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

Effective
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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

Effective
0 Votes
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

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