Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

Dogs Versus Humans in the Olympic Games

Dogs would win more gold medals on the Olympic track.

In the frenzy that accompanies the Olympic Games, the media fills up with reports and video clips showing some of the remarkable physical performances that human beings are capable of. Most of us are astonished at how fast humans can move on land and through water, how high and how far we can jump, how much weight we can lift, and how far we can throw things. Yet while we are reveling in the accomplishments of our species, it is important for us to understand that our pride over our physical prowess may be a bit overstated, since many animals that are not human are considerably stronger, swim better, and jump higher than we do. In fact, our humble and constant companion, the dog, may be better than we humans in a number of Olympic sports events.

dog dogs canine pet olympic games race track record medal
It is interesting to consider how dogs might do if they were allowed to compete in the Olympics against humans. Obviously, any task that requires holding, grasping, or throwing something, could not be done by dogs since they do not have an opposable  thumb. However there is one set of events, specifically the track events, and maybe a couple of the field events, where it might be possible to pit dogs against humans. The fact that dogs are classified as cursorial animals, (which is a term that refers to animals that have been adapted for swift running) suggests that running competitions might be a place where dogs would truly shine.

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Let us compare some world records held by dogs to the performance of human beings. For the track events let us choose the Greyhound. It is a dog breed that has been primarily created for coursing game and racing. It has a combination of long powerful legs, a flexible spine, narrow waist, and a slim build that allows it to cover more than a body length with each stride. In addition its deep chest and huge lungs allows it to gulp in the huge amount of oxygen that it needs to sustain the exertion of running. In dog races a greyhound has been observed to reach a full speed of 72 kilometers per hour (45 mph) within 30 meters or six strides from the boxes, traveling in excess of 20 meters per second for the first 250 meters of a race. The only other animal that can accelerate faster over a short distance is the cheetah.

There is enough data from numerous dog racing and coursing events to allow us to compare the performance of Greyhounds to human world record holders in a number of track events.

  • Usain Bolt holds the world record for the 100-meter race at 9.58 seconds. A Greyhound has been measured doing that same distance in 5.02 seconds.
  • Usain Bolt also holds the world record for the 200-meter race at 19.19 seconds, as compared to the Greyhound who requires only 10.35 seconds cover the distance.
  • Michael Johnson holds the record for the 400-meter race at 43.18 seconds, which is considerably slower than a Greyhound who completes it in 21.10 seconds.
  • David Rudisha's 800-meter record of one minute and 41 seconds pales in comparison to the 50-second time for the Greyhound.
  • Hicham El Guerrouj's 1,500-meter record of three minutes and 26 seconds is sluggish in comparison to the one minute and 43 seconds time for a Greyhound.
  • Kenenisa Bekele holds the record for the 5,000-meter race at 12 minutes 37 seconds, while the Greyhound covers that distance in barely half the time at six minutes 19 seconds.
  • Kenenisa Bekele also holds the record for the 10,000-meter race at 26 minutes 18 seconds, while Greyhound can cover that distance in a mere 13 minutes and nine seconds

For the longest distance race of the Olympic Games, namely the marathon with an official distance of 42.20 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards), we do not have useable records for Greyhound running speeds. However we do have records from sled dogs covering that distance, usually Siberian Huskies. Obviously the comparison will not be perfect since the dogs are running in a team, and they are also handicapped by the fact that they must pull a sled carrying a load that includes a human being which should result in a slower time. Nonetheless, when we compare Patrick Makau Musyoki's marathon record of two hours, three minutes and 38 seconds to the average of several sled dog teams covering a similar distance, we find that the dog teams complete the race considerably faster than the human, clocking in  with a total time of one hour, 31 minutes and 13 seconds.

Dogs do not fare as well in the field events, specifically the jumping competitions. Only two jumps seem to allow a reasonable comparison between humans and canines. The world record high jump for a dog is held by a Greyhound named Cindy at the 2006 Purina Dog Challenge. She set the mark at 1.72 meters (68 inches), which is well below the 2.45 meters (96 inch) mark set by Javier Sotomayor in the high jump.

For the long jump we have to modify the event a bit in order to contrast the performance of dogs and humans. The best approximation of long jump performance for dogs is dock jumping. This event involves the dog running a distance of around 40 feet to the end of the dock and then jumping into the water. The scoring is like the Olympic long jump where the longest of three jumps determines the winner.The record distance for this event is held by a Malinois named Vhoebe at the 2012 Purina Challenge, where the dog managed to leap 9.57 meters  (31 feet, five inches). This is somewhat better than Mike Powell's long jump record of 8.95 meters (29 feet and 14 inches).

So if dogs were allowed to compete in the Olympics against humans, based on the existing data available to us, it seems likely that the only field event that humans would definitely win would be the high jump, while the long jump would be a hard fought competition with a slight edge for the dog. However on the track, in all of the purely running events, ranging from the 100 meter dash all the way up through the marathon, the gold medals would clearly go to the dogs. In fact, in the marathon, after crossing the finish line the dog would have time for a half hour long nap before it's world record holding human competitor would complete his run.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

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