The summer months mean more time playing outside in the dusty, glorious greenery your dog holds so dear. But unless you’ve got a miracle animal that loves to take baths (you lucky dog, you), then you know how difficult it can be to keep your pup clean without feeling guilty for exasperating its anxieties.
Here are tips from pet owners and pet care providers on making bath time easier and fun for the both of you. (OK, maybe fun is a stretch, but these tips will at least help your pet not hate bath time.) Let’s begin!
1. Get a grip
Nicole Ellis, one of DogVacay‘s earliest employees, has many tips to calm Fido’s nerves and make bath time more fun and calming. As a former animal trainer for major Hollywood movies and owner of superstar pup Maggie (that has worked gigs with AT&T and American Apparel), she recommends one small investment: a non-slip mat.
“Consider buying a sticky, non-slip bath mat so that your pup feels stable in the tub,” she says. This simple addition to bath time will eliminate one of the biggest reasons your pet doesn’t feel secure. (And why it is usually standing rigid, four paws apart, too scared to move.)
2. Condition (not to be confused with conditioner)
We’re not talking lather-up, detangle conditioner here. We’re talking tips to make your dog wag its tail when you open the bathroom door with the water running instead of cowering. (Mine usually clings to my shirt when I scoop him up. You know what I’m talking about.)
To change this, Samantha McCollough of The Dog’s Domain suggests: “Before you ever even give them a bath, condition them to associate the tub with good things. Don’t call your dog into the bathroom for bath time, for example. In the dog’s mind, you are basically ‘punishing’ him or her for coming, and you never want to ruin a good recall.”
So, how do you get them there? McCollough says lure them into the bathroom with treats on days you aren’t even planning to bathe your fur baby. This is just the conditioning phase.
“Keep a bag of treats next to the tub and reward them often as they are getting bathed. Call them into the bathroom, give them a huge reinforcement like a piece of steak, some chicken, any high-value reward they don’t normally get. Then release them from the bathroom without doing anything.”
Keep this up daily so that they begin to associate the bathroom with great things and eventually turn on the water, but don’t spray them with it. Just turn it on as you quickly feed them treat after treat. Then, McCollough says to turn the water off and release.
Finally, following the day you actually decide to bathe your pup, don’t stop with the conditioning. Keep calling it to the bathroom with treats, turning the water on and releasing it without a bath. This will keep the momentum of positive association going.
3. Set the mood
Take a few cues from Christina Chambreau. She is a DVM, homeopathic veterinarian, author and educator. Chambreau recommends a few natural, herbal solutions you can try, but the Bach Rescue Remedy spray is at the top of her list, which is made 100 percent naturally from spring water infused with wild flowers said by customers to relax both people and pets. Click here to find out how to use it. The spray is usually readily available at local health food stores. There are versions for people to help dog owners lessen their anxiety ahead of giving their pets a bath, and there is a separate version for use on pets.
Personally, I’ve found that Adaptil products, which release pheromones in various forms like sprays, collars and even a wall plug-in, work well to calm down my dog Chewie when it’s time to get clean. These products release virtually the same scent mother dogs naturally emit to their puppies known as the dog-appeasing pheromone. As Adaptil’s site explains, “This scent is a strong signal of security and comfort to puppies as they face new challenges. Adaptil is a synthetic replica of that pheromone and is clinically proven in puppies and adult dogs to help reduce signs of stress.”
4. Get warmed up
One great tip from Ellis (that I’ll be adding to my cockapoo’s bath routine) is to take him or her on a nice long walk first. This way, your fur baby will crave the cool water on his or her fur and will be nice and tired, making it much more relaxed and therefore less anxious.
5. Set the tone
Your dog feeds off of your energy, just like he or she feeds off of your pizza when you look away, so if you’re nervous and anxious, then your dog will be too.
Jean Kristensen, proud pet mother of doggy Deamon, knows this all too well, and last week she finally got her dog to take a bath without hating it by leading by example.
“My attitude about hating giving him a bath caused us both a lot of anxiety. I changed my energy around bath time. I calmly walked over, took him by the leash and walked him into the bathroom. He literally entered the bathtub with no fussing. Of course, he hates water on his face, so I avoid that by gently washing his face with a wash cloth. He allowed me to wash the rest of him without a fight.”
Bottom line, Kristensen knows now that hating bath time was more about her energy setting the tone for the way her dog should feel about bath time.
6. Move slowly
“Grooming your dog is an important part of the human-dog bonding process,” says Jorge Bendersky, certified master groomer based in New York City. “Take your time and keep a slow, relaxed pace to make your pet feel comforted, providing him or her with a good all-over deep massage.”
He also recommends running your fingers down the spine, shoulders, legs and pads of your dog to help relax and move the calming energy through the whole body.
7. Follow an action plan
You want your dog to spend as little time uncomfortable as possible. So it’s important to be efficient with your time while he or she is being washed. To do this, have a plan in mind on what to wash first to get your dog the cleanest, fastest.
Bendersky says, “Start by applying shampoo on the dirtiest areas: feet, private area, belly, etc. The head should be the last area to apply shampoo and the first area to rinse. This is a good way to prevent extra shampoo to drip down the dogs eyes. This is a good opportunity to check for any abnormalities, like irritations, bumps and scratches, too. Then, dry time.”