Most of us have had one of two experiences when bathing our dog: it's a wet, messy wrestling match from start to finish, or our dog is so distressed and miserable that we feel like he'll never forgive us.
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Your dog's hating a bath has nothing to do with you personally. After it's over, he will still love you. Dogs' bad bath behavior is rooted in anxiety. Understanding what the anxiety is about and learning how to ease it will make bath time a better experience for both of you.
Dog bathing basics
If you haven't had your dog since she was a puppy, she may have had a bad bath experience with a previous owner. Some common things that make a bath a bad experience are too hot or too cold water temperatures, fear of falling, and getting stinging soap in her eyes.
Make sure the water temperature is comfortable. Test it like you'd test a baby's bathwater — with your elbow. If it feels comfortably warm to you it will feel comfortably warm to your dog. Put a bathmat or old towel on the bottom of the tub to make the footing less slippery.
Don't put shampoo on her head or face. It's too close to her eyes. Use shampoo only from the neck down. Use a warm washcloth soaked in clear water to gently clean her head and face. Even "no tears" shampoos can sting.
Your dog has control issues.
Your dog's ancestors knew how to keep themselves out of vulnerable situations where they could become dinner to predators. When we pick our dog up, plop him in a tub, and restrain him, we're forcing him to completely give up control. No control to a dog is very scary. He'll do just about anything to get away.
Even if yours has a seat at the dinner table and wears cute little outfits, he still has natural canine instincts. Respect those instincts and work with your dog to ease the stress of a bath.
Help your dog relax.
There are lots of ways to help your dog relax at bath time. Try giving her a gentle grooming with a comb or brush before the bath. Most dogs enjoy being groomed and fussed over. Grooming before baths has a practical side too. It helps loosen dirt and bring it to the surface so it's easier to rinse your dog clean.
Take your time. Don't bathe your dog right before your favorite Netflix show comes on. Decide how much time you think bathing her will take and double it.
Massage her during the bath. Don't just wet her down, squirt shampoo on her, scrub and rinse. Methodically shampoo one body part at a time. First this leg, then that one. While she's sudsed up, massage her slowly with light to medium pressure, depending on her size.
Play relaxing music while you bathe your dog and don't forget to talk to her. Use her name a lot. Tell her about your day. Ask about hers. Tell her how gorgeous she's going to be after the bath. Any calming chatter will do.
A word about scented shampoos
Ever notice that dogs don't like the same smells that we do? They much prefer the scent of another dog's butt to Alpine Meadow or Italian Linen. Plus a dog's sense of smell is not just better than ours, it's up to 100,000 times better.
Something that smells pleasant to us can be completely overwhelming and very unpleasant to them. Use unscented shampoo. If you use conditioner, make that unscented too.
Love that lavender, but...
Lavender is highly touted as a relaxant and there is something to that. But rather than use a lavender scented shampoo, quickly pass a bottle of lavender essential oil under his nose, cap it and forget it.
Walking around smelling like lavender for a week is not going to make your dog happy. Chances are he'll take every opportunity to rid himself of the smell by diving shoulder first into something really gross.
You need to relax, too.
Dogs are extremely sensitive to our moods and emotions. If you're uptight about the upcoming bath, she will know. She'll figure that if you're rattled, there must be a reason and she may become stressed too.
Do whatever you need to do — yoga, deep breathing — to relax yourself before bathing your dog. A glass of wine at arm's length for sipping during the bath doesn't hurt either.