It’s a known fact that felines hate water, perhaps because their ancestors lived in the dry regions of Africa, but to many it’s surprising when man’s best friend joins the water-phobic club. Yet, for countless owners giving their dog a bath is quite a troublesome endeavor. If giving your dog a bath reminds you of the famous scene of Turner and Hooch where Tom Hanks ends up in the tub, you know for sure that your dog must dread baths as much as Hooch did. So what causes this dislike of water, and most of all, what can you do to help your dog overcome his fears?
The Making of a Water-Phobic Dog
If you think about it, for a good part humans dread water too. What happens when you are out with your dog and it starts raining? Most likely you cover your head with the newspaper as best as you can and start running back home. What happens when you walk your dog and there’s a big puddle in front of you? Most likely you circumnavigate it as best as you can. What do these actions convey to your dog? Water is not good.
Many puppy owners missed out important opportunities to teach their puppies from a young age that water is fun. During the brief window of opportunity taking place in the puppy socialization period, dog owners should expose their puppies to water, getting them used to being wet and enjoying bath time. Many dogs grow without even knowing how it feels to have their coat wet, and if they do eventually get a bath during puppy hood, steps may not be taken in making it a pleasant experience which may have an impact in the future. Being placed in a slippery bath tub, having water poured on the coat and then being exposed to noisy hair dryers can be quite a scary experience. It therefore shouldn’t surprise us the day that Oliver goes running for cover the moment he sees us grabbing towels or hears us turning the bath tub faucet on.
The Recipe for Success
Whether your dog rolled into a pile of cow pies, got a mud make-over or got skunked by Pepe’ le Pew, he’ll eventually need several baths during his life time. Prevention is always the best cure. Start bathing your dog when he’s a puppy and make it a pleasant experience. The sooner he gets used to the idea of being bathed, the more likely he’ll tolerate it in the future. The following are some other tips to help your dog enjoy baths.
- Acclimate your dog to the staying in the bath tub for several days before the actual day you bathe him. Surround him with toys and treats so positive associations are made with the tub.
- Get your dog used to being touched as if you were massaging shampoo through his coat. Make these sessions short and sweet using lots of praise and treats.
- Place a non-slip mat in the tub. Many dogs dislike the sensation of uneven footing and slipping can cause a setback.
- Implement the Jolly Routine. Coined by trainer William E. Campbell, the Jolly Routine consists of setting the emotional tone that will change the dog’s emotions about a bath. So instead of perceiving giving a bath as a tedious chore, dog owners should behave in a festive manner making bath time fun. This would entail talking in a silly, high-pitched tone of voice, singing and doling out treats.
- Use a tear-free shampoo so if the shampoo goes in his eyes it won’t burn. The burning sensation may be enough to make your dog reluctant to having a bath next time.
- Make a note of the things you think your dog may be afraid of ad try to find solutions to them. Some dogs aren’t afraid of the bath per se, but several things that happen during that time. Does your dog slink when you use the spray attachment? If so, rinse your dog using cups of water instead. Is your dog scared of the blow dryer? Then towel dry him. Does he seem worried about slipping? Then make sure you always use mats. Does your dog dislike being lifted in the tub? Give portables steps a try. If your dog dreads the tub, try to engage him in a fun game outdoors using the water hose.
- If you are planning on bathing your dog outside using a hose on a hot summer day, exercise him first. There are higher chances your dog will like the water if he is feeling hot and the water helps him cool down.
- Always end a bath on a positive note. Towel drying is a great opportunity to have fun with your dog. Massage your dog with the towel talking to him in silly voices as you rub. When you are done, resume normality. You want your dog to acknowledge that all the fun ends when the bathing process is over.
- Never use water as a form of punishment. If you use a water gun or other spraying mechanism to stop your dog from engaging in an unwanted behavior, you’ll make him dislike water.
*Make a note of this: if your dog dreads bath time, it’s best not to call him – at least until he hasn’t learn that bath time can be a really fun time. If you call your dog and then something he finds unpleasant happens, he’ll be less likely to come when called. To avoid poisoning your cue, it’s better if you just put the leash on him, take him on a brief walk and then take him to the bathing area.
The Bottom Line
As seen, there are many steps you can take in turning bath time into a fun experience. Never punish your dog for resisting bath time or force him into submission; you’ll only make matters worse. However, if your dog at any point appears extremely fearful or aggressive, it’s best to consult with a dog behavioral professional who can guide you through some behavior modification techniques.