For some dogs, bath time can turn into a situation of great reluctance. Some squirm and wriggle free, others dash away from you and some freeze on the spot, trembling with fear or emit a prolonged whine, making you want to get it done and over with. This may sound familiar to many dog parents who would like to reduce the visible discomfort, making the freshening up process a breeze. Baths can be made more tolerable, by paying attention to the signs and guiding your dog towards the path of success.

Ways to solve the issue

1.   Conditioning the sound of running water

The sound of running water marks the start of bathing and is often a cue for anxiety. Tackling that anxiety at a mild stage will prevent further elevation in anxiousness. This can be done by playing running water audios during the afternoons where your dog is most likely to take a nap. In doing so, your dog will be more likely to prioritize napping over any mild anxiety resulting from the sound of running water. We can therefore get your dog past the first hurdle in achieving a calm shower.

2.   Using a training leash

The best tool to guide your dog into the shower area is the use of a training leash. The action of slipping the leash is fast, gaining quick control over your dog. Your dog will follow you if you confidently walk into the showering area. You may need to practice getting into the showering area with your dog multiple times during random occasions during the day to instill a sense of calmness when in the showering area. The combination of reducing the fear of running water sounds and the location associated with showering goes a long way to kickstart the training process. Do always be careful not to have excess tension on the leash which can hinder breathing.

3.   Begin young

A common mistake many dog parents make is allowing their puppies to continue displaying the behavioural issue of being fearful while showering. This is the main cause of severe fearfulness during showering in many adult dogs. Fear can never naturally diminish, only through understanding and guiding of your furkid. Solving the mild fear at a young age prevents an increased difficulty in addressing this behavioural issue later on in life.

4.   Condition your dog to be massaged

Some dogs struggle because they do not like to be petted all over. This can be caused by experienced situations like the history of being abused or being insecure due to past dog attacks. Hence, work on getting your dog comfortable with you petting every area of his body daily and reward him using affection, treats, toys or verbal praise when a calm and relaxed state is being displayed.

5.   Use warm water

Using warm water is ideal as the temperature difference between the water and the body is reduced. Cold water is more likely to cause panic and discomfort in your dog.

6.    Don't immediately douse your dog 

Adjust the showerhead to allow the trickling water over your dog’s back at the shoulder area. Wetting the legs can cause a reactive response as a dog’s paws are the most sensitive. After your dog seems comfortable, you can progressively adjust the showerhead to allow an increase in water volume. Wet the entire body slowly including the paws and observe for other sensitive spots. Avoid wetting or directly applying shampoo on the ears, face and head area. This is uncomfortable and increases the risk of water entering the ear, causing ear infections. Instead, use a cloth to wipe your dog's face.

7.   Avoid rushing the shower

Being patient with your dog is key in making him feel relaxed. Rushing or being frustrated with your dog will only make him feel more fearful and the lack of understanding of his behaviour can strain the dog-owner relationship. Shower your dog only whenever convenient for you.

8.   Reward calmness

Rewarding calmness should never be stopped even during showering. When your dog shows signs of relaxation, provide a treat or other forms of affection. Do be careful, however, not to accidentally reward anxiousness. Follow the rule of rewarding your dog only when he does a desirable behaviour. Some dog owners have had success with smearing peanut butter on the walls and getting their dogs to lick it while showering. Some dogs, however, have high levels of anxiety and may not accept any treats or food at all. In this case, following the first two tips as mentioned above should ease the anxiety.

9.   Releasing excess energy

Jogging your dog before showering can help. Being anxious and constantly struggling requires a high amount of focus and energy. Reducing the available energy for resisting will allow your dog to calm down quickly. Your dog will then relate showering with relaxation over time.

Troubleshooting guide

Is talking to my dog going to help?

Talking to dogs with the intent to change behavioural issues may backfire, as attention is given when your dog shows hesitation or anxiety. This fear is then reinforced and may snowball to higher levels of anxiousness during the next shower. It is always best to lead by actions instead of complicating the training process and introduce sentences that your dog may never figure out.

Should I carry my dog to shower?

You should avoid carrying your dog to the bathroom to shower as that creates resistance. Your dog does not understand why you are forcing him to participate in an activity he does not want to, potentially straining the dog-owner relationship. Additionally, your dog may become more fearful and attempt to hide away from you to avoid the situation in the future.

Do I need to place an anti-skid mat?

No, you do not need to. A dog struggles not because of being unable to get a grip on the ground or the type of flooring, but due to the showering activity itself.

Should I chase my dog to get him to shower?

Avoid chasing after your dog although you will manage to catch him. Instead, condition your dog to follow you by guiding him with a training leash. Guiding him in the showering area makes him perform that task on his own, which leads to increased relaxation and not feel trapped during the next shower. Never force your dog by means of carrying or dragging him in as this may reinforce the behaviour of running away from you.

With these tips, future showering sessions should be more relaxing for both you and your dog. Do engage an experienced dog behaviourist should the problem persist.