The Ultimate Guide on Bathing Your Dog

In Emotional Support Animal by Emotional Pet Support TeamLeave a Comment

Dogs are a lot like young children. Just like young children, they have varying attitudes to being washed. Some absolutely love it. Most will tolerate it, especially with a lot of praise and treats. A few, however, really don’t like it. These dogs may never learn to love it. They can, however, learn to tolerate it. Here’s with some tips to help.

Keep a dog’s eye view of bathtime

There is always at least one reason why a dog dislikes being bathed (or showered). There are seven common reasons why dogs dislike bathtime (and shower time). All of these effectively come down to the fact that your bathing routine goes against your dog’s natural instincts. The solution here is just to adjust your routine.

Sometimes, however, a dog’s reaction to bathtime is based on pure emotion rather than canine logic. This is often a result of a previous negative experience they’ve had. For clarity, the human who gave them the bad experience may have done so completely unintentionally or even for good reasons (e.g. a vet). From your dog’s perspective, however, it doesn’t matter.

Making bathtime more pleasant

If you’re dealing with a reluctant dog, your first step is to make sure that you’re making bathtime as comfortable as it can be. Remember, always look at the situation from your dog’s point of view. Here are seven key points to check.

Is the room temperature comfortable?

Always bathe your dog somewhere comfortably warm. Even if it’s hot outside, it’s best to bathe your dog indoors. That way you’re not going to get caught out by any sudden changes in the weather. Also, it’ll give you more control of the situation. In particular, it’ll allow you to keep your dog contained without having to use a leash. This can make them nervous.

Remember that your dog will feel the change in temperature when they come out of the water. Be ready with a towel, preferably a warmed one to give them that bit of coziness. If your dog likes being toweled then give them a rub with it. This will warm them as well as dry them.

Is the water temperature comfortable?

A dog bath should be around 37°C/99°F. Essentially, if you test it with your elbow it should feel lukewarm. This is much cooler than most humans like bathwater, especially adults. 

If you’re using a shower then make sure it has a thermostat. This basically keeps the temperature the same regardless of what else is happening with the water supply. If you don’t have a thermostat then don’t use the shower, use containers of water.

Can you keep the door closed?

Closing a door helps keep a steady temperature. It can also help to make your dog feel more secure. In busy households, you can also use the closed door to show that you need to have the space to yourself.

Does the tub/shower surface feel safe?

If you’re using an actual bath, make sure that there’s a mat on the bottom so your dog’s paws can grip. This will make them feel much more secure. The base of a shower should have decent grip on its own. 

That said, you could still put down a mat or duckboard or even a towel so your dog has extra security. If you’re using a sink, for example, a laundry sink, then you might struggle to find a mat to fit. You could, however, line the base with a towel.

Can you run the bath beforehand?

Some dogs don’t like the sound of running water. If you can run the bath beforehand (with the door closed), then you might find your dog is fine to get into the full tub. Your challenge would be rinsing them off. One way to deal with this is to have flasks of boiling water plus buckets of cold water. Then just mix the two in jugs to rinse your dog.

If you only have a shower, then, you have a bit more of a challenge on your hands. How you resolve it will probably depend on the size of your dog. If your dog is small, you could just use a baby bath. With a larger dog, however, then, you’re probably best to put hot and cold water in containers and mix them for both the wash and the rinse.

Are you using proper dog shampoo?

Proper dog shampoo is designed to be gentle on a dog’s nose and skin. It will irritate them if it gets in their eyes so be very careful when you apply it. Rub it in gently and make sure you rinse it off thoroughly.

Are you keeping your dog entertained?

Dogs are generally very open to being rewarded with food treats. Put your dog’s favorite food on a Lickimat (or similar). Have them work on that while you wash them. Be ready to reload if necessary. Verbal praise is also highly valued by most dogs. You could also try playing some calming audio.

Desensitizing emotional dogs

If none of this works, then your dog’s dislike of bathtime is an emotional reaction rather than a rational one. There are a couple of approaches you can take to address this. One needs a bit of luck to work but can be very effective. The other needs time and patience but will usually work in the end.

Strategy one – use a role model

If possible, find a dog who absolutely loves bathtime. At a minimum, find a dog who takes it in its stride. Let your dog see them being bathed and see if this raises their confidence about the situation. You may need to let your dog see their friend enjoying their bath a few times before the message sinks in.

Once you’re ready to try bathing your dog again, try to have their friend with them at the time. Hearing reassurance from another dog can actually be very effective, particularly if it’s backed up by reassurance from a human.

Strategy two – gentle persuasion

Essentially, this is a slow, desensitization strategy. Have your dog approach the bath as far as they’re comfortable. When they stop, respect this and give them a treat with plenty of praise. Hopefully, over time, your dog will come closer and closer to the bath. Then you can try putting them in an empty tub/shower. Then, once they’re completely happy with that, you can try washing them.

If none of this works

If none of this works, then you may need to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer. Even they, however, might not be able to overcome a really deep-rooted fear. In this instance, your only option might be to use some kind of sedative. This would be a discussion you’d need to have with a vet. It is, however, extremely rare for dogs to be this scared of bathing.

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