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Bathtime Blues — Overcoming the Battle

Some dogs are drawn to water. They love to be in it, no matter the circumstance. However, the vast majority of dogs do not like being placed in a tub and forced to bathe. This can be extremely frustrating as a dog owner, especially after a long day of playing in the mud or lake. Some pups will climb out of the water again and again; others will bolt from the bathroom and hide just out of reach. Sometimes it can leave us feeling desperate and hopeless. Often times in our frustration, we tend to make the situation even worse by yelling or forcing our friend into the water. This is not the answer, but don’t fear! There are many appropriate ways to help overcome the battle of the “bathtime blues.”

Before we dive in to how to bathe our pups, let’s talk about where to bathe them. Location can be an important factor in cleaning our furry friends with ease. For most owners, the bath tub is the destination of choice; simply because it is accessible at all times and easy to use. However, one may want to consider going to a specialty dog store. Some places offer paid and/or free dog sinks for you to use at your own leisure. This can make the process much easier. This way, the dog isn’t standing in so much water, he is on your level, and they give you a special hose to rinse with. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? That’s cause it is! If you have dog bathing issues, definitely try a self-service dog wash near you. Now let’s get into the dirty details of how to have a clean pooch!

In order to bathe your dog with ease, you need to evaluate the state of your dog. Does he seem anxious or worried about the situation? Is he full of energy, or tired from a long day of play? These things are very important to think about. If your pup is anxious, there is no way he is going to go anywhere near the tub. In that case, approaching with caution is imperative to your success. If he is full of energy as opposed to tired, he is also much more likely to be active and want to jump out — especially if he hates the water! Rambunctious dogs and baths don’t go together!

Anxiety in dogs is one of the most common road blocks for bathing. The situation can seem intimidating and scary, especially if you are using a bathtub. The roaring water coming from the spout, the large porcelain, slippery white surface, and a host of other things can make your dog very wary. If you find this to be the case, try taking your dog into the bathroom on a day that you are not planning on bathing him and follow these steps.

Note: If you have a small dog that cannot climb in and out of a tub at his own pace, or he is too large for a sink, it is highly recommended to take your pup to a self-service dog wash for these next steps. However, it is not impossible if lifting and placing the dog into the tub is insisted upon. Exercise extreme caution as to not stress the dog out further.

Make sure to have lots of yummy treats on you!

  1. While standing next to the tub, turn on the running water carefully for a moment and immediately mark with “yes” and a mouthwatering treat; turn the water off and repeat. Do this multiple times until you see less fear in your dog. (He should not jump at the noise from the water faucet, try to bolt from the tub, and he should have much more relaxed body language than before.)
  2. Gradually increase the time of the faucet being on as well as the power of the water. If you notice your dog becoming too fearful, dial it back a bit and take it slower. If you get to a point where you want to leave the water on a low setting, give consistent rewards to the dog. The goal is to make a good association for this activity.
  3. Continue to do step 2 until you have the water on all the way with a constant flow (as if filling up the tub for a bath.) Now you want to get ready to get a little wet. Fill the tub up with an inch or two of lukewarm water (or leave it dry if you prefer) and invite your dog in with a treat. Lure him in by holding the treat over the edge to the inside. If he refuses to get in that far, reward him for standing on the edge. Once he does that well, push him further to actually get his feet wet. As soon as his paws touch the water, mark with “yes” and reward. Invite him to get back out of the tub so that he does not feel trapped.
  4. If your dog picks this up quickly, start adding some duration time in the water. Instead of instantly inviting him to hop back out, give him a “stay” command if he knows it and reward with “good.” Do one or two of these and then mark with “yes” to come back out. If he does not know a sufficient stay, simply block him from getting out prematurely and feed him some treats before he has a chance. Gradually build duration for minutes at a time.
  5. Rinse and repeat all of these steps until you have a full tub of water and a stable furry friend. If you use a cup to rinse with, do some desensitization work with that as well. (Pour a little bit at a time while rewarding. Work on duration and stability with rewards.) Some dogs tend to get jumpy when something is being poured on their backs.
  6. Finally, it’s time to incorporate some doggy shampoo. If you have to, follow the same steps to get your pup used to the feel and smell of shampoo. If he’s doing well, you’re pretty much done and your dog is ready to be bathed!

*Please note that all of this will take time, and may be easier for some dogs than others. The same steps can be followed and altered for time at a real doggy bath, and it may prove to be simpler than the tub.

With some serious dedication and work, your pooch can be the sparkling student you always longed for him to be — and he’ll smell good, too! Just remember: don’t get too frustrated, take it slow, and put yourself into his shoes. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to finally overcome the “bathtime blues.”

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