You already know that your dog is fast, but have you ever wondered just how fast they are? Like, are we talking near-cheetah speeds or just a step or two ahead of Usain Bolt? As it turns out, the answer isn’t easy to give in a single sentence.
One thing that we can tell you for certain, though: You probably shouldn’t challenge your dog to a footrace.
How Fast Are Dogs?
While you might think that “how fast are dogs” is a simple question, there are two words in there that need to be defined before we can go any further: “fast” and “dogs.”
The problem is that there are many dog breeds out there. Some, like Greyhounds, are incredibly fast, while others, like Pugs, aren’t fast at all. That means it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
Also, what do we mean by “fast?” That usually means the highest top-end speed that an animal can generate, often over short distances. That can be a bit misleading, though.
For example, most people would say that a champion sprinter is faster than a record-setting marathoner. That’s only over short distances, though; the marathoner would undoubtedly run 20 miles faster than the sprinter could manage.
So, while Greyhounds will cover a few hundred meters faster than any other breed, they probably can’t keep up with an Australian Shepherd on a several-mile-long run.
How Fast Can Fast Dogs Run?
Greyhounds are the fastest dog breed, but how fast are they, really?
As it turns out, really fast — a Greyhound’s top speed is somewhere in the vicinity of 45 mph, which is enough to put them in rare company among land animals. There are only a handful of species that can boast faster top-end speeds, such as cheetahs, quarter horses, and (surprisingly enough) ostriches.
While Greyhounds hold the crown among canines, they’re far from the only fast breed. Salukis can hit 42 mph, Jack Russells are capable of 38 mph, and German Shepherds are often clocked at 30+ mph.
One thing that all these fast breeds have in common, though, is that they were either bred to run down prey like foxes or deer or help tend to other animals. This requires them to be quick and agile, and they have retained those traits even if they rarely get to use them for their original purposes.
What About Slow Dogs?
Not every dog can be fleet of foot, however. Some dogs can barely reach anything that could be considered a run at all, and those breeds are among the slowest land animals on the planet.
These include Basset Hounds, Pugs, and Chihuahuas, all of whom stay at around 5 mph. Other slowpokes include Shih Tzus (6 mph), Toy Poodles (10 mph), and English Bulldogs (15 mph).
As you can see, most of the slower dogs are also smaller dogs. They don’t have the long limbs that are necessary to generate high top-end speeds, although many of them are extremely quick and agile over short distances.
Most of the slower breeds were designed for more stationary pursuits. Many are lap dogs, while others, like Basset Hounds, were bred to track prey over long distances rather than run them down in the short term. Basset Hounds are also prized for their powerful senses of smell, so they wouldn’t want to run too fast, lest they miss an important odor.
Which Breeds Are Distance Runners?
Some dogs are endurance athletes rather than sprinters. While they may not be able to match Greyhounds over short distances, they can cover an entire countryside in just a few hours, while the Greyhound struggles to keep up.
Most of the marathon breeds are larger dogs that can maintain speeds of around 15 mph for hours at a time. These include Labradors, Siberian Huskies, and English Setters.
The dog’s origins will hold clues to how fast they can run. Labradors and English Setters are hunting dogs, so they’ll need to be able to spend an entire day rousting and fetching their quarry. Siberian Huskies, on the other hand, were designed to pull sleds, so they need to be powerful and reliable rather than capable of short bursts of speed.
What Can Limit a Dog’s Speed?
A dog’s physical makeup goes a long way toward determining how fast they can run. This is true for both individuals and breeds as a whole, although the differences are more pronounced when comparing breeds.
Size is an important factor because dogs with longer legs can generally run faster than those with short limbs. This isn’t universally true, however; Jack Russell Terriers can run significantly faster than St. Bernards, for example.
The problem with St. Bernards is that they’re carrying too much weight to be as fast as some other breeds. Many of the fastest breeds combine long limbs with lithe, supple bodies, so they can move quickly without getting tired.
Oxygen flow is also important. Many dogs with short, stubby noses (called “brachycephalic” breeds) simply can’t breathe as efficiently as their longer-nosed counterparts. This makes it harder for them to run fast or cover long distances, while also making it more likely that they’ll overheat as a result of all that effort.
Are Dogs Faster Than Humans?
You’ve probably realized that the average dog is faster than the average human, but is that due to an inherent physical advantage, or is it more because the average human isn’t in great shape? What would happen if we compared a peak human (say, Usain Bolt) to a dog?
Usain Bolt’s top measured speed is about 27 mph. That means that he’d be faster than the majority of dogs in the world but quite a bit slower than your average Greyhound.
Humans and dogs have more in common than you’d think when it comes to running. Dogs are descended from wolves, and unlike most cats (like cheetahs), wolves hunt in packs. This means it’s less important for any individual wolf to be able to outrun their prey, so long as the pack can wear it down over time. This leads to endurance and proficiency over long distances rather than elite top-end speeds.
Likewise, humans are possibly the best distance runners of any species on the planet. Some anthropologists believe that it’s our ability to run long distances, rather than our big brains, that led to our dominance in the animal kingdom. Like wolves (and therefore, dogs), we’re not necessarily natural-born sprinters, but sooner or later, the chances are good that we’ll run our prey down.
Bottom Line: Dogs Are (Generally) Pretty Fast
While not every dog is capable of blowing your doors off in a race, for the most part, you’d be well-advised not to try to outrun a dog unless you have Olympic gold hanging in your trophy case. Most breeds are quite a bit faster than the average human and the ones that aren’t could probably wear you down over time.
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Featured Image Credit by Herbert Aust, Pixabay