Orlando, FloridaReas, a male white-and-blonde whippet, bolted ahead of the competition to win the second-annual Fastest Dog USA competition.
The three-year-old ran a 100-yard dash in 5.769 seconds or 35.45 miles per hour. That’s 0.5777 of a second faster than last year’s winner, Phelan, a mixed-breed rescue dog whose winning time was 6.346 seconds, or 32.3 miles per hour. This year, 250 dogs from 154 breeds competed—more than double the number of competitors in last year’s inaugural race. Phelan’s attempting to defend his title from him resulted in a fifth-place finish, with a time of 6.485 seconds.
The American Kennel Club calls this contest the Fast CAT Invitational—short for coursing ability test. It’s part of the AKC’s annual National Championship, a series of competitions that culminates with Best in Show.
For Fast CAT, each dog competes in two categories at preliminary trials, held earlier this week. The first, the Pure Speed category, which recognizes the top 10 dogs in their height class for their speed. The second, Speed of the Breed, which determines the top 10 dogs that run the fastest over the average for their breed.
Whippets, a breed of English sighthound, a group of breeds with lean physiques, long legs, and narrow heads that allow them to reach high speeds.
Descended from greyhounds, whippets are smaller but possess the same sleek build and gentle disposition.
Reas (pronounced REES) isn’t just a speedster, though.
He likes to do all the stuff,” says Lindsay Gluth, of Michigan City, Indiana, who co-owns Reas with her fiancé, Matt Manetti. She listed a few favorites: dock diving, Frisbee, and barn hunting. But Gluth and Manetti didn’t enter Reas into any of those events here at AKC, opting instead to focus on Fast CAT—a decision that paid off. (Read how dogs are more like us than we thought.)
The two fastest dogs of each breed participated in the finals race—an average of three 100-yard trials, which was held December 17 at the Orange County Convention Center.
The event is open to all AKC-registered dogs at least a year old, including mixed breeds, which the club refers to as all-American dogs.
ESPN, the AKC’s exclusive television partner in the United States, will televise the AKC Fastest Dog USA event in a two-hour program on ESPN2 at 12 pm on December 25.
“Any dog can give it a go, and I think that appeals to people,” says Brandi Hunter Munden, AKC’s vice president of public relations and communications.
Part of the fun of Fast CAT, Munden says, is watching so many different breeds participate in the event. You might see, for instance, a basset hound running the track after a greyhound, or a Pekingese on the heels of a Great Dane.
A match made in… evolution
During the competition, dogs chase a moving lure. Their owners often stand at the finish line, cheering them on. Such a partnership is thousands of years in the making, Brian Hare, a canine cognition researcher at Duke University, says via email.
“Dogs have a unique ability to understand our body language, or our cooperative communicative intentions, in a way that no other species can—including our closest living relatives, the great apes,” says Hare, who has written several books on dog evolution and behavior. (Related: Stray dogs have the natural ability to understand human gestures.)
As long as 40,000 years ago, wolves in Germany or Siberia began to hang around human settlements, drawn by food scraps. The friendliest and least skittish animals formed relationships with people, helping them hunt and protecting their homes. Over time, these wolves domesticated themselves into the modern dog—and all its diverse breeds—that we know today.
That close relationship forged over the centuries is why it’s easier to train a dog than, say, a cat (though America’s Fastest Cat would be an intriguing event).
Even so, like people, dogs have different and unique personalities and skills, and owners who want to put their dog in an event should be willing to try different activities, Hare says.
“The minds of dogs are just like the minds of people,” Hare contends. “Different people have different cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and being good at one thing does not mean you will be good at everything else.”
Working dogs offer great examples of the different cognitive skills required for different tasks. (Read how dogs put their noses to work saving wildlife.)
“A dog who needs to pull a wheelchair might need cognitive abilities like self-control and the ability to understand communicative intentions, while a guide dog needs to understand when to be disobedient, like if their partner wants them to cross a busy street,” he says.
This year’s Speed of the Breed prize went to Otto, a German pinscher who ran the race in 26.57 miles per hour.
German pinschers, one of Germany’s oldest dog breeds, look like small Doberman pinschers.
“I bought Otto as a companion for my father who was terminally ill at the time,” says owner Meredith Krause, of Midland, Virginia. After her father’s death, Otto became Krause’s dog, and “we found out he had a lot of talents.”
Otto’s winning race was, fittingly, his retirement event, Krause adds. His reward from him? A steak dinner.