Help! My Dog Hates the Bath: A Trainer’s Guide

It’s time for your dog’s bath. You’ve got your towels waiting, the doggy shampoo is ready to go, and everything you need is at your fingertips…except your dog, who’s hiding under the bed. If your dog hates the bath, you’re not alone. Your dog isn’t the first and won’t be the last canine to dislike bath time! But with a few small adjustments to your bathing routine, you can make the experience far more pleasant for both of you.

Here’s what to do when your dog hates the bath—but still needs to get clean.

1. Move your dog’s bath indoors

There are two reasons that outdoor baths could be freaking your dog out. First off, that hose water? Freezing. This is especially uncomfortable on a cold day, but even in the summertime, it can be too cold for your dog.

Second, unless you’ve got a magical bath-loving pup or a 90-degree day, you’re probably restraining your dog with a leash so they can’t escape. However, forcing a dog to stay put in a frightening situation just compounds the scariness.

Moving your bath indoors, into a bathtub, shower stall, or even a sink if you’ve got a little dog, allows you to adjust the water temperature as needed while using the natural contours of the space to help your pet stay put.

2. Cushion that slippery tub floor

If your dog hates the bath, it might be because of the sensory experience. For most dogs, one of the worst things about bathing in a tub, shower stall, or sink is feeling unsteady on the slippery, wet floor. It’s the same for humans. If you’ve ever slipped in the shower, you know that sliding around can not only be painful but anxiety-inducing.

Before starting your bath, put a mat or even a towel down on the floor of the bathtub to prevent your pup from falling. Sure, the towel will get soaked, but your pup will feel much more secure.

3. Give your doggo something else to focus on

Make your dog think that bath time isn’t so bad by smearing peanut butter or baby food on the tub or shower door to lick as you get down to business. (If the idea of a peanut-buttery bathroom doesn’t appeal to you, pick up a Lickimat to smear food on instead).

If your pup is highly treat-motivated, they may be able to focus on a delicious reward until bath time is over.

4. Skip the showerhead or faucet

The sound of water rushing through a shower head or faucet can be really noisy. For many dogs, noisy = frightening. In fact, if your dog hates the bath, it might not be the water but the sounds of bath time that scare them.

Instead of running the faucet while your pup is in the bath, try filling a bucket or two in advance and gently pouring the water over your pup as needed.

5. Use gentle, mild-smelling shampoo

With noses 40 times stronger than our own, dogs may be overwhelmed by strongly scented soaps. Go for an unscented or lightly scented version instead that is specifically formulated for canines. Never bathe your dog using human shampoo or body wash.

6. Test the water temperature

Just as the water outside is too cold, the water temperature insider may be too hot for your dog to be comfortable. For a successful bath, keep the water warm but not scorching.

7. Use desensitization and counterconditioning to soothe highly anxious bathers

If your dog has already made up their mind about the horrors of bathtime, you’ll need to bring in the big training guns (or even a professional dog trainer) in order to overcome the problem.

A process of desensitization and counterconditioning can, over time, change a dog’s emotional response to baths from one of fear to one of tolerance.

  • Begin by heavily rewarding your dog with super-amazing treats just for approaching the bathtub.
  • Once they’re comfortable with this, you can move on to rewarding them for entering a dry bathtub.
  • Later on, you can progress to turning the water on and off quickly or gently pouring a bit of water on them followed by a tasty treat.

If you need help, check in with a certified positive-reinforcement trainer or a veterinary behaviorist. The key with these techniques is to start small, and slowly (re)introduce your dog to the bathroom and bathtub. For more, see the AKC’s review of this approach in response to a Norwegian elkhound owner whose dog resists bathing.

8. Leave it to the professionals

If giving your dog a bath is causing anxiety for you both, you might want to enlist the help of an experienced dog groomer. Even better, have a dog groomer come to your house to work one-on-one with your bath-hating pup.

Not only will your dog come out smelling fresh, but they’ll also get a nail trim and haircut out of it.