Which breeds are the athletes of the dog world? You might think about the bodybuilder types like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or Cane Corso. You have the dancers of the canines like the Poodle.
Of course, the all-around jocks who can seemingly do anything might come to mind first, such as the German Shepherd or Doberman. What about the runners like the Greyhound and Whippet?
Unless you think in terms of charging a suspect, you may not consider running a defining trait of the German Shepherd Dog. Nevertheless, have you ever wondered how fast a Shepherd can run?
German Shepherds can run about 30 to 32 miles per hour. You may be surprised to learn they are among the fastest canines.
We compare the GSD’s running speed and style with other breeds as well as various species known for their extreme quickness. We also go over what affects how fast a Shepherd can move and in what activities her speed is most useful.
What does speed mean and what are the different gaits of the four-legged animal?
When someone asks how fast the quickest human can go, everyone knows they are referring to running. Four-legged animals, however, generally have four main gaits. When someone has a question about the fastest dog or horse, he or she is talking about the animal’s speed at a gallop.
- Walk – A four-beat gait whereby the feet move one after the other and at least one foot is always on the ground. Three feet have a brief moment where they land at the same time.
- Trot – The trot involves the simultaneous movement of the diagonal pairs of legs. A moment of suspension follows each striking of the ground, allowing the animal to switch diagonals with each stride. Shepherds can probably trot 17 to 18 miles per hour.
- Canter – The cantering dog is running but not as fast as a full-speed gallop. A canter is a three-beat gait whereby the dog leads with either the right or left front foot. He then lands with two diagonals followed by one foot and then a moment of suspension. For example, a left canter would be left fore, right fore and left hind simultaneously, right hind, then suspension. Horses canter much more often than dogs.
- Gallop – A gallop is a full out run where you would measure an animal’s top speed. Some mammals, like the sloth, do not gallop. The gallop, similarly to the walk, sees the feet hitting the ground in sequence one by one, but it is much faster and features one or two periods of suspension.
The AKC and other clubs that provide guidelines for the show ring do not accept pacing in very many dog breeds.
Pacing is much like the trot, except the pairs of legs on the same side of the body move in unison instead of the diagonals. It is still a two-beat gait with a moment of suspension.
To get a clear picture of pacing, imagine how a camel or a Standardbred racehorse moves. In the show, ring pacing is acceptable in the Old English Sheepdog or Neopolitan Mastiff as two examples.
There are two forms of galloping in land animals. Some species engage in one type or the other exclusively. Others flip between the two depending on how fast they are moving.
Galloping is always a four-beat gait. The following sequences, according to jeb.biologist.org can vary depending on if the animal leads with the right or left leg. Both the following footfalls are leading with the right hind.
- Transverse gallop – A rocking gait, it has a sequence of right hind, left hind, right fore, left fore, followed by suspension whereby the legs are gathered under the body. At extreme speeds, there may be a second suspension just before the right fore hits the ground.
- Rotationary gallop – A leaping gallop that enables double suspension for each stride. The right hind, left hind hit in sequence followed by suspension with the legs fully extended; then, the left fore and right fore hit in sequence followed by suspension with the legs gathered under the body.
Why don’t German Shepherds Race?
As versatile as German Shepherds are, it seems a rather glaring oversight that they do not race. They are certainly competitive and motivated enough. German Shepherds also have a high prey drive which should serve them well in races. Finally, Shepherds have good speed and exceptional stamina.
The gallop is not the GSD’s best gait.
Although German Shepherds are fleet of foot and among the quicker dogs, they were not originally intended to be runners.
The German Shepherd is a working dog whose most efficient gait is the trot. German Shepherd show dogs exaggerate the beauty and flashiness of the breed’s trot, but the primary goal was utility.
Herding Shepherds were perimeter dogs who established boundaries for sheep where there were no fences. Rather than drive or gather sheep, they monitored the perimeter of a herd to prevent strays.
They also kept the entire herd from venturing onto forbidden crops or dangerous roads. A shepherd’s job involved sustained trotting most of the day with periodic bursts of short sprints.
How does the double-suspended gallop fit in?
One reason German Shepherd would never be able to race as effectively as Greyhounds is because of the double-suspended gallop.
Despite assertions to the contrary, all dogs perform a double-suspended gallop at full speed. Double suspension simply refers to the way the dog’s body is suspended during both phases of gathering his limbs underneath himself and phase II of extending front legs well forward and rear limbs all the way to the back.
This shows a working type of black GSD running at speed. Notice the two suspended periods over the duration of each stride.
Sighthounds like Greyhounds and Salukis have remarkable spinal flexibility compared to other breeds, making their double-suspended gallop dramatic and more effective. It enables these dogs to reach phenomenal speeds.
For example, a Whippet can run 35 miles per hour, a Scottish Deerhound 40 miles per hour, and a Greyhound a blistering 45 miles per hour. Retrievers only run 20 to 25 miles per hour.
The flexibility of the spine enhances the double-suspended gallop because the back is able to contract and extend like a coil.
Comparatively, a horse has a rigid spine and usually a single-suspension gallop. Think of how much bigger a horse is than a dog. It is fascinating that racehorses run a mere 44 miles per hour top speeds. Although the record fastest equine clocked 55 miles per hour, dogs are not as far behind as you might expect.
The fastest recorded Greyhound ran about 42 miles an hour, but there is an unofficial clocking of an Australian dog who ran a little over 50 miles per hour.
Other animals that utilize the double-suspended gallop are the Cheetah and Gazelle. They run 70 miles per hour and 60 miles per hour, respectively.
However, many animals run with double suspension, including all cats. Lions have short bursts of 50 miles per hour and a domesticated cat can reach 25 to 30 miles per hour. Pronghorn antelopes run 60 miles per hour.
Certain physical attributes will help the GSD run faster
Picture a racing Greyhound. German Shepherds do not have more exaggerated characteristics, but they possess the most qualities that make them fast.
- Relatively long legs
- Muscular strength
- Aerodynamic shape to the head – Moderate in Shepherds, with a slight dome to the forehead but long narrow muzzle.
- Flexible spine
- Ideal angulation of shoulders and hindquarters
As you can tell, the more a German Shepherd deviates from Max von Stephanitz’s working dog standard, potentially the slower she will be.
A relatively long body allows the legs to have more room to come underneath, giving more propelling force. However, if a dog gets too long, balance becomes compromised and speed suffers.
One of the largest determining factors for speed is the flexibility of the spine. German Shepherds are very quickly relative to Retrievers but much slower than Sighthounds. Where they fall in the dog kingdom of speedy athletes is related to their flexible spines.
Show line Shepherds with their breeders’ emphasis on rear leg angles often have over angulated hindquarters as a result of the shoulders. While the breed standard calls for an angle of 45 degrees as the shoulder connects to the humerus, functional sources report the angle should be closer to 30 degrees.
The resulting show Shepherds often have a drastically sloping topline and a vertical croup. Although her croup resembles the exaggeration you see in a Borzoi’s hips, when combined with the over angulated knees and hocks, it makes the Shepherd unable to perform either the trot or gallop effectively.
Show Shepherds look brilliant in the show ring but display balance issues, and many questions whether the dog can sustain the trot as required for working animals.
Finally, dogs who attain large sizes will not be able to run as fast as dogs more representative of their breed. According to Rover.com, dogs run on average 15 to 20 miles per hour, and St Bernards and other massive breeds run much slower.
The healthiest dogs are the fastest dogs, just as you would guess. Working German Shepherds reach physical and mental maturity at about three years of age, probably remaining in their prime between the ages of two and a half to six years old. Orthopedic disorders like hip or elbow dysplasia prove devastating to movement and speed because of inhibited mobility and discomfort and pain.
What is a dog’s speed good for?
As German Shepherds remain one of the most versatile dogs for a variety of activities, they have several occasions where their speed is valuable.
Learning facilities worldwide have opened the door for casual owners to engage in a time-honored activity with their dog.
Tending, the true herding ability of German Shepherds according to the German Shepherd Club of America may be more difficult to find than the A trials favored by Border Collies.
However, if you have an interest in herding, you can train your Shepherd in trial types. Trials will require your dog to be fit and exhibit agility and speed bursts at the appropriate times.
This video shows a GSD herding and how he performs most herding work at a trot.
Although many German Shepherds on the police force do not need much speed in search and rescue or sniffing for bombs or narcotics, others still engage in the pursuit of suspects. Given that the fastest human can run over 23 miles per hour for at least the length of a football field, according to Thoughtco.com, Shepherd’s superior quickness is useful.
Most humans are not elite runners, but factoring in adrenaline, someone intent on elusion may outrun a human police officer.
Some working Shepherds in Europe during the Cold War patrolled the borders of entire countries. Their purpose was to chase down would-be refugees. Czech and East German working Shepherds still possess the smaller leaner build ideal for running fast and tirelessly.
Have you ever noticed you never see a competitive agility dog perform the exercise at a walk? You may not think of agility as a speed port, but it is a timed trial.
Judges penalize dogs who do not perform the agility course within a set time, similarly to showjumping horses. German Shepherd excels at agility because of their speed and nimbleness despite their size compared to other competitors.
Fly ball is a type of relay where dogs carry a ball while running over a set of obstacles. Speed is of the essence. People often think of Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies for a fly ball, but Shepherds can add depth to a team with their higher power and longer legs.