The greyhound is the fastest dog breed in the world. They are also one of the fastest land mammals. Greyhounds can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour. For comparison, a cheetah — the fastest animal on earth — runs at 70 miles per hour.
Greyhounds have been selectively bred for centuries to be very fast. They were originally used for coursing, which is a form of hunting where fast prey is chased to exhaustion. Greyhounds were used for hunting hares, rabbits, deer and other swift-footed animals.
After sport hunting began to lose its popularity, dog racing began to replace it. Greyhound races became popularized in the early 1900s in America, and it is still practiced in some states despite complaints from some animal welfare groups.
How Do Greyhound Races Work?
Greyhound races take place on an oval track. The dogs are trained to chase a lure, which is pulled ahead of the fastest runner.
Greyhound racing is one of the few forms of legalized gambling still practiced throughout the United States and many other parts of the world. The money tied to dog racing is a large reason for its continued popularity.
Racing greyhounds are bred specifically for the purpose of racing, and they are raised under conditions that often differ from other dogs. Most racing greyhounds retire from the track between the ages of 4 to 6 years. The fastest and most athletic dogs are bred to create a new generation of faster racers. Dogs that are poor runners or don’t show interest in a lure may be retired early or never make it to the track.
Laws governing the treatment of racing dogs require retired greyhounds to be placed into homes whenever possible. Many greyhound rescues exist to facilitate these adoptions.
Why Are Greyhounds So Fast?
Because there are so many greyhounds bred for racing and so many available for adoption, there are few greyhounds bred outside of the racing industry.
In practice, this means that greyhounds are bred to become faster and more athletic with each generation. The qualities that make a good racer are the qualities greyhounds have been bred toward, and this has created a very strong dog.
6 Characteristics That Make Greyhounds Extremely Speedy on the Track:
- They are tall and long-legged, giving them a very long stride. This enables them to build up speed quickly.
- They are slender. Despite standing at an average height of around 30 inches, greyhounds rarely weigh more than 70 pounds.
- They have a high metabolism and are naturally lean. A healthy greyhound has visible ribs and well-defined muscles.
- They are aerodynamic. Greyhounds have narrow bodies, thin faces and ears that fold back to the skull.
- They run with a double-suspension gallop, meaning there are two points in each stride where a greyhound has all four paws of the ground.
- They have larger-than-average hearts and the highest blood volume to body ratio of any athlete.
A running greyhound’s feet touch the ground only 25 percent of the time while running. This minimizes friction and makes the dog appear extremely graceful while in motion. In this way, greyhounds are the most like cheetahs of any fast animal.
Are Greyhounds Faster Than Horses?
Both racing greyhounds and race horses are almost unbelievably fast. A British race track decided to pit its fastest dog against its fastest horse to see who would win in a 400-meter dash. The greyhound won the race, taking an early lead and finishing seven horse-lengths ahead of its equine rival.
If the race had been much longer, the horse likely would have won. Greyhounds are natural sprinters who can put on tremendous bursts of speed but lack endurance. Horses have much greater endurance and tend to run somewhat longer races as well.
What Is the Fastest Dog in History?
In 2014, an Australian racing greyhound named Shakey Jakey made headlines around the world for his record-smashing victory. He finished his first race an amazing 22 lengths ahead of the second-place dog, completing a 515 meter dash in 29.30 seconds.
Shakey Jakey was immediately retired and put up for stud as his owner knew he was worth more for breeding than running on the track.
It’s estimated that a greyhound’s maximum speed would top out between 43 and 45 miles per hour.
What Other Dog Breeds Are Fast?
Although greyhounds are the only breed that’s raced for sport in the U.S., they are not the only dog bred for speed.
Greyhounds are a part of the sighthound group, and all sighthounds share many similarities. They are tall, long-legged and with a deep chest and aerodynamic build. These dogs were developed for coursing prey, and the sighthound type is one of the oldest in the world. Greyhounds are mentioned by name in the Bible, and other sighthounds show up in the earliest periods of history. All of these breeds are still quite fast and athletic.
Some of the fastest non-gryhound dogs include the Hungarian Vizsla, the Borzoi, the Saluki and the Whippet. Non-sighthound type dogs that were bred for a working life can also be quite fast. The Weimaraner, Doberman Pinscher, Dalmatian and Border Collie are all examples of dogs prized for their athleticism.
Although greyhounds are the fastest dog breed, they lack endurance. A greyhound race usually lasts less than 30 seconds, and these sprinters are notorious couch potatoes when not on the track. Other breeds are bred for endurance and can run for hours. The Siberian Husky for example can maintain a constant speed of 10 miles per hour and cover as much as 150 miles per day. Their endurance makes them perfectly suited for long-distance racing as seen in sled dog events like the Iditarod.