If you’ve ever chased your four-legged friend around your yard when they’ve pinched a sock or raced across a dog park because they’ve slipped the lead and are pursuing a squirrel, you’ll have an idea about how fast your dog is! But how fast can dogs run actually and what makes some dogs faster than others?
On average, dogs can run at about 15-20 miles an hour. Some are much faster and some are much slower. The fastest dog breed is the Greyhound who can reach speeds of up to 40 miles an hour. Dogs with a similar build, like the Saluki can reach speeds of over 40 miles an hour. Most fast dog breeds have a particular running gait, long legs and a slim body. However, the exception to the rule is the Jack Russel Terrier who can reach speeds of over 38 miles an hour.
Science of How Dogs Run
Let’s start by looking at the science of how dogs run so that we can understand how they reach the speeds that they do. All dogs have the potential to be great runners because they have the following attributes:
Feet That Can Grip
To run fast you need traction. No animals can gain speed if their feet are sliding all over the place. Dogs’ paws are excellent at gripping the ground. Not only can they gain speed but many dogs can scale vertical slopes, cover rough terrain and change direction rapidly. Their claws give extra grip on soft ground. Although, as you may have noticed, they cannot grip on hard surfaces in our homes. Their claws can also make marks on hardwood floors so it is a good idea to clip nails regularly. You may even want to pop some protective socks with grips on your dog if your floor is very delicate.
Variety of Walking and Running Gaits
A dog’s gait is the pattern of movements that their limbs make when they are moving along (locomotion). Dogs have a variety of gaits that they can use, depending on how fast they want to travel. These are the walk, amble, pace, cantor, trot and gallop.
The fastest is the gallop. It’s called a four-time gait with suspension which means that all four limbs are lifted off the ground at the same time. All dogs have a single suspension gallop which is an asymmetrical sequence. The dog uses the power of all four legs and flexes their spine and abdomen. This drives the forelimbs back and the rear limbs forward. Then, they extend their spine and abdomen and this brings the rear limbs back and the forelimbs forward.
However, dogs that can run very fast have an extra running gait! This is called the double suspension gait and is only found in dogs like Greyhounds and Whippets. In this gait, the dog achieves full extension so the rear feet actually overtake the front. Because the dog’s whole body leaves the ground twice, they can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. However, it’s not a gait that can be maintained for long so it is not found in dogs with high endurance. It’s swings and roundabouts when it comes to dog running gaits!
Plenty of Power
Dogs use four limbs to generate power compared to us using just two. So, bear this in mind when you try to chase a dog that wants to get away from you. With most breeds you are unlikely to win and this is why you need to teach a strong recall command from a young age.
Additional power is provided by a flexible spine and very strong abdominal muscles. Finally, dogs have long loin muscles (lumbus) which are the muscles on the side of the body between the lower ribs and pelvis.
How Fast Can Dogs Run?
So, now we know that dogs have bodies that are capable or running fast. But how fast can dogs run?
This depends on the dog and running speeds are very variable. On average, dogs can run at around 15-20 miles per hour for a short time. However, that is a generalization. Some dogs are a lot faster and some are a lot slower.
For any individual dog, their speed will depend on their body composition, their health and their breed.
Why Can Some Dogs Run So Fast?
Some breeds are the elite sprinters of the canine world so why is this? Fast dogs have a lot of things in common. They all have a deep chest and a lean body with legs that are long in relation to their body size. They also have efficient hearts and enough lung capacity to provide instant bursts of oxygen to muscles that need to work hard. They also have a wide reach so that they can cover a lot of ground quickly.
When we talk about ‘fast’ dogs we generally mean those that can reach top speeds for short periods of time. These dogs cannot maintain these speeds for very long so they do not have great stamina. This is something that we will be coming back to later.
In general, younger dogs will be faster because they have more enthusiasm for running. Older dogs can get conditions such as arthritis that slows them down.
Why Are Some Dogs So Slow?
If we put aside the fact that some dogs are too poorly to run fast or perhaps are carrying too much weight, there are other things that make a dog a slow runner. Many breeds can only reach 20 miles per hour at the most. Here are some of the slowest breeds with their maximum speeds.
- French bulldog (under 15 mph)
- Shih Tzu (6 mph)
- Pug (5–10 mph)
- Toy poodle (10 mph)
- Bulldog (under 15 mph)
- Bassett hound (5–10 mph)
So, why are some dogs slow runners? Very small breeds have short legs so no matter how fast they move them, they will never cover much ground. The brachycephalic breeds, like the French Bulldogs, do not breath very efficiently thanks to the shape of their very flat faces. They simply cannot get enough oxygen into their bodies fast enough to keep up with the demands of running fast.
Very large breeds like the Newfoundlands are slow because of their sheer weight. It takes too much energy to move a huge body at speed. Having said that, some large breeds can have very short bursts of energy but it cannot be maintained for very long.
But don’t feel too sorry for these slow dogs, they have been purposely bred for jobs that do not involve running very fast. Some are purely companion and lap dogs. Others, like the Basset Hounds, have an amazing sense of smell so that they can track prey over long distances.
Top 5 Fastest Dog Breeds in the World
Let us introduce you to the incredible sprinters of the dog world. These guys are fast!
#1 Greyhound – 45mph
The Greyhound is the fastest dog in the world and can beat a Cheetah over certain distances. They are 30 inches in height and have the double suspension gallop that is found in many land mammals that can run fast. Their whole body contracts and extends as they run and all four feet are off the ground for 75% of the time when they are galloping. They also have amazing acceleration and reach their top speeds in just six strides.
The fastest Greyhounds can reach 45 miles an hour! You may think that this is not the dog for you because a dog with that level of athleticism is going to need so much exercise. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Greyhounds are couch potatoes at heart and will happily spend 18 hours a day snoozing. This makes them ideal apartment dogs – most of the time they will chill out. They need one walk a day and a couple of trips to the dog park a week where they can slip the leash and tear around showing off their speed.
#2 Saluki – 42 mph
The speedy Saluki is a hunting dog that originates from the Middle East. They were bred to hunt antelope which explains why they can run so fast. They are a similar build to a Greyhound with a deep chest that rises to a small waist. As well as speed, Salukis also have great looks with gorgeous feathered and floppy ears. They also have very soft personalities. The breed has keen eyesight – they hunt what they can see rather than what they can smell and have a high prey drive.
Their top speed is 42 miles per hour which is slightly slower than the Greyhound but they have more stamina. This makes them more suitable as a jogging buddy.
#3 Vizsla – 40 mph
You won’t be able to catch a Vizsla but you won’t miss one either with their stunning red-gold coat. They are sometimes called Hungarian Pointers and are very athletic – reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. In fact, the Vizsla is an all-round athlete and excels at swimming, retrieving, and agility. They have also been described as a ‘velcro dog’ and will want to be by your side 24/7. This is not a great breed choice for you if you are away from home a lot and cannot take your dog with you!
On the other hand, if your hobbies are hiking, running or cycling they will be your devoted companion. One word of warning, their tails are quite delicate and can get damaged so many are docked a third of the way down their length.
#4 Afghan Hound – 40 mph
Able to reach the same speed as the Vizsla, the Afghan has very long legs! This is an ancient breed who have silky thick coats and originated from the chilly climates of Central Asia. They also have very large paws which keep them stable as they travel at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour.
If you want to own an Afghan, you need enough time to dedicate to maintaining their stunning coat. They are a loyal and sensitive dog who will make a wonderful running companion and unlike the Greyhound, they have stamina to keep going all day!
#5 Ibizan Hound – 40 mph
Another breed that can reach 40 miles an hour is the Ibizan Hound. These sweet dogs have long, slim legs and an athletic body that is similar to that of the other speedy breeds.
The ‘Beezers’ as they are affectionately known, were originally bred in the Catalan regions of France and Spain to work as rabbit trackers and hunters. They can have a wiry or smooth coat and are even-tempered and polite. They will make an excellent family pet as long as they have the correct socialization at an early age.
Some Surprisingly Fast Dog Breeds
There are some speedy breeds that you may not have considered as fast. Herding dogs need to be able to keep up with, and overtake, stock animals. That’s why both the Border Collies and German Shepherds can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
A fit, young Cocker Spaniel can have incredible bursts of speed – up to 30 miles an hour. They have powerful shoulders and can accelerate rapidly. Boxers were used as couriers during the wars and can also reach similar speeds. Finally, the Jack Russel terrier proves that small breeds can also be pretty nifty and can reach speeds of over 38 miles an hour despite their short legs!
Which Dogs Breeds Have the Best Stamina?
Being fast is not just about top speeds. It’s also about how long that speed can be sustained and that is called stamina or endurance.
Dogs with endurance can run at a reasonable speed over long distances. This makes them ideal hiking and cycling companions. Both the Labrador Retriever and German Shorthaired Pointer were bred to retrieve prey and needed to be able to cover long distances at speed and had to work all day. The Siberian Husky was bred for pulling sleds over long distances and has amazing stamina. Whilst the English Setter, the Standard Poodle and the Dalmatian were all carriage dogs. They needed to be able to keep up with a team of horses on long journeys.
All of the above breeds can maintain speeds of around 10 to 15 miles an hour for a long time.
The dog that holds the record for the fastest mile is a Weimaraner who completed it in four minutes and thirteen seconds!
All Dogs Need Exercise
Whether your dog is a plodder or a sprinter, they all need exercise to keep them healthy and happy. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can develop both health and behavioral issues.
Jogging and walking with your dog are lovely ways to spend time together. However, if you have a high-energy dog that needs to cover more miles that you do, there is a fun alternative. Dogs love to play fetch! As they run to retrieve the fetch toy and bring it back to you, they are building up the miles.
- Portable - work with batteries
- Suitable for all dogs
- Features a safety alert buzzer
- Use standard size tennis balls
Can Dogs Run Faster Than Humans?
That depends on the dog and the human! Most dogs can outrun an out-of-shape human. But even the fastest human sprinters can only reach a speed of 27 miles per hour. That is a lot slower than a Greyhound and is not even as fast as a German Shepherd.
However, the one thing that we do have in common with our dogs is endurance. Both wolves (from which dogs descended) and humans can run for long distances. This is because we both relied on this method to run our prey down.
Check out these articles on fun facts about dogs:
- Why do dogs have tails? The surprising reasons
- Why do dogs shake their heads?
- This is why your dog’s breath smells so bad and what to do about it
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