My dog knows the second I trod into the bathroom with a pot and the baking soda that she is going to get a bath. As the water runs in the tub, she begins shaking and frantically looking for a hiding place (luckily she favors burrowing her big butt in the couch), but once she gets in the water itself, she actually seems to enjoy her bath. Here are some tips for getting your dog into the tub, and bathing them with the least amount of trauma.
First of all, ignore your dog entirely while you’re preparing the bath. While the lukewarm water is running (don’t go too hot or too cold, lukewarm is just right for the comfort of your dog), ignore the shaking, darting behavior of your dog as you prepare the bathroom for doggy tubby time. Murmuring and cooing to your dog while you get their tub ready actually freaks them out even more. They know the bath is coming. You don’t need to remind them. Ignoring them actually eases their stress.
Before you gently coax your dog to the bathroom, make sure to put away anything you don’t want to get wet. I line the bathroom floor with towels, and put away toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, razors, and anything on the counters. A good rule of thumb to minimize splashing is to fill the water to a maximum of the height of your dog’s knees (or halfway up their legs), and a little less water is actually better. Turn off the water before you take the dog into the bathroom, as running water when you try to lead your dog into the bathroom can freak them out and cause them to bolt.
For larger dogs, gently grab their collar and lead them to the tub, then lift them into the water, front feet first, then back feet. Don’t just bodily toss your dog in the water. Allow them to gently enter the tub themselves. For smaller dogs you can pick up (lucky you), carry them to the tub and place them in the water gently, with your palm over their back to prevent bolting.
Allow your dog to acclimate to the tub for a moment before you immediately begin bathing them. If you can, get in the water with your dog, and begin pouring water over their back and down their legs and sides (avoiding the face), and pet them to allow the water to saturate. You may have to hold onto the dog’s collar the entire time, but gently saturating them with water is the best way to go to allow your dog’s wild look to calm down.
Try to avoid turning on the water while you are bathing the dog. This causes splashing and urging to get out. To minimize your dog jumping out of the tub, keep their bodies in the middle of the tub lengthwise, with their faces toward the faucet. If they see an opportunity to bolt by facing toward the exit of the tub, they will try it.
Shampooing the dog (I just use baking soda and oatmeal) is the easy part. This is where you can massage the cleanser into your dog’s fur, and most dogs enjoy this. Avoid the eyes and gently cleanse the back, legs, rear end, tail, and underbelly of the dog, shampooing from their neck down. Avoid the face and use a clean cloth to wipe the face gently as you rinse the dog off.
You can coax your dog to sit by gently but firmly pushing on their buttocks with your palm. It’s easier to rinse their bum this way. Keep a firm pressing on the lower back to keep the dog sitting and use a cup or pan to rinse their belly and front legs. Don’t ever just dunk your dog in water or splash water at them in a frantic motion to rinse them. Calm pouring of water over their back and sides is all your dog needs.
Have a towel ready and hold onto your dog’s collar for when the bath is over. Your dog will want to shake as soon as they leave the tub, and will want to frantically bolt, so stand in front of your dog and hold their collar to avoid them dashing out of the tub like a mad man. I always hold onto my dog’s collar and hold tight so she has to step out gently. I then hold a towel in front of me like a matador in case she shakes, then vigorously rub her down, praising her like she just won a million bucks.
Once your dog is out of the tub, dry them in the bathroom as much as you can. Once you open the door your dog will bolt like a wild thing, and then rub their body along the wall, the carpet, and the furniture in joy that the bath is over. If you can get most of the water off your dog while they are in a small area (just wrap their back in a towel and rub rub rub vigorously) in an enclosed place, all the better.
Try not to let your dog outside until they are dry completely. They will roll in the grass and leaves and dirt, defeating the purpose of the bath. Continue drying your dog with a towel in the house, and if your dog is like mine and seeks refuge in her favorite chair, take advantage and dry their tail and legs as well while they pant in relief.
Dogs enjoy baths once they’re over, and actually appear to notice how much better they look and feel. It may be an ordeal, but staying calm as possible and gently bathing your dog will teach them over time that baths really aren’t that bad.