If you’ve ever tried to bathe a dog that’s scared of water, then you’ll understand how exasperating an experience it can be. Obviously, you’d never let any harm come to your pup, and yet, some dogs react to baths as if they were instruments of torture. If bath time is a nightmare for both you and your dog, use the following tips to teach your dog that there is nothing to fear and turn bath time into a walk in the park.

Water Worries

If you have ever gotten upset at him for playing in a dirty puddle, or ended a walk short when the rain started falling, you may have unintentionally taught your dog that water is bad. Dogs can also develop a fear of water if they’ve ever been in a situation where water was poured directly over his face, thus making it hard for him to breathe or see. 

The unknown can be scary, but there are simple ways you can slowly introduce your dog to water to make it less frightening:

  • Play fetch with the sprinklers on
  • Let him explore puddles on walks
  • Don’t hold the umbrella over him when it rains
  • Pet him with a wet washcloth
  • Take him on walks around a lake or by the ocean
  • Feed or give him dog treats in the bathroom while water runs in the bathtub
  • Show him that baths aren’t scary by leading by example

Before the Bath

Once your pooch becomes more accustomed to water you can start the bathing process. Most likely, all his water fears will not have disappeared, so be prepared to soothe him if he starts getting anxious. Taking him on a long walk beforehand can help put him in a relaxed mood and tire him out so he’s less likely to run away from the bath. 

Preparing the bath area with everything you need helps ensure that the bath goes smoothly and your dog feels comfortable. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A rubber mat—It’s possible that your dog isn’t scared of water but is actually scared of being on a slippery surface, especially since tubs get extra slippery when wet. Placing a rubber mat, or even a towel, in the tub gives your pup a better grip to stand confidently. 
  • 3-4 inches of water in the tub—The loud gushing noise from bath faucets can sometimes be scarier to dogs than the actual water is. Filling the tub with some water beforehand when your dog isn’t around can make the transition into the bath much calmer since he won’t be spooked by the roar of the water. 
  • Dog toys to fill the tub with— Rubber duckies aren’t just for babies! Your dog’s favorite rubber or plastic toys are great distractions from a distressing bath. 
  • Shampoo and conditioner made for dogs—It may be tempting to grab the closest bottle of soap or shampoo you have laying around, however, the wrong soap can hurt your dog in multiple ways, strengthening his association of baths and water with bad times. Pick a specialized pet shampoo and conditioner that is paraben-free, washes out of your dog’s thick coat easily, and is specially formulated to keep his natural oils locked in.
  • A spray nozzle attachment—You could use a bucket of water to rinse your dog, but this deluge could be alarming, especially for a dog frightened by water. A nozzle designed for dog baths can go a long way. It makes it easier to control the amount of water and the direction of the flow. You can even get a sprayer that’s shaped like a scrubber to get double the cleaning action and finish in half the time.

Give Your Dog the Spa Treatment

Giving your dog a bath sounds like tedious work, so shift how you think of it. It’s your chance to love on him and give him a relaxing spa day. 

  • If you were just giving your dog a bath, you’d scoop him up, drop him into the tub, and try to wash him as quick as possible.
  • At a spa, you’d provide a step stool to help your dog get into the bath at his own pace, carefully tilt his head up to keep water out of his eyes, ears, and nose, lather him with quality products, and reward him with treats every step of the way.

See the difference? It’s especially important to take things slow with a timid dog because forcing him into anything he isn’t ready for could worsen his fears. Even if it takes a while for your dog to warm up to the bath, keep a positive attitude. Your calmness will help your pup feel more secure.

No More Bath Time Battles

Although it may take time, your dog can be bathed at home even if he’s scared of water. You’ll find that the patience and training are well worth it once you are able to cuddle up next to your clean furry friend.

To summarize how to take the battle out of bath time:

Do not:

  • Discourage your dog from getting wet in other situations
  • Use the wrong products on your dog’s coat
  • Run the faucet too strongly or pour water over your dog’s head

Instead, take the following actions:

  • Familiarize your dog with water beforehand
  • Coax your dog with treats
  • Go at your dog’s pace 
  • Be gentle and stay calm

Do these things and bath time should go off without a hitch. 






Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine.  She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.

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