Help for Dogs Who Hate Baths
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Lots of dogs don't naturally enjoying being bathed, even if they're fine being in water in other contexts, like when swimming or splashing in a puddle.
Because baths are going to be a normal part of life for our dogs, we should spend the time to make them more comfortable with this event. There's no need to have a dog who trembles, or panics and scrabbles around and claws at you while trying to escape.
Here are some general tips that will help make baths more efficient and less stressful:
Brush your dog first.
Be sure he has secure footing by using a rubber mat or towel.
Use cotton balls in each ear to prevent water from getting in ear canal.
Use warm water, and select a shampoo specifically made for dogs.
Be careful to keep soap out of the eyes.
Speak to your dog in a calm and reassuring voice.
Have a second person to help, if possible, doling out special treats throughout the bath.
If your dog is only mildly worried about baths, attaching a lick pad to the side of the tub may be enough to keep him content during the bathing process. You just need to smudge a tasty food onto the pad, like PB or cream cheese. Here's one example of the many lick pads available.
For dogs who find baths much more frightening, you'll need to work through a step-by-step protocol to increase relaxation and confidence. The protocol combines two strategies:
Desensitization -- creating low-stress exposures to bathing, in small steps
Counter-conditioning -- creating a more positive emotional response to a formerly unpleasant event by pairing exposures with food
I've created a training handout with a sample breakdown of this protocol. Some dogs will sail through the steps easily, while others may need more time or even require you to break down the steps a little further in order to set them up for success.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who may find it helpful. And if you need additional coaching to help your dog become more relaxed and confident about baths, grooming or other handling/medical procedures, I'm happy to help. :-)
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120