Why Do Greyhounds Roach? How to Interpret this Oddness


Perhaps the most puzzling, and certainly the most amusing of all greyhound behaviors is roaching.  

There are two types of roaching.  In the first, the greyhound is merely relaxing on his back, often for the purpose of cooling off.  The other type of roaching is when the dog lays on his back, and writhes, often accompanied by groans or growling sounds.  The reason for this type is that it stimulates the nerves and pressure points on the greyhound’s lean back, which is an enjoyable experience for him.

If you are concerned about this odd behavior, this article will inform you, put your mind at ease, and put a smile on your face.

Reasons Why the Greyhound Roaches

You may be surprised to know that there are actually two forms of greyhound roaching; namely, the type that occurs when he’s resting, and that which occurs when he is awake.  They are two completely different behaviors, each with it’s own cause and effect.

Why the Greyhound Sleeps on His Back

The most common reason your greyhound will fip onto his back for a nap is that he’s become too warm, and is trying to cool off.  If you notice, his belly is where his hair is the thinnest.  You will also see a network of blood vessels very close to the skin’s surface.  When he exposes his belly to the air (or, better yet, to a fan), it cools the blood running through that network of veins.  The cooled blood travels through the dog’s entire body, making him cool and comfortable…as you can see from the blissfully goofy look on his face.

Why a Greyhound Roaches and Writhes

The reason for the waking, writhing roach is a bit more complex than for the sleeping roach.  Most owners agree that it not only is a physical expression of greyhound joy, but also provides one heck of a back rub.  

Many of us, regardless of species, enjoy a good back rub, but why is the greyhound’s reaction so crazy and over-the-top?  As Dr. Stanley Coren says, “At the structural level, the brains of dogs are similar to those of humans,so let’s look to human biology for the reason, and apply it to our fellow mammal, the greyhound.  

When we rub/scratch an area, we actually produce a little bit of pain.  The brain responds by releasing a chemical to soothe the pain, which produces a good feeling in us.  So it is for the greyhound, as well.  When he roaches, he’s scratching his back; and since that back is extra-long, it feels extra good.  

On top of that, the greyhound only has half the body fat of the average dog, and completely lacks that extra layer of fat that dogs typically have.  This means that his nerves are closer to the surface, so that’s why the scratching/roaching makes your greyhound so ecstatic.

Respect the Belly: a word of caution

Just because he’s showing you his belly, it’s not necessarily an invitation.  If you suddenly start patting your greyhound’s belly, it may startle him awake, and he could snap or growl at you.  

Dog behaviorist Meghan Herron says to be cautious in your approach to belly-rub, even when a dog is awake. 

Always make some noise as you approach the roaching greyhound, so he becomes aware of your presence.  Talk to him, calling his name, and perhaps touch him in a more neutral area, before patting that glorious belly.

Why Doesn’t My Greyhound Roach?

Don’t be alarmed if you’re greyhound never or rarely roaches.  My first dog, Peaches, was this way.  If your greyhound never roaches, it’s usually due to one of the following four reasons.

Insecurity

Anecdotal evidence suggests that only a small percentage of dogs sleep on their backs to begin with.  You’d never see a dog in the wild doing so; it would be unwise to put himself in such a vulnerable position.  

In Peaches’ case, she was a “spook (a greyhound who is genetically very fearful).”  My father-in-law, who had worked with racehorses for decades, was quick to notice that Peaches always slept “with an eye open and an ear cocked.”  

Insecure dogs prefer to sleep belly-down at all times.  It protects the belly, and keeps them in a position where they can spring to their feet at the first sign of a threat.

Arthritis

My second greyhound, Shannon, loved sleeping on his back when he was younger.  As he aged, however, he developed severe arthritis; so his roaching phased out gradually, as he aged.  

Old Age

Another thing that happens as greyhounds age is the tendency to enjoy the heat more.  It feels good on their old bones.  Like old people, they do not get warm as easily as before; so your older greyhound simply may not feel inclined to flip onto his back to cool his belly.

Lack of Orthopaedic Support

A greyhound’s flat back is beautifully designed for back-sleeping.  It’s also, however, quite boney.  Greyhounds need a lot of cushioning, some more than others.  That’s why some greyhounds love to roach on the rug, but others will only roach on a thick lawn or their beds.  

If your greyhound does not roach, and the first three reasons don’t seem to fit, check his bed to see if it is supportive enough. Three to six inches of padding are ideal under your greyhound.  The pad should be replaced once a year, or have a fresh layer of egg-crate foam placed under it.  I get one of these pads in the largest size (check price here), every few years.  When it comes, I cut it into pads which will fit our crate, getting several pads out of each large pad.

References for More Info

Enjoy this absolutely adorable companion video to this article, right here!

  1. An in-depth look at itching and its causes – https://derickdermatology.com/why-scratching-feels-good/
  1. More about dog’s dreams from Dr. Coren – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201010/do-dogs-dream
  1. Some good advice on safely petting dogs – https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/567461/right-way-to-pet-dog-according-veterinarians

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare

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