Updated: May 11, 2020
If your dog hates bath time, it’s likely you do, too. It may be hard to imagine that you could turn it around and start viewing a bath as a time for bonding instead, but it is possible. The key is to have a strategy for the change.
Take a nice long walk first Many dogs naturally enjoy a dip in the water when they’re feeling hot and exhausted after exercise, so use those natural instincts to your advantage. Also, your dog will have less pent-up energy to fight the process.
Don’t rush It’s hard to stay balanced and live in the moment if you have a limited amount of time to get the bath done. Find a time when you can relax and focus on your dog.
Bring a positive attitude If you’ve experienced resistance from your dog at bath time again and again, your body language and energy likely communicate to your dog what an ordeal this is going to be before she even knows what you’re going to do together! You may be surprised to find how much of a difference it can make to approach the bath with calm, assertive energy.
Make it fun It can be hard to feel optimistic about the bath if you don’t see a possibility of anything changing. One way to change both of your attitudes is to think about bath time as playtime. This can be particularly effective for dogs who really enjoy toys. Bring them into the tub to start associating it with time to spend playing together.
Smearing peanut butter on the walls of the shower so your dog can lick it up while being bathed is not only easy to do, but easy to clean (your dog is doing the work for you!). Start your dog off on the right foot by giving him special treats while in the tub, which provides something to look forward to the next time.
It takes two The best teacher is often another dog. If your dog is properly socialized, taking a bath with another dog who is having a great time can help your dog learn how to relax and enjoy the experience. Make sure the dogs meet in advance of the bath, so you can ensure they get along.
Make the water comfortable What seems like a great temperature to you might not be what your dog prefers. Very warm water can actually be a shock to your dog, so keep it lukewarm to ensure that temperature isn’t part of the problem.
Start young Some pet parents make the mistake of assuming that their puppy is adjusting well to bath time when he just stands there rigidly (or worse, shaking in fear) during the process. But if your puppy doesn’t seem relaxed, then you may have problems down the road. Help your puppy learn to enjoy the process. Make sure to let your puppy explore the bathtub when it’s dry and therefore less intimidating.
Bring food into the tub Another way to help your dog make more positive associations with the tub (or other bathing area) is to start feeding him there. You may find that your dog is resistant or nervous at first, but over time, he’ll likely relax and enjoy his meal.
Start small Let your dog get comfortable with the sound of running water. Then add a little water to the tub. Get just his feet wet, then his legs. Keep going from there. Make the process gradual, allowing your dog to get used to each step, instead of trying to rush the process by dumping a bucket of water on him or spraying him down. It’s okay if you don’t complete the bath that first time. The goal is just to get your dog comfortable.
Still struggling? Consider getting professional help. It may feel a little silly to hire a dog trainer just to help you give your dog a bath, but consider how even one session might enable both you and your dog to have a more enjoyable experience at bath time for the rest of his life. Isn’t that a good investment of your time and money?