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Bathing a dog

Make the bathroom and bathtub a friendly place. This may go slowly at first, depending how willing your pet is to be in the bathroom. Your goal is to change her emotional response to the bathroom, the bathtub, and bathing in general. 

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Maria has written in about her Cocker spaniel, Molly. It seems that, although Molly loves to swim in the pool, she detests getting a bath. Maria bathes Molly herself, in the bathtub, every few weeks. Molly’s behavior has worsened over time, to the point that it has now become a bathing battle that Maria feels she is losing.

Not to worry, Maria. Yours is a common problem, and you have a couple of different ways to address it.

If you want to continue to bathe Molly at home, you need to do some daily training in preparation for the next bath. I’ll bet you never ask Molly to get into the tub for anything other than a bath, right? So, the first thing to do is to make the bathroom and bathtub a friendly place. This may go slowly at first, depending how willing Molly is to be in the bathroom. Your goal is to change her emotional response to the bathroom, the bathtub, and bathing in general, so you will need to watch and interpret her behavior correctly. Always give Molly the choice to go into the bathroom or tub willingly; never force it, or her negative feelings about the process will not change.

Begin by transferring as many fun things for Molly as possible into the bathroom and bathtub. This may include feeding her in there and playing with her favorite toy only in the bathroom. From there, you can coax her into the empty tub with treats, and simply pet her or continue to play with her in the tub. If at any time she resists, this simply means that you are asking her to go past her comfort level, so back off a bit and stick with what she is enjoying — gradually she will want to do more as she builds up her enthusiasm through positive experiences in the bathroom.

Next, since Molly likes water, you might try filling the tub with only a couple of inches of warm water. Then, drop 10 to 20 pieces of hot dog slices in the water, and encourage Molly to get in there to retrieve them. If she seems excited to get into the tub but can’t manage to do that herself, gently lift her in there, but only if she wants to go. As you repeat this process, you can gradually add to the water level, and later begin splashing her a bit. If she is focused on the hot dogs, over time you can add more to the routine. Wet her a bit more, and without adding any shampoo, massage her as if she was getting a bath.

The overall idea is to gradually turn bath time into fun time. This process should be repeated at least once daily, with your goal being to do whatever it takes to make it a pleasant experience for Molly, gradually adding in more of the real components of a regular bathing experience.

When you feel that Molly is again happy to be in the tub, continue to maintain those good feelings by adding in treats during the actual bathing process. She can pluck treats out of the water while you are getting her wet, and when it’s time to shampoo and rinse, smear some peanut butter on the side of the tub that she can lick and focus on while you get the job done.

Another option is to stop bathing Molly and allow a professional groomer to do it instead. This way, you get to focus on the other, more mutually enjoyable aspects of your relationship with your dog. But do choose your groomer wisely.

A professional groomer will allow you to see her grooming area, and even watch the process if you wish. Your dog should be hand dried, not stuck in a cage with hot air blowing on her. Check to be sure that your prospective groomer keeps a clean and sanitary area. Ask as many questions as you like and expect her to be open and forthcoming with information. Lastly, “listen” to what Molly has to say about the process. Does she consider the groomer you’ve chosen a new friend? Does she happily walk into the grooming shop after a visit or two? A dog never lies; if your dog shows fear or reluctance upon entering the grooming salon after a visit or two, then it’s probably not a good match. Find another groomer who Molly feels relaxed and comfortable with.

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