As with many other things related to dogs, there is some disagreement about which dog is the fastest. Most people will concede that, inch for inch, over a short distance, nothing can beat a Greyhound. They have been clocked at 39.35 mph over a quarter mile by the World Almanac and Book of Facts. They are said to be able to run up to 48 mph for short bursts. However, there’s more to the story.
There are other sighthounds which will dispute the Greyhound’s claim as fastest dog. For instance, the Cape Hunting Dog has been clocked at 45 mph for a quarter mile sprint. This is an endangered hunting dog in Africa, also known as the Painted Dog, the Painted Hunting Dog or the African Hunting Dog, African Wild Dog or even the Spotted Dog, the Ornate Wolf, or the Painted Wolf. They are, as you might guess, a wild dog that’s rather closely related to the wolf. But they are fast. Although the African Wild Dog is not domesticated, they are a canid, so they may be considered faster than a Greyhound.
However, there is a domesticated rival to the Greyhound. The Saluki, another sighthound, is often touted as being faster than a Greyhound over long distances. The Saluki cannot beat the Greyhound at sprint distances, but Salukis are built for endurance and have endless stamina. Originating in desert conditions, the Saluki can hunt all day and do so with speed. Saluki supporters often claim that their dogs are faster than Greyhounds but they don’t race their dogs. When pressed, they will say that their dogs can run at speeds around 40 mph. A Greyhound could not carry his speed over long distances as a Saluki could.
Whippets are a medium-sized sighthound which have been used for rabbit hunting and racing. They are very fast indeed, though not as fast as the Greyhound under equal conditions. Whippets can attain speeds of about 40 mph.
Other sighthounds can also reach very fast speeds. Afghan Hounds, Borzoi, Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Pharaoh Hounds and others were all bred to hunt fast prey such as jack rabbits, deer, gazelles and other animals. The hounds had to be fast enough to zig and zag, catch up and bring down their quarry, under all kinds of conditions.
Today there isn’t much need for these dogs to hunt jack rabbits or wolves. But fortunately there is a sport for the dogs so they can still exercise their love of the chase. Lure coursing allows sighthounds the opportunity to give chase to a piece of plastic (the prey) that’s pulled across a field. Since these dogs have been bred to chase movement — it’s hardwired into them — they delight in going after this plastic prey just as they would an animal. The dogs can have great fun spending a day “hunting” this way with their owners standing nearby. Lure coursing is very popular among owners of sighthounds.
Coursing as a sport is popular in some parts of the United States. Open field coursing allows sighthounds (usually three at a time) to hunt live game such as hares and coyotes. Greyhounds, Salukis and others enjoy coursing. Dogs need to be fit and it may take some early training since they can be reluctant to return to their owners when they are caught up in pursuit of game.
There is some debate over which dogs should be included as sighthounds but most people, kennel clubs and countries agree on the basic members of the group. Inclusion is usually based on the dog’s original function and way of hunting which was to hunt prey by sight and to give chase. Prey was caught by speed. Some dogs, such as the Basenji, are often regarded as sighthounds, though in some quarters they are not considered part of the group. Other dogs on the fringes of the sighthound group include the lurcher and the Silken Windhound, as well as many dogs sighthound-type dogs from specific localities. In all cases, sighthounds and sighthound-type dogs are considered members of the Hound group of dogs.
Members of the sighthound group comprise some of the earliest of all dog breeds. The Saluki and Afghan Hound, in particular, are among the most ancient of all breeds of dogs, dating back to the time when dogs diverged from wolves. This makes sense when you consider that one of the first uses early humans had for dogs was probably as a helper during hunting. These early dogs probably helped chase down prey in similar ways to sighthounds today.