Certain words inspire strong reactions in animals. If I tell my beagle Mary that we're going for a W-A-L-K, she knows exactly what's happening. If I don't move quickly enough, she'll bark until I open the door. Walks are important, but what happens when there's an activity that causes dread in your furry friend?
Image by Maja Dumat
Bath-day anxiety stresses out the entire household. No one likes to see a four-legged family member scared. So how do you train a dog that's afraid of the tub to step into the water?
Find the Source
If possible, try to sort out what part of the bathing process your dog is afraid of. Does he start shaking at the sound of water or does he wait until he's wet? Is he afraid of the bathroom completely? Maybe the bath itself is just fine, but he relates it to those dreaded nail clippers. Identifying the first trigger will help you ease him into accepting baths are safe.
Play in or around the bathtub – especially if you notice that Rover avoids the entire room and not just the tub. He's associating the room with bad days.
Don't wait for bath day to use the tub or bathing area as a fun place. Show your dog that the room is used for fun things, too. Make games of tug and belly rubs frequent occurrences.
Whether you were able to pinpoint a specific trigger at bath time not, bribing with toys and treats is a good way to help your dog enjoy bath time. Once you're in the bathroom, give him a treat. Once he's in the tub, give him a treat. If you have a second pair of hands, there's no harm in treats occurring throughout the bath, too.
Take a Drive
Some dogs live for car rides and some don't. If you're lucky enough to have a dog that goes gaga for a car ride, try using the ride as the first phase of the reward system. If you head to the park for a long run, Rover might actually be willing to step into a bath to cool down afterwards.
You can actually even cut out the tub altogether by using a public pet washing station. Some states, like Illinois, are practically riddled with pet washings stations in convenient locations like outside of grocery stores and auto repair shops. How could a dog hate bath day when it starts and ends with a car ride and involves a long play date in the park?
Teach Them Young
If your dog is still a puppy, you're in luck. You won't have to help unlearn a decade of fear. Odd are good that the event itself is so far from their daily routine that they don't know how to respond. Following the above reward and play-date steps will swiftly calm a puppy’s fears.
A few final pointers to round out the actual bathing process:
1. Don't yell. No matter how frustrated you may be, don't use anything other than a friendly, soothing tone with your pup. He’s already terrified. Thinking that you’re upset with them is just going to make things worse.
2. Use a mat. Use a cheap rubber mat on the bottom of the tub so the dog's trembles don't make him skid. That slippage will only increase the panic.
3. Don't rush. Rushing will only increase overall stress to you and your dog.
4. Check the temp. We both know you want the drama over with, but accidently throwing ice cold or too hot water on the dog will also make a bad situation worse.
Even the most skittish dog will eventually respond to the above training. You might never have a completely willing participant but, with patience, you can help sooth everyone's nerves. Stay patient, remind your furry friend that they're loved and always begin – and end – with a treat.