Why Do Dogs Hate Getting Baths?
Just because your pup likes to swim, doesn’t mean he’ll be a fan of the tub 🐶🛁
Many pet parents are all too familiar with it — the paws out in protest, the squirming and wriggling upon setting foot in the bathroom, the shaking or panting at the sound of running water.
Other than a trip to the vet, nothing can make some dogs more nervous than bathtime. If your dog is staunchly anti-bath, getting him clean can be a painful process for all involved. But one whiff of those doggy odors and pet owners quickly realize there’s no alternative but to break out the tear-free shampoo and scrub down their unhappy pup.
So why do dogs hate baths so much?
Here’s why your pup may dread the tub, and how to help even the most bath-adverse dog actually look forward to getting clean.
It’s not just the water
Even dogs who love to swim can be just as traumatized by baths as dogs who won’t go near the beach, notes Emily Levine, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in New Jersey.
“When dogs choose to go swimming, they are in control of themselves, and no one is handling them. So it’s completely different things — it’s not simply being wet,” Levine tells The Dodo. “There’s fun with swimming, versus a bath, where they’re being put in a situation and having water dumped all over them.”
Loss of control during the bathing process can greatly affect your dog’s attitude about getting clean, so force is never the answer.
Baths can bring back scary memories
For some dogs, getting a bath reminds them of a traumatic past experience, Levine notes, which provokes feelings of fear or anxiety every time they approach the shower.
These past experiences may have caused your pet pain — such as the water being too hot — but that’s not always the case. Even the most conscientious pet owner may not realize that something as simple as not being able to find his balance in the tub can leave a lasting impression on your dog.
“A lot of times people neglect to put something on the bottom of the bathtub floor or the sink to ensure that the dog gets [his] footing, so slipping is actually pretty common,” Levine explains. “With animals, they like to have a sense of control and know that they’re not going to be falling and slipping; so traumatic events really come from the perspective of the animal.”
In these situations, putting a nonslip rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or shower and testing the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not freezing or scalding can make all the difference.
It’s a handling issue
Not all dogs like to be held and cuddled — and that’s perfectly OK — but it can cause an issue when bathtime rolls around.
“A dog may not like to be handled for a lot of different [reasons], like having ticks taken off, going to the vet office or being picked up to be put in a bath,” Levine notes. If your dog shows visible signs of anxiety, such as panting or shaking, whenever he is being picked up or handled, getting in the bath can be traumatic, and should be done with care and consideration.
It’s a new experience — and that’s scary
“Lots of dogs can get anxious about novel experiences, so that can play a role,” Levine explains, “or if a dog has a lot of generalized anxiety and that’s just one more strange thing that’s happening.”
If a dog is not exposed early in life to time in the tub, getting a bath can be different and weird, so you’ll want to make it as enjoyable as possible.
How to help your dog learn to love baths
Each dog will have a different level of anxiety when it comes to baths. Some may look a little mopey in the tub, while others may be so overcome with fear that they’ll try to escape, pant, growl or bite. How you approach bathtime depends on your dog’s level of fear or anxiety, so each dog owner will want to tailor treatment to a dog’s specific needs.
For new pet owners, it’s important to make sure your puppy has a positive experience getting clean. Other than checking the water temperature and making sure your dog doesn’t slip, a little incentivizing goes a long way, Levine says.
Smearing peanut butter on the walls of the shower so your puppy can lick it up while being bathed is not only easy to do, but easy to clean (your dog is doing the work for you!). Start your dog off on the right foot by giving him special treats while in the tub, which provides something to look forward to the next time. If all else fails, strap on your bathing suit and get in the tub with your buddy so you can both get clean together.
When treats aren’t enough ...
If a dog already has a high level of anxiety or fear, pet owners can attempt to modify their dog’s behavior using desensitization and counterconditioning, Levine notes. This can be a slow process that involves showing your dog that baths are not as scary as he thinks, while also building positive associations with the experience.
“For instance, if we have a dog who is shaking or panting while they’re in the tub, we’ll say ‘No baths for a while,’ and just slowly let them learn that getting near the tub is safe and it’s positive,” Levine says.
If your dog is motivated by food, save his favorite snack and use it to make a trail leading up to the bathtub. This can help your pup learn to approach the tub on his own — and, eventually, get in on his own too.
“Giving animals choice is huge, and when we’re doing desensitization and counterconditioning, we have to go at their pace, not our pace,” Levine notes. “They get in on their own, it’s their choice, and then, if they’re scared of the water, don’t turn the water on — maybe have a bucket and start with a light sponge, give treats and get out.”
Getting a little playful during bathtime can also help ease feelings of anxiety. Playing games, such as having your pup jump in and out of the tub or chasing his favorite squeaky toy, can add a little fun to the big event and help everyone relax.
If you need a little extra help
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a dog still won’t take to the water like a duck. If your dog shows severe signs of fear or anxiety, that’s when it might be time to reach out to your local veterinarian or a licensed veterinary behaviorist for help.
Your vet may be able to prescribe dietary supplements, such as certain amino acids and proteins, that can help lower your pup’s anxiety before a bath, or may even recommend an antianxiety medication for your stressed-out pet. Always consult a vet before changing a dog’s diet or adding a supplement — even if it’s natural.