If your dog growls when you try to bathe him, it’s probable that he's fearful of some element of the process. The fear may be due to a previous bad experience being bathed or simply an aversion to water or the noise of the hair dryer. The trick is to desensitize your dog to the fear triggers, before making each element of the bathing process rewarding. This can require lots of patience on your part.
Desensitize the Dog to Touch
Conceal a treat in your hand and wait for your dog to approach you once he picks up the scent.
Slowly move your free hand toward the dog’s shoulder and gently pet him as he sniffs the treat in your other hand. It’s essential you keep your hand in the dog’s field of vision to avoid startling him, so don’t try to pet the top of his head.
Release the treat as you gently pet him, while giving verbal praise. Repeat this process three or four times a day, each time extending the period of time you touch him. With sufficient repetition, Lucky will come to associate your touch with the positive stimulus of receiving the treat. If Lucky growls at being touched, put the treat in your pocket and walk away. If you attempt to console him or give him the treat after a growl, you reinforce unwanted behavior. Once Lucky accepts you touching him, you’re ready to introducing him to the bath.
Desensitize the Dog to Being Bathed
Sit next to the bath, conceal the treat in your hand and wait for Lucky.
Slowly move your hand toward the bath so he follows the treat with his nose. Pet him with your free hand. Release the treat if he remains passive. The trick is to get Lucky to voluntarily go near the bath without being physically put there. As you releases, say “bath time!” This phrase will eventually become the trigger. By only saying it when he receives the treat, Lucky learns to make positive associations with the phrase.
Repeat the process of desensitizing him to the bathing environment. Introduce a new element of the process whenever he’s happy about with the current. So once he’s comfortable with you touching him next to the bath, repeat this part of the process while the water is running. Once he’s happy with that, pet him with a wet hand while the water is running. Eventually, Lucky will be sufficiently relaxed and happy around the sights, smells and sounds of the bath that you can attempt to bathe him.
Run the bath so there’s two inches of water in it.
Run through the desensitization process to the point where you last finished. Your hands should be wet and Lucky is next to the bath.
Hold a treat over the bath and encourage him to put his paws on the edge of the tub. Give him the treat.
Carefully lift him into the bath, praising him as you do. Once he’s in, give him a treat, then begin slowly and carefully bathing him. Give lots of praise and treats as you do. If at any point he growls, stop the process, walk away and give Lucky a 5-minute time-out before trying again.
An Item You Will Need
- Wash his head last. Dogs only shake off when their head is wet.
- Make sure you desensitize every element of the bath process so there is no trigger that can cause aggression.
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images