Is dog bath time a wiggle-filled wrestling match at your house? Is your dog scared of the bathroom and tub? Read below to learn how to train for canine bath time success and how to reduce your dog’s stress. In short, you will build slowly (baby-steps!) on positive bathtub experiences to master this key ownership and grooming skill.
1. Get the right supplies. You need lots of soft, tasty dog treats – don’t use kibble in the beginning. After your dog has mastered bath time, you may be able to use kibble to reward your dog during and after bath time. In addition, invest in an extendable shower hose (6-8 feet is preferable) that is attached to a showerhead or a pet hose. Having a hose to use in the bathtub is so much easier than having your dog stand in a water-filled tub and then using a cup to rinse and wet your dog – that takes forever, you rinse with water that is no longer clean, and dogs in general seem to dislike the “cup-method.”
2. Desensitize your dog slowly to the bathroom, bathtub, running water (from the handheld hose), and then actual baths. First, have your dog get treats for just entering the bathroom with you for a couple of training sessions. Then have your dog eat treats on the bathtub ledge for a few days. Next, pick up your dog and place him in the tub; feed lots of treats. End the “eating treats in the tub” session when your dog is calm and happily eating cookies. Do not end the session for a squirmy dog – instead, wait for one second of stillness and then remove your dog from the tub (you don’t want your dog thinking that wriggling pups get freedom from bath time). After standing in the tub is easy and without stress, turn the water on but do not have the water touch your dog; continue feeding treats while your dog is in the tub. Progress to having the water - via the hose - touch his toes; give lots of treats for a still dog that allows water to touch his toes. Gradually build up to your dog accepting getting his legs wet and then his rib cage. Continue to be generous with treats and praise. Eventually you will be able to wet your entire dog down (skip his face and ears) while intermittently rewarding him with treats. Eventually you’ll add lathering-up your pup with dog shampoo and a full-rinse-off to the routine. If progressing to the next level of difficulty is too much for your dog, go back one step to where your dog is comfortable and then slowly re-attempt adding more difficulty.
3. Practice. Although you may only need to bathe your dog once every 4-8 weeks (depending on your dog’s breed and skin needs), you’ll need to train “positive bath time” between actual baths to maintain your progress. A few times a week, treat your dog for entering the bathroom and sometimes have your dog eat a meal in a bowl in the tub - without the water running and without an actual bath. Occasionally have the water running and just wet your dog’s paws and legs. You can also practice towel-drying your already-dry dog; treat your dog for standing still for being gently towel-dried. Over time, you’ll have fewer and fewer “maintenance” training sessions between actual baths.
4. Have all family members participate. Marty’s owner says, “Involve all the members of your family in the care - although ‘mom’ may be doing most of it - even if they don’t to it perfectly. It’s important for the dog to bond with everyone and for all to feel a relationship and a responsibility for the dog.”
5. Start as soon as possible. Belle’s owner offers these words, “Even though Belle enjoys getting into the bathtub and eating her treats, getting her to the next step of an actual bath is very difficult. I know now that we should have begun consistent work on this as soon as she was brought home.”
After you’ve mastered your pup being comfortable in your own bathtub, you may investigate renting a self-serve dog washing station at a local pet store. Some folks like to use the rentals to forego the necessary clean up of their home bathrooms, which are often fur-filled after dog baths! Use the same baby-steps to get your hound comfortable in the rental station; however, because you’ve already mastered tub comfort at home, the desensitization process at the rental station should go more quickly. Don’t forget to bring your tasty dog treats!