Our eight-year-old dog, Shea, has never liked getting wet, but has tolerated being bathed and getting wet to “do her business” in the rain. However, when my son tried to bring Shea upstairs to give her a bath the other day (she is 48 pounds), she started growling and snarling and hiding behind the couch. I’ve never been afraid she would bite before, but this time she sounded so vicious I wasn’t sure what she would do if we tried to get her into the bathroom.
Last night, my daughter thought Shea was going to throw-up, so she tried to get her into the bathroom on the tile. Shea growled at her and started barking and backing away from her. I’m not sure why she is suddenly so fearful of the bathroom. It has been a while since her last bath and nothing out of the ordinary occurred at that time. Is there something we can do to alleviate her fear? Will we be able to give her a bath again? — Judi, East Rockaway, New York
Bathtubs can be scary places for dogs. Think of something you are terrified to do and then imagine having to do it regularly. You are right to not force her. There is no need to stress her out this much.
It’s hard to know why she is suddenly so fearful. She may simply have reached her threshold for baths, or she may have developed a health problem, like arthritis, that is making bath time more stressful and uncomfortable.
While you can use desensitization and counter-conditioning training techniques to help her work past her fears, these techniques can take weeks or months to see results. They involve not bathing her in the tub for a while and creating a positive experience in the bathroom – like dropping a trail of treats from the hallway into the bathroom, so she associates the space with a more positive experience. But that’s no guarantee she won’t freak when you try to pick her up again for a bath.
The good news is, you can skip the traditional bath and opt for one of the less conventional cleaning methods. You can use bath pet wipes to clean her fur or try a dry dog (waterless) shampoo that doesn’t have to be washed off with water. If you think she might react to the sound of the spray, apply the dry shampoo to your hands and then spread it over her fur. Towel dry her afterward and give her treats for being a good dog. I think she will enjoy the contact and these options can get her just as clean.
If she absolutely needs a traditional bath, you can try it outside when the weather is warmer using a gentle nozzle on the hose. But if she is as afraid of water as you say, skip the hose and exchange it for a bucket of source water (so there is no running water around her), a little shampoo, and a cup of water to dip into the bucket to rinse her off. If this turns out to be too much for Shea, stick with pet wipes and dry shampoos. Bath time should be a pleasant experience for both of you.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, children’s author, syndicated pet columnist, and pet expert with more than 30 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal