Yesterday was bath time here at Casa del Ash. Bath time has always been an interesting time with Janice and Leroy. Janice is a sweetheart who handles baths like a pro. She’ll get into the tub, let me scrub her down, stand patiently while I pick up her feet and wash her belly, and then let me dry her off with ease. She does tend to go a little crazy afterwards (See “Why Does Your Dog Go Crazy After a Bath?”), but for the most part, she’s a dream.
Leroy, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem. When Leroy was younger, he hated baths. So much that I couldn’t even bathe him inside. I would take him outside and coax him to stay still long enough for me to douse him with the hose. Then I would turn the shampoo bit into a game of wrestling, effectively giving us both a bath. It was another of those “LeroyDammit” moments that he’s known for. Slowly, I got him used to the bath inside, which helped during the winter a lot, and made it easier to keep the smell away when he takes a roll in the hen house – but he’s never really taken to bath time the way Janice has.
For some dog owners, even hearing that I managed to get him to accept baths at all is a miracle, though, and that got me thinking about what it was that I did to help him get more comfortable with the idea. These are seven tips that I used to help Leroy at least accept the bath, if not actually love it.
(1) Give Them Some Traction
The first thing that most pet owners overlook entirely is the fact that the bath tub is a very slick place for dog paws. Paws are designed to grip the earth, rather than just stand upon it like human feet. The way that dogs paw pads are designed, plus the fact that they have nails that stick out from their flesh, are both there to help them grip. They rely on that grip to keep their balance and to move, and they don’t like feeling as though they can’t get a solid foundation under their feet.
So one quick and easy way to help your dog feel more secure about bath time is to put down a bathing mat. These are non-skid mats that often have some sort of suction cups on the bottom to keep them in place. The surface texture gives your dog something to grip onto, and they can typically be washed easily so that you get rid of bacteria and dirt. You’ll also get to protect your bathtub from scratches, which is always a plus. If you don’t want to get a bath mat, even tossing down a towel in the tub can help your pet feel a little more secure.
Petting your dog’s head or back is one type of contact that your pet is probably familiar with. But how often do you handle their legs, feet, and tail? Many dogs find baths uncomfortable because of all the unfamiliar touching that is going on. To help a dog feel more comfortable, it’s a good idea to handle their paws and tail outside of the bath. One easy way is to play games with them that involve lightly touching their paws. For example, get your dog to lay down in front of you and try to “get” their paws. They’ll try to “get” your hands in return when they catch on to the game.
This does take some time, but it can definitely help your dog feel more comfortable when you have to wash them down. This will also come in handy when it’s time to trim their nails or perform physical check ups. Making sure that your dog is comfortable with someone handling their limbs can save you a lot of trouble once you get them into the bath.
(3) Check the Temperature
For most dogs, warm water that is not too hot but definitely not cold, is the best temperature for a bath. Dogs don’t want to stand under an icy blast of water any more than you do. However, keep in mind that all dogs are individuals, and that some may want their water to be cooler or warmer than others. If it’s been a very hot day of playing outside, for example, your dog may appreciate a cool shower to help them chill out. If your dog is a very small pup that likes to be swaddled in warm blankets, they might prefer a slightly warmer bath.
If you want to be sure that you aren’t going to burn your pup or freeze them out, you can always install a shower head with a temperature display like LED Hand Held Shower by YOO.MEE. That way, once you figure out the temperature that makes your pet the calmest, you’ll always be able to get the water to that exact setting every time.
Some dogs do not like shower heads. Very small dogs might feel like you are pummeling them with extreme water pressure. Other dogs might be scared by the noise, or find the invasion of a shiny metal thing blasting water at them to be very scary. If your dog seems to run away from the shower head itself, but isn’t too worried about being in the bath, you may need to find new water delivery methods.
Here’s where you can take a walk down the baby aisle to find what you need. Toddlers are often scared of the shower head as well, so they make these soft, moldable pitchers that parents use to wash a child’s hair and body. The sides of the pitcher will form to the shape of the child’s head, so you can control where the water goes. This works just great for a dog too! You could also simply try a gentler spray on the shower head, or use a cup to sluice water over your dog.
Another product to consider is a pet shower sprayer, which is an attachment for your shower that allows you to instantly control the pressure when washing your pet. These were originally designed for giving your dog a shower outdoors with a hose, but there are benefits to using them indoors as well. Being able to lower the pressure near your dog’s head, or near a sensitive tail, lets you keep them calm, while being able to instantly increase the pressure on their legs or back means you can get the mud off very quickly.
Many dog owners will attempt to dry their dog using a hair dryer after a bath. They may do this out of the fear that their dog will catch a cold in the winter, or to prevent their dog from shaking water all over their house and furniture. They may also just like the fact that their dog will look all cute and fluffy when the blow dry is through.
But for most dogs, the loud noise and high heat of a blow dryer, mixed with the blast of air on their body, is not a pleasant experience. It’s much better to invest in a good towel that will absorb most of the water, like the Bone Dry pet bath towel, and let that do the work of getting rid of the water for you. Some dogs may be used to standing still under a blow dryer, sure, but not all. And if you aren’t able to feel the heat yourself, like you would on your own head, you won’t know when you need to move the dryer away from an area that is starting to feel too hot.
There are many ways to help your dog associate the bathing area with a bit more fun. First, of course, you can give them some bath toys. Something simple that floats, like the ChuckIt! Amphibious Toy, can get them excited about getting in the water. Then, while you bathe them down, they can be having fun nosing the toy around in the water.
But you can also make the bathing area more fun in general. When you are near the tub where you bathe your dog, doing your hair or wiping down the sink, for example, invite your dog into the space with you. Make it fun and positive for them, with lots of attention and praise. You could even offer them a special treat for coming into the space to keep you company. This gets them in the door so they can start thinking of the area as a fun place to be, which makes it that much easier to get bath time rolling.
Finally, one of the best things you can do for your dog and yourself is to have everything you need to bathe your dog lined up and ready to go before they get in the bath. The worst thing would be to finally wrestle your pup into the bath, and then they jump out while you’re grabbing the shampoo.
So have your pitcher or cup, your bath mat, your dog shampoo, their favorite toys, and maybe even a treat or two all lined up and ready to go. Have their drying towel within reach as well so you will be ready when the bath is over. If you can line all this up in a work station, it’ll be much easier to get your dog’s bath going right away. And while you don’t want to scare your dog with a very sudden bath time, it does help to get started with the water as soon as they are in the bath, to prevent escapes.
Now that you’ve got my seven best tips for getting your dog to enjoy bath time, here are just a few other things you can do as you are training them to at least tolerate the bath.
First, have them get into the tub without having a bath once a day for a few days before the bath. This gets them used to being in the bath. By day three, you should turn on the water so they get used to being around the water as well. This is a good way to easily train a dog that has never had a bath in a tub before.
Second, don’t bathe your dog if they are stressed out from something else. For example, if they just came back from the vet, or if it’s thundering outside and your dog doesn’t like the sound, just let them skip it for now. You can bathe them later when they aren’t also dealing with another source of stress.
Third, be mindful of how you wash your dog’s face. It may be better to wash their face with a warm, wet washcloth, gently wiping around their eyes and nose to avoid getting water sprayed into their face. Also, be careful with water around their ears, and be sure to dry their ears very good after a bath. Dog ears can get infected if water is allowed to sit inside.
Those are just some quick tips for how you can make your dog a little more comfortable in the bath if you’ve never trained a dog to like water before.
Leroy may not have enjoyed baths at first when he was younger, but he did get used to them eventually. These days, he won’t exactly stand still like Janice does, but I don’t have to wrestle him to the ground either. Ideally, your dog will be trained well enough that a groomer or a pet sitter could also bathe them with no problems – but if you can get your water-shy dog to stand still for you during a bath, that’s a big win!