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Why do dogs hate baths? 6 tips to calm your canine

why do dogs hate baths
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Just why do dogs hate baths, but love swimming? It's a question that poses quite a puzzle to many pet owners.

If your pup leaps into a muddy river, but balks at the very sight of the bath tub, they're not alone. Many dogs love to get messy outdoors, but feel anxious come bath time.

If your pup is antsy at the sight of water, there are a number of thing you can do to calm your dog down in the bath so it's less likely to be a stressful time.

Understanding all the reasons as to why do dogs hate baths is a great place to start, but this guide will also provide practical tips about how you can settle your canine chum, with the aim of hopefully making bath time an enjoyable experience for both parties. 

For more advice about keeping them clean, see our guidance on how often you should bathe your dog and what is the best dog brush for tackling unruly manes. 

1. The dog shampoo is causing irritation

We answer the question 'why do dogs hate baths?' Plus useful tips to help your pooch relax come bath time

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Humans may love nothing more than basking in the scent of a luxe shampoo, but pets have different senses of smell and, indeed, behavior. Pet owners may recoil in horror at the sight of their dog eating poop on the side of pavement, for instance, but actually it's really quite enjoyable for your canine chum.

It's a similar story when it comes to smell. Dogs will happily enjoy rolling around in the grass and mud, but may find some shampoo fragrances overly aggressive on their fur, particularly if they have sensitive skin. 

Fortunately, you can explore plenty of options if your dog suffers from any skin conditions. Our guide to the best dog shampoo can help steer you in the right direction, while opting for fragrance-free could be a wise choice. 

2. They've experienced previous trauma

We answer the question 'why do dogs hate baths?' Plus useful tips to help your pooch relax come bath time

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A dog's dislike of bath time isn't typically down to water, as their casual strolls in the river will attest to! However, some canines may have experienced a traumatic experience as a pup that left them feeling anxious.

This could be down to a few things. Perhaps the water was too hot, or they associate the whole experience with negative feelings. 

There are few things you can do to create a welcoming environment for your pup that slowly introduces them to being bathed. 

You could hang out with your pup in the bathroom or hide treats in hidden places to get them used to being there, and encourage them to get into the tub on their own. 

The key is not to use force. Try using their favorite toy, and allow them to investigate on their own terms. Once your canine chum is used to a shower head being on a little in their presence, you might find it easier to eventually go for the full bathing experience.

3. They struggle to find their footing

why do dogs hate baths

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When you place your dog in the bathtub, you may find they're unstable on their feet. This can immediately create fear, so look to place a stable non-slip mat beneath their paws.

You may already have one in your tub designed for humans, but if not, check in with a pet supply store for a special bath mat designed specifically to keep canines feeling safe and secure. 

If you don't have a mat, look to use a towel on the floor of the bathtub to prevent your dog from falling over.  

4. They're unfocused

why do dogs hate baths? unfocused dog in the bathroom

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Whether it's jumping about because they're so happy to spend time with you, or there's an inviting smell in the next room, dogs can get pretty distracted. 

Enter: the lick pad, one of the best dog bath grooming products you will likely ever purchase. Simply smear your dog's favorite treat, like peanut butter or baby food, over the mat and stick it to your bathroom wall. 

Your dog will be too distracted to notice you're giving them a bath, instantly reducing any anxiety and stress.

5. They don't like the sound or pressure of the water

why do dogs hate baths? Consider using a bucket.

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You might wonder why dogs are often happy to mess around in muddy water, yet when it comes to the very sight of a bathtub, will turn and run the other way. When a dog jumps into a river, they're taking action of their own accord, and are likely too busy having fun to care too much about what's around them.

However, when they enter a bath, the sound of rushing water so close might prove a frightening experience.

Instead of using a shower head, use a pitcher or bucket to gently pour water over their body. You could also opt for a softer spray setting, if your shower head allows. 

6. The temperature is too hot

why do dogs hate baths? Remember to check the temperature

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Dogs can be sensitive to heat, so feeling hot water on their skin swiftly followed by a blow dry may prove uncomfortable.

Consider a colder bath instead, and use the lowest temperature setting on your dryer to ensure your pooch is not feeling the heat. 

At the same time, you don't want your dog to be cold, so opt for lukewarm. You can test this by spraying the shower nozzle on your arm and checking that it's at a suitable temperature. 

How to give a dog that is scared of water a bath

Many dogs don’t necessarily hate baths; they’re scared of them, often due to previous negative experiences. Forcing them into the bath will run the risk of traumatizing them and making future bathing experiences even tougher, so a softly-softly approach is required here.

First, try to give them a positive association with the bath itself. This can be done by feeding them in the bath beforehand, before the water levels have been topped up. Treats can serve this purpose too.

Another thing to do while there is no water in the bath is to teach them how to get in and out of it. The ‘up’ command can come in handy here, and after enough practice, getting into the bath when there’s water should be the next step.

Other reasons that a dog might be reluctant about the bathing experience is because they simply don’t know what to expect, or are unaware of what’s coming. To rectify this, use the word ‘bath’ as a cue for them. When you are brushing their fur beforehand (as you should do in preparation for their bath), make sure you use the word ‘bath’ a number of times in order to help reduce the surprise element.

There are other measures that you can take in the lead-up. Firstly, take them for a walk beforehand in order to calm them down. Also, why not put something in the bath, like a mat or towel? Some dogs don’t like the thought of slipping over, so having a towel or mat in place in the bath beforehand might allay their concerns.

If you’ve taken them for a walk beforehand, why not keep them on their leash while walking them to their bath? This way, they may be more amenable to being washed.