How to Prevent or Overcome Your Dog’s Fear of Bathing

Filed in Dog Health on November 8, 2020

How to prevent or overcome your dog's fear of bathingIs your dog fearful of bath time?

Or maybe you’re bathing your dog for the first time.

This blog post will explain how to prevent your dog from being fearful of bathing and what to do if they’re already afraid.

Additionally, we provide tips for making bath time a more comfortable experience for your pup.

While this article is more geared toward puppies, the advice works for dogs of all ages.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Being Fearful Of Bathing

welsh corgi pembroke bathingSocialization is an important step in a puppy’s development.

This word encompasses introducing your dog to not just people and pets, but also to sights, sounds, and objects.

The idea is to provide your puppy with many positive experiences, so that they won’t become afraid of things later in life.

You also need to do this with bathing. If you start spraying them with a shower hose without any socialization beforehand, they may become fearful of bathing.

When introducing your dog to the bath, slow and steady wins the race.

In fact, you shouldn’t even turn the water on until your puppy is comfortable with the tub itself.

Famous dog trainer, Zak George, shares a fantastic video in which he demonstrates the proper way to introduce a pup to the tub with water running (Note: Fast forward to 6:30 for bathing).

In the video, he shares many helpful tips and steps to make his dog more comfortable with baths. Here is a summary of the video:

  1. He gently puts her in the bath tub with no water and lets her sniff around.
  2. Using a clicker, he gives her many small pieces of treats and discourages her from jumping out of the tub.
  3. He tries to get her to sit in one place by feeding her treats more rapidly for positive reinforcement.
  4. He introduces her to the water but extremely slowly by first putting some drops of water in the tub from a water bottle.
  5. Then he turns on the faucet slightly with a small amount of water coming in the tub.
  6. As soon as she becomes anxious, he turns off the water immediately.
  7. He rewards her for looking at and interacting with the faucet as water slowly comes out of it again.
  8. He increases the flow of the water as he tries to desensitize her to it.
  9. He recommends lukewarm water for baths.
  10. He also recommends taking breaks when dogs become stressed.
  11. While using a licky mat to reduce his dog’s anxiety, he pours some water on her from a water bottle.
  12.  He continues to pour water on her and rinse her off each time.
  13. Then he uses some shampoo and continues to act slowly.
  14. Eventually, he dries her off and takes her out of the tub.

While the bathing portion of the video is roughly 10 minutes, the bathing session actually lasted 35 minutes according to Zak George.

As a result, set aside sufficient time for your bathing sessions with your pup.

If you’re patient, careful, and use a lot of rewards when socializing your puppy to the bath, then you can teach them that bathing is not a negative experience.

This will prevent your dog from becoming fearful or difficult to bathe.

How To Overcome Your Dog’s Fear Of Bathing

If your dog is already afraid of bathing, this section is for you.

One common mistake is not properly socializing a puppy to the bath, causing them to become fearful. This can be a real problem if it’s not corrected.

Not only can it be hard to keep a fearful dog in the tub, but if the fear is never addressed, it may only worsen. This could lead to defecation and urination or even aggression.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to teach a fearful dog that the bath isn’t such a scary place.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

1. Get Your Dog Comfortable In The Tub

Dog comfortable and happy in bath tubYour dog may be afraid of the bathtub because they associate it with unpleasant experiences. You can help them get over this fear by providing positive experiences in the bathroom.

Some ways to do this include feeding your dog their meals in the bathroom (or in the bathtub itself if they’re willing) as well as throwing treats on the floor or into the tub.

Leave the door open so that your dog doesn’t feel trapped. If you’ve ever used a treat as a bribe to get your dog into the bathtub, they may have learned that the treat is a trick to get them in the tub.

As a result, they may refuse to go in the bathroom even to get food.

Removing yourself from the area can often give your dog the courage they need. Once they realize they aren’t going to get locked in, you can and should stick around. You want your dog to be comfortable with the bathroom and your presence in it.

2. Add Water

Once your dog is able to eat their food or treats calmly in the tub, you can bring water into the equation. However, don’t pour any of it on your dog just yet. As Zak George demonstrates with his puppy in the video above, it’s best to start by pouring water into the tub and gauging your dog’s reaction.

For dogs that are already afraid of the bath, it’s best to do your initial water pour while they are occupied with dinner or a KONG. If your dog doesn’t mind you pouring water out of a cup, you can try turning the faucet on, but keep it at a trickle to begin with.

You can slowly work your way up to having the faucet on full blast. If your dog seems nervous when you turn the water on, it’s okay to turn it back off. Go at your dog’s pace and slowly increase the amount of time you leave the water on. With time, patience, and positive reinforcement, your dog will learn that running water is no big deal.

If you use a hose attachment with a handheld sprayer, you should do the same steps: run the water on a gentle setting through the sprayer so that your dog can get comfortable with it.

Once your dog does well with the water running, you should try pouring or spraying water near them. Again, do this while distracting them with meals or treats, and be gentle.

Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Start with only short splashes of water near your dog and work your way up to a continuous stream.

3. Get Your Dog Wet

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your dog is not nervous in the bathtub and is calm even when water is running. Now, you can attempt to get your dog wet.

Depending on your dog’s fear level, you may choose to simply wet your hands and rub them on your dog to start off with. Otherwise, you can either pour or spray (on the gentlest setting possible) a tiny amount of water on your dog’s fur while they eat food or treats.

Depending on his reaction, you may decide to stop here until a later session. If your dog seems okay, you can continue to pour small amounts of water on their fur while rewarding them for being calm.

Eventually, you can work your way up to having a continuous, gentle spray of water running over your dog’s body. Once you’ve made it to this point, you should celebrate! While you’ll still have to work on increasing the intensity of the water, your dog is able to tolerate enough that you could give them a full bath.

Tips For Creating a Comfortable Bath Time Experience

Dog getting washed in bathtubNow that you know the basic steps for helping your dog overcome their fear of bathing, here are some helpful tips to make the experience a little easier for you and your dog.

1. Use Warm Water

One of the reasons your dog may hate bath time is that the temperature of the water is uncomfortable. Dogs’ skin is much more sensitive to hot water than ours is. While we may enjoy a steamy bath, your dog will feel like they’re being burned. User water that is warm, but not hot.

2. Try a Lick Pad

Lick pads are inexpensive mats that you can stick to the bathroom wall and slather with peanut butter. Some dogs are so intent on licking this tasty treat that they almost forget they’re getting a bath.

If you don’t want to spend money on a lick pad, you can just smear the peanut butter on your bathroom wall. However, lick pads tend to have more ridges and grooves than your bathroom tile, which keeps your dog busy for longer.

Even if your dog tolerates the bath pretty well, a lick pad can make the experience much more rewarding for them. If your dog gets a tasty treat every single bath time, they may even begin to like it!

3. Use a Cloth To Wash Your Dog’s Face

If someone randomly took a hose and sprayed you in the face, you probably wouldn’t like it very much.

Nor would you like it if someone took a cup of water and dumped that in your face, either.

A washcloth is a gentle tool for washing your dog’s face.

For dogs that especially hate bath time, using a washcloth on their face will make the experience a little less torturous.

4. Provide Traction With a Shower Mat

If you don’t already use a shower mat or use adhesive strips instead of a mat, you should purchase one for when you’re bathing your dog.

Many dogs tend to panic if the floor of the tub is slippery. A little bit of traction can make bath time a lot more comfortable for your dog.

5. Use Restraints When Necessary

Restraints are good for emergency situations in which your dog has rolled in something disgusting and a bath is unavoidable.

If you decide to go this route, make sure that restraining your dog will not cause injury.

Many professional groomers use restraints with breakaway functions so that if a dog were to fall or jump off the grooming table, they would not be in danger of asphyxiation.

In Summary

It’s very common for dogs to be afraid of getting a bath. Therefore, it’s best to prevent fear by carefully socializing your dog to bathing while they’re still a puppy.

Unfortunately, not all dog owners are able to do this. Luckily, even a fearful dog can be taught that getting a bath doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience.

All you need is patience, love, and a lot of yummy dog treats!

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