Updated: May 11, 2020
Many dog parents are all too familiar with it — the paws out in protest, the squirming and wriggling upon setting foot in the bathroom, the shaking or panting at the sound of running water.
Other than a trip to the vet, nothing can make some dogs more nervous than bathtime. If your dog is staunchly anti-bath, getting him clean can be a painful process for all involved. But one whiff of those doggy odors and pet owners quickly realize there’s no alternative but to break out the tear-free shampoo and scrub down their unhappy pup.
So why do dogs hate baths so much?
Here’s why your pup may dread the tub, and how to help even the most bath-adverse dog actually look forward to getting clean.
It’s not just the water
Even dogs who love to swim can be just as traumatized by baths as dogs who won’t go near the beach. When dogs choose to go swimming, they are in control of themselves, and no one is handling them. So it’s completely different things — it’s not simply being wet. here’s fun with swimming, versus a bath, where they’re being put in a situation and having water dumped all over them. Loss of control during the bathing process can greatly affect your dog’s attitude about getting clean, so force is never the answer.
Baths can bring back scary memories
For some dogs, getting a bath reminds them of a traumatic past experience, which provokes feelings of fear or anxiety every time they approach the shower.
These past experiences may have caused your pet pain — such as the water being too hot — but that’s not always the case.
Even the most conscientious pet owner may not realize that something as simple as not being able to find his balance in the tub can leave a lasting impression on your dog. A lot of times people neglect to put something on the bottom of the bathtub floor or the sink to ensure that the dog gets [his/her] footing, so slipping is actually pretty common. With animals, they like to have a sense of control and know that they’re not going to be falling and slipping; so traumatic events really come from the perspective of the animal.
In these situations, putting a nonslip rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or shower and testing the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not freezing or scalding can make all the difference.
It’s a handling issue
Not all dogs like to be held and cuddled — and that’s perfectly OK — but it can cause an issue when bath time rolls around. A dog may not like to be handled for a lot of different [reasons], like having ticks taken off, going to the vet office or being picked up to be put in a bath,” Levine notes. If your dog shows visible signs of anxiety, such as panting or shaking, whenever he is being picked up or handled, getting in the bath can be traumatic, and should be done with care and consideration.
It’s a new experience — and that’s scary
Lots of dogs can get anxious about novel experiences, so that can play a role. If a dog has a lot of generalized anxiety and that’s just one more strange thing that’s happening. If a dog is not exposed early in life to time in the tub, getting a bath can be different and weird, so you’ll want to make it as enjoyable as possible.