Different dog breeds are good at different things, but most dogs are good at running. With that said, not all dogs run fast – the fastest dog breeds are medium to large in size. However, that’s not to say that small dogs can’t run fast – because they can, and they do.
Small dog breeds that are fast include the Jack Russell Terrier, Rat Terrier, Basenji, Boston Terrier, Papillon, and Australian Terrier. Most of them were bred to hunt vermin. The Jack Russell Terrier is the fastest small breed, with top speeds of up to 28 miles (45.06 km) per hour.
In this article, we’ll explore whether small dogs can run fast, why most dogs are such efficient runners, and how fast dogs can run. In addition, we’ll take a look at five of the fastest small dog breeds, their top speeds, and some basic characteristics. Read on to learn more.
Can All Small Dogs Run Fast?
Not all small dogs can run fast. The Chihuahua cannot run fast due to its short legs, and Pugs aren’t quick runners because their small nostrils affect their breathing. However, the Jack Russell, Rat Terrier, Basenji, Boston Terrier, Papillon, and Australian Terrier are small dogs that can run fast.
Dogs and Speed
While most working dogs are physically built for running, not all dogs are fast. The speed at which a dog runs depends on several factors, including:
- Body composition
For example, a lean, young, healthy German Shepherd is likely to outrun an overweight, old greyhound that has hip dysplasia – it wouldn’t matter that greyhounds are the fastest dogs in the world if the dog isn’t in shape and healthy.
With that said, almost all dogs have certain characteristics that make them potentially good at running:
- Footpads: A dog’s footpads absorb shock and provide a good grip on multiple surfaces. The carpal pad, in particular, makes contact with the ground when a dog is running, allowing it to turn quickly.
- Nails: Claws aren’t just made for digging – these thick, strong nails also provide traction when a dog is running. Interestingly, a dog’s nails grow directly from the bones, unlike our human nails, which are essentially “dead” cells.
- Complex gaits: Dogs have an asymmetrical gait – their feet fall in a consistent pattern of right front, left front, right rear, left rear. Some dogs, like greyhounds, have a double-suspension gallop that propels them through the air with all limbs leaving the ground at once.
- Flexible spine: In addition to their footpads, nails, and complex gaits, these canines also have lots of power thanks to their strong abdominal muscles and flexible spine. In addition, they get plenty of forward drive because of their long limbs.
How Fast Can Dogs Run?
Most dogs can run between 15 and 20 miles per hour (24.14 – 32.18 km/h). Some breeds are slower, whereas others are capable of much faster speeds, including greyhounds, which can run up to 45 miles per hour (72.42 km/h). Speeds have a lot to do with physical composition, breed, health, and gait.
Not all dogs are capable of the speed that greyhounds can reach, however. These nimble dogs can reach top speeds of up to 45 miles per hour (72.42 km/h). Compare that to the average dog speed at 19 miles per hour (30.57 km/h) – the difference is significant.
Some dog breeds that have a comparable speed include Salukis, Vizslas, and Deerhounds, all of which have been recorded at 40 miles per hour (24.85 km/h). German Shepherds and Border Collies move a little slower but still clock in at an impressive 30 miles per hour (48.28 km/h).
So, it’s clear that medium to large dog breeds can run fast – their deep chests, lean bodies, and long limbs help propel them to their maximum speed – but what about smaller dogs? Can they run fast, as well?
Fast Small Dogs
As it turns out, not all small dogs are slow. There are several different breeds that can keep up with even the fastest German Shepherd or Border Collie, reaching speeds of up to 38 miles per hour (61.15 km/h)!
We’ll list these dogs below, in order of speed, from fastest to slowest.
Jack Russell Terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier is a working breed developed in the 1800s. This dog was designed for hunting alongside the dexterous, light-footed hounds. They’d run foxes out of their holes so that the hounds could hunt them down.
Interestingly, today’s Jack Russell looks very similar to the breed over 200 years ago. These dogs have a sturdy body, a strong demeanor, and plenty of lean muscle.
Because of their job, the Jack Russell Terrier was bred for speed – and fast, they are! Though they are small dogs that rarely grow beyond 15 inches (38.1 cm) in height or more than 18 pounds (8.16 kg) in weight, these dogs are the fastest small dog breed on the planet!
It’s all in the name – and the Rat Terrier gets its moniker because it was bred to chase away and kill rats. Back in the day, Rat Terriers were a must-have on the farm. A rat or mouse infestation could truly hurt a farmer’s profits, so dogs were brought in to keep the population down. The intelligent, active, and fast Rat Terrier was the perfect dog for the job.
Because speed was such an important factor for ratters, many began to breed their Rat Terriers with rapid breeds, including Greyhounds and Whippets. Others then bred them with Beagles to increase their prey drive and ability to track. As a result, we have the modern Rat Terrier that we’ve come to know and love.
Their small stature – up to 18 inches (45.72 cm) at the withers and weighing no more than 25 pounds (11.33 kg) – doesn’t prevent them from gaining momentum. These little canines can run in lightning-fast bursts, up to 27 miles per hour (43.45 km/h).
A breed of hunting dog that originated in central Africa, the Basenji isn’t a well-known breed in the United States. Interestingly, it doesn’t behave like the traditional domesticated dogs in the United States, either. In fact, the Basenji is often referred to as the “Barkless Dog.”
It has more yodel-like vocalizations. Like the Rat Terrier, the Basenji was developed over decades to hunt vermin like rats and other rodents.
These dogs are small – small enough to take on a rat head-on and face-to-face. At the withers, Basenjis reach up to 17 inches (43.18 cm) and weigh up to 24 pounds (10.88 kg). Their small size doesn’t matter, though, because the Basenji is fast!
With top speeds of up to 25 miles per hour (40.24 km/h), the Basenji boasts an impressive trot, and their run is comparable to a miniature racehorse.
Appearing as though they’re donned in a traditional tuxedo, the Boston Terrier is often referred to as “America’s Gentlemen.” In 1893, the dog was admitted into the American Kennel Club as a non-sporting breed.
These compact canines stand between just 9 and 15 inches (22.86 to 38.1 cm) and weigh anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds (4.53 to 11.33 kg) – but don’t be fooled by these dapper little fellows and dainty ladies because they are swift!
Catching one is likely to be a task, considering that the Boston Terrier can zoom around a yard at a speed of 25 miles per hour (40.23 km/h).
Continental Toy Spaniel (Papillon)
One of the oldest toy spaniel breeds today, the Continental Toy Spaniel (also called the Papillon), was first developed over two centuries ago.
The name “Papillon” comes from the word “papilionidae,” which is the scientific family name for swallowtail butterflies. It has long, fringey fur that sits on its ears, and this creates somewhat of a butterfly shape, hence the name.
Papillons are small – but they’re fierce and mighty. They stand between 8 and 11 inches (20.32 to 27.94 cm) and weigh between 5 and 10 pounds (2.26 to 4.53 kg), making them the smallest dogs on this list.
Again, don’t be bamboozled by their dainty look. If a Papillon grabs your sock and takes off, you’re going to have a hard time catching it! These little canines can run as fast as 18 miles per hour (28.96 km/h)!
Fortunately, Papillons are usually pretty mellow, so as long as you’re giving it enough exercise, you won’t have to wear yourself down chasing them around!
Vermin hunters seem to be the trend for fast, small dogs, and the Australian Terrier is no exception.
This canine was developed in Australia in the early 19th-century, using the Rough Coated Terriers for breeding. The purpose of the Australian Terrier was to get rid of mice and rats.
Both male and female Australian Terriers stand between 9 and 11 inches (22.86 to 27.94 cm) and weigh up to 16 pounds (7.25 kg). Despite weighing only as much as a six-month-old baby, these dogs can run up to 18 miles per hour (28.96 km/h)!
In addition, they make remarkable watchdogs while also remaining loyal, affectionate, and loving to their owners.
It’s no question that most dogs are naturally swift and agile — they zoom through the yard at breathtaking speeds, zipping around trees and turning on a dime. Usually, we see medium and large breed dogs on the list of the fastest canines, but there are some small, quick dogs out there as well.
From the rambunctious Jack Russell to the protective Australian Terrier, many small dogs boast impressive speeds.
And as always, Live, Love, Laugh, and Scratch our bellies often!
Love you guys,
P.S. If you’re new to this world, you may want to check out my Ultimate Guide for First Time Dog Parents. It’s a great reference to get you started on this journey.
This article has been reviewed by our Editorial Board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our Editorial Policies.
- National Geographic: Meet Phelan the Rescue Pup – Now America’s Fastest Dog
- The Farmer’s Dog: The Wonder of Your Dog’s Paws and How To Take Care of Them
- Minnesota Veterinary Anatomy: Gait Foot Fall Patterns
- Penn State University: Ruby The Greyhound
- American Kennel Club: Russell Terrier
- K9 Research Lab: Rat Terrier Dog Breed Information and Images
- Michigan State University: Domestic Dog (Basenji)
- Kalamazoo Valley Community College: Breed Information
- American Kennel Club: Papillon Dog Breed Information
- Australian Terrier: ATCA: About The Breed
- Wikipedia: Swallowtail butterfly