs don't get the same love and affection that a pet dog would get simply because they aren't pets. They live in a pack, usually of 20-plus hounds and they are bred for such a life. They don't require being played with like a pet dog would, because they get all the stimulation they need from their hunts and daily runs, as well as interaction with the other hounds.

Having said that, don't for a second think that huntsmen and whips don't love and care for their animals. They know the entire pack by name, which is nothing short of a miracle when you see a pack of writhing dogs in a field or on a green and see the huntsmen and whips working with them, calling out instructions to each dog as necessary.

As far as care along the lines of feeding and health is concerned, they're really second to none. Remember, these are dogs which are required to work, and so need to be in tip top condition in order to perform as required. Not only that, but the simple fact is that hunts are under enormous public scrutiny and so the slightest laxity in care would be immediately picked up on and used against them. As such, even if you don't take into account the hunt's love for their animals, it's in the hunters' best interests to look after their hounds.

The whip is never used as a weapon against the hounds unless something has gone seriously wrong. The only time I've ever heard of a hound being beaten by a whip or huntsman was when a pack turned on a passerby's pet dog. It wasn't pretty, as I'm sure you can imagine, and drastic action had to be taken, sadly. Otherwise, it's used much as a whistle would be used by a trainer: to catch the attention of the dogs. The difference is that a whip has good reach and can be cracked right next to the dog in question, causing it to sit up and listen more effectively than would a whistle. The dogs are also well used to it, and it's probably no more terrifying to them than would a passing car be to a pet dog out on a walk.

You have to remember there are a large number of dogs with a huge number of distractions on a hunt, and they require more extreme methods of control than would a pet dog out on a walk. As for the gun part, well I've never seen a whip carry a gun, other than to shoot quarry. They certainly wouldn't use one to control a pack. Frankly, that would be dangerous.

This only goes for the types of hunting that I've watched and followed in the past: bloodhounds, foxhounds and beagles, so I can't speak for other types -- perhaps rifle hunters who use dogs for routing quarry.

I'd like to add that I'm not a fan of hunting myself, and I wouldn't be sorry to see it completely banned, but in the interest of fairness, and the fact that I'm a country boy, and have been around this sort of thing all my life, I hope I've answered a few of the questions that have arisen in this comments section.

By lovealot — On Nov 14, 2011

@lightOse33 - I don't know much about hunting or the use of hounds, but just from reading this article, it seems like the hounds just get the basic care of food, water and medical care. They don't seem to get treated with any personal care, like a pet would.

On the hunt the whipper-ins snapping their whips or firing off guns, must scare the hounds to death. To me it seems like mild abuse - but this is the way some kinds of hunting have been conducted for many centuries. I sure wouldn't want to be a whipper-in, being required to treat animals that way.

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 14, 2011

The ways that hunters care for their hound dogs go from one extreme to the other. I have seen some who make sure they are well fed and given flea and tick control, but I have seen others who starve their animals and let them get covered in parasites.

I have taken in a couple of stray hounds myself. Both of these poor dogs were skin and bones, and one of them was terrified of loud noises or sudden movements. I believe he had been abused by his owner.

I just wonder if whippers-in usually show affection and love to the hounds in addition to giving them primary care. Does anyone know if this job description involves giving attention to the animals and petting them? I would hate to think that the poor dogs were just bossed around all day without any sort of reward.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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