Every dog has its own unique likes and dislikes, but there are a few things beloved by all canines: food, friends and running.
Whether they’re chasing squirrels, playing with pals or just enjoying the great outdoors, dogs rarely seem happier than they do when they get to run.
And if you’ve ever tried to catch your dog after it sneaked out the door or slipped off its leash, you’ll be able to testify to the incredible speeds dogs can reach.
What makes dogs such expert runners and how fast can they really go?
And what’s the difference between the speediest and slowest dog breeds?
Let’s learn more about dog anatomy to find out which breeds have the most powerful strides.
Built for Speed: Why Dogs Run so Well
Different by Design
Every breed of dog looks unique, but the way they’re built impacts more than just their appearances. A Dachshund and a Great Dane may be of the same species, but they have vastly different abilities, including how well they can run. Variations in leg length, weight distribution, aerodynamics, breathing ability, and even chest size all impact stamina and speed, resulting in a huge range of running capability throughout the species.
All dogs share a few fundamental characteristics that boost their running skills. Even the least athletic breeds possess these anatomical features; they’re some of the core components of a dog, so crucial that they haven’t been bred out.
One look at your dog’s feet is enough to tell you that these animals are perfectly adapted to life on the ground. Their textured paw pads provide friction and grip to help prevent slips and skids; their high sensitivity allows the dog to feel and “read” the ground as it runs. Tough, curved nails dig into the earth with each step, providing the traction needed to make tight turns and traverse tricky terrain.
Our shoulder blades and collarbones keep our torsos stable and allow our arms to hang and sway, but they’d really hold us back if we were four-legged runners like dogs. Dogs don’t have collarbones, and their shoulder blades are detached from the rest of the skeleton, enabling them to move their front legs more flexibly and at wider angles. This greater range of motion lets the dog take longer strides, making running easier and faster.
A dog’s spinal cord may look simple at first glance, but it’s capable of complex movements that lengthen the stride and enable the dog to reach high speeds. During a gallop, a dog’s spine becomes convex as the legs come together and concave as they spread out. The extra depth of the concave spine allows the dog to spread its legs further apart while midair, which streamlines the body to cover more ground.
These factors combined form the basis of a dog’s running ability. The foundation for a great racer is present in all dogs – so why can’t they all run fast? One other, more variable traits come into play, it’s easy to see why.
Make It or Break It: Traits That Help – and Hurt – a Dog’s Running Ability
The most obvious assets to a dog’s running-skill are its legs. It’s the same deal with humans: we know that the fastest runners tend to have the longest legs. Longer legs mean longer strides, allowing us to travel greater distances in fewer steps; you don’t have to move your legs as fast to reach the same speeds.
So naturally, dogs with longer legs tend to run faster than dogs with shorter legs. But the composition of the legs plays a big role too: long legs won’t do much good if they’re weak or laden down with excess weight. The right balance of length and muscle is needed to maximize running speed and endurance.
Dogs come in so many shapes and sizes, each of which is special in its own right. But it’s just a fact of physics that some shapes make for better runners than others. The laws of aerodynamics dictate that longer, narrower shapes with gentle slopes can cut through the air better than wider, flatter shapes, and this becomes obvious when you observe the fastest dogs in action.
Air is invisible, but it still applies resistance to anything moving through it. Wider surface areas come into contact with more air, which means more resistance is met. Resistance decreases if the air can pass over the surface by traveling up a shallow incline as opposed to colliding with a steep angle or vertical face.
Many of the fastest dog breeds have long snouts, short foreheads, and slim, sleek bodies. Because they meet less air resistance when they run, they’re not slowed down as much as their broader brethren.
Running is a strenuous activity that demands increased blood flow and oxygen intake. Athletes with bigger lungs tend to perform better than those with smaller lungs, and the same is true for dogs. Lung size is relative, of course – lungs that are big for a Chihuahua would still be puny for a Rottweiler – but generally, dogs with higher lung capacities place less stress on their bodies when they run because more oxygen is readily available at any given time.
Lung capacity can be increased with consistent training, but some breeds are predisposed to be worse breathers than others regardless of lung size. Brachycephalic (short-snouted) dog breeds are notorious for their breathing difficulties due to their narrow nostrils and trachea-blocking soft palates. Not only are these breeds poor runners, but it can also actually be dangerous for them to exert themselves as they’re unable to breathe properly.
Brachycephalic breeds include pugs, Boston terriers, English and French bulldogs, Pekingese and English mastiffs. When you compare the snouts of these dogs to those of champion runners such as greyhounds and border collies, it’s easy to see what a difference the shape of the nose can make.
Speedy Breeds and Slowpokes: The Fastest and Slowest Dogs
On average, dogs can sprint at 15-20 miles per hour. However, some breeds are so perfectly adapted for running that they can reach twice that speed easily, while others are better suited to leisurely walks at speeds of a mile or two per hour. And some may not set any speed records but can keep a solid pace over staggering distances that the speediest sprinters could only dream of covering.
Here are the fastest and slowest dog breeds, plus one that’s a remarkable runner in its own right.
Greyhounds have been the breed of choice for dog racing since the sport began over a century ago. Taking just a couple of seconds to go from stationary to its full speed of 43 mph, the greyhound is a tall, long, slender dog with an elongated snout and relatively small head. Weighing between 60 and 90 pounds and measuring between two and three feet tall at the withers, this big dog is surprisingly docile and lazy when it’s not running, making it a popular choice as a family pet.
At full speed, a greyhound’s heart beats up to 600 times per minute, supplying its amazing body with five hearts’ worth of blood and oxygen per second. They’re able to do this thanks to their supersized hearts and lungs. Although greyhounds can’t maintain their top speed for too long, they’re still fantastic distance runners, able to sustain speeds of up to 35 mph for distances of up to seven miles!
Slowest: Basset Hound
It’s probably not a surprise that the plump, stumpy Basset hound isn’t the world’s most capable runner, reaching a top speed of around ten mph if that! Though they’re only about a foot tall, Basset hounds can weigh up to 75 pounds – that’s as much as a greyhound, the world’s fastest dog! The extra bulk comes from the Basset hound’s bones, which are thicker and denser than the bones of any other breed, relative to size.
The Basset hound’s short, stubby legs are the result of dwarfism, a hereditary genetic condition that breeders have intentionally bred for over the years. Though they prevent the Basset hound from running, this dog has its own claim to fame: it’s second only to the bloodhound when it comes to detecting and tracking scents. The Basset hound’s long, droopy ears and loose neck skin aid in this ability by trapping scents for the dog to reference as it needs to.
With origins in Hungary as a hunting dog, the vizsla is also known as the Hungarian pointer. Lean, muscular, and golden in color, these dogs weigh between 50 and 60 pounds and can sprint at speeds of up to 40 mph. It’s no wonder they’re still one of the most sought-after breeds for hunters – there aren’t too many animals that can outrun a vizsla!
Though they’re highly athletic and loaded with energy, these dogs are unique among hunting breeds in that they’re also phenomenal family pets. The viszla is considered one of the most loyal dog breeds, showing gentle affection towards people and displaying high levels of sensitivity and emotional reciprocation. Thanks to its well-rounded personality and extreme intelligence, the viszla is more than just a speedy dog, it’s an ideal companion.
The pug is one of the most divisive dog breeds out there. Some people adore its flat, wrinkly face and bug eyes, while others consider it cruel to purposefully breed dogs with these features due to the health complications that often result from them. Whatever your opinion of the pug is, there’s no denying that as far as speed goes, pugs are at a huge disadvantage.
Topping out at ten mph, with average speeds of around four mph, pugs have their short legs to thank for their poor running ability. But even if their legs were long and lean, they still wouldn’t win any races due to their impaired breathing. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible for pugs to look the way they do without also having breathing difficulties – their small nostrils and obstructed airways make it hard for them to get enough oxygen even when they’re just laying around.
All dogs need regular exercise, including pugs, but most vets recommend against putting these dogs through any strenuous activity due to their poor respiration. This means minimal chasing and definitely no racing. Most pugs seem just fine with this, preferring to take slow, steady walks around the neighborhood rather than going all out at the dog park.
These distinctive black-and-white spotted dogs rose to fame both as firehouse dogs and in popular children’s media. They originated as carriage dogs due to their comfort with horses, walking in front of the carriage to clear a path for the horses to walk through and standing guard upon reaching the destination. Their high visibility and peaceful nature made them well-suited to this task, while their loyalty and speed earned them additional jobs as hunting and guard dogs.
Clocking in at up to 37 mph, these spotted dogs can be difficult to spot when they’re whizzing by at full speed. Packed with boundless energy and extreme intelligence, Dalmatians need owners who can keep up with their activity level. If you’re up to the task, you’ll find the Dalmatian to be a lifelong friend like no other, displaying unrivaled loyalty and undying affection.
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Most Enduring: Siberian Husky
Siberian huskies aren’t the fastest dogs around, but there’s no denying their incredible endurance running abilities. Bred to pull sleds in the coldest regions of the world, unladen Siberian huskies can attain a top speed of around 20 mph – not particularly impressive until you take into account how long they maintain that speed. While most breeds tire out after a few minutes at full speed, Siberian huskies can keep that 20 mph pace for well over two hours.
Pulling a sled slows a Siberian husky down a bit, but not by much: it can run for 45 miles at 15 mph while pulling 150 pounds behind it! These dogs were and continue to be critical to survival in the Arctic thanks to their unmatched endurance and physical strength. Sure, a Siberian husky probably wouldn’t beat a greyhound in a race, but this breed still deserves a spot on the list of the dog world’s best runners.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret