Which types of pups are most athletic by nature? Well, that’s not exactly an easy question to answer.
Athletic dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small and swift, while others are big and brawny. Think about it, human athleticism is measured in many different qualities: speed, strength, agility, endurance. The greatest athletes demonstrate all of these characteristics, but some stand out for one or two in particular. Essentially, the same concept applies to dogs. However, according to American Kennel Club (AKC) spokesperson Lisa Peterson, comparing one breed to another is akin to comparing apples to oranges.
“Each of the 180 AKC recognized breeds has a standard developed by the Parent Club (National Breed Club), which details the individual requirements to determine athleticism and fitness by breed," Peterson said. "So a fit Cavalier King Charles Spaniel would be different than a fit Elkhound, for example."
That said, there are in fact some breeds that are naturally more apt towards athleticism than others.
“Certain breeds just have a more natural athletic ability because of what they were originally bred to do,” says Victoria Swanson, a professional dog trainer from Grand Rapids, Michigan. For example, working breeds like the Siberian Husky love to exercise and perform for their owners.
Oh yeah, and while your furry friend can certainly help you stay fit, Sherry Woodard, resident animal behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Society, noted that good, regular medical care, a nutritious diet and consistent exercise are essential for keeping your dog healthy and strong.
“I love working with dogs on their mental health as well,” she said. “Mental exercise also keeps them fit. Offering dogs puzzles — treat-dispensing toys, hiding things around the house and the yard so they use their senses to find them — builds amazing skills. Mental exercise also does tire the dogs out.”
In 2013 Swanson helped us narrow down a list of 12 of the “fittest” (or most athletic) dog breeds. This year, in our quest to expand those results (after all, there are many, many types of truly athletic dogs), we recruited the help of expert Woodard as well. She said the breeds she chose landed a spot on her list because they’re energetic and they love to interact with people and stay fit.
So, which canines demonstrate athletic qualities more than any others? According to our own research and input from our trusted experts, the following dogs are considered some of the most athletic in the world.
The AKC touts the German Shepherd for its energetic, fun-loving personality. The second most popular breed of all that are recognized by the AKC, this peppy pooch is known for its keen mind and a brave and confident demeanor. With its strong, muscular body, the German Shepherd is comfortable performing vigorous exercise and does not tire easily.
According to the AKC, the Australian Cattle Dog is a “very active, high-energy” breed, so it’s not surprising that this type of pooch landed at the top of Woodard’s list. Known for being alert, curious and pleasant this working dog will determinedly complete any task it’s given, no matter how laborious.
Don’t forget about the non-purebred dogs and their unique lineages. Mixed-breed dogs of all types and sizes often demonstrate energetic, fun-loving personalities. More likely than not, this type of pooch will instantly become your loyal companion, ready to accompany you on any and every adventure. Woodard noted that you can find many breeds and mixes of breeds in local shelters and breed rescues. “They need homes, so save a life by adopting from your local shelter or rescue group.”
Strong and durable are the two most notable traits attributed to the Alaskan Malamute. Unlike its speedier, race-loving cousin, the Siberian Husky, this Arctic breed was raised to pull heavy freight over long distances. The AKC says that sledding, weight-pulling and backpacking with their owners are among the Malamute’s favorite pastimes.
Despite many misconceptions about this tough-looking breed, the American Pit Bull Terrier (also sometimes referred to as just, Pit Bull) is actually considered a family dog, which in addition to strength and intelligence, demonstrates unyielding companionship. Another one of Woodard's top picks, this dutiful dog is also known for its trainability, friendliness, good health and low-maintenance grooming.
Known for its high-energy temperament and need for vigorous activity, we didn’t even have to think twice about including the Australian Shepherd (which is not from Australia, by the way) on this fit list. “Herding dogs were bred to have high stamina, work long hours and have a strong work drive. A working breed loves performing for us, making them a natural with their athletic abilities,” says Swanson. Also known as “Aussies,” according to the AKC this breed excels most at agility, obedience and herding.
Ahead of the German Shepherd, the AKC says labs are the number one most popular dog breed, which comes as no surprise since these truly athletic pups are best known for their friendly, outgoing personalities. Oh yeah, and of course as part of the sporting group, they’re considered an extremely active breed with a love all types of activities from swimming to a good old game of fetch.
This bow-wow’s got brains and brawn. Akin to the straight-A, letterman-jacket-wearing captain of the football team, not only is this breed among the fittest of fit, but it’s also considered one of the world’s most intelligent dog breeds. “[Border Collies] scream intensity, strong work ethic and the need to please. They want to ‘perform’ for you. They excel at sports like dock diving, flyball, agility, obedience trials and many more,” says Swanson.
Siberian Huskies are like the marathon runners of dog breeds. According to the AKC, they were the original breed used in the 408-mile long All-Alaskan Sweepstakes race. So yeah, they can run fast and far. The Siberian Husky is outgoing, energetic, has unparalleled endurance and is included on the American Kennel Club‘s Official "Most Active Dog Breeds" list.
If the Siberian Husky is the marathon runner of dogs, then the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the Olympic swimmer. Originally bred along the coast of—you guessed it—The Chesapeake Bay for hunting waterfowl, this brawny breed's swimming abilities are on par with, say, Michael Phelps. The AKC also considers it an exceptionally happy breed. Must be all those exercise endorphins…
Also a part of the AKC’s official "Most Active Dog Breeds" list, the Dalmatian is an activity-loving, high-energy hound. One of its early occupations was to run ahead of horse-drawn firefighting carriages to clear a path and lead the horses to the fire. Keeping pace with an animal more than twice your size sounds like no easy feat, so clearly the Dalmatian is one pretty fit puppy.
Known for its mild temperament and brute build, the Bernese Mountain Dog comes from the working group and was originally bred to aid with draft and droving work in the mountains and farms of Switzerland. In modern times, the AKC says this breed most enjoys playing sports (they need at least 30-minutes of moderate exercise daily) and spending time with its human companions.
Do you ever start to feel antsy and irritable if you don’t get your workout in for the day? The German Shorthaired Pointer feels your pain. This type of dog is a natural athlete and requires plenty of daily exercise. The American Kennel Club says the GSP loves to run and swim, making it a great companion for sporty types and fit families.
This extremely energetic breed was originally bred for hunting. In other words, they can run fast and like to chase things. Despite a small stature, it’s been reported that a Jack Russell Terrier will dare to take on adversaries twice its size or bigger. Say what you will, but we’d rather not mess with any pooch that’s fast, strong and unafraid. “Don't discount smaller breeds. [They] don't lack what the bigger breeds offer," says Swanson, "they just have it in a smaller version.”
It’s only fitting that you’d find a dog originally bred to hunt lions among the most athletic in the world. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is known for its muscular build and exceptional strength. Don’t equate it to the aggressive muscle-heads at your gym, though. According to the AKC, it's just as cuddly as they are strong.
Another breed that was originally bred for hunting, the Weimaraner has the need for speed. In addition to its swift nature, this pup’s most lauded athletic abilities include endurance, agility and fearlessness. It is included in Runner’s World's list of best endurance-running dogs and is sometimes referred to as the “grey ghost,” because of its unique coat coloring.
This type of pooch also falls into the category of smaller-statured breeds that shouldn’t be judged by their size. And unless you like losing, don’t try to challenge this pup to a race (you know, if racing canines happens to be a hobby of yours). According to the American Kennel Club, a Whippet can run as fast as 35 miles per hour, making it the fastest domesticated animal in its weight class (larger greyhounds are a bit faster).
Athletic and adventurous — these two words used by the AKC to describe this working group dog’s personality make it obvious why it deserves a spot on this list. It's also known for being extremely friendly, having a love of the water and commonly demonstrating athletic characteristics like strength and energy.