There’s nothing better than a bath for most of us. No, really, can you name one thing better after a hard day of work than a hot bubble bath with more candles than cares? Go on, I’ll wait while you bathe. But, while bath time might, generally speaking, be a hard-earned and much-needed period of unadulterated bliss for us two-legged beings, for our dogs it can be more miserable than Christmas on Eastenders or a bed full of fleas. But, why do they feel this way? And what can we do to make bath time as enjoyable for them as it is for us?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs’ fear of the bath has long been mistakenly associated with a fear of water. This is generally not the case—just take your dog to the local lake or pond and I can assure you, they will probably eradicate that particular misconception very quickly! So, if it isn’t a fear of water, then why on earth do some dogs kick up such a fuss when it comes to giving them a lovely wash, getting them looking good and feeling gorgeous?
Well, there are a few possible factors and it may be a combination of a few, or all of them. Dogs don’t like loud noise, so it could be a simple case that the running water from the taps is uncomfortably loud for them and enough to make them dread bath time. Some dogs just find baths generally uncomfortable to be in; our fur babies are used to soft cushions and comfy beds, and hard surfaces just won’t do! The inside of a bath is usually quite slippery as well, and dogs tend to get upset when they can’t get a firm grip underneath them. Many people also have a tendency to use human cleaning products on their dogs. This is not recommended, as a lot of chemicals found in our soaps and shampoos may be overly harsh on our dogs’ skin and fur, and strong fragrances disagree with most dogs’ sensitive snouts. You haven’t seen a dog have a sneezing fit until you’ve seen it happen in the middle of a bath—hope you brought your anorak! But all joking aside, if your dog has a reaction to a strong smell or something else in the product you’re using, it could be very uncomfortable for them and may even end in an emergency trip to the vet in extreme circumstances, so be very careful.
Encouraging the Behavior
Even though your dog may protest, sometimes in spectacular fashion, a bath is very good for them—you just need to convince them it’s for their own good. Our dogs’ coats look, feel and of course smell better if they’re bathed at least once a month, but so many dog owners give up on baths altogether because it’s such a stressful experience for all concerned. So, what can you do to turn your bath-phobic buddy into a pooch that just loves to be pampered? If, like so many of our four-legged friends, your dog isn’t a fan of loud noise, make sure you run the bathwater with the door shut before bringing your dog into the bathroom and avoid drying them off with a noisy hair dryer. Also, ensure the temperature of the water isn’t too hot or too cold. A non-slip mat in the bottom of the tub is great for keeping us from doing ourselves an injury when getting in and out, but it can also do wonders for your dog’s stability during bath time, which can be a surprisingly effective stress reliever. The most important thing you can do, however, is purchase a shampoo specifically formulated for dogs. Most of the soaps and shampoos on the market designed for dogs are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, just perfect for our sensitive pups. Potential allergies aside, the simple fact is that our pets prefer to smell like exactly what they are—animals. The absolute last thing they want is to smell like a bunch of hydrangeas!
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are other steps you can take to calm your dog during bath time in order to make it a more pleasurable experience for both of you. Keep your voice low and calm and try not to get them over-excited. Remember, there is a fine line between excited and stressed. Many of our dogs just love a fuss, but even they won’t be used to this much contact. Be gentle and try not to be overly restrictive; the last thing we want is for them to feel as though they’re at the vet! You can also bring toys to play with and treats to nibble on during or after their bath. The more you can do to positively reinforce the idea that bath time is fun time, the better.
So, there are many reasons why your dog may be reduced to a quivering mess at the mere sound of a tap running or the sight of a towel, but there is also plenty you can do to make your dog feel more comfortable and less stressed out when it’s time for a bath. Keep this up and Fido will be jumping in with you before you can say “bubbles!”