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Handy tips to help your dog enjoy bath time

Lack of adequate skin and coat care and grooming may lead to pain and discomfort and serious health problems for your dog – including infection, parasitic and other diseases, and sky-high vet bills. Sometimes dogs may need to have a bath and you don’t want this to be a stressful experience. So, if you want to help your dog enjoy bath time then read on for some handy tips.

Step 1: How to prepare your dog for a bath

Fear of water is one thing, but many dogs simply aren’t used to the movements involved in bath time. They might adore your pats, but lifting their legs, lifting their tail and washing their undercarriage probably aren’t sensations they are used to.

So before adding water and shampoo or other cleaning products to the mix, give your dog a ‘dry run’ bath beforehand. This simply means acting like you are bathing them and familiarising them with the movements. Make sure that you make the experience a pleasant one, involving lots of praise and some treats to reward calm behaviour.

Also introduce them to the equipment you’ll use to bath them. Dogs can get frightened of unusual objects, so let them sniff the bathtub, hose, bucket, washer, bottles of dog shampoo and anything else you plan on using. And before you start, make sure you have a shampoo specifically designed for dogs, because their skin has a different pH to ours, so human shampoo can cause a negative reaction.

An important note, it should be mentioned that bathing is not right for every dog. Some may have skin or other conditions that mean that it is not appropriate or the best thing for them. Make sure to check with your vet before bathing your dog!

Step 2: Tire out your dog before bath time

Your dog is likely to be a little calmer when it comes to bath time if their energy levels are spent.

Before bath time, do a few activities to tire them. That might involve taking them on a long walk, playing fetch, or simply having a serious tug-of-war session to stimulate their mind as well as their body.

When it comes time to start washing, they’ll be more tired and probably a lot easier to manage. And if you make a routine of it, they’ll love the idea of exercise before bath as a reward.

Step 3: Use treats as a training device

At RSPCA, we believe in reward-based training. This means if you show your dog that something is good and reward them with something good, they will learn to associate that activity with being good.

Treats are a great way to show them bath time is actually enjoyable. Of course you should use treats sparingly to avoid common health issues like obesity and other complications that could lead to a costly vet visit, but by giving your dog an individual piece of kibble or a nice little piece of non-fatty human-grade meat to reward their calm behaviour (especially when doing Step 1), they will start to associate bath time as fun.

Step 4: Choose the right location for your dog’s bath

Too often the location of the bath is simply not conducive to a calm environment. Is your dog usually outdoors? Then don’t bring them into unfamiliar territory (such as inside the house) to bathe them. Similarly, if your dog is an indoor pet, bathing them outside won’t make them happy.

You’ll also need to consider their size. A big dog like a Great Dane or German Shepherd won’t be a good fit for your tub or sink. However, smaller pets may be more manageable in an enclosed space where you can constantly give them praise and reward their calm behaviour at bath time.

Step 5: Make your dog’s bath time comfortable

The main focus should be on always making your dog’s bath time as comfortable as possible. So ensure you:

  • Encourage calmness: Keep the situation calm, even when your dog is resisting the urge to stand still. Practice makes perfect in this sense, so don’t get despondent if bath time isn’t all sunshine and rainbows the first few tries.
  • Use warm water and massage them: Do you like being drenched in cold water every time you bathe? No? Well, neither does your dog. Treat them with kindness by making the bath water warm and relaxing. Also don’t aggressively scrub their body – that’s not enjoyable for anyone. Instead, take your time and give your dog a full body massage (with dog shampoo not oil!).
  • Dry them quickly so they’re not cold: Your dog will naturally want to shake their whole body as soon as bath time is over, and that’s ok. Just make sure you warm them up as quickly as possible with a warm, dry towel.

Encouraging your dog to enjoy bath time isn’t impossible, however it may take a few attempts before your pet is completely comfortable and relaxed. Persistence will pay off – as long as you are calm, your dog will (hopefully) learn to be calm. Looking for more pet care tips? Visit the RSPCA Pet Insurance blog to find out how to give your dog the healthiest, happiest life possible.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.