To your dog, a bath doesn't equate to getting all beautified; it means having the worst time of his life. His fear isn't completely irrational: Water's scary, not to mention being suds up and groped. Your canine friend thinks baths are for the birds.
Your pup's fear of the bath may stem from an earlier time when he associated the bath with something traumatic. Maybe he was shuffled into the bath against his will as a puppy and doused with cold water, or maybe he was given a terrifying shave in the tub to keep all that fluttering fur in one place. Sometimes the negative association has to do with the way in which you talk to him. For instance, if you always say, "Let's go," before you do something he hates, such as clipping his nails or giving him medicine, he's going to associate your demeanor and those words with something negative. That's why it's never a good idea to say, "come," or any other command he already responds positively to, at least initially -- you don't want to make him scared of that word.
Sound and Feel
The sound of water rushing through the pipes, blowing out the faucet and then getting sucked down the drain is enough to make some dogs rebel against the whole bath thing. Water pouring over his fur might be a sensation he's not used to, as well, freaking him out even more. Many canines are scared of the unknown, and when it comes to fight or flight at bath time, they're all for flight.
It's not easy for your pup to sit back and relax when he's getting all spruced up. He might not fit well in your tub or his doggy bath; the water sometimes feels too hot or too cold; soap can find its way into his eyes; he has to balance on three legs occasionally; and he may not like being touched in certain areas. If you're bathing him outside, even warm water can feel cold if a gust of wind blows through.
Enjoying the Bath
Whatever reason your pup has for fearing the bath, you can alleviate those fears and make bath time fun time -- or at least something he tolerates. Positive reinforcement is the tool of choice. Slowly introduce him to the bath, give him a treat when he responds positively and keep upping the ante until he doesn't appear terrified of the bath anymore. For example, just playing with him near the tub, feeding him a treat when he nears it and slowly getting closer to it every day will make him think the tub means something good always happens. When you do bathe him, appear calm and gentle instead of assertive and controlling; make sure you don't get shampoo in his eyes or mouth; be sure the water is warm but not hot; and don't bathe him outside when it's a bit brisk. Never spray him in the face with water; use a wet cloth to wipe him down instead.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.