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Ask Kathy About Dogs Fearing Bath Time...

By Kathy Santo | Updated: April 11 2019

My golden retriever has recently developed a skin condition that requires her being bathed every three days with a medicated shampoo. At first, she was fine about being bathed, but now when she sees us pick up the shampoo or bathing gloves, she hides in my closet! She’ll need these baths for at least another month – what can I do to make her less fearful?

Lots of things can contribute to a dog’s fear of bathing – the slippery tub, the water, the smell of the shampoo, and the freaky rubber gloves are just a few of some things that make dogs anxious about baths. Add into the mix the fact that the people involved are usually stressed out too, and you have a recipe for exactly what you’re living with now – a dog who’s afraid of bath time.

However, by using a desensitization program, and lots of patience, this problem can be solved. For this to work, however, it’s absolutely imperative that you prevent the dog from experiencing fear of the situation (bathing) until she’s totally desensitized.  And to do this, you have to put a hold on (you) bathing her for a while.

Your case is tricky because she has a medical reason for needing the bath, so what I would suggest is to have her bathed at the vet (or groomer) until you can get her desensitized to the process at home. This way, although she still has to go through the bathing process, she’s not associating it with you and your bathtub!

I’m assuming that you’re bathing her in the bathroom, so let’s start the program by making that room a place where fun things happen. As many times a day as you can, take her into the bathroom, armed with her favorite toys and treats. If she’s reluctant to go, coax her in with the goodies you’ve brought along. If she’s too afraid to walk into the bathroom, start by playing in the hallway, near the room.

Once you’re there, play some games, give her treats, and basically make it the best place in the house. If she’s super food-driven, you could even start feeding her meals in the bathroom! By doing this for 10-15 minutes, multiple times a day, you should see her relaxing, and even enjoying her time in the bathroom with you.

The next step, done simultaneously, is to desensitize her to the shampoo bottle, water, and bathing gloves. Instead of storing the bottle in the bathroom, start moving it around the house.  You can put it on the kitchen counter, on the floor next to her toys, and even near her food bowl (with supervision). Eventually, the smell and sight of the bottle will become commonplace to her, alleviating her stress.

If you think the water is what’s upsetting her, you need to find out exactly why. If she’s upset because the water level is rising, then open the drain, and don’t let the water accumulate. If it’s the shower hose, use a cup to wet and rinse her.  Some dogs don’t like water running over their face, so consider using a sponge or washcloth in that area.

Last but not least, those lovely rubber gloves will have to start showing up on a regular basis, too. Yes, that means wearing them at times and in places that you’d never have thought of wearing in the house. For example: when you feed her, when you take her outside for a walk, and even when you’re just hanging around the house! The more she gets used to the sight and smell of them (just like the shampoo bottle), the more relaxed she’ll be when it’s time for her next bath. By doing all of this, and maintaining a Zen-like calm during her next bath, bath time should become more bearable, if not downright pleasant, for all involved.

Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.

In Ramsey, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.