Why do dogs hate baths so much? I mean if you’ve ever had a dog that doesn’t enjoy baths you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your dog hears that four-letter “b-word” and they act like they’re being dragged off to the gallows. Why do dogs hate baths so much? Are we as owners doing something to make it scary? Well the answer is yeah, most likely.
Getting a bath can be a sensory overload for your dog, especially if they aren’t used to a bath. Reasons your dog may hate bath time include:
- Too much water on their face
- Scary or unfamiliar location
- Strong scents of shampoos
- Water temperature
- No bath routine
- Bathing isn’t made fun
- Your attitude
All of these reasons above are most likely why your pup is having a panic attack when there is even a hint of a possibility of a bath. As a pet owner this can be incredibly frustrating. However, there are some ways to fix this and make bath time an enjoyable experience.
Why do dogs hate baths?
While bath time is enjoyable and refreshing for humans, our dogs just don’t see it the same way. Well, not all dog that is. I’ve had dogs that have loved baths from the get go and I’ve had dogs that naturally protested it. Dogs simply do not view baths the same way as humans. – they don’t mind being stinky and their other dogs friends aren’t going to judge them for it. In fact, they probably like it.
The movie The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has a funny quote that is fitting for how your dog may view the ritual of a bath:
If you find your dog resistant to bath time, there may be a few things that you’re not aware of that are stressful or causing anxiety in your pooch. You may never get your dog to the point of “loving” a bath, but you can certainly do some things to make it more tolerable for both of you.
Let’s take a look at some common reasons why dogs hate baths and learn how to fix those things.
1) Too much water on their face
As humans, washing our face is an important part of our hygiene. We like to do this because it keeps our skin healthy and protects against oily build up and pimples. I’m willing to bet that most people wash their face by putting their hands together and splashing water onto their face. Would you willing choose to hold your face under a running faucet? Probably not.
Well, the same holds true for your pup.
I was guilty of this when I was younger and new to the responsibility of taking care of my dogs. I can remember putting on an old pair of shorts and dragging my dog into the shower. I would wash him in this barely big enough shower stall with the shower faucet. In hindsight, that was probably not the best thing to do.
Now, luckily he was pretty laid back and didn’t fight too much. However, it was certainly could not have been enjoyable for him.
This is a common mistake that people make. Whether you are bathing a smaller dog or puppy in a sink, or a larger dog in a bath tub or shower, too much water splashing on their face will make them nervous.
How to fix this:
The best way to fix this is to be gentle when washing your dog’s face. Use a washcloth to wash around your dog’s face. When you need to rinse the soap away use a cup or small pitcher to run water over their neck and face. Be sure to hold their chin up so that water does not run down their nose or into their eyes.
2) Scary or unfamiliar bath location
This is something that many people may over look and with good reason. The bath tub is nothing scary and is part of your house. Nor is the dog wash stall all that frightening. While that is true, your dog may not see it that way AT ALL!
For your dog there’s a lot going on in a tub and can be a big reason why your dog hates bath time. This is especially true if they aren’t use to it.
First off, most fiberglass or cast iron tubs will have some strange sound qualities to them. Sounds of water, voices, and movement echo off of the sides of the tub and their nails make a strange sound on the surface of the tub.
Secondly, the tub or stall may not have a mat or anti skid surface. This makes it incredibly hard for your dog to feel calm or relaxed. Not to mention, just like us, they could slip and hurt themselves.
Thirdly, if you have to take your dog to a dog wash station, you have to remember this is not their normal environment. There can be a lot of new smells, sounds, etc. Most of the stalls in dog wash stations are stainless steel, so there are some unique noises that can occur. The good news is that most dog wash stations have anti-skid mats or surfaces in their stalls.
How to fix this:
- Try to minimize loud noises in the tub. Try not to drop objects, raise your voice, or use a faucet that could be loud while running.
- Put down some sort of anti-skid mat. Use some kind of shower mat or rubber mat that will keep your puppy buddy from slipping or falling. This also has the added benefit of minimizing some sound echoing.
- Keep some yummy treats in your pocket. Reward your dog with a treat every time they’re behaving calmly with four paws in the tub. This will help to associate some good things happening when they are calm in this “strange place”. Remember, you get the behavior your reward.
3) Strong scents from shampoos or cleaners
Your dog may also be hating bath time depending on what shampoo you are using. While you can get away with using some other soaps or detergents, they may have scents that a dog is not too pleased with. Some shampoos not formulated for dogs can have aggressive scents.
For the love of all things holy, please don’t use your “cool smelling” body wash on your dogs. While teenage boys may enjoy the strong cologne infused body washes, dogs not so much. These have the potential to be harsh on their skin and coats.
How to fix this:
Stick to the doggy shampoos. Find a good shampoo formulated for dogs that have mild scents. This will help to minimized your dog reacting negatively to any scents in the tub.
4) Water Temperature
Water temperature can be a big contributor as well. Obviously, you don’t want to use too hot of water. This can cause discomfort or pain to your dog and you during the bath.
Additionally, you don’t want to have the water too cold. This is also something to consider when washing outside with a hose. Just be mindful of how cold the water is coming out of the hose and how warm the air is outside.
Having the water too hot or too cold will cause anxiety in your dog and will cause them to resist the experience.
How to fix this:
Make sure you are using lukewarm water. To be more specific, right around 80 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect. Often what feels comfortable or warm to our skin is a little too hot for a dog. Shoot for the Goldilocks “just right” temperature.
The water should feel room temperature to you. For water to feel warm to us, it has to be higher than our body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That is much too warm for your dog’s bath.
5) No bath routine
Another big factor as to why dogs hate baths may be simply that there is no routine to it. If your dog gets a bath two or three times per year, no wonder it’s a wild experience. The same thing can be said if you are constantly bathing your dog in a new location.
This infrequent exposure to bathing doesn’t allow for desensitizing to all the festivities of bath time. There is a lot for a dog to take in. There are all kinds of sounds, smells, as well as, lots of control and touching from you while bathing.
That’s a bunch of sensory input for your dog and can be overwhelming if they are not used to it.
How to fix this:
The best way to approach this is to settle on a routine. Decide how often you are going to bath your dog and stick to it as much as possible. Obviously, there may be instances where your dog get’s crazy dirty or finds that awesome week old dead animal to roll in. That completely justifies operation emergency bath.
For all other routine bathing, just try to be somewhat consistent. Routine exposure to bath time will help your dog adjust to all the sensory stuff going on.
Also, try to bathe somewhere familiar. This is not to say dogs can’t handle being bathed different places, but rather if you have a dog that is prone to anxiety or stress around getting a bath – keeping that location familiar is one less stress or distraction for your dog.
So, how often should you bathe your dog?
You want to make sure you aren’t bathing your dog too often, but needs to be often enough to help keep their hygiene in tip top shape.
Once a month is a good recommendation for a dog with normal skin conditions. Just like humans, if your dog is prone to dry skin, you may want to bathe less often.
Additionally, as a minimum, you should bathe your dog a least once every three months to help with hygiene issues.
It may be tempting to bathe your dog more often than once a month. I know a stinky dog is no fun, but washing multiple times per month may cause some dry skin issues. If you want to bath more than once per month, consult your veterinarian before doing so.
6) You haven’t made bathing fun
If you hate bath time and you aren’t making it fun, then how can you expect you expect to get any positive result. If you do nothing to make it a fun experience for the dog, guess what? It’s not going to be fun for them.
When your dog is viewing bath time as something other than an enjoyable experience they simply aren’t going to voluntarily comply with bathing. If it’s scary, or intimidating, annoying, or boring, you will probably be met with some serious resistance.
How to fix this:
First off, stop thinking about bath time as a chore, or something to check off of a list. View this as playtime and a good moment to bond with your dog.
Secondly, create positive association. Positive association is when a dog connects good things happening with certain actions, activities, or locations. Create this positive association by bringing lots of treats or food into the bath experience.
Some examples of this are:
- give your dog piece of food or treat every time they are displaying calm behavior in the bath.
- while rinsing or shampooing your dog, hold a chew stick in one hand and rinse or shampoo with the other hand. This will keep your dog preoccupied and will also keep them in a good position to bathe.
- THE BEST TIP: build this positive association by getting your dog used to the tub while it is dry. Maybe even give your dog some meals in the dry tub. This takes a lot of the fear out of bathing.
Third, make sure you remain calm and speaking to your dog is a quiet and fun tone. I know it can be frustrating if your dog is trying to climb out of the bath or fighting you every step of the way, but raising your voice or getting a frustrated tone, will only add to the stress of your dog. Keep it light and fun!
7) Your attitude towards bath time
Believe it or not, your attitude sets a big tone for how the bath time rituals will play out. One of dog’s strongest abilities is reading human emotion and energy.
Maybe you’ve struggled with your pooch in the past. You know exactly how this bath is going to go before you even get the shampoo and towels. Well, if this is your approach, then there’s a fantastic chance that your dog is picking up on all your vibes.
If you grab a leash and say “let’s go” in an annoyed “I know this is gonna suck” mindset, then chances are, your dog isn’t going to be thrilled to follow.
How to fix this:
As hard as it may be, try to approach bath time as something positive. Have a fun and calm energy. Your dog is going to take their cues from your body language and energy. The more calm and positive you are, the more they are likely to follow.
More than just fixing your dog’s feelings, YOU are going to have a better experience. That in turn will make it easier to have a more positive attitude the next time.
If you lay the foundation of a positive experience from early puppy hood, this will make it easier down the road. Be sure that your puppy is actually calm and not just standing there scared and shaking.
If your puppy is scared, follow the steps above to work to create that fun experience and positive association.
Get the help of another dog
In a lot of training, especially with puppies, enlisting the help of another trained and calm dog will show them what is expected. Even, if your dog is an adult, getting them with another well-socialized dog for bath time can help ease anxiety and will show them the ropes.
Take a walk or exercise first
Before bath, get in a good long walk, an intense game of fetch, or whatever favorite activity your dog enjoys and can burn some energy on. This will serve two purposes:
First off, a tired dog is going to be more relaxed and easier to work with. This is true for all training. To be clear, I’m not talking about running your dog until they are so tired they are ready to pass out, but rather just enough that they got a good workout in and expended some solid energy.
Secondly, dogs naturally want to lay in or splash around in water when they’re hot or feeling tired after exercising. Use this to your advantage.
Bath time is often a struggle for dog owners, but if you can put into place the tactics above and bring a good attitude as well, you will be surprised how much easier a bath can truly be.
If your dog is currently not a fan of bath time, don’t expect change to be like a light switch. You will need to work with them and it may take several baths until the experience gets significantly better. Look for small improvements and celebrate them with yourself and your pooch.
In addition to my own experience and knowledge, here are some of the resources utilized: