How to Bathe an Aggressive Dog

Hard
30 - 45 Minutes
1 Month

Introduction

You're trying to bathe your rescue dog, and the minute you try to get her into the bathroom, your shy girl turns into Cujo! Now what? 

Some dogs are fearful, or just plain hate being bathed, and can become aggressive during bath time. They may have developed a negative association with the bath or have experienced discomfort being bathed previously. Perhaps the water was not the right temperature, or they slipped from insecure footing. Other dogs are not used to being handled or put in an enclosed space and do not adjust to the new experience well. Rescue, shelter, farm, working, or guard dogs often fall into this category. If your dog reacts aggressively the minute she realizes you are going to take her into the bath, you are going to have to adjust your technique. The task may require some assistance or additional tools and you are going to need to take precautions to ensure you and your dog are not injured during the bathing process.

Dog's Perspective

Dogs often feel trapped in the bathtub with walls on all sides and their owner blocking their escape. A fearful or inexperienced dog can react aggressively, as she feels threatened. Bathtubs can be slippery and poor footing may have resulted in a previous injury, or may just make your dog feel insecure and cause her to react aggressively to the situation. The sound and sensation of a showerhead can also be frightening or perceived as a danger or threat by your dog. It helps if you can identify and mitigate when is causing your dog to react negatively to bathtime. If this is not possible or if your dog is just generally aggressive with the whole process, there are steps you can take to keep both you and your dog safe and minimize aggressive behavior during bathtime.

The Use Restraints Method

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Shampoo
Dryer
Towel
Step
1
Sedate if advised
Check with your veterinarian that your dog is not experiencing any medical condition that is causing pain or discomfort resulting in bath aggression. It may be advisable to use mild sedation when bathing your dog to relax him and make him easier to handle.
Step
2
Pick the right time
Pick a good time to bathe, when your dog has been exercised and excess energy burned off so that he is more compliant, but not when he is tired or grumpy. Have supplies ready and endeavor to keep bath time short.
Step
3
Employ help
Use an assistant to help you handle your dog. Assistants should keep their face away from where you are working to avoid bites, distract your dog from aggressive behavior, and reward calm complaint behavior. Also, an assistant can help if your dog struggles when being lifted in and out of the tub, and hand you products to make bath time go smoother.
Step
4
Use mats and restraints
Make sure you have non-slip mats in your bathtub to make your dog feels secure and keep him safe. Use a leash or restraint in the bathtub to help control the dog.
Step
5
Use a muzzle
If necessary, consider using a muzzle to protect yourself and other handlers from being bitten.
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The Create a Positive Association Method

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Shampoo
Dryer
Towel
Step
1
Be ready
Be prepared. Have products ready so your dog does not have to spend more time than necessary in the bath.
Step
2
Associate food with the bath area
Acclimatize your dog to the bathroom and bath without bathing. Feed your dog in the bathroom. Put treats and toys in the tub for your dog to fetch when it's dry. Practice getting in and out of the tub when not bathing and provide treats when your dog accepts the tub calmly without aggression.
Step
3
Adjust water
Put a few inches of water in the tub. Do not fill it, which can be alarming to a dog that is not used to or does not like water. Gently pour water over the dog from a pitcher if a handheld shower is frightening for him. Use warm, not hot or cold water that can alarm your dog or create a negative association.
Step
4
Be cautious with shampoo
Use a gentle shampoo that does not irritate your dog's skin or sting his eyes. Work around his face with a facecloth so water and soap does not get in the dog's eyes. Use a sponge on a stick to avoid getting bitten if that is a concern.
Step
5
Use aromatherapy
Use lavender and vanilla scented shampoo or oils in the bath to relax your dog. Remember, your dog has a very strong sense of smell and aromatherapy may have a strong calming effect on an aggressive dog.
Step
6
Dry carefully
Pat dry with a towel and allow to air dry if the dog does not like blow dryers.
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Caution & Considerations

  • Take precautions to ensure you, your dog, and anyone assisting you is not injured. You may need to use a muzzle, sedation, a leash or restraints in the tub.
  • Using non-slip mats will make bathing safer and your dog feel more secure, which can lessen aggression.
  • Ensure no medical conditions or pain are causing your dog to react aggressively.
  • Only use sedatives on the advice and direction of a veterinarian.
  • Make sure you are using dog-appropriate products that do not irritate skin or eyes.
  • Do not rush. Be firm, and patient to reduce anxiety and establish leadership.
  • Do not allow an aggressive dog to have his way, as this will only create a positive association with the aggressive behavior and encourage it in future.

Conclusion

Bathing an aggressive dog can be a  bit of a challenge, and dangerous if things escalate. Take precautions to ensure your dog cannot injure you or others and that he is not injured. Try to identify what is causing aggression and, if possible, take steps to minimize or remove whatever is causing an aggressive reaction. For example, fear of the noise of a showerhead, fear of getting soap in the eyes, claustrophobia, or pain from arthritis or another medical condition can lead to aggressive behavior. Alleviating fear, acclimating your dog, and reacting calmly and firmly to counteract aggression will usually win the day. Bath day, that is.

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

Grooming Questions & Answers

Question
Dudley
Cocker Spaniel
2 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Dudley
Cocker Spaniel
2 Years

Dudley has recently had a lot of issues with recurrent ear infections and has been back and forth to the vet over the past 6months. He has always been fine in the shower up to now, Although never particularly enjoyed being showered. But the last time I showered him be became aggressive and I had to cut it short and today I tried to get him into the shower and he snapped, so we just left it. He is supposed to be washed twice a week with allergy shampoo but at the moment this isn’t possible with his temperament. He was always such a happy placid dog until this happened, so it is quite out of character for him to act this way. We always bring treats for him to the bathroom while he’s being showered so I don’t know what else to try. What can you suggest?

Paige Thompson
Paige Thompson
Dog Groomer
0 Dog owners recommended

Hi Laura! Im sorry to hear about Dudley's ear infections and allergies. My advise is that you rule out anything during bath time that could be causing pain. You may need to check with your vet to verify. Something as simple as placing a towel in the bottom of the tub can help with steadying painful joints. Another option is to move the bath outside so that he he has more room to move around and take breaks as needed. If the biting continues a muzzle may be necessary to keep everyone safe. Good luck and thanks for your question! Paige

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Question
Griffin
Beagle mix
11 Months
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Question
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Griffin
Beagle mix
11 Months

I rescued Griffin a couple of months ago and have not been able to give him a successful bath. He did OK with the groomer his first time, but I tried to give him a bath a couple of times since and he refuses to walk into the tub even if it is dry. If I try to pick him up and place him in he will bite. If I pull him in with his harness he can be dragged in but starts slipping around and will try to get out. I have even put full hot dogs in the dry bath tub and peanut butter on the walls and he refuses to go in. I took him back to the groomer and he bit! Should I go the muzzle and restraint rout, or do you have any other recommendations on how to get him to tolerate a bath?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Groomer
0 Dog owners recommended

Hi Michael, little Griffin may have had a bad experience with the bathtub before you rescued him and that is why he is acting aggressively. For some unknown reason, he has a fear of the tub. I would suggest bathing him outside with just a container of water and a washcloth. He may take to that method better. Another alternative is a dry shampoo recommended by your veterinarian. If you clean Griffin by rubbing him down with a towel each time he comes in from his walk, he shouldn't get very dirty and won't require baths often at all. As for returning to the groomer, start with short easy visits, gradually increasing the grooming session as Griffin learns that the groomer isn't all bad.

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