Bath time conjures up apprehension and even fear in some households when applied to dogs. Some families, finding it too difficult to give a dog a bath, keep the dog outside so that their house does not get dog odor. Others deal with doggie bath time by taking their dog to a professional dog groomer. This makes fine sense if your dog’s coat requires professional brushing and trimming, or if your home’s bathing facilities do not work well for your dog. But if you are finding it difficult – or even dangerous – to wash your dog yourself, there is hope.
Before you give your dog a bath, first make sure the tub is not slippery. For some dogs, this may mean putting an old towel down to cover the base of the tub. Choose a towel with some weight to it – not a thin, threadbare one. Too light of a towel will float up in the water, defeating the reason of putting it down in the first place. Then fill the tub up with warm water. It shouldn’t be too hot, but not too cold either. The water should not exceed the height of your dog’s chest just beneath where the neck meets the chest. By the way, there is no reason for the dog to be in the room while the tub is filling. In fact, before giving your dog a bath, make sure he’s had a bit of exercise outdoors to burn off excess energy, as well as to take care of relieving himself. Let your dog go off and chew on a bone for bit while you prepare the tub.
While a few dogs seem to enjoy baths, the vast majority are resigned. They might go so far as to run and hide, perhaps under the bed or behind a couch, but once caught, they go into the tub with a minimum of fuss. Then there are those dogs that the owners risk life and limb trying to get into the bathroom, let alone the tub. These are the dogs that stiffen their stance, stare sideways at you, ready to leap and snap as your hand reaches towards their collar. Yet even these dogs can – with patience – learn to accept a bath through gradual desensitization.
For dogs that are really tough when bath time approaches, try a new tactic. Begin by putting a towel on the floor for your dog to lie on while you take a bath. Leave his leash on him (preferably a quiet nylon leash). Make him comfortable; give him a few extra-special treats or a bone to gnaw on. The goal is for the dog to see that the bathroom can be associated with a relaxing activity; it is a bonus if the treat is his most favorite and can only get it during your bath time. When you get out of the tub and dry yourself off, consider giving your dog a gentle rub-down with the oh-so-slightly-damp towel. This will help accustom your dog to the after-bath toweling dry, plus give him a bit of a cleaning as well. Be sure to keep it light and fun, praise him as he learns to accept the toweling.
When your dog begins to look forward to your bath time, you are ready for the next step. Let some of the water out from your bath. Towel your dog with your damp towel as normal. Dip a corner of the towel in the tub so that the towel has more water to shed onto your dog’s fur; not so much that he is left soaking wet, but just a bit more than damp. Give him plenty of praise and a bit more of a special treat as you do this. When you think he is ready for the next step, encourage him to approach the side of the tub. Pick up the end of his leash, and gently coax him to it, taking up most of the slack in the leash as you do so. You may need to be sitting on the edge of the tub with your feet still in the water. If the dog has become used to seeing you in the water over the past few weeks or even months, he is more likely to accept that the whole sitting-in-water thing is not as horrible as previously perceived. If necessary, carefully lift him into the tub, but don’t drop him in – place him in gently, and give him another treat as his feet touch the tub bottom.
Decide whether or not you want to use a dog shampoo the first few times he gets in the tub by gauging his reaction. If your dog is still quite panicky about the bath, don’t add further stress by using soap or shampoo. Just use plain water and your hands to rub your dog down, talking calmly to him the whole time. He doesn’t have to be soaked through; just getting more wet than he is used to is putting you ahead of the game. Be patient. When you do first use dog shampoo or soap, use the smallest amount possible, and choose one that has little or no fragrance. Dog’s noses are so much more sensitive than humans; what we find pleasing may be overwhelming to your dog. And let’s face it, your dog isn’t going to ask for a second bath to get rid of a smell he finds unpleasant from the shampoo from the first bath. And stay away from your dog’s head and neck with the water, at least until your dog is very comfortable with bath time.
As your dog becomes used to the bath time ritual, you can slowly add on shampoos, de-tangler for long-haired dogs, the ritual of swabbing out the ears, and other grooming essentials. Your dog may never grow to love the bath, but he should become accustomed to it and become more trustful of you in the process.