Training a Dog to Love their Bath

As Seen in The Patch April 10, 2011

Hint: Use whatever makes their tails wag..

The kitchen door slammed and there they were: my two children. Soaking wet and covered with mud. In April. I was wearing a fleece vest and Ugg boots, they were half-dressed, squirting each other with the hose. I’m so mid-life.

Setting my coffee cup aside, I hoisted my wet, wriggly toddler in one arm and took my daughter’s hand. It was time for an early afternoon bath.

The sound of the bathtub faucet alerted Whoopsie that there was water happening. Crowding into the upstairs bathroom, she looked longingly into the tub: water and kids. The perfect combination. “Not today, girl,” I apologized, patting her head. Whoops lingered for a few minutes, making sure I was sure sure, then retired to her dog bed to contemplate this decision. “Look in the photo albums, lady!” she was probably thinking. “I’m in 90 percent of the bathtub pictures!”

And it’s true. For the first two years of her life, my daughter wouldn’t get in the tub without her. She’d scream and cry until we brought in a stack of dog towels and directed Whoosie “On In!” From 2004 to 2006, you could eat off my dog, she was so clean.

As a dog trainer, I can tell the change of season by the questions I get. Is salt safe for a dog’s paws? How long can a dog sit in a hot car? And the surest sign of spring and its many muddy joys: how can I make my dog like bathing?

This morning I met Stacy Geisinger, the voice behind the blog StacyKnows andsure enough, she hit me with water-based question about Sophie, her Wheaten Terrier. Why does Sophie love the pool but hate the bath? Dogs can be so unknowable! So mysterious! But it took me just a minute to figure out Sophie’s conundrum. It wasn’t so much a water issue as it was a…mood issue. At the pool, everyone is relaxed. Happy. Drinking iced tea and clapping when Sophie performs her best dog-dive. Standing in the tub, her feet trying grip porcelain while water cascades over her head and her mom demands that she Just Stand Still, Sophie is not feeling the love. There’s no clapping. No happy. Sophie is having way less fun.

The solution? Lighten up. Make bathtime a bit more fun. Lay a towel on the bottom of the tub—yes, it will get soaked but your dog will deeply appreciate it) and rub a little peanut butter inside the tub, just about nose level. I know—sopping towels and peanut butter! The horror! But remember: you’re trying to lighten up. Lead your dog into the bathroom and get your enthusiasm on: “On In!” Secure footing, a happy tone and an unexpected blob of peanut butter will go a long way to reducing bathtime anxiety. You might be surprised to discover you’ve created a new dilemma: how to keep your dog out of the tub.

Post your questions on any dog-training-related topic here! Tell us in the comments.