Written by: Deb German
Your dog does not care how awful she smells, but you probably do. Some dogs tolerate bath day and a few even appear to enjoy it; others, not so much. Still, routinely bathing your dog takes care of more than just the stink: it reduces your allergies and hers, treats skin infections as effectively as some medications, and it helps stop the scratching frenzy that drives everybody nuts. Here are a few tips and tricks to take the stress out of bath time (or at least make it more tolerable), for you and your beloved canine.
Help your dog associate bath time with good things. Invite her into the bathroom often (even when it’s not bath day) and offer her a treat; try turning on the water when you treat her, and then turn it off immediately afterwards and release her. On bath day, offer her lots of treats during and after her bath. And always use the same tub; it will become a familiar part of the bathing routine.
Keep it calm and make it all about her. Choose a day when you can give her your undivided attention, and start with exercise—a tired dog is a more relaxed dog. Then proceed slowly. You should sound happy, even if your dog is not cooperating. She’ll know right away if you’re angry and will soon learn to detest bath day. If she’s anxious about her bath, try a pheromone collar or plug-in, which releases the same “dog-appeasing” scent mothers do for their puppies; ask your vet.
- Dog Buddy Trick: Consider “buddy” bathing your anxious dog with a doggy pal who loves the water. Or enlist human help. Ask your helper to hold your dog during her bath, soothing her and engaging her with treats while you scrub.
Routinely brush your dog, and brush her thoroughly before you bathe her. Once-weekly is plenty for a Lab or other dogs with short, dense hair, but daily brushing is a must for a long-haired breed like a Yorkie. Besides removing loose hair and dead skin cells, it helps keep her coat clean, distributes her natural oils throughout her hair, and it should feel divine to her. On bath day, pick apart or cut out matted hair, which will be impossible to do once your dog’s coat is wet.
Organize the dog bath supplies. Gather them before you start, and put them right at your elbow where you can reach them. Use a soap formulated with a pH that’s right for a dog, and if she has a skin problem, use a dog shampoo made to help it; ask your vet.
Give your dog sure footing in the bathtub. Nothing like a slippery surface to ratchet up the stress level in your dog; place a non-slip mat or a towel in the bottom of the tub to give her traction. And if the sound of running water bothers her, fill the tub with warm water before you put her in it.
- Bath Towel Trick: A wet dog will shake like crazy to shed the water from her coat, broadcasting it everywhere. Hold up a towel to take cover. But if you need a moment to prepare, gently hold her muzzle between your thumb and forefinger—a dog starts the shake from her head back, and if she can’t rotate her head, she can’t initiate the shake. Then once you’re ready, let her rip.
Avoid a wet dog head. Your vet can show you how to apply a bland eye ointment to minimize eye irritation from bathwater, and a little cotton placed in your dog’s ears will keep them dry. But the best strategy is to avoid spraying or pouring water on her face or over her head in the first place. Use a wet washcloth instead. And if she does get soapy water in her eyes, rinse them with saline solution. However stressful bath time is for your dog, the sensation of a wet, soapy head is exponentially worse to her way of thinking. As for the rest of her, she’ll enjoy a bathing experience that is massage-like, relaxed, and gentle: easy does it.
Keep the rewards coming. Once she’s in her bath, offer lots of continued positive reinforcement in the guise of dog treats and praise. Give her a special, delectable treat at the end of the bath (she may begin to associate her bath with that pleasurable moment), and perhaps engage in a special game that’s earmarked especially for the end of the bathing ritual—towel tug-of-war is an example.
- A Word About Winter: You can probably get away with fewer dog baths during the winter months if you observe worsening dandruff in your dog’s coat, or patchy dry skin. Try a moisturizing shampoo, and brush her regularly with a soft bristle brush to help remove dead skin cells and promote healing. Adjust your thermostat up on bath days to knock off the chill, and don’t let your dog become hypothermic: take her outside only when her coat is completely dry.
How often you bathe your dog depends mainly on her resolve and yours: she may need a bath only once a month, unless she’s especially rank. But however often you scrub her, it need not be a fight. And who knows? If you play your cards right you might actually convince your dog that bath time is fun.
Does your dog love her bath or hate it? (Or is she merely lukewarm?) We’d enjoy hearing your dog bath story in the comments.