Dogs can have definite feelings about the bathtub. Some love the attention and sit peacefully while being scrubbed, some patiently and obediently wait but do not enjoy the experience, and others go in kicking and screaming. When water is not involved, dogs often use the tub as a place of refuge. In almost every instance, however, dogs jump in the tub. Depending on the size of the dog, at best this can be a mess and at the worst, it can be a safety hazard for both you and your dog. If you are one of the owners who have a jumper, rest assured there are ways to have him settle in the tub for a bath and not tear down the curtain when he is jumping in for refuge.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs like to be free, and they kind of like to be dirty too. They sit in the bath to appease you, but it is rarely fun for them. They work hard to have and spread their own scent. Unfortunately, you like your dog to smell clean and fresh. Sometimes his preferred scent is very different from yours. When you bathe him, you are taking away part of what defines him, and that can make him uncomfortable. In addition, in order to bathe him, you need to confine him in a tub that is slippery to his puppy paws. While he loves to be with you and close with you, a small space at your mercy can make him nervous. Add in the intoxicating scent of shampoos and the noise of running water and it may be a sensory overload. In order to relieve some of these intense feelings, he may feel the need to jump. Sometimes he just needs to jump to let out the nervous energy; sometimes it is in the form of an escape. There is also the infamous doggie shake. Every pet owner knows that a bath is a race for time. If you can keep him from jumping, then you know the shake is imminent. It typically starts at his snout or with a flip of the ears and then progresses all the way down his body straight to the tip of his tail. Another reason dogs may jump in the tub is for refuge, and it has nothing with bathing. Dogs can develop fears and anxieties to various people, things, and circumstances. One study even indicates that at least one-third of dogs develop anxieties and that the sounds of thunder and fireworks are top of the list. While any dog can develop an anxiety, certain breeds appear to be more prone to them such as German Shepherds, Huskies, and some hunting breeds like Labradors. Initially, veterinarians and researchers felt the anxiety was induced by the sound of the thunder and firecrackers, but now it is understood that dogs are actually feeling the static electricity of the thunder and that is what makes them uncomfortable as well. When he jumps into your tub, which is grounded, it limits the amount of static he feels and brings him peace. When he hears the fireworks, the sound is startling and reminds him of thunder. The tub is a pacifier as well.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog is a mad jumper, try to limit his baths to times of absolute necessity. When you do bathe him, make the experience as fast and painless as possible by using an unscented soap and reward him with treats. Some dogs do better being bathed outside or at a doggie wash that has a more open shower frame that does not feel as restrictive. A trainer can give you additional tips on how to make the bath a more pleasant experience for your jumping pup. If he still does the jump and shake, it is always a good idea to have a lot of extra towels on hand. If you see his ears start to flop, grab his muzzle and throw a towel over him to limit the spray of water. Lastly, allow him space and time to run around like a maniac after a bath, so he learns that while the bath may not be fun, he will have the reward of zooming and getting all of it out at the end. Owners report coming home and finding their shower curtains ripped down, often with the dog in the tub. If your dog deals with anxieties, especially to thunder and fireworks, you can take precautions to support him at this time. If it is an evening that promises fireworks, do not leave your pet alone. During times when he needs to be home alone, keep blinds closed and have soft music and white noise playing to drown out any possible storm sounds. Keep the bathroom door open and the shower curtain pulled back to give him safe access to the tub should he need the refuge.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs rarely intend to misbehave and spend most of their time acting on instinct. It is important to not interpret their behavior through the human perspective. Dogs also pick up human reactions and subtle behaviors that you may not even be aware that you are projecting. It does not take a lot out of you to reinforce a behavior, even a negative one. A dog jumping in the tub during a bath can be stopped, and often it is the initial experience and your response that sets the jumping in motion. Bathing a dog that has eaten, been properly exercised and in a submissive state, will decrease your chances that he will feel trapped in the tub. Moving quickly, efficiently, and calmly will also make the bath more pleasant. Calmly praising him and providing treats because he is staying still will also go a long way. If it is anxiety that is causing the tub jumping, you can provide comfort without reinforcing the behavior. Acting as if nothing is wrong, yet allowing him the opportunity to self-soothe in the tub does not reinforce his fears yet also does not leave him alone to suffer. If you struggle to find the fine line between being supportive and reinforcing the behaviors, speak to a trainer or your veterinarian about some options specifically tailored to your pup.
Dogs often jump in the tub. During a bath, they do not appreciate being confined, slipping on the bottom, losing their scent, or the sound and smells of cleanliness. During a storm, they very much appreciate the grounding effects of the tub. At bath time, they jump to release the stress and escape. With storms, they jump for refuge. Both are based on his instinctive needs and have nothing to do with misbehaving. Work to create a safe atmosphere for your pet during baths and during storms.