How to Bathe Your Dog That’s Afraid of Water

Dogs generally like water; however, not every pup enjoys bathing, as I’m sure you know. You may find yourself in front of a dog with a fear of water, and then the essential bath can become torture for you and your pet. But then, how do you bathe your pupster if it has a fear of water? 

If this is your problem, keep reading because we will offer you tips on how to bathe a dog that’s afraid of water and turn bath time into a pleasant experience for both you and your pup. We start in the bathroom!

Never Force Your Dog to Go Into the Water

Unhappy dog in bath water

Before explaining how to bathe a dog with a fear of water, we will give some tips to kickstart a good relationship with your dog with water.

These recommendations, which serve both puppies and adult dogs, are as follows:

  • Never Punish Your Dog, under any circumstances or in any way.
  • Do Not Bathe Your Dog Excessively, as it’s counterproductive for its health. Let's follow our veterinarian’s recommendations since baths’ frequency will depend on multiple factors such as the type of coat or lifestyle.
  • Never Use Water as a Method of Punishment.
  • Always Keep Calm since it’s the only way to transmit calmness to your dog. If you are anxious, it’s better to leave the bath for another day.
  • Only Use Dog Specific Products. Using human products, you run the risk of causing dermatological problems, increasing your dog's avoidance of the bathroom.
  • Have Your Cleaning Gear Ready to carry out the task quickly and efficiently, without leaving your dog alone at any time.
  • Start With Simple Wash, with just one application of shampoo.
  • Control Your Water Temperature. The recommendations call for water at about 39ºC, but it’s always better to adjust the temperature at which your dog is most comfortable.
  • Lather & Rinse Sensitive Areas, such as the legs and tail, although it will depend on your pup. All the while, you are paying attention when coming near your dog’s face,  which is usually the part where the most rejection occurs.

Signs Your Dog Has a Fear of Water

It is essential to know the canine language to evaluate your dog's emotions and see if you are acting appropriately or if, on the contrary, you are causing a very stressful situation.

The goal here is to positively associate your dog and the bath and be attentive to any fear your pup might display.

Little dog afraid of water

Check out the following signs:  

  • Ears back, body shrunken, dilated pupils and tail between the legs.
  • If your dog tries to flee, becomes paralyzed, or shows aggressive behavior.
  • Licking, yawning or panting.
  • When your dog sits down and refuses to go into the bathtub.
  • If your pup tries to loosen its collar or leash.
  • When you get your dog in the tub, it tries to get out again and again.
  • Your pupster throws whatever is around it and even climbs on you if you are holding it in its attempt to flee.
  • Sometimes it’s the noise of the water coming out of the tap that triggers dogs' fear.
  • If there are some moans and even a howl.

If you recognize one or more of these behaviors, your canine is probably facing a case of fear towards the water and could even find itself facing a phobia.

We'll explain below how to bathe a dog that’s afraid of water, apply techniques based on positive reinforcement, and act according to a dog that expresses fear.

Tricks For a Happy Bath

Dog in tub with suds

In addition to the tips that we have already explained to establish a good relationship between your dog and water, we will focus on those who show fear every time we try to bathe them.

1. Have a Positive Attitude

You’ll need to treat your dog firmly and safely. Be very clear that firmness does not imply, in any case, violence or yelling. Handling your dog like you know what you’re doing will transmit safety, which will help your pup accept the situation it does not like.

Dalmatian dog in tub with a rubber-ducky

2. Clear Your Tub & Surrounding Area

It’s essential to clear the tub of toys or any other element that may fall outside or inside it while bathing your dog. Further, have your shampoo next to you on the floor or leave it on the floor of the bathtub.

Why? If something falls and hits your dog or gets scared by the noise, it can throw away all the work you have done.

3. Cover Your Tub-Floor With a Non-Slip Mat

Putting down a mat is another factor that will give your dog peace of mind. Without this, your pup could slip, increasing its uneasiness. If you do not have a mat, a large folded towel can fulfill the same function. Make sure that it’s difficult for your dog to dislodge with its paws.

4. Keep Your Dog Calm Inside Tub Before Starting The Bath

For this, you can help each other with affectionate words or favorite treats. You should congratulate your dog when it’s sitting or being still. You have to be accurate on this because if your dog receives a reward when it’s trying to get out of the bathtub, it can understand that you praise its attempts to escape.

Achieving this point can be difficult if your pet has the wrong bathtub associated. It can be a good idea to do several understanding sessions in the bathtub before taking on a real bath.

5. Start The Water When Your Dog Is Calm

Some dogs will fidget again at this point from the loud sound. To avoid this, you can put the tap to the minimum and not use the shower. Also, it’s convenient to have a large glass or a jug close by to dunk and rinse. 

If your dog keeps fidgeting around nervously, calm it again, and only then can your begin to get it wet. Depending on how it evolves, you will see if it’s possible to increase water flow and turn on the shower.

Hands wetting dog in bath

6. Begin Wetting Your Dog

Start to wet our dog by the legs and ascend to the chest. There are dogs with a fear of water that finds this calming, and with the relaxing effect of hot water, they end up accepting the bath quite well from this moment on.

TIP: Never forget to reward your pup when it’s still or sitting. On the other hand, if it becomes restless again, you’ll need to start from scratch, trying to get it to be still before continuing.

7. Chest to Tail 

From the chest, go to the back and the tail. The last will be the belly and the head. We don’t need to wash its face because your dog can be scared, and it is something you can do at the end with a wet towel.

TIP: If your dog wants to remain seated, let's respect it, even if that means that the wash is not perfect. When it shows no fear, you’ll have time to get it to bathe standing up.

Hands bathing scared dog

8. Time to Lather

Once wet, although at the beginning it’s not a perfect soak, you turn off the water and go on to the lather, which is usually less stressful. You’ll need to remain calm and repeat the pattern every time: if your dog becomes nervous, stop, reassure and, once achieved, reward it with praise and a treat.

9. Rinse Time

Once you have finished shampooing, you’ll want to turn on the water and rinse your pup, following the chest to tail mentioned above.  

NOTE: Although the baths usually require the shampoo application twice, being a dog with fear, you can call it done with a single application.

Dog drying of after bath with orange towel

10. Finishing Up

Drying will be done with towels, removing as much moisture as possible. You can use the dryer if your dog tolerates it. If not, follow the same model that you used for the bath, that is, reassuring your dog to keep it still, rewarding only when your dog gets it, and stopping when it gets nervous.

Final Thoughts

We hope with these tips on how to bathe a dog that’s afraid of water will help you and your pup start enjoying a good bath and bonding moment. However, if you don’t see any changes or the situation worsens, you should seek advice from your veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or dog trainer

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